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!

1 comment:

  1. This is why I love this game so much. There is so much depth, so much character, so much going on in this game and this world. Nothing has yet to equal the Ultima games or Origin in the way that they "Create worlds." The writers at Origin during U5-7 were amazing and Britannia is to this day my favorite fictional world.