Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Antepenult: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Shalt thou give me some kind of reward to bring back to my own world with me?
United States
Independently developed; published as shareware
Released 1989 for Amiga
Date Started: 18 February 2023
Date Ended: 18 March 2023
Total Hours: 33
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

Antepenult is a superior Ultima clone that uses themes, mechanics, and graphics from Ultimas I-V to tell an original story. The unnamed character must explore five worlds and piece together clues necessary to stop a demonic invasion. Names and themes are mostly drawn from Greek and Christian mythology as well as real place names and history in the eastern Mediterranean. The game makes the most of iconographic exploration and keyword-prompted dialogue, although RPG mechanics and role-playing elements are somewhat limited. It is nonetheless a commercial-quality game and a bargain at its shareware asking price.
Antepenult ultimately comprises five continents: Havilah, Tartarus, Atlantis, Aetheria, and Gehenna. When I last blogged, I had mostly finished with the first three and had just found my way, via the Mark of Air, to Aetheria.
Aetheria consisted of half a dozen cloud "islands" interconnected by moongates. Finding my way from one island to another was a bit of a puzzle, as each moongate stays active for three phases, and each phase takes you to a different destination. If you just stand in the moongate's square, waiting for it to take you when it arrives, you end up just bouncing back and forth between two destinations.
The world of Aetheria, from an observatory.
The continent was clearly meant to be the most elevated of the group, not just in literal altitude. There were only a few enemies, all in a maze on one island, and almost all the NPCs were positive and helpful. They were mostly artists and philosophers. Many spoke as if I had already defeated the evil daemon, and they talked about the songs they intended to compose, honoring my victory.
I appreciate your confidence.
The continent had a castle (Hierosolyma) and four cities: Mycenae, Memphis, Corinth, and Persepolis. Various notes and revelations from my explorations:
  • Aetheria is ruled by King Pericles. He didn't have much to offer.
  • One questline started with an NPC asking me if I knew the Latin word for "old man." I looked it up--SENEX--and got it right. It ultimately led me to an old man who deciphered my four runes and told me a password (KHAMPO) that I needed to enter Gehenna. I wonder what 1989 players did.
Maybe if I said "no," he'd just tell me.
  • An observatory in Mycenae gave me overhead views of each of the continents. The view of Gehenna was mirrored, for some reason, but it otherwise turned out to be vital.
I can't say I'm looking forward to this.
  • I learned of three new writs: Open, Kill, and Unstone. All three questlines took me to Persepolis, described below.
The game missed an opportunity by not naming the horse "Sideras."
  • Corinth had the game's best weapons (two-handed sword and crossbow) and armor (plate mail) available.
  • A throwaway comment from a druid told me the name of the daemon: "[Your] gravestone will read 'Here lies the Bane of Screwtape, who delivered the land of Havilah from the evil presence!" The name comes from two C. S. Lewis stories. I've heard of them but never read them.
The first appearance of the daemon's name.
  • In the library of Memphis, I was able to read a book that told me more about Screwtape and prepared me for some of the challenges I'd face in his domain. 
Doesn't sound much like a "daemon."
  • An NPC named Ahasuerus had leads on all the keys. He told me I wouldn't be able to get the Key of Fire until I was already in Gehenna. I should ask for it in the city of Aedin. More on the Key of Air in a bit. I had Water and Earth already, though only because I searched a couple of places prematurely. Ahasuerus's hints would have led me to them.
  • An NPC named Philemon is storming mad about a letter he just got from Paul. "He shall be hearing from my attorney!" he rages. You don't get a lot of biblical jokes in RPGs.
"See, it's funny because Paul has abetted Philemon's runaway slave, Onesimus, who has run away with some of Philemon's money." -- words never before written anywhere.
Persepolis was the most challenging of the two cities. It had two different areas, each with its own puzzles. The easier of the two was a "haunted house." It was a maze of teleporter pads, full of non-hostile ghosts. Killing them turned the guards on me, so I just had to avoid them, but they were often in my way. 

The haunted house had two important NPCs. One of them sold me the Writ of Unstone (I'd learned about him from a talking horse named Balam). The second gave me the crucial clue I needed to find Theseus and the Minotaur in Cnossos: say the word AXIOMEN to Ariadne. The latter NPC made me "prove I'm worthy" by giving her the name of her cleric friend in Chryse (CYRIL). Thankfully, I'd written all the names of key NPCs down.
The harder part of the city was a "mirror maze." It wasn't large, but it was difficult to navigate until I realized what was going on. I was simultaneously annoyed and impressed at the programming. The maze mimics what would happen if every wall was a mirror. When you're standing next to a mirror, you see a copy of yourself in that direction. If there are mirrors on both sides, you see infinite copies of yourself in both directions. Valid lines of travel are presented as completely open. You have to keep an eye on the center of the screen, as the PC always occupies the exact center. 
In the mirror. I'm in the center. There's a mirror to my west; hence, the duplicate image. The paladin is in a nook to the north with a mirror behind him, which is why you can see both of us mirrored. The way to the east is open. So is the south, but I can only move one square in that direction.
I ended up mapping it to be sure I'd found everything. It wasn't very big. When I was done, I had a lead on the Mark of Fire and I'd purchased the Writ of Kill after promising never to use it on a human being. 
The extent of the maze.
I hit dead ends on a couple of questlines. In Corinth, Ahasuerus told me to ask another NPC named Mephibosheth of the Key of Air. Mephibosheth didn't respond to any prompts and I couldn't progress. I later learned from the author, Paul Falstad, that the prompt I was supposed to use was SEGMENT. I think someone did give me that prompt and I forgot about it. In any event, I found the Key of Air by simply searching every square of a maze on one of Aetheria's islands. There was nothing else in the maze, and I figured it must exist for some reason.
In the same manner, I solved the puzzle of the silver coin that I needed to pay Charon to cross the River Styx. I never found the NPC (Hippoco├Ân) who was supposed to tell me its location, but there was this ship graveyard in the southeast corner of Atlantis that otherwise seemed to have no purpose. When I was done with Aetheria, I returned and searched every ship until I found it.
It seemed like an obvious place.
I had learned in Aetheria that the Writ of Open would be found with a stoned beggar (that is, turned to stone) on the top floor of Castle Pergamum. Now that I had a Writ of Unstone, it was time to visit again. There's quite a bit more to the ruined castle than I discovered on the first visit including a hidden treasure chamber in which half of the chests are mimics. Numerous NPCs thank you if you unstone them, although they have no other dialogue, and leaving the floor and returning simply sees them turned to stone again. I unstoned a lot of guards and then regretted it when they attacked me for looting the treasure chamber.
Getting to the stoned beggar on the "top floor" was more work than I anticipated. First, I had to walk through fire (now possible with the Mark of Fire) to find a ladder downward in the kitchen. That led to the dungeon, which I had to fully explore before finding another ladder up in the southeast. This led to a tower that went up about six stories before depositing me on the top. I met a daemon named Ba'asha who boasted that he ruled the castle now--just before I killed him.
Good luck with that.
The beggar was in a cell south of the daemon, and soon I had the final writ.
Apparently, beggars can be choosers.
That left the Golden Dagger, which I knew I'd find with Theseus and the Minotaur. I returned to Tartarus and the island of Cnossos and spoke to Ariadne. I fed her the keyword, and she agreed to lead me to Theseus. For about ten minutes, I had to follow her through the labyrinth that I had mapped last time. I don't know how hard it is to program such a thing, but there's nowhere else in the game where you have to follow an NPC, so I was impressed that Falstad took any time to do that for this one quest. I was dying to see where I'd "missed" a secret door. It turns out that it was on the east wall of what I had assumed was the eastern boundary of the maze, and thus hadn't tested any of the wall squares. If you read my last entry, you'll get the irony: I started the post by talking about how some mazes can take unexpected turns, and how you can never smugly assume you've found the outer edges.
All that mapping was for nothing. One point for you, Falstad.
The Minotaur was roaming an open area while Theseus hid behind a door. Whatever some NPC in Imperium had told me about the castle's daggers being magical was nonsense. None of my weapons, including the daggers, could even touch the Minotaur. He tore me apart in about four rounds. I ultimately killed him with the Writ of Kill (the only time I used it), but I'm not sure it's even necessary to kill him. The Golden Dagger is in a nearby nook, and you could take a route that reaches it without encountering the beast.
At last, I had all of the items necessary to descend into Gehenna: the four writs, the four marks, the four runes, the password, the Silver Coin, and the Golden Dagger. I had long since guessed that the route to Gehenna would be through the mountain next to Pergamum, where there was a dungeon called Skotos. Both Skotos and the last dungeon of the game, Bathos, were harder than the others, with numerous dead ends as you go from Level 1 to Level 8, back up to Level 1, and so forth. Still, I never found it necessary to map. I wrote down notes when I hit a place with multiple options; for instance, "Level 5: Arrive in SW corner. Ladder up to N; ladder down to E." I'd just keep track of each note until I hit a dead end, then backtrack.
Making my way to hell.
Skotos dumped me into a lake of fire, poison, and sleep fields. I searched the center and found a portal. I was asked for, and gave, the password: KHAMPO.
I arrived in the southwestern corner of Gehenna. A path east brought me to the shores of the River Styx, which was swarming with ghosts. A ship made a back-and-forth journey, so I waited and boarded, giving the silver coin to the "dark oarsman." I'm not sure if it's possible to return to Havilah after this point. I didn't try.
The (non-hostile) ghosts on the river were a nice touch.
The rest of Gehenna was a large world full of fire and lava, swarming with demons, devils, balrons, xorns, phantoms, liches, and other nasties. The Mark of Fire let me walk through fire without taking damage, but I still took heavy damage from lava . . . which wasn't a concern because the Writ of Heal restores half your lost points every time you use it and never runs out. Combat was a trivial annoyance for this entire last session, as I could just use the writ whenever I got low. 
Making my way through Gehenna.
Long, twisty mazes sprouted off the main routes on all sides, most leading nowhere. The map I'd gotten from the observatory in Mycenae showed me the location of the two cities: Aedin and Xenophon.
Aedin was a weird town modeled after a high school. The NPCs were hall monitors, cheerleaders, jocks, and teachers. They didn't respond to dialogue prompts but just read lines appropriate to their stereotypes. Falstad was a high-school student when he wrote the game, and "Aedin" is an anagram for his hometown, Edina (Minnesota). I asked him whether equating high school with hell was just teenaged angst or whether he had a uniquely hellish experience, and he said it was the former. "It's actually a great school and I had a good experience there in retrospect."
35 years later, this joke still works.

A high-school gym teacher.
But what could have been a silly joke actually has an in-game plot twist: the NPCs aren't really people. They're demons acting like people. A jester boiling in a lake of lava told me that if I killed all of them, the way would be open to me. I did so and got access to a hidden corridor at the south end of the city.
The game had been mercifully empty of Monty Python references, so I suppose it was time. In the southern corridor, my way was blocked by a "Black Knight." Again, what could have been a dumb joke was rendered slightly more interesting in that Falstad took the time to graphically depict the consequences of my chopping off his limbs one by one as he protested that it was "only a flesh wound."
This was written by a teenager in the late 1980s. I suppose this was inevitable.
The final NPC told me that I'd find the Key of Fire in the other city, Xenophon. He also told me how to find a secret door that would keep me safe from monsters.
Xenophon, at the other end of the map, was presented as a resort town with a hotel and golf course. A large corridor ran through the center of the city and was chock full of enemies, including guards, which were still a slight threat despite the Writ of Heal. The NPCs instructions took me to a place where I could shoot them safely through a window.
I had to rent a room at the hotel lobby, in the north end of the city, to get automatically teleported to the guest rooms in the south end. This took me a while to figure out because I kept accidentally killing the desk agent while shooting all of the other monsters in the area. My hotel room led me to the golf course, where I found the Key of Fire in the middle of a rough.
Sniping guards through a window.
At this point, I was stuck. I knew the entrance to Screwtape's castle was "hidden," but I didn't know where, and I wasn't about to bang into every mountain range and search every square of lava to find it. I did search every square in the large central lake, to no avail. I eventually ran out of food and began to starve, but again, there's no real consequence to that when you have the Writ of Heal.
I had to ask Falstad for a hint. It turned out that I had forgotten the demons on the top floor of Castle Chryse. They had each given me a part of a hint as to where I'd find the dungeon Bathos, in the northwest corner of the map. With their instructions, I was able to find it and descend. Although they all promised they'd meet me there and kill me, I never saw the demons themselves.
The dungeon entrance doesn't reveal itself until you're in the adjacent square.
Bathos was 13 floors instead of the usual 9, but it wasn't any harder to navigate than the others, just longer. It spit me out in the prison called Phylaxis, where an NPC had told me that Lord Sylvan was being held "where I would never suspect." The prison was full of what looked like dead bodies. Some of them were alive, but all they would say was, "Help me." I circled the entire prison before discovering that the way to Sylvan was through a secret door two steps south of the entry ladder.
The dying Sylvan told me where to find Screwtape's castle before suddenly disappearing. "I shall watch thy progress from above!" were his last words.
I'm not sure how to interpret that.
I trudged back up the corridors of Bathos to Gehenna and made my way to Screwtape's castle, resisting the urge to just reload from Gehenna now that I knew where the castle was.
Entering the castle brought me to the perimeter of a castle-shaped building surrounded by a poisonous moat. There was no obvious way to enter, but the Writ of Open cleared a path. Even then, it looked like there was a wall blocking me to the north, but it turned out that those wall squares were living creatures which attacked when I approached. Shades of the floor tiles in Ultima III!
The five wall tiles at the top of the screen are about to attack me.
An NPC prepared me for the fact that the castle, Pandaemonium, had another mirror maze, this one much larger than the one in Persepolis. But I had also learned from the book that Screwtape would be at the center of the maze, so I didn't have to map the whole thing. Demons and other monsters attacked as I explored, but they were trivial. After mapping the contours of the castle, I found the exit from the maze in the north-center area.
As much as I mapped of the castle. Everything up to the room in the north-center is a "mirror maze."
I then ran up against a wall with four keyholes. One by one, I used the Keys of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. The wall disappeared and opened up a set of corridors that led me to Screwtape.
It took me a while to realize those were keyholes.
As the book had promised, Screwtape was a large, black orb that shot lightning and sucked the life force of anyone in the area. My hit points dropped dramatically as I approached. But I was able to get up next to him and use the Gold Dagger. (I tried talking to him first, but he had nothing to say.)
The Pupil of Sauron.
Lines of color shot from the daemon's center, and he disappeared. He must have been a "load-bearing boss," because the castle started crumbling. Patches of fire and darkness appeared on the floor as I raced for the exit. After a few steps, darkness closed around and everything went black.
What comes out of a daemon.
I awoke in a restored Castle Pergamum. (I suspect if I had gone directly to Screwtape without freeing Sylvan, I would have died in Pandaemonium.) As I walked down the corridors, I passed cells of imprisoned demons, devils, and dragons.
I just realized I have 94 food here. Where did I get the food?
NPCs from throughout the game came up to congratulate me. "I told thee thou wouldst do it!" "Thank you for saving my castle!"
I passed King Minos flanked by a couple of burly guards. Apparently, the Resistance deposed him and ransacked his treasury.
Somebody solved a side quest without me!
One NPC set up a potential sequel: "Thank you for saving me from that detestable witch-queen Celaeno . . . She has fled Gehenna and is probably plotting some evil against Havilah! Perhaps thou wilt again be required someday to deal with her!" The problem is, I don't think I ever encountered this questline. My notes don't say anything about a Celaeno.
This was a bit confusing.
Both King Hypnos and Lord Sylvan were waiting in the throne room. Sylvan explained that after I rescued him, Hypnos had been able to pull him out of Gehenna. I guess he also pulled me out, though he didn't say it explicitly. Both thanked me profusely and said if I was ready to go back to my own world, I could exit through the south. This is the first time the game has mentioned that the PC was from another world in the first place.
The door led to a small yard with a moongate. I entered, then watched as a figure approached from the south, turned into a demon, and followed me through. Game over.
This is ominous, but on the other hand, it looks like one of those generic demons that I slaughtered in droves.
This final session was long, but I had a great time. With set pieces like the mazes of mirrors, the two towns in Gehenna, the trails of NPC clues, and the overall superior level design, Antepenult equaled or transcended its primary source (Ultima III) in many mechanics, if not always in RPG elements. It repeatedly offered that delicious experience of running me up against a wall (sometimes literally) and letting me find the solution just when I was on the brink of despair. (I would have figured out the location of Bathos eventually; I wrote to Falstad prematurely.) The final hours recalled the best moments of RPG playing as a kid, when you understand that you're in the final chapter and you're up until the wee hours, nails bitten ragged, hoping there isn't some unsolvable final riddle, then suddenly realizing--holy #$@&!--you're going to win!
This is a long entry already, but I don't have enough material for a separate "summary and rating," so let's just do the GIMLET now:
  • 4 points for the game world. I like the use of Greek and biblical themes and the emerging storyline. But there is an extent to which the game world feels like a bunch of clever references rather than a cohesive world of its own, and I would have appreciated a bit more backstory. Back on the positive side, the game deserves credit for its creative depiction of its environments within the limits if iconographic tiles.
Discovering Pandaemonium via a secret pass in the mountains.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. There's no character creation. Development is fast, but I never felt a lot stronger since enemies increased in difficulty and enemy stacks increased in number as I leveled up.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. I'm a sucker for keyword-based dialogue, but like the backstory, the NPCs felt more like references than people with personalities and goals. I still enjoyed the process of tracking them down and finding them in hidden locations. I also liked that monsters could sometimes be NPCs, so you had to be careful not to just swing away.
Talking with the ruler of Aetheria.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. There's nothing terribly special about the monsters in the game, which are all drawn from Ultima and essentially require the Ultima manual to understand their descriptions. The points in this category all go to the variety of non-combat encounters and puzzles. The labyrinth, the mirror maze, and other such "set pieces" will stick with me for a while.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. Your options boil down to ranged or melee combat. The lack of a real magic system hurt this category significantly.
  • 3 points for equipment. The ordinal scale of weapons and armor is nothing to sing about, but I'll toss in an extra point for the marks and writs.
The last weapon shop.
  • 4 points for a surprisingly strong economy. With health, food, weapons, armor, and transportation to purchase and continually refresh, only in the last few hours did collecting gold become unnecessary;.
  • 3 points for quests. I usually just give 2 points for a game that has a clear main quest, saving the rest for alternate endings, role-playing options, and side quests. I'll add an extra point here because the steps on the main quest are "tiered" well, and there might be an alternate ending if you kill Screwtape without rescuing Sylvan first. The game only offers one save slot, and I didn't make backups.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are plagiarized, but still good, and the author even improved upon Ultima in some areas with smoothed edges and transitions between areas, and he used the tiles in innovative ways. I always appreciate a one-letter-per-command keyboard interface. Only a lack of compelling sound really hurt this category.
  • 5 points for gameplay. The game gets credit for nonlinearity and medium difficulty. It unfortunately doesn't get any for replayability, and it edges towards being just a bit too long for its content.
That gives us a final score of 36, which I confess is a little lower than I was imagining when I started the process. I was hoping it would come closer to the 40 that I gave Deathlord (1987). Antepenult suffers on my scale for not having strong character development and combat, and yet I found it far more "playable" than Deathlord. Nonetheless, looking at the individual categories, I can't argue with the result. A score of 36 still puts it above most other Ultima clones, into "recommended" territory, and certainly above the average shareware game of the period.
I told Falstad that I was surprised that he never tried for a commercial release. He said he felt that the quite literal copying of the tilesets disqualified it for commercial publication. I suspect any good publisher would have hooked him up with a graphic artist who could have redesigned the tiles in no time.
This was Falstad's only game but not his only program. After attending Princeton University, he made a living as an independent software engineer. His programs include a popular circuit simulator.
I can only imagine that Antepenult's relative obscurity lies in the fact that it was offered as shareware on the platform whose users would be least likely to appreciate its approach. I'm proud to have been the first person to give a full account of it online.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Serpent Isle: Red and Yellow, Kill a Fellow

The party gets the whole potion thing figured out.
In a recent comment, Adamantyr alerted me to the level of correspondence between Serpent Isle and the Lands of Danger and Despair in the original Ultima. I knew that Serpent Isle was supposed to be one of the "lost" kingdoms from Ultima, and that it was Shamino's kingdom in particular. But I didn't otherwise realize how much the geography matches.
Here's the map of the Lands of Danger and Despair from the 1986 Commodore Release of Ultima (thanks to the Museum of Computer Adventure-Gaming History):
The game box had maps of each individual land.
And here's the Serpent Isle from the game box:
Not only are the shapes almost identical--you can almost chalk up the major differences to differing map projections--but the maps have the same physical features, including placements of mountains and forests. Given what happened to Britannia over the course of several games, the changes to Serpent Isle are almost mild.
Perhaps more important, many of the map features have analogues. The table below avoids spoilers (for me); I based it solely on what I've already experienced or what I could see on the map that came with the game.


Serpent Isle

Dextron (City)

Unnamed dungeon to goblin village

Hole to Hades (Dungeon)

Furnace (Dungeon)

Dead Man’s Walk (Dungeon)

Knight’s Test (Dungeon)

Turtle (City)

Gone; some remnants of buildings in the same area

Bulldozer (City)

Sleeping Bull (Inn)

Dead Cat’s Life II (Dungeon)

Something called “Claw”

City of Magic

Moonshade (City)

Free Death Hole (Dungeon)

Mountains of Freedom (Dungeon)

Morbid Adventure (Dungeon)

Isles of the Mad Mage

Gorlab Village

Gorlab Swamp

White Dragon Castle

Unknown as I haven’t been there yet, but the map shows a castle

City of the Brother

Monk Isle

Dead Cat’s Life (Dungeon)

Not sure, but the map shows a dungeon in the same area

Wheeler (City)

Map suggests it’s gone

Shamino’s Castle

Shamino’s Castle (shown on the map)

Spine Breaker (Dungeon)

Spinebreaker Mountains (may have a dungeon)

Eastern Sign Post

Maybe Sunrise Isle, but if so, it’s moved a bit west

Grave of Lost Souls

Isle of Crypts

Keep in mind that a number of things are supposed to have happened between these two maps: the cataclysms that accompanied the destruction of Mondain, the rise and fall of Ophidian culture, and the emigration from Sosaria by those fleeing the "Beast British." There are no analogues to Monitor and Fawn on the old map since they were established by those immigrants. All told, it's a great set of correspondences, with believable changes over time while keeping similar themes. Ultima's world-building has always been pretty good, but its world-building between games has rarely been this good.
This was a good time to study the rest of the map since I've just been given a way to teleport from place to place. The game still gates your progress by requiring you to find serpents' teeth to use the teleporters, but I still like the inherent possibilities. As this session begins, I have four teeth, which collectively get me to the Isle of the Mad Mage, Moonshade, and two dungeons, either of which could be Furnace.
I still have stuff to do in Moonshade, but I decide to start exploring one of the dungeons first. It takes me to a large chamber with north and south exits. The north exit leads to a locked door; the south one takes us to a stairway upward. It's clear we're in some kind of crypt. A metal door opens into some kind of storeroom, looking anything but abandoned. There's a pristine loom, shelves of crockery, and an ale keg. Stairs lead up. 
This is promising.
We emerge in the larder of a large building with multiple bedrooms, a dining room, and some kind of chapel with an ankh altar. I've seen this before. We're on Monk Isle! And in the flesh--not briefly between resurrections. Thank the Serpent, as the locals would say. I can find that mandrake and finally get my spellbook.
But of course we have to talk with the locals first. One of the annoying things about that is that some of the monks are generic and have taken vows of silence. They're indistinguishable from the named monks who have dialogue options. Highlights:
  • On a table in front of the altar is the full text of Xenka's prophecy. In brief, it says the Hero from Another World will arrive with three companions, will "unite the serpents," will require powerful magic "and the implements three of the Hierophant." My friends will be my enemies; I will need to triumph "even in Dreams," and the dead shall aid me. I will need "a thief and a braggart" as my ally, and I shall ally with those who were once my enemies. The color red and a woman is involved.
  • Karnax is here, but he has nothing new to say. However, talking to him I realize something I missed before (see below).
Is there any reason I couldn't have explored a bit after one of my resurrections?
  • Thoxa clarifies the "vow of silence" bit. She was the one who met me right after I arrived. The daily lives of the monks--prayer, work, study, sleep--are governed by bells, although no one rings them. "It is said that when all the bells toll, it will signal Xenka's return." She doesn't specify that the bells ring at consistent times each day, and I love the idea that the monks have no idea how long they're going to be spending on each activity when the day begins. Gwenno is no longer there: she left to seek the "ice people" of the north. Miggim knows more.
  • Miggim from the Sleeping Bull is here. He invites me to check out the library. He also says I can eat any of the food I find on the island, which the monks grow themselves.
  • Miggim's library has a few bits of interest. A monk writes about having encountered undead in a dungeon and hiding the key in a nearby hollow tree. I don't think it's the same dungeon as the one we came from. Some other verses of Xenka's prophecy suggest that I'll doom the world if I attack the "men who are not men covered in fur"; I suspect this refers to the Gwani.
  • More interesting is the memoirs of Brother Markus, who recounts how someone hammered at the monastery's door one dark and stormy night. He opened the door and admitted a weary traveler who introduced himself as . . . Blackthorn. According to Markus, Blackthorn studied with the monks for a while and developed some perspective. I wonder what happened to him and if I'll run into him again.
Lord British's moonstone managed to exile the usurper all the way to the next continent. Great job.
  • There is one book and one scroll of nothing but Ophidian script. "No way am I translating this," I write, just before I realize that there's a Lens of Translating in the middle of the room. Double-clicking on it allows me to read the script. The book, Temples of Order, describes a pilgrimage route to the Temples of Ethicality, Discipline, and Logic, all near the northern mountains.
  • Yet another prophecy from Xenka--they clearly weren't all collected in that book--describes us finding Gweno in a wall of ice and shattering the wall with a horn obtained from the Gwani.
  • There's a love poem written by Minax about Mondain. I wonder where this came from.
You have it from Minax's own hand: "Mondain" rhymes with "fountain."
  • Draxta fawns over me a bit. She mentions that Xenka got her visions at the Place of Visions to the northwest. She offers to meet us there and show us a vision.
  • A monk who does not believe in names tells me that fresh mandrake can only be picked when "the tides are right" or some other nonsense that makes me think I'm not going to get my damned spellbook after all.
Yes, the corn in the field has a name. It's called "corn."
In talking with Karnax about the Amulet of Balance again, I realize that I've been under a misapprehension. I remembered from my previous experience with the game (roughly 20 years ago) that you can teleport at the serpent gates and that the jawbone is needed to determine your destination. When I arrived and Karnax gave me the Amulet of Balance and immediately started talking about serpent gates, I just assumed it was part of the same mechanism. I never actually tried it because I thought I needed both the amulet and jawbone to teleport. Now I realize that the amulet is something else entirely, and in fact it's what takes you to the "Silver Seed" expansion. So at least now I know how to get there when I'm ready. 
People love hiding stuff in tree hollows in the Serpent Isle.
I find and explore the small dungeon mentioned in the scroll--it connects back to the monastery basement--but I don't get any good screenshots because I'm out of torches again and I refuse to fiddle around with them any more. I want my "Light" spell. 
I meet Draxta in the Place of Visions, which is a small theater with a large "screen" of white brick. I guess Xenka's "visions" weren't just in her mind; the monks literally see things projected on the screen. I asked Draxta for a vision and she showed me what appears to be Petra, the automaton from the tavern in Moonshade, walking through smoke. It's very brief.
What is that to the left of her? Is that supposed to be me?
I talk with does-not-believe-in-names one more time before departing, and--miracle of miracles--he tells me the tides are right to pick mandrake roots. I follow his advice, hustle up to the swamps, and fight against the red-on-red graphics until I find five mandrake pieces.
Can you pick that out?
Hoping some scripted idiocy doesn't hijack me, I book it back to the serpent gate and take the path to Moonshade. I rush into the Seminarium and hand Fedabilbio the mandrake. "Still I'm hesitant," he hedges. I prepare to lodge my axe in his head, but it turns out he just wants to ask me some more copy protection questions. When he's done, I finally have a damned book. I start working to transcribe the scrolls I've been carrying.
Some of my new spells.
The book comes with "Awaken," "Heal," "Translation," and "Transcribe." I have about a dozen scrolls with different spells that I can "Transcribe," but I need reagents for that spell. Certain mages--Columna, Mortegro, Torrissio, Melino--sell the spells I don't have. What follows is about two hours of me changing money, buying spells, buying reagents, and casting "Transcribe." The process is made annoying by a couple of issues. The NPCs who sell spells don't have a "buy" option automatically; you have to tease it out with the right conversation options. Then a useless "haggling" mechanic slows down the process with extra clicks.
Once I have "Great Light," "Unlock Magic," and "Telekinesis," I don't really have any priorities. I focus on buying out individual NPCs' inventories so I don't have to keep track of who's sold me what. I end up being able to afford everyone's entire list (minus the ones I already had) except Mortegro's.
I'll talk more about spells and their utility in a later entry. "Great Light" does what it's supposed to do, but the duration seems extremely variable. I'm going to have to stock up on ash. Some other things come up during this process:
  • Columna talks to me for the first time. She takes her stockings back, unnecessarily promising to "wear them for [me] in a night of passion that [I] shall remember all of [my] days." Then she destroys them and laughs at me for a fool. She also insists that Mosh is lying about being her sister.
I don't find you remotely attractive.
  • Melino, Columna's husband, also talks with me. He seems like a decent guy except for his utter contempt for "mundanes." He says Columna has a serpent's tooth, but this produces no new dialogue options. He also mentions that the executed necromancer Vasculio came back from the dead.
  • Speaking of serpents' teeth, I un-avatarishly ransack every house in Moonshade looking for more and come up with nothing except a note in Frigidazzi's place that she lost her tooth in the north.
  • Frigidazzi is in her house for the first time. She has no dialogue options relating to the fur cap, but the door to her bedchamber is now unlocked. I sneak in and find my missing magic helm in her dresser drawer. I replace it with the cap. Frigidazzi invites me to visit her after midnight to learn cold spells.
Cross another one off the list.
  • In the dead Rotoluncia's vacant house, I smash open her locked chest and free the imprisoned naga. The naga immediately slithers over to a candle and lights it, saying, "That's better." Make of that what you will.
The naga has her priorities straight.
  • Mosh is happy that I believe her and not Columna, but I get no more dialogue options to continue investigating this sub-quest. 
  • In order to try to get more money to pay for Mortegro's spells, I pop over to Furnace. I'm also hoping that, through Furnace, I can make my way back to Monitor for some training. Alas, I encounter nothing but locked doors.
There's a skeleton with some cool stuff, though.
Speaking of Mortegro, we visit him after midnight a couple of times to have him run more seances. The first one is staggering. The spirit of Gwenno appears to tell Iolo that she'll always love him. Gwenno is dead! Iolo, for his part, refuses to believe it. Xenka's prophecy said that I'd free her from ice. Maybe she's only "mostly dead"?
This was pretty shocking, not to mention ghoulish. There's no way Gwenno is dead, right? She's been in every Ultima since the beginning!
In the third seance, Mortegro tries to contact Kane's dead brother but can't find him in the spirit realm. Mortegro says that may mean he's not dead. Duh. He's "Ale," the parrot. Did anyone not figure this out immediately?
Also during these days in Moonshade, I spend a lot of time getting a handle on my inventory, sorting things into appropriate packs and discarding excess stuff. This is what I come up with:
  • Gideon, the Avatar, carries commonly-used items (map, watch, sextant, jawbone, lockpicks) in his belt pouch and quest items in his backpack. His backpack also has separate bags for reagents and "old" keys.
  • Dupre carries the items that replaced our missing items in a chest. He also carries tools and usable non-magic items, principally bandages.
  • Shamino carries usable potions and scrolls.
  • Iolo carries our money in his belt pouch and extra weapons, wands, and ammo in his backpack.
  • Boydon carries food.
I start to long for the "list" inventory system of Ultima V.
Shamino has about a thousand potions, so I take the time to remind myself what all the potions do. There's an in-game book called The Apothecary's Desk Reference that helps with this process, except the part where I can't tell the difference between some of the colors. It would have been really nice if the game had offered some way of discerning the color other than visually interpreting it. For instance, when you click on it once, it could have said something like "red potion" instead of just "potion."
I offered a long screed about my color blindness a couple of years ago. One of the things I talked about is how I have more trouble distinguishing absolute colors than comparative colors. Take the red, green, and yellow potions. If I have all three, there's no question in my mind which is which. But if I only have the red potion, I can't be sure whether it's red or green, and if I only have the yellow, I can't be sure whether it's green or yellow--or orange, for that matter. So I have to keep one of each potion so I can say, "Well, this one clearly isn't yellow because that one has to be the yellow one." Even with all that, green and orange are practically indistinguishable. My notes have to account for this confusion lest I accidentally drink a poison potion while trying to cure poison.
So this is what I have:
  • Black: Invisibility. No potential confusion.
  • Blue: Sleep. Potential confusion: purple.
  • Bluish-Black: Warmth. I assume this is the potion that I perceive as blue-and-white. It creates a black octagon on my character sheet.
  • Green: Poison. Potential confusion: red, orange, yellow.
  • Orange: Awakening. Potential confusion: green, yellow, red.
  • Orange Shimmering: Restore magic points. That's what the book calls it, anyway. To me, it looks like red and yellow mixed together.
  • Purple: Protection. Potential confusion: blue.
  • Red: Cure poison. Potential confusion: green, orange.
  • White: Illumination. No potential confusion but I just keep forgetting what it does. Now that I have "Great Light," I'm not sure there's any good reason to keep these.
  • Yellow: Heal. Potential confusion: green, orange.
It's a good thing that this book exists because in The Black Gate, the red-yellow potion completely destroyed Skara Brae. I would think the Avatar would have gotten rid of those as soon as possible.
If you try to use the "F" key to feed your party when you're out of food, the game notes that you do have some garlic.
The funny thing is that green and blue potions can work on enemies. There's no point to them otherwise. My question is, how? Am I throwing it at my foes or somehow, in the middle of combat, convincing them to drink? In any event, green poison potions seem to account for the vast majority of what I have.
Anyway, using color comparison, I get everything straightened out. I put useful potions and scrolls in the bag at Shamino's waist and offensive ones in his backpack. It's ironic that I choose this moment to do all this inventory shuffling, as we'll soon see.
At this point, I have no idea what to do next. I seem to hit dead ends with all the plot lines. I have no way to get back to the main continent unless I missed the serpents' teeth that would take me to Monitor or Fawn, or the keys that would open the locked doors in Furnace. After wandering around aimlessly for a while, I remember that Frigidazzi wants to see me after midnight. What's about to happen immediately clicks. Maybe I'm remembering past experiences with the game, but I also think the game did a good job foreshadowing it.
If I find someone to sleep with in Fawn, do I get some kind of achievement?
Frigidazzi isn't interested in selling me spells. After getting me to dismiss the rest of the party on the pretense that magic must remain between mages, she goes through an elaborate seduction ritual. The player can either resist or play along. I played along--no wedding ring on Gideon's finger. Frigidazzi showers the Avatar with compliments and asks him or her to kiss her (I verified online later that the episode is the same for female avatars). She casts the "Est Nudi" spell, which conjures a sort of vortex to remove her clothes, then dances the Dance of Passion, accompanied by spells like "Vox Erotis," "Ort Erotis," and, curiously, "Vas Flam." 
Good god, Avatar--put the sword away, at least.
Finally, she and the Avatar tumble into bed, Frigidazzi saying that she's falling in love with him. Predictably, Filbercio chooses this moment to apparate in and catch the lovers in flagrante.
I'm upset that we never got to hear her explanation.
No matter what you say, the enraged Filbercio convenes the Council over Frigidazzi's protests. Throughout the rest of this episode, Frigidazzi begs for the Avatar's life. I assumed at first she was faking her interest for Batlin or some other ulterior motive, but I guess not.
Frigidazzi melts my heart.
The following sham trial confirms that the whole place needs to be burned to the ground. Bucia is the first to testify against me, claiming that I've been asking all kinds of "strange and personal questions" about the townsfolk and that I've been showing her weird objects. Then Flindo reports that I'm "a liar, a fraud, and [a] known consort with people of the lowest type." He claims I only came to Moonshade because I was fleeing a charge of bribing the tower guards to release a prisoner.
I hate these people.
After hearing the "evidence," Filbercio demands judgment. Gustacio announces that the council finds me guilty. "And the sentence?" Filbercio asks. It's Mortegro who pronounces it: "The criminal must be sent to the hellhole known as Dungeon Freedom." That hurt. I thought Mortegro and I were friends. Now, Bucia objects that I'll "never be seen alive again!" Regardless, I'm compelled to march into the teleporter in the next chamber. Gustacio calls after me that if I find my way out, I'll be a free man again.
The audience reacts to the sentence.
An automaton greets me as I arrive. He takes my name and crime, warns me that some of the other prisoners are violent, and reiterates that if I can escape, I'll be free. Most of my inventory is gone. I (oddly) have my spellbook and reagents, the magic hourglass, and a suit of scale armor. Somehow, I've acquired a staff. Everything else is gone. I am about to say that those items better be waiting for me when I get out, or else I'm killing everyone in Moonshade, but frankly I'm planning to do that anyway.
Time so far: 28 hours