Part 31: The Black Gate - The Wisest Man & The Laziest Update
The Wisest Man & The Laziest Update
Our next stop is New Magincia, which I won't cover because it's boring. Okay, it's not that bad. I'll get to it at a later time, maybe. Right now though, we want to find Alagner. He owns the two largest buildings on the island, far to the north. One is locked up tight and has no clear entrance.
The other is a posh house and laboratory. Note the crystal ball. It'll be important later.
You see a large man with an almost cunning, erudite aura about him.
The sage smiles and nods his head. "My name is Alagner. And who art thou?"
"The name's Steve... just Steve I guess. Although-"
"I see. Nice to meet thee. Go away. I am busy."
"Also I'm the Avatar."
Alagner's eyes widen. "By the skies above! I do recognize thee!"
"But... you didn't before?"
"This is quite an honor! What may I do for thee?"
"I don't know. Someone said you know everything. They may have just been trying to get me to go away."
"My profession -- rather, my destiny -- is to learn and know all things. I came to New Magincia to build my workshop and do so. I peruse my books and papers here. Occasionally, I invent things, such as this crystal ball. It is a device for recording. If I forget a procedure or a step in an experiment, I may look into the crystal ball and see yesterday's events. Please, feel free to use it. Thou wilt see what I was doing yesterday."
"I don't recall ever asking you about that. But why build a place like this in New Magincia? This place kind of sucks."
The sage sighs. "I left the Britannian mainland to come to the relative peace and quiet of New Magincia. I am content here because it is isolated and free from... the filth and corruption going on in Britannia. Not many see it."
"See it? I'm practically the primary force behind it!"
"The Britannian people are becoming careless and lazy. They do not seek true knowledge. They do not respect their land. They do not respect each other. The resources of our land are being wasted. Miners are experimenting with dangerous reagents. There is an evil in the land, and I am not so sure that it is in the people themselves."
"Then what is it?"
"Thou hast heard of The Fellowship by now, I am sure."
"Oh, here and there."
"They are cunning and two-faced. I am working on obtaining proof of this. I am documenting this information in my notebook."
"You should probably know that I'm technically a Fellowship member, but only to blow up a big box accidentally."
"Thou didst join The Fellowship to study their ways? Thou dost suspect them as well? Perhaps thou hast more substance to thee than I thought. We are working towards the same goal."
"I was asked, by a friend, who is a wisp-"
"A wisp? They are unusually aloof creatures of another dimension. Thou wilt think they are thy friends, but they could very well be spying on -thee- for someone else! They have no loyalties to good or evil -- all they care about is the acquisition of information -- how they acquire it is sometimes honorable, sometimes not."
"Yeah well, anyway, for an unrelated reason, I need your notebook."
"Really. It is hidden in a safe place, along with mine other treasured sources of knowledge." Alagner listens as you tell him you would like to borrow the notebook. "Since thou art on an honorable quest, I suppose I might allow thee to borrow it if thou dost give me thy word that thou wilt return it, and if thou dost offer proof of thine eagerness to learn the true knowledge of the world."
"Okay, what do I have to do?"
"Very well. Dost thou know the answers to the questions of Life and Death?"
"No, of course thou dost not. Only those souls who have passed on from this life know these things. Seek out the spirit of The Tortured One. Ask him what the answers are to the questions of life and death. When thou dost return with the correct answer, I will believe that thou art sincere in thy quest for knowledge. Only then will I allow thee to borrow the notebook."
"Yeah, you're gonna have to back this one up a bit. Who is the Tortured One?"
"Alas, he is a poor soul who is doomed to haunt his abode throughout eternity."
"And his abode is?"
"Seek him out in Skara Brae."
"But be careful. It is a dangerous place."
"Yes, I can imagine that it would be."
"I should also advise thee that thou must use Seance Spells to speak with anyone on that island. They are all undead."
"What? I don't get it."
"I said we were never going back to Skara Brae."
"I thought it was more that we couldn't, not that we wouldn't."
"The point is, that place coincidentally went all to hell last time I was there... and now it's about to go right back. I'll see to it personally."
This is too good a break point not to stop, which is probably a bit awkward. I'm aware of that, and I'm also rather tired, so here's a fairly simple overview of some more game mechanics that might illuminate things!
Teach Me, Steve! - Weapons & Armor
Now, we all know the Black Sword is the only weapon for the Avatar. But why is it the only weapon? Why not something else? Which weapons should everybody else use? How good is magical armor compared to regular armor? Let's find out.
To understand weapons and armor, it helps to understand how damage works (or seems to) in Ultima VII. As you're probably aware, there are three stats worth noting in combat: Strength, Dexterity, and Combat. Dexterity and Combat seem to affect your chance to hit, and Combat may have some effect on damage. I'm mostly just going off deductions, here. Strength definitely matters to damage, at least to melee.
As I can deduce, you've got your attack roll, and if it hits you roll damage somewhere between 1 and the damage value of your weapon plus your strength. Probably. Hey, I'm not promising you exact here. Armor apparently only reduces chance of getting hit, not the damage you take if you do get hit. This is why your magic armor suit doesn't seem to be reducing damage much; it isn't. Also I'm not sure if weapon damage is a bonus to the overall damage or if it's just your strength that's rolled 1-30 or what. You can still kinda get how this works.
Anyway, here's a callup of a weapon entry from Exult Studio, which pulls all its info from the original game files. This is a halberd, minus the sword. A merciless non-magical engine of destruction. What do all these stats mean?
Damage should make sense given what we've discussed. Maybe.
Range is how far away you have to be to hit with the weapon. The AI closes to max range normally and is generally pretty smart about it. With a range of 5, a halberd actually has a range advantage over most melee weapons. Of course, ranged stuff beats it out.
Damage type is pretty important. There are five types of damage in Ultima VII: Normal (most weapons), Magic (magical weapons and some spells), Fire (torches, certain spells, the Fire Sword), Lightning (Glass Swords, Death Vortex), Sonic (the Cube Generator), and Ethereal (the Tetrahedron Generator). Some weapons are a bit deceptive. Glass Swords are as mentioned neither Normal nor Magical damage (I suspect you can't mitigate Lightning at all, hence why the Glass Sword does 127 damage guaranteed). Fire Swords do Fire damage, which some slimes are weak against, and more crucially do not do Magic damage, which the occasional thing is immune to. Despite its name, the Lightning Whip does Magic damage.
Ammo and Projectile refer to what a weapon fires and the frame used, if any. Use refers to whether it's held in the hand or shot or whatever, so this row is useless for melee weapons.
Sound effects just refer to the bizarre blorp sounds U7 plays from your Sound Blaster.
The flags are self-explanatory: They either cause a status effect (Magebane is the one that makes you unable to cast spells), explode when they hit, or return (for projectiles like the Magic Axe, Juggernaut Hammer, and Boomerang).
The strike frames don't seem to affect the actual swing speed too much. One-handers appear to swing marginally faster, but that may not be the case. Weapons don't really have a "speed" though. Ranged weapons seem to shoot faster, but they also seem to not get a bonus from strength, so that's understandable.
Anyway, melee damage is pretty easy to get. A two-handed sword or halberd is fine if you have no access to magical weapons; although you can't wield a shield with them, they still outdamage most magical one-handers, like Magic Swords and Fire Swords. The standout weapons you should look for are:
The Black Sword: Does 25 Damage a hit (Magic), seems to have some kind of death effect, can be talked to to script-kill just about any monster, has the range of a two-handed sword. Also the Avatar cannot drop or otherwise discard it in this game, so it makes sense as the Avatar's primary weapon as otherwise it has to be kept on his/her back or in the pack.
The Death Scythe: Does 50 damage per hit (Magic), which splatters most things.
The Hoe of Destruction: Does 20 damage per hit (Magic) and is easy to acquire.
Triple Crossbow: Does a ludicrous 28 damage + bolt damage per hit (can be Normal or Magic depending on the bolt), has about 5 times the range of a two-handed melee weapon, and is generally awesome.
Juggernaut Hammer: Ranged weapon that requires no ammo? It wouldn't even matter how much damage it did (25 Magic, incidentally), but the fact that it's one of the most damaging weapons in the game doesn't hurt.
Magic Bow: Not as strong as the Triple Crossbow but there are a greater variety of arrows in the game, including specialized ones like Burst Arrows (more common in SI) and Tseramed's sleep arrows.
Firedoom Staff: 25 damage (Fire), ranged, the projectiles explode.
Lightning Wand: Only 8 damage (Lightning), but there are almost no things immune to its damage.
Sword of Defense: No stronger than a regular sword, but it provides 3 armor, which is actually not a small amount in Ultima terms.
Powder Keg: 40 damage (Fire), and portable!
Cannon: 90 damage (Fire), requires a powder keg and cannonball. Too impractical to use normally but the explosion radius is huge
And if you're curious about the damage various magic spells do:
Swordstrike: 35(!) damage (Normal).
Fire Bolt: 10 damage (Fire).
Dragon Breath (not a spell for you, but...): 14 damage (Fire).
Lightning: 7 damage (Lightning).
Death Bolt: 0 damage (Normal), but it seems to have a script that deals max HP damage to anything that isn't immune to the script.
Death Vortex: 12 damage (Lightning). Seems odd, until you realize that's every hit, and the Death Vortex strikes often and sticks around a while.
Bottom line: Fire Bolt is an underrated spell for its level (it hits as hard as a halberd!), Lightning is useful if you're desperate, but a Lightning Wand does more damage. Swordstrike is powerful but categorically inferior to a Death Vortex at the exact same spell level. Use Death Vortex and Death Bolt.
How do you stop all that incoming damage? With armor, dumbass, this is an RPG. There's really not a lot you can do about damage types or special effects; swamp boots make you immune to ground poison (and possibly all poison? but poison sucks), the Ethereal Ring makes you immune to Ethereal, and Caddelite Helmets make you immune to Sonic. When it comes to mitigating incoming damage though, armor does a decent job. However, combat in Ultima has always been reasonably lethal and even the best possible armor doesn't guarantee anything!
In terms of total protection per set, things stack up like so:
Leather: 6 Armor. Each piece grants 1. Yeah, it sucks as much as it sounds.
Scale/Chain: 11 Armor. Scale only exists as a chestpiece and is identical to chain. There's no neck item for chain, but you can just use a gorget frommmmmm...
Plate: 16 Armor. A lot better, Plate is actually really good. Strangely, I find it harder to find full suits of plate armor than I do magic.
Magic: 23 Armor.
Magic gear is the best you can get in The Black Gate; there is better stuff in Serpent Isle, although I was not aware of this ages ago when I played it. Hey, you can't blame me for thinking that sissy Serpent Armor looked purely ceremonial!
A shield and a Sword of Defense can raise your armor as much as 7 points. Since a full suit of Magic Armor is only about 20-23 points that's a good third increase. I suspect your armor gets compared against Dexterity + Combat or something in order to determine if you are hit, so this is why a max-stats Avatar hits pretty much all the time and why it's reasonably hard, but not impossible, to hit you (many things have "baseline" stats of 15 in everything, and if you only have 23 armor there's still a fair chance of getting hit). You can also equip a Kidney Belt for an extra point or so.
Rings of Protection give a measly 1 armor. They're great in Serpent Isle where you have two ring slots in addition to your hand slot, but in Black Gate you can't have gauntlets and rings on at the same time so Magic Gauntlets seem much better.
EDIT: Oh, and here's something you may find interesting: All boots are identical. Yes, leather boots are identical to metal boots are identical to magic boots. So you may as well equip everyone with Swamp Boots, because they give just as much armor.
Most of that's probably right. Unless it isn't right. In that case, screw you and correct me (in no particular order).