Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ultima VI: A Pirate's Life For Me

Buccaneer's Den awaited. Past excursions to the island had taught a fair few of our number that the place was rough, and potentially dangerous. Yet thanks to our recent shopping spree, we were armed to the teeth with a wide array of spells and a few new weapons - not to mention clad in the finest armor that money could buy. So long as we kept alert and on our toes, we figured we would we be just fine. So we made our way to Paws and set sail due east, in search of the dread pirate Hawkins and his fearsome crew. I remembered Heftimus, back in Jhelom, mentioning that both the man and his ship were now long gone, but perhaps I would manage to find some clues nonetheless. That tablet had to be around somewhere, and there were answers that only it could provide me (and Mariah) with.

Sure, Homer. Sure. Whatever you say.
So I started in the natural place for one to look when seeking out knowledge of ships and pirates when in port - the tavern. And sure enough, there were captains galore in town, enough that practically the entire pub turned to face me whenever I addressed anyone by the title. There was the painter Captain Fox, of the Silver Stag, who seemed an amiable sort of chap. Captain Leodon of the Golden Hind made some rather disparaging comments about Captain John, who she considered a traitor for venturing to the other side of the world to join with the gargoyles. In her position, I might think the same, but having known John from my previous adventure, I couldn't help but wonder what his reasoning would be. He had, after all, been desperate to redeem himself, and to fall once again into vice and evil did not strike me as something he would come to easily - I made a note to seek him out and ask him if the chance arose. In the meantime, however, Leodon offered to join me in my current adventures, as did her companion Leona, another captain whose ship had sunk and was currently serving on Leodon's crew. I politely declined, content with the size of my little band for the time being. I also spent some time in conversation with Captain Elad, of the sunken ship Theodosia Marie, which he'd lost to a whirlpool just off of Bordermarch. Notably, he was drinking tea rather than the ales most of the rest of the tavern's patrons were chugging, having just recently given up drink. Though sullen and struggling, he seemed to be making a genuine effort to better himself - enough so that when he asked for the mantra of Honesty, I readily provided him with it, in the hopes that he would find a bit of encouragement welcome.

It was the shifty man with the cane in the corner that provided me with what I was looking for, though... or at least, led me closer to it. It turned out that he had been one of Hawkins' crew, and the man had been so reviled by even them, that they mutinied against him - though he was quick to claim he had absolutely nothing to do with the matter. When confronted about the matter of the tablet, he refused to tell me anything on account of not being a member of the guild. It became clear that I wasn't going to get a word out of him unless I found some way to join, distasteful as that felt. Homer did let slip the fact that I were looking to do so, Budo would be the one to talk to - the only problem was that I hadn't met anybody by that name anywhere on the island. Enrik (or Hammer, as he asked to be called), certainly had the sort of personality I'd expect for one who led a guild of any sort in the Den, but it was only through careful examination of the tavern's kitchen that I found the secret door that led to Budo's shop, which should have tipped me off in its own right.

...among other things.
Budo was a provisioner, and seemed a friendly if slightly bumbling sort - at least, until I made mention of the guild, and his whole demeanor changed. Immediately he was suspicious, asking who sent me, and after a bit of wheedling he explained what was needed to join the guild. Membership in the guild was indicated by a belt, but since there were only a limited number of belts in existence, I would need to take one for myself. I supposed that was fitting, needing to steal one in order to gain entry to a thieves' guild of sorts, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. Still, far better to steal one than to kill for one, and Budo seemed to be in agreement on at least that much. He told me of a guild member who dwelt beneath the sewers of Castle Britannia that he very much wanted to see... retire... and told me not to get any more violent about it than necessary. Considering his mention of how it would reflect poorly on the guild and incite unwanted questions, though, I think we had somewhat different reasons for wanting to avoid a fight.

I headed back to the castle and we plunged into the sewers, wandering our way through their dank and murky depths until a poison trap down a passageway signaled a few traps, which were easily avoided with judicious spellcasting. It did not, however, manage to keep us from blundering straight into a rigged doorway, which proceeded to explode on us as we sought out the guild member we suspected lived in the abode. She turned out to be sleeping - how she managed to do so while her front door was busy exploding in our faces, I'll never know - and a simple Pickpocket spell made swiping her belt a trifling matter. Figuring it would be better to split before she awoke, we hurried off and continued exploring the sewers - which, after a good deal of wandering around, turned out to connect to Buccaneer's Den, right behind Budo's shop. He welcomed me into the guild after I showed him the belt, and also offered me a discount on his wares, which I swiftly took advantage of, picking up a shovel and some gems while I was there. Chasing down a pirates' stash - I would likely have need of both.

This spell seems like it could wreak havoc by its very existence.
Homer all but confirmed it when I returned to him. Now a member of the guild, he was willing to tell me what he knew - mostly. He told me Hawkins had a map to his treasure, of which the tablet was doubtlessly among. The map itself, however, had been split amongst his former crew. Homer told me of five - the cook and first mate went to Trinsic, Hawknose headed for the desert to kill a demon, Ybarra went to Shame, another with only one hand made for Jhelom, and one other died in the wreckage of the Empire. He informed me he'd only tell me where his own piece of the map was once I'd found the rest of it, and that was that. Maps, buried treasure, lost relics... this was starting to sound like a swashbuckling adventure, all right.

During our adventures in the sewers, Blaine had gained enough experience for another level - that magic bow I'd bought him was doing the trick - and after considering for a moment I decided to take him to the Shrine of Valor, as he could use a bit more strength. Since we were close by, we paid Heftimus a visit in Jhelom. He did, after all, have only one hand, and sure enough, he was willing to tell us about his piece of the map for twenty pieces of eight - er, gold. Apparently he'd intended to use it for tinder during an expedition in Wrong, but got chased off before he set it aflame, and there it presumably still lies. Making a note of this, I headed for Trinsic next, since not one but two of Hawkins' former crew called it home. Sandy was the only one Homer had called by name, though, so I started with him. He was reluctant to speak on the matter, though he intimated he might be more willing if I would do him a favor - of obtaining him a dragon's egg, for a pastry of all things! Well, Shubin of Serpent's Hold had asked much the same thing of me, and Destard was a stone's throw to the west, so I gritted my teeth, shared a few resolute nods with my companions, and off we went.

I do not want to be here when all those eggs hatch.
Destard was absolutely swarming with draconic denizens, both drakes and fully grown dragons alike. At first we bore through the onslaught, confident in our abilities and our skills, but after striking down a few dragons and nursing our wounds with numerous healing spells, we decided a different strategy would be necessary. We could hold out for a time, yes, but the numbers we were encountering would surely wear us down eventually. Stealth would likely serve us better, as dragon eggs were not likely to be left unguarded. Unfortunately, I was not yet experienced enough to cast seventh level spells - including Mass Invisibility - and with six of us in the group, it would be very draining on our resources very quickly if we to rely on individual invisibility spells as our sole method of concealment.

Our adventures thus far, however, had turned up no less than four invisibility rings, and remembering this I quickly distributed them amongst the group, slipping them on and off as appropriate whenever Shamino made mention of the fact that he heard motion not far from us. Between them and the occasional Mass Protect spell, just for the sake of safety, we managed to plunge our way to the very bottom of the dungeon without much harassment from the dragons and their ilk at all. From there, I left the group in a small, secluded alcove near the ladder leading back toward the surface, leaving a few of my possessions with them in exchange for the rings they carried - if the one I was wearing wore out, I didn't want to be caught without any backup means. I made my way, invisible and alone, to the dragon's nest, taking two of their eggs for myself - one for Sandy, one for Shubin - and as much of their stash I was able to carry, which mostly consisted of gold nuggets and a weapon and shield or two.

Rest in peace, you poor shipwrecked souls.
I hightailed it back to the others with my prizes, and we quickly filtered through a moongate summoned by the Orb of the Moons back to Sandy, who told us of a few others of the former crew as thanks. There was one in Serpent's Hold - I was pretty sure this was Morchella, based on her reaction to Dupre's previous accusation - one lived as a hermit on Dagger Isle, Nathaniel Moorhead went to Empath Abbey, and the first mate came to Trinsic with Sandy and assumed a new name: the name of Whitsaber, none other than the town's mayor! Confronted with this fact, the mayor gave us his portion of the map in return for the promise that we would keep that knowledge to ourselves. We were only too happy to agree to this, as the mayor truly did seem to have reformed and kept the City of Honor running well.

Having been told the Empire had wrecked on the Cape of Heroes, I set sail once again to make for Serpent Isle, taking the time to explore the nearby islands and poke through the wreckage of any ships I came across. It took some doing, and many fights with ghosts and skeletons, the remnants of crewmembers too stubborn to let well enough alone when their ships went down, but I did eventually find the Empire itself, and the piece of the map wedged beneath the wreckage, clutched in the skeletal hands of a man who perished with his ship. From there it was back to Serpent's Hold, where sure enough, Morchella exchanged a piece of the map for a magic shield, which she'd intended to give to another but upon seeing it decided to keep for herself. I supposed it was a good thing I had little use for shields as it was - I'd picked up a replacement in the dragon hoard - and that I'd made one of my own during my last trip here for the Order of the Silver Serpent. I dropped off the second egg with Shubin, who thanked me profusely, and then I was off again.

...who would go this far out of their way to steal somebody's shoes?
I had found three pieces of the map, but there were still more to find. Since I was low on reagents after my run through Destard, with all those spells slung about, I opted to head for Moonglow and restock. Since it was in close proximity, after thanking Xiao for her services once more, I sailed north to Dagger Isle, seeking out the hermit that was supposed to live here. I found him on the north side of the island, a wild-eyed man named Bonn who seemed to have, simply put, lost it entirely. Much of what he said made little to no sense, and pretty much the only comprehensibly helpful piece of information was the fact his scrap of the map was apparently kept in his basement - which didn't help much when an entrance to one was not visible at all. Closer examination of his quarters, however, revealed a lever beneath a harpsichord (which was not a simple matter to move, let me tell you - there's a reason I play violin as well as piano, it's a lot more portable) which opened the way to the basement. Some rummaging about in his bags and boxes led to the fourth piece of the map - what looked to be about half of the thing in its entirety.

So satisfied with a job well done for now, I called it there.


Well, to be honest, I'm pretty sure I've got the better INT score.
Let's talk for a bit about magic, since it was on my mind a lot while I was playing through this session. My preferred character types in games have shifted a bit over the years, and it of course varies slightly from game to game, but as I've gotten older, I've tended to move away from the heavy-hitting front line warrior types and more toward the agile and intellectual types, conceptually speaking. I love mages in concept - characters who favor the mental game, wit and strategy and brainpower, where a judicious combination can wreak far more havoc on the enemy than simply raining blows down upon them in a vicious frontal assault.

In practice, though, there's only been two games where I've sincerely enjoyed playing a character that's a proper caster-type class, and those have been Kingdoms of Amalur and Dragon Age: Origins. Everything else, I tend to either favor a class that lets me use magic as more of a support mechanism rather than a primary means of action, or just a straight-up dexterity/agility-focused class. Why? Because there's too much that goes into setting up and/or playing a mage right. Not that they're not viable, it's just that I'm not willing to put in the time and effort to learn that specific curve because it interrupts the flow of the game too much for me. Either that or it just takes too many resources to really make it an effective means of combat - constant chugging of mana potions, resting after every two or three fights to refresh spells, the hesitance to cast a spell because what if I need that slot for something more important later, it's all something of a detriment to my enjoyment of playing a mage. Remember how spells were basically inventory items you paid for back in Ultimas I and II? That's how a lot of magic systems in games feel to me, more often than not, just in a bit more veiled guise. And I suppose that's a good thing, in some respects, because often spells have more powerful effects than just straight-up bashing with weapons, especially in combination with each other, and there needs to be some mitigating factor for the sake of balance. In practice, though, it feels rather more cumbersome to me than anything else.

Magic was extremely useful this update.
So I've found myself musing on the fact that I've actually used a pretty heavy amount of magic as I play through Ultima VI, and not just that, but actively looking for opportunities to use my spells. I'm hardly playing as a full-out mage proper, but I'm making more use of magic than I typically do, and I haven't exactly figured out why yet, either. Maybe part of it is due to the fact that magic is simply more convenient than some of the other options there are for doing certain things. Take curing poison, for instance. Red potions are an option, but aren't sold anywhere, so you're working off a limited inventory. There's healers, but the cost of garlic and ginseng to cast the appropriate spell is considerably less than what they charge, and what's more, it can be cast anywhere. Then there's the fact it's relatively simple to measure my resources. I never have to guess how many times I can cast a spell before my reagents are depleted - Ultima VI conveniently tells me right there on the screen when I choose a spell. Running out of MP isn't a problem, because I'm still capable on the battlefield without using spells - I don't have to rely on them, and so I can sprinkle them throughout combat as needed rather than just push and push and push them so hard that I have to constantly find means to regain the points to cast them.

Or maybe it's just because they bring about some interesting effects and look cool. I mean, the awesome factor is part of the draw of messing with magic in a game.

But whatever it is, I'm liking the fact I'm taking advantage of it whenever I can. It's a mark of a good game that leads a player to want to find opportunities for all the tools at their disposal, rather than simply thinking, "I've already got a method that works for doing this, so I'm just not going to worry about it." It was a blast stealthing my way through Destard with the invisibility resources at my disposal, and I found myself poring through my spellbook to see what else might help mitigate whatever might come my way in the dungeon, it made for a very different perspective on the crawl. I'm hoping for more moments like this as I wander through the rest of the game.

I... I guess...?
Halfway through the search for the map - that just leaves Shame, Wrong, Empath Abbey, and the desert. Everything from here on out is something that I've never experienced in-game before - heck, half this update was. I'm looking forward to chasing down the last four pieces, and doubly so when it comes to what it all leads to. Ultima VI has grown on me a lot - my sessions are getting longer, which is both a blessing and a curse, a blessing in that I get a lot done and have a good deal of fun while doing it, a curse in that it means I have a lot to cover when it comes time to write everything up, and that it takes me longer to get back to it afterward! I think it's time to draw this entry to a close, though - I've got a few questions to ask in Empath Abbey, and I don't think they can wait much longer.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ultima VI: Honest Work, Honest Pay

After getting tossed about on the Britannian seas for a while, I managed to land my skiff on the shores of New Magincia, the bleating of sheep mingling with the noise of the waves. A glint of metal just off the pier made me pause for a moment before I entered the town proper - it seemed someone had decided to hide a magic shield beneath a plant nearby. Surely it belonged to someone - I let it be for the moment, striving (as ever) to remain virtuous, but I'll admit it was tempting. It would have been moreso if more of my little band actually used shields, too. Shamino was the only one really making use of a shield - Dupre and Seggallion used two-handed melee weapons, Iolo and Blaine ranged weapons, and Aric kept his spellbook at the ready in his off-hand instead. So with curiosity satisfied and virtue intact, we proceeded into the pastoral village, waving to the farmers working in the fields.

Awfully tempting...
I mentioned back in Ultima IV how much I enjoyed the aesthetic of the ruins of Magincia, especially since it provided such a stark contrast to the rest of the game. I feel much the same about New Magincia as it's portrayed in Ultima V and VI. It's always been the "odd duck" of the eight cities of virtue, whether it's the ruins of the old city or the simple, rural nature of the new, and that feels rather fitting to me, considering it's the town centered on humility, which is also something of the "misfit" of the eight virtues, independent of the three principles. Were I Britannian myself, I suspect that New Magincia would rank high on my list of favorite vacation spots.

Anyway, as usual, my goal in the village was to seek out the Rune entrusted to its mayor's care, and it didn't take me long to track down Lord Antonio. He was a pleasant sort, content with life and pleased at the fact there were few disputes for him to resolve. It left him time to pursue his hobbies, which included a few magic tricks which he was quite happy to perform for my eager band. He told me he would give me the rune in return for the name of the most humble person in New Magincia, which meant a leisurely stroll through town getting to know the populace. William spoke of the low but important work he dealt in as a farmer, as it provided food for all the other professions with more noble connotations (and also made mention of his hippo carvings). Aurendir the shepherd was once a mighty mage with wealth and a castle all his own, which he gave up after a visit to the Shrine of Humility - apparently it was such a moving experience that he decided to change his entire lifestyle. Charlotte the weaver, Dunbar the tavernkeep, even my old friend Katrina - they all made their case for the simple nature of their work and how well they clung to the tenets of humility. But it didn't quite ring true for any of them - humility, after all, was a delicate thing, easily shattered by pride, even pride in one's own humility.

This guy's got the right idea.
It was Conor the fisherman who truly seemed to exemplify the virtue of humility, the only one of the townsfolk not to offer up himself as that highest of examples amongst the New Magincians, and uncertain of who to lift up as one out of reluctance to commend any of his neighbors over another. Antonio smiled when I gave him my answer, and pressed the Rune of Humility into my hands in reply - he had proven himself a good keeper for the rune, ensuring it was given only to those who truly understood what a humble man looked like.

Still musing over my experience in the village, we headed for the Isle of the Avatar and the Shrine of Humility that awaited upon it. I encountered my first marine beasts along this particular voyage - I skirted a feud between a sea serpent and some squids, only to end up attacked by both right on the edges of the Isle. And as if fending them off wasn't enough, the gargoyles set to guard the Shrine seemed to favor ranged combat themselves - no less than seven wingless guards stood in our way, all of them armed with a boomerang, and a winged gargoyle set to command them all. It was a rough battle, as many small cuts can make for very large wounds, but in the end perseverance won the day. We cut down the wingless one by one, and as they fell, the flying boomerangs thinned, giving us more room to deal with the winged - though in truth, his assault was so fervent that he did himself in, standing too close to the fumaroles on the volcanic island and not bothering to keep out of range of his own explosive spells. It took a few Great Heal castings, but we claimed the moonstone once more, and after a good rest and a level for Iolo, we sold the spoils of our fight and headed for Moonglow - and if New Magincia is where I'd vacation, then Moonglow is where I'd live. A city full of scholars, magic, and a stone's throw from the land's biggest library? Count me in!

No wonder Mariah and I got along back in U4. She's a linguist too!
Lord Aganar was taking a stroll near where we docked on Verity Isle, and told us that he had given the rune of Honesty to Beyvin for safekeeping, a very honest man who lived with Penumbra. Yet while I heard talk of her ability to read the future from some of the townsfolk, Penumbra herself proved somewhat elusive. While exploring the city, I of course spent some time in the Lycaeum, where Thariand, a student of Nicodemus - who I realized I hadn't taken the time to find when I was last in Yew - told me of some of the tomes to be found in the library, and how they were organized. Or at least, where I could find a book about how the library was organized, or I could if it wasn't already checked out. Mariah was there in the Lycaeum as well, and after catching up for a bit I showed her the gargoyle book Iolo had been carrying. She recognized a few of the runes, telling me it was entitled "The Book of Prophecy" and that she had a silver tablet that she thought would help in translating the rest of it - or half of one, at least. She told me to seek out the gypsies she had bought it from to find out what happened to the other half. I kept this in mind as I paid a visit to Xiao, who sold me a few spells and reagents, and also told me to seek out the Wisps before learning spells of the eighth circle.

The Dispel Field spell she sold turned out to be particularly useful, in that it let me pass through several fields blocking passage in a building I'd encountered earlier (which was just as mysterious as the vacant house for sale where I could see blood through the window!) It turned out to be Penumbra's residence, and after telling my future - which involved a Vortex and a broken lens that must be made whole that needed to be used with another lens - she informed me that Beyvin was in fact dead, likely from being rather lacking when it came to tact, and that the rune had been buried with him. It took me some time to find an entrance to the crypts beneath Moonglow, but I eventually found one behind a locked door in Xiao's residence. Carefully I made my way through, battling the occasional skeleton, slime, or acid slug, and boggling as to why in the world someone would bury their loved ones with a stick of butter. Eventually I found Beyvin's tomb - locked. There was a note, however, which implied that Manrel, a man with the symbol of the Codex tattooed on his head I'd met earlier, was Beyvin's cousin, and he was willing to let me borrow the key if I agreed to take some flowers to his cousin's tomb. I was quite happy to do so, and after I'd made my return I found myself with the last rune I needed. From there it was a quick trip north to Dagger Isle and the Shrine of Honesty, which I found... unguarded, strangely enough. It was a simple matter to claim the last moonstone, and with that, I had reclaimed all eight shrines in the name of Britannia.

Who buries a body with butter?!
So I sought to tie up a few loose ends before pursuing the other half of the silver tablet in earnest. I stopped by Lord British's castle to store a few things and sell off some unnecessary equipment, then headed back to Yew to find Nicodemus and pick up a spell or two. In the process, I caught sight of some wisps, and upon recalling Xiao's directive I spoke to them. They introduced themselves as some sort of interdimensional information brokers, and would be willing to arrange an exchange for knowledge that was "sufficiently dense." They provided a sample of something they considered not particularly powerful or important - which turned out to be the Armageddon spell (!) of all things. Though I was somewhat dubious as to the wisdom behind it, I headed to the Lycaeum to find something they might think useful. My skill in wandering the stacks (which is fairly considerable by this point - numerous visits to Powell's Books have helped with that) proved put to the test, but not only did I manage to find a book of Lost Mantras which might serve such a purpose, but also a copy of The Wizard of Oz, which I remembered being told Lord British himself had been looking for. After browsing for a little while longer - there were some interesting books hidden away in there, Seggallion was particularly intrigued by the one about his homeland - I headed for the castle and presented the monarch with the copy he'd been looking for, and he rewarded me with several peering gems for my trouble. Then it was back to Yew to return to the wisps. While wandering the area looking for them, Aric gained another level (maxing out his stats in the process) and I also bumped into Zoltan once more, who turned out to be the one who had given the tablet to Mariah in the first place. He in turn had been paid to take it to the Lycaeum by Captain John, but the pirate Hawkins had ambushed them along the way and taken the other half. It seemed apparent that a stop in Buccaneer's Den to ask after the dread pirate would be in order.

That's... not really all that helpful for understanding your system.
I had one last stop to make before that, though. I brought the book of Lost Mantras to the wisps, who deemed it sufficient and found a buyer who wanted to trade substance instead of information. They seemed to think this was a poor trade, but I was already dubious of the sort of information they considered valuable and assured them it was perfectly fine by me. As a result, all six of us found our pockets stuffed to the brim with gold - more gold than we'd come across in our adventure thus far, and indeed ever expected to come across, period! That one last stop turned into several, as I immediately went on a grand shopping spree across the land, visiting Rudyom, Nicodemus, Horance and Xiao in turn to pack my spellbook full of every last spell they could offer me, along with two staves from Nicodemus for enchantment purposes when I was able to cast seventh circle spells, then off to Trinsic to buy a set of magic armor and magic helms for the six of us, along with a warhammer for Seggallion to make better use of his strength, then to Britian to pick up a magic bow for Blaine in order to give him better chances of gaining further experience amongst our ragtag group - and even after all that spending, I still had more gold left over than I could carry on my own! I certainly won't be lacking for funds for a time yet - and that's a good thing, as I expect things are going to get rougher from here on out. Armed with new weapons, new armor, and new spells, we were ready to head to Buccaneer's Den and track down the other half of the silver tablet, wherever that trip would take us.


While playing through this particular session (which incidentally made me rethink my comments on the lack of random encounters from my last post - I stumbled across a fair few while looking for the wisps, including my first fights with reapers, one of which found me against no less than four!) there was one thing that kept popping into my head, and that was this article on the depth of NPCs in Ultima VI. It popped up on my radar via the Ultima Codex some time ago, and running through New Magincia and Moonglow really put me in mind of it - there were a lot of moments during this session that made the NPCs really come alive, that made them feel like actual characters that served more purpose than just Plot Exposition Via Text Dump or Generic Background Flavor. There's a lot to the NPCs of Ultima VI that are there simply for character flavor, like William's hippo carving and Antonio's magic tricks. There's moments that give you a sense of the characters' actions when you're not around - Shamino knows Stelnar, and they exchange familiar when you meet him. It's suggested that Iolo and Conor have crossed paths before via a flicker of recognition on the bard's face when you meet him, and Conor confirms it when you ask him, but doesn't elaborate much on the topic. Characters are memorable, and I think part of that is because they've all got some detail that distinguishes them from the rest of the cast - and at the same time, doesn't drown you in everything about those characters. Less really is more sometimes, and I think it works to Ultima VI's benefit. It's just enough flavor to get you interested, without so much that it becomes overbearing and heavy-handed.

It's a nice touch that there's clearly more to characters than they tell you.
And on the subject of Conor, I have to spend a moment talking about him, too. He's the only resident of New Magincia not to claim that he has some right to the title of Most Humble In Town, and that's the most obvious method of solving Antonio's "puzzle." I've seen a bit of fun poked at the game and its presentation of humility here and there due to this, but I think there's more here than just that simple statement. Humility is perhaps the most nuanced of the eight virtues, and that can be hard to capture properly. I think Conor does rather a fine job of it, though. There's a quote by C. S. Lewis that the humble man "will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility, he will not be thinking about himself at all." That pretty much describes how Conor is written to a T. I think it's worth noting that beyond being the only one not to espouse his own humility, he's also written in a such a way that he espouses very little about himself at all - most of the other townsfolk will gladly speak at length about themselves or their profession or their interests, but you hardly ever get more than a sentence or two out of Conor at a time. He's contrastive to the rest of the populace in almost every facet of his speech patterns and word choice, and while a lot of it is subtle, that fact, that ability to make a character truly feel like he stands apart from his neighbors while still making him feel like a proper character - that impresses me. A lot.

I'm getting very close to the portion of the game that I haven't played through before - once I make my way through Buccaneer's Den and steal a belt, it'll be uncharted territory for me. I've picked up one or two of the easier map pieces before, but that's about the farthest I've made it in the game. There's dangers and adventure and excitement just waiting out there for me - and I'm eager to get to it!

Newly outfitted and ready to go!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Ultima VI: Getting Lost

Britannia is big.

Okay, okay, so I'm not actually certain whether the game world of Ultima VI, in any sort of measurable terms, is any bigger or smaller than its predecessors, but I've played Ultima IV so often that I know its general layout practically like the back of my hand, and Ultima V didn't shake things up much in that respect, so it made getting around and knowing the relative positions of everything a fairly simple matter. Ultima VI, however... while (almost) everything is in the same general position, the shift from dual-scale to single-scale has meant that my sense of... well, scale, has been somewhat off and I'm finding it fairly easy to get lost when I'm not sticking to the roads. Which, I suppose, is actually reasonably realistic, though it's making it a bit of a chore to figure out where I am in relation to everything sometimes.

How the heck would you WIELD it?!
It also means, however, that I have a greater appreciation for Ultima VI's map, on account of the fact that I've had to scrutinize it considerably more than I have for any of the other games up until this point. And to its great credit, it's remarkably detailed and very well reflective of the game world - and yet it conveys that information in a rather unique style all its own, as well. It complements the game itself very well, and I'm finding myself wishing that I could have played Ultima IV all those years ago when I first went through it with the original map as well.

But on to the game itself! As can probably be surmised from my musings on how easy it is to get lost, I did so a couple times during this particular session. Having freed the five shrines accessible via the mainland, it was now time to hit the high seas and explore the islands. I'd bought a skiff in Britain at the tail end of my last session, so after a few minutes' worth of figuring out the commands to board, exit, and carry it around, I shoved off from the pier and turned my vessel to the south. It was on this maiden voyage that I first got a real sense of the size of Britannia and my need to re-learn the landscape - I found a shipwreck in what I thought was the southern tip of the main continent, guarded by ghosts and skeletons galore, until I remembered that I hadn't passed Paws yet and was, in fact, currently sailing through the Fens of the Dead! Serpent's Hold - my first stop on my marine journey - would be quite a voyage yet.

After that brief confusion in the Fens, I resolved to stick closer to the coast until I was certain I'd passed Trinsic, and once the walled city came into view, I paid close attention to the pattern of islands on my map and tried to match them up with where I was. I found another wreck on an long, thin strip off land just off the coast of the city of Honor, and made a note to come visit it again later - I had things to do, places to go, people to see! (Although it did amuse me that ships apparently can do 30 points of damage. I wonder how you wield one of those?)

Dunno about that, but your help is welcome.
I carefully navigated my way through the islands until I reached the Isle of Deeds - does that archipelago have an official name, incidentally? - and the official grounds of Britannia's knightly order, Serpent's Hold. As tends to be typical, I first poked my head into the local tavern, since a fair few types pass through the doors of such establishments, and it's a good way to meet people and pick up the flavor of the settlement. The first person I spoke to was Koronada, a fortuitous meeting indeed as he turned out to be the guildmaster of the Order of the Silver Serpent. The son of the lighthouse keeper of Greyhaven (or at least, keeper until it was destroyed by an earthquake), he now served as the head of the Order, and took the stories of my previous deeds as evidence enough of my worthiness to join its ranks - though he still wished me to make my own shield before letting me in officially, which Gherick could help with. We said our goodbyes and my attentions turned to a burly man named Seggalion, who, after telling me his story of his arrival from a place called Ashtalarea through a moongate, expressed his desire to join my quest in the hopes of meeting someone who might be able to help him get home, or at the very least assist the people who helped him by aiding in the effort. Moved by his story and its similarities to my own, I agreed.

Having thereby increased our little band to six, we next spoke with Sir Caradon, who originally hailed from Yew. He told us that he had fought the gargoyles near the Shrine of Honesty, speaking of some substance that they ingested that made them fight like living cyclones. His tale spoke of a fierce and harsh battle, of which there were few survivors, though I admittedly found myself wondering just how well the young knight adhered to the virtue of the shrine he fought by. Our last meeting in the tavern was with Shubin the cook, who asked if we could bring him a dragon egg if we came across one - he apparently needs one to cook Magincian Pastry, a recipe he learned from Sandy of Trinsic. We'll have to see about that one - that would be no small task.

The tests of Humility continue.
There were a few other figures we met while exploring Serpent's Hold. Tessa and Simon I remembered from my last adventure, the two of them settled in Serpent's Hold once Bordermarch sank in the resultant earthquake once Lord British had been rescued. There was also a woman named Morchella who balked at Dupre's accusation of being a pirate, and refused to talk to us further. Baron de Hugh, a man in training on the island, mentioned his desire to gather an army to go defeat the "mighty demon" Sin'Vraal, referring to him as a malevolent creature lording over all sorts of miscreants in the desert. The knowledge Sin'Vraal was still around was information I filed away for later use - if Baron de Hugh's bravado was not so obviously a mask covering his lack of skill, I might have been more worried for him.

Gherick, the local smith, was indeed helpful in crafting me a proper shield for the Order with a gold nugget and viewing gem (Seggalion happily provided us with the items from his own personal stash), and to thank him for his help we purchased a halberd for Dupre to use. We trained for a bit with Loubet the fencing master, exchanging friendly greetings and caught up with our old acquaintance Sentri, showed Koronada the shield Gherick had crafted for me, and then set sail to the west, aiming for Jhelom. It only occurred to me afterward that I forgot to follow up on Chuckles' clue while I was in the vicinity, but I was sure I would be back again later.

I came across more wrecks - and more ghosts and skeletons guarding them - amongst the islands on the way to the city of Valor, and Dupre's new weapon was tested as we fought them all off. We gave the island that held the Shrine of Valor a wide berth for the time being - we didn't want to get ourselves into the fight we expected there until we were prepared to reclaim the Shrine proper. Skirting the island meant it wasn't long before we made landing in Jhelom itself, though, and we were met by an impoverished sailor with a hook for a hand. He asked if I could spare a doubloon for him, and after I obliged, he regaled me with his tale. His name was Heftimus McPry, a name once feared in Buccaneer's Den, but he had fallen from grace since his fight with Captain Hawkins that lost him a hand - which Hawkins promptly threw to the sharks. A nasty figure by all accounts, to be sure, that elevated him into infamous legend.

Odysseus you're not.
I had more pressing matters to see to at the moment, however, and sought out the town's leader. Zellivan seemed quite a decent man, and we exchanged a few stories of past battles fought for a time. It seemed the only battle he fought now was attempting to keep the boisterous residents of Jhelom in line these days, though that in itself seemed an unenviable task to me. When asked, he told me the Rune of Valor had been given away in a tournament, the winner of which would be entrusted with its care. He told me, with a sly sort of grin, that 'no man' was the winner - had I been a cyclops, this might have confused me more, but thankfully I'd read my Homer and asked Nomaan about it when I bumped into him at the local smith. In return he spun me a tale of the raucous celebration after the tournament in the pub, where a large rat scooped up the Rune when it fell out of Nomaan's hands and rushed it into its little hole. Too small a space for anyone to reach it, there it likely remained.

With this bit of knowledge, our next stop was obvious. We made our way to the Sword and Keg, where Shamino waved to a man wearing a rather distinct, oddly-shaped helm and exchanged a few bits of news. The man was named Stelnar Starhelm, whom Shamino had traveled with before. He introduced himself as a monster-slayer, killing wisps and gargoyles for the past year in Spiritwood. He too wished to go slay Sin'Vraal, with no regard for the part he had played in the rescue of Lord British. He did suggest that he may be found where we last met him, however, so that was another useful piece of information. Stelnar also made a remark that ugliness is only skin deep, just like beauty, which seemed a bit odd coming from him though no less well to keep in mind.

I wonder where the rat found that ring...
It was Andy the serving girl who seemed the most sensible out of the lot in the tavern, though - which, considering the bluster of most of the fighters in the area, was a bit less surprising than it might have sounded. It was she who actually thought of a way to retrieve the Rune of Valor from the rat hole, having remembered stories of Sherry the Talking Mouse in Lord British's castle, who might be convinced to help out. Dupre was dubious, but sure enough, a trip to the castle proved fruitful, as Sherry readily agreed to make the trip in exchange for a bit of cheese, and not only did she emerge from the hole in the wall of the Sword and Keg with the Rune, but with a magic ring as well! We took her back to the castle and said goodbye, with many thanks for her help, then set sail over the wine-dark sea for the Shrine of Valor. It was a rather arduous fight - it seemed like the gargoyles sent their strongest to guard the Shrine, and we certainly proved our Valor as we fought tooth and nail against them. It was rough, but we did emerge victorious, and after reclaiming the moonstone, we turned our sights to New Magincia, where I decided to call it a day.


It occurred to me while sailing the high seas just how little combat I've encountered in this game. I mean, I knew that pacifist runs were a thing for Ultima VI, but I've run into remarkably few random encounters as I meander from place to place. I can probably count them on one hand when I was running about the mainland, and sailing about probably doubled that number. I'm not entirely sure what I think about that - on the one hand, it's nice not to constantly be interrupted every few steps with beasties, but on the other, I'd like at least a little something to shake up the exploration. Maybe it's because I've mostly stuck to the paths thus far, I'm expecting the dungeons to be another matter entirely once I get to them.

Writer's block is a nasty thing when it rears its ugly head (I've been sitting on this post for a few weeks now because of it), but I seem to be through it for the moment, and I'm eager to free those last two shrines and move on to a segment of the game I've never really done much with. Onward to the island of shepherds!

Another suggestion all may not be as it seems...