Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Ultima: Through Farthest Lands and Deepest Dungeons

Having fully explored two continents, and completed the quests ordained by the kings of Castle Barataria, Castle Rondorlin, the Castle of Lord British and the Castle of the Lost King, there was little for me to do but head off across the ocean once more to find new land.  The third continent I discovered was - like the two before it - based on the same basic shape, with the cities and dungeons located in the same places.  I spent a good amount of time on mapping, even though by this point I had realised that it was pointless.  The only things I absolutely had to find were the castles and landmarks, and with the continents being nearly identical that wasn't hard.  What can I say, I like mapping games based on a grid, and I'll keep at it as long as the process isn't too frustrating.  In the case of Ultima I was far more powerful than the monsters I was encountering, so the mapping was fun.

A map of Ultima's third continent.

I've listed out the towns and dungeons for the previous continents, so I guess I should do it here as well for the sake of consistency.  Here are the towns on the third continent:

  • Ponder, on the eastern side of the inlet on the south coast.  (There's a town called Ponder in Texas, which might be the inspiration for this name.)
  • Nassau, on the north side of the central bay, not far from the castle. (Garriott grew up in Nassau Bay in Texas, so this is undoubtedly named after that city.)
  • Stout, on the shore of the south-eastern lake.
  • Clear Lagoon, on the north coast. (Garriott's hometown was in the Clear Lake Area, and there's apparently a Clear Lagoon in Texas City; either could be possible influences.)
  • The City of Imagination, at the tip of the inlet near the east coast.
  • The City of Wealth, to the north-east.
  • The City of Poor, to the north-west.  (Check out that searing social commentary.)
  • Gauntlet, in the central forest grove.

The dungeons are named as follows:

  • The End.... (complete with ellipses), on the west coast.
  • The Metal Twister, in the mountain range to the south-west.
  • The Trolls Hole, on the south coast.
  • The Guild of Death, on the small island in the centre of the bay.
  • The Slow Death, at the tip of the peninsula on the east coast
  • The Vipers Pit, which has two entrances: on west of the Slow Death, and the other on the continent's north-west, in a forest valley.
  • The Tramp of Doom, on the north coast.
  • The Long Death, in the mountain range north-west of Gauntlet.

The first of the castles I located was the Black Dragon's Castle, on the western side of the central bay. The quest he gave me was to "go forth and kill a Liche", so there was definitely more dungeon delving in my immediate future.

On the north side of the bay was the Castle of Olympus, where the king told me to "go and find the sign post".  This was a little less mythically epic than the other quests I'd been given, but I'll take my stat boosts where I can get them.  This continent has two landmarks: the Southern Sign Post, and the Sign Post.  The first of those is found on the east coast, and is connected to the mainland unlike its island-based counterparts on the previous two continents.  The Southern Sign Post features the Latin phrase "omnia mutantur" ("everything changes"), and gave me a boost to my Charisma.  The Sign Post, found on a mountain-ringed island to the north-west, was the object of my quest. It's Latin phrase is "ultima thule", and it gave me a boost to Stamina.  As with the other "landmark quests" I'd completed, the king of the Castle of Olympus rewarded me with a bonus to Strength when I returned to him.

Finding the Sign Post.

(A quick note about the phrase "ultima thule".  In ancient times it referred to the northernmost location mentioned in Greek and Roman literature, and later on it became a phrase representing any land beyond the borders of the known world.  It's difficult to guess where Garriott got the phrase from, but the Edgar Allen Poe poem "Dream-Land" does feature the phrase, as well as the line "Out of Space - out of Time".  It seems a likely connection.)

I did my Liche-hunting in the dungeon known as the Guild of Death.  The dungeon is located on a small island, but by this point I wasn't worried about the consequences of dying.  I'd accumulated enough hit points that I could survive pretty much anything the dungeons could throw at me.  I mapped my way down to level 7, found and killed a Liche almost instantly, and made my way back to the Black Dragon's Castle.  The king rewarded me with a blue gem, and the following hint: "the princess will help a space ace through time!".

Fighting a Liche.

That last hint was the one that I needed to piece everything together.  From hints obtained while drinking at the bar I knew that I needed to travel back in time and stop Mondain from creating his gem of immortality.  One of the kings had told me that I'd need a time machine to complete my quest, and another had told me that I needed four gems.  I'd found three of the gems, but no sign of the time machine. Now, with this new hint from the king, I knew that I had to rescue the princess in order to find it.  I'd rescued her before, but had received no special reward beyond gold and experience points.  To get that special reward I needed to become a "space ace", which the barman had previously told me required going to space and killing at least 20 enemy spaceships.  I now had three specific tasks: obtain the fourth gem, go to space and become a Space Ace, and rescue one of the princesses.

The third gem, and a vital clue.

I didn't feel ready to go to space yet, so I skimmed across the ocean in my air-car to the fourth continent.  This continent still uses the same template, but it's a little more broken up by rivers and the ocean.

The last continent!

Again, for the completist in me, I must list out all of the towns and dungeons.

  • Dextron, on the western inlet.
  • Gorlab, near the castle at the centre. (This is obviously Balrog spelled backwards, although in Ultima it should probably be spelled Norlab.)
  • The City of Lost Friends, on the west coast of the northern section.
  • The City of the Turtle, to the south-west.
  • Bulldozer, on the east side of the southern bay.
  • The City of Magic, near the south-eastern lake.
  • The City of the Brother, on the island to the east.
  • Wheeler, in the central forest grove. (This is another one that could be named after a town in Texas.)

And the dungeons:

  • The Morbid Adventure, on the small island near the centre.
  • Spine Breaker, to the far north-east.
  • The Skull Smasher, on the north coast.
  • Dungeon of Doom, in the mountains north-west of Wheeler.
  • The Dead Cat's Life has two entrances, one in the mountains west of Wheeler and the other on the island in the southern bay.
  • Dead Man's Walk, on the west coast.
  • Hole to Hades, at the top of the southern peninsula.
  • Free Death Hole, in the labyrinthine mountains to the east.

This continent's landmarks were the Grave of the Lost Soul, and the Eastern Sign Post.  The latter of these - found on the small island to the north - was very unhelpful, simply saying "go east to go east" and providing nothing in the way of a stat boost.  The Grave of the Lost Soul was the object of the quest I was given by the king of the White Dragon's Castle.  Entering it gave me a boost to my Stamina, and the Latin phrase "vae victis" ("woe to the vanquished").  As expected, I got a boost to my Strength from the king upon my return.

Oh yeah, visiting graves is a real helth-booster.

The last castle I located was the Castle of Shamino, a welcome surprise.  Shamino goes on to become one of the more well-known NPCs of the series, but at this point he's another alter ego of Garriott himself (Shamino Salle Dacil being his name in the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group of medieval reenactors and inveterate drunkards who bash each other with sticks).  Shamino gave me my final and most difficult quest: to slay a Balron.  (They were called Balrogs in Akalabeth, but here they get a rebranding.  A similar things happened to Balrogs in Dungeons & Dragons after some words from the Tolkien Estate, so I figure the same happened to Garriott or he was exercising caution to avoid any legal action.)

For this quest I had to delve all the way down to dungeon level 9, where the strongest monsters dwell.  I chose the Dungeon of Doom for its close overland proximity to the city of Wheeler, and as usual I set about mapping all of the levels along the way.  Everything was going very smoothly, until I had to spend some extended time on level 7 and 8.  On my last visit I'd only stayed around long enough to kill a Liche, but this time my desire to map everything led me into conflict with my most hated enemy of all: the dreaded Gremlin.

Seriously, fuck these guys.

Anyone who's played an early Ultima already knows what I'm talking about, and some of you might remember them from my coverage of Akalabeth, but goddamn do I hate Gremlins.  They don't target hit points, but instead on a successful hit they eat half of your food.  It doesn't matter how much you have, they'll eat half of it, and it only takes a few hits before things start to look grim.  Ultima gives you no leeway whatsoever in regards to food; once your food counter reaches zero, you're dead.  I had a number of very close calls while mapping levels 7 and 8, the closest the game has come to killing me so far.

What made this even worse is that I went to the
Magic Shop first by mistake.

While exploring level 8 I started to get annoyed with how many hits it was taking to kill the enemies, so I took some time to buff my stats by visiting various landmarks: I still needed to boost my Stamina, Charisma and Strength.  The first two were easily done by repeatedly visiting the Grave of the Lost Soul and the Southern Sign Post.  Strength was a little trickier, as it required completing a quest and returning to the king.  I spent a good while going back and forth between the Grave of the Lost Soul and the White Dragon's Castle.  Eventually, I managed to get all of my stats up to 90.  The manual claims that these scores can be raised to 99, but if there's a way to do it it's not by visiting landmarks or completing quests.

I got myself into another dilemma at about this point: I could no longer buy weapons or armour.  My Reflect Suit had been eaten by a Gelatinous Cube, but when I returned to town to buy another one I was told that I couldn't carry any more stuff.  I tried dropping and selling some things, but it still didn't fix the problem.  All I had left armour-wise was a Vacuum Suit, which I equipped before realising that I might have made a mistake.  You see, the Vacuum Suit is vital for space travel in Ultima.  Vital as in you die if you haven't got one.  If I lost this one, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to buy another one, and if that was the case I'd have to start over.

When I returned to the Dungeon of Doom, I used Ladder Down spells to quickly move through levels 3 and 4, and avoid all Gelatinous Cubes.  Once on the lower levels, I noticed that I was dealing more damage, and that the monsters were doing less to me in return; my stat boosting had paid off, albeit in a small way.  The monsters on level 9 were still doing around 250 points of damage per blow, so I didn't want to stick around for too long.  The second monster I fought on level 9 was a Balron, and even with my stats boosted it took absolutely ages to kill.  I'm lucky nothing else snuck up behind me while I was fighting the thing.

The blank stare of evil.

With the Balron dead, I zipped out of the dungeon and returned to Shamino. He rewarded me with a white gem, but unlike the other kings he didn't have a hint for me.  Instead, he allowed me to take 9 items from his stores.  I made straight for the Armour room, and came out with a few Reflect and Vacuum Suits, so I needn't have been so worried about my inventory problems; for whatever reason, I had no problem adding items to my inventory here.

With all four gems in my possession it was tempting to press on and complete the game, but instead I ventured back into the Dungeon of Doom to check out what other monsters roamed the lowest dungeon levels (and also to confirm that dungeon level 10 is the lowest depth).  The monsters found on dungeon levels 7 and 8 are as follows:

  • Liche. A disembodied head, as I described in my last post.
  • Wandering Eye. A beholder stand-in that thankfully has no special abilities.
  • Tangler.  A kind of weird amorphous creature, I'm not even sure what it's meant to be.
  • Wraith. Does a lot of damage, but seems to have no special abilities.
  • Gremlin. I've described their food-stealing abilities above. Possibly my all-time most hated RPG enemy.

These monsters are on level 9 and 10:

  • Invisible Seeker.  They don't have any special abilities, but as the name says they're invisible. You have to guess where they are to attack them.
  • Mind Whipper.  Aside from looking pretty rad, I suspect that these stand-ins for D&D's Mind Flayer drain Intelligence.  I'm not completely sure, but I did notice that my Intelligence score had been lowered after this dungeon foray, and they seem like the most likely culprit.
  • Zorn. A stand-in for the D&D Xorn. Xorns eat gems in D&D, but in Ultima they have no special abilities.
  • Daemon.  Tough, but with no special abilities.
  • Balron.  Even tougher, but also with no special abilities.

Not gonna lie, this guy looks pretty dope.

A baggy-shirted Daemon.

That's its mouth on top of its head, if you're wondering.

The most accurately depicted monster in the game.

I did press on playing after this, but I'll end the post here.  My next goal is to head into space to become a Space Ace, which involves Ultima inexplicably becoming a 3-D space combat game.  I mentioned before that this game is wild, didn't I?


  1. Enjoying the series! I bought Ultima III for my old Tandy 1000 back in 1986... ending up leading to playing most of the Ultima series through VII.

  2. You mentioned that you got locked out of armor/weapons purchases: "I got myself into another dilemma at about this point: I could no longer buy weapons or armour. My Reflect Suit had been eaten by a Gelatinous Cube, but when I returned to town to buy another one I was told that I couldn't carry any more stuff. I tried dropping and selling some things, but it still didn't fix the problem." Later you added that you worked around the problem with your item reward from Shamino: "Instead, he allowed me to take 9 items from his stores. I made straight for the Armour room, and came out with a few Reflect and Vacuum Suits, so I needn't have been so worried about my inventory problems; for whatever reason, I had no problem adding items to my inventory here."

    Short answer: you had way too much gold to carry anything else.

    A close reading of Data Driven Gamer's post about original Ultima's mechanics reveals that you ran into your character's hidden carrying capacity limit: (Strength * 4) + (Carts * 20). You mentioned that you'd gotten your Strength to 90, so this limit would have been 360 without carts. I'd guess you might have had 1 cart, since you mentioned testing them, which would have raised the limit to 380. The carrying load is (Gold/100) + Armor + Weapons, where any armor or weapon item counts as 1. The above screenshots show that your gold was somewhere between 36928 and 41040 around that time. Even with 1 cart, once your gold got beyond 38000, you would have been unable to buy weapons and armor even if you had none. Data Driven Gamer also mentions, "Capacity vs. load is checked only when buying weapons or armor", which explains why you could still grab stuff for free from Shamino's stores.

    Obviously, this is a pretty nasty glitch, especially since the game offers no clue that your gold is the problem! I guess donating a big chunk of cash to the king would have been one solution... :D