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.

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