Part 5: The Black Gate - I Got 99 Problems But Lord British Ain't One
You are, regrettably, mistaken. A Great Dagger isn't all that great. It's barely even good. While pretty fast, it hits for only 5 damage, which is a bit less than most swords and quite a bit lower than a two-hander's 11 damage. Or so sayeth SHAPES.VGA and Exult Studio. Of course the best weapons in Black Gate are a rather... eclectic mix. We'll be picking up perhaps the most unusual of them soon.
Of all the things you didn't steal from the provisioner in Trinsic, you left behind the great dagger! Holds like a dagger, hits like a two-handed sword, allows use of a shield! But then, if you were getting that stash box it'd have been stuck in a bag till you picked up Shamino or Dupre anyway.
I Got 99 Problems But Lord British Ain't One
No sooner do we wander off from the security of Trinsic than we're set upon by gremlins or something.
They somehow beat the holy hell out of Steve, despite all the magic equipment. That's bad. But they turn into food when they die. That's good! I don't know why they do that, but everybody was getting hungry, so whatever, we'll eat.
Although having to eat can be kind of annoying in Ultima VII, characters don't get hungry too quickly, it's fairly easy to find food (five-legged deer, you know the drill), and there's always Create Food in a pinch. Letting people starve causes small amounts of damage over time, rather like being poisoned. Except, unlike poison, you might actually die from it.
Unlike previous games, food has different satiation values in this game. Mutton and green cheese, for example, is really filling, while bread and fruit tends to be kinda lousy. Hard-tack rations are probably the best food in terms of satiation to weight ratio, but since we're basically just going to snack on any food we see along the way, hunger isn't a problem.
Serpent Isle goes a step further with a magical artifact acquired midway through the game that produces infinite "food," completely removing this inventory management aspect. Since we'll have plenty of packs (and pack mules), though, we can just have Spark tote food around in Black Gate.
Wandering south, we find the slightly less impressive entrance to uhhhhh Dungeon Destard (I think) and the Shrine of Honor. Harpies rush out to kill us.
The harpies inflict less damage on us than the gremlins, despite there being three of them and taking more damage to kill. This makes me suspect the gremlin damage was mostly inflicted by Iolo...
...but I have no proof of that yet. A couple things you'll notice here. First is the blood. Ultima VII is a reasonably graphic game, and some dead enemy sprites are extremely gross in mutilation terms. These Harpies are kind of just collapsed and bloodied. It gets worse, in some cases.
The second is all the Magic Bolts lying around. An optimist will observe that I can scoop them back up and return them to Iolo, saving ammo. A pessimist would question why Iolo sucks so much as to miss that many times against harpies at point-blank range.
"What the hell? This isn't the Rune of Honor. This isn't the Rune of Honor at all!"
"Is that a baby?"
"Do you guys just not care at all about the harpy that's attacking us?
"You fight when I say you fight, Iolo."
"I'm a little concerned it'll stop uselessly pounding your magic armor and actually do harm to Spark or myself.
"Shhhhhhh, I'm thinking!"
"Who the hell is Lady Tory?"
"You just said we needed to return the child to Lady Tory."
"I don't remember saying that."
"But Mr. Iolo... you DID say it."
"Shhhhhhh! Spark, come over here a second."
"Huh? What's wrong, lady Avatar?"
"I think Iolo needs repairs. 200 years will do that to you."
"Nevermind, look, just don't mention spam, under any circumstances, until I've had a chance to work him over with a wrench. And then repair him with some tools."
"What are you two talking about?"
"Um... nothing, Mr. Iolo."
"Well, I guess we'll need to take the kid out of here until we figure out who this Lady Tory is. Iolo?"
"What do you mean, what. Take the baby!"
"I really don't think it's sanitary or safe to leave the infant in my backpack."
"Well you can't carry it in your HANDS, can you? You need to fire a CROSSBOW, for crying out loud."
"I could always put the crossbow away for a few-"
"But it's full of sharp bolts, and glass bottles, and a bucket of human blood!"
"Hey, when I was a kid I'd have killed for that many cool toys. Let's roll."
"We can't keep adding children to our retinue, Avatar. We're the Warriors of Destiny, not a babysitting service!"
"That's true, we aren't... but I know somebody who is!"
"HEYYYYYYYY YOUUUUUUUU GUYYYYYYYYYS!"
"Oh Lord, I was hoping she would never find her way back here. Pull the drawbridge!"
"You'll like this place, Spark. Everyone here loves me, whether they like it or not."
"I can't wait!"
It wouldn't be Ultima without Chuckles around to be as annoying as humanly possible. This particular incarnation takes the form of an incredibly annoying little minigame of sorts. The conversation is more fun when you figure it out yourself, so here it is in its entirety:
Stumped? Here's a hint:
"Oh, and one more thing."
"It has been far too long for me to deal with your shit. I would like to rip out your spine now, Chuck."
The note you get for this reads "How to keep the Avatar busy for hours (scroll down)" for about 20 pages, but does finally end with some kind of clue. It's roughly as worthless as Chuck's clues have always been, but at least he tried.
Don't worry, we'll be killing him again later. But I want to hold off and make this one special.
Out in the courtyard, an old friend (of sorts) and a gargoyle! What are they doing out here?
You see an impressive winged gargoyle with a stately demeanor.
"To greet thee," he says. "To be known as Wislem. To be the word for `wise man.'"
"I can't help but think you might secretly be one of the gargoyles I met back in Ultima VI. Unfortunately, roughly half of them were named Wis Lem, which makes it impossible to actually remember you. But it's not racism, I swear."
"To be not particularly upset by this, Avatar. To not worry yourself."
"So what are you doing here? Your world finally collapse entirely?"
"To be advisor to Lord British, and act as representative for my race here in Britain. To be honored to be in long line of advisors to the king. To make sure the gargoyle race is heard in the castle. To have been a long road to acceptance and integration into Britannian society."
"What's going on here, Iolo?"
"Well, you see, you kind of blew up the underworld. Again. Things went slightly better this time, mind thee, so the gargoyles are okay."
"Indeed. To tell you that, not long after your last visit, the gargoyles settled upon Terfin, an island to the southeast. To have moved, little by little, onto the mainland."
"How's that workin' out for ya?"
"To be accepted in most places. To feel sad, however, that there are still towns that do not accept us. But our Lord and King, Draxinusom, is still alive and is doing a magnificent job. To know and help all gargoyles who are alive."
"Speaking of gargoyles who are still alive, have I got some bad news for you!"
Wislem listens to your story about the murders in Trinsic. "To be sad to hear this. To suggest that you visit Lord Draxinusom in Terfin and tell him about Inamo. He will know who Inamo's parent gargoyle is. To recommend you relay this news as soon as possible."To go soon and tell Draxinusom about Inamo?"
"When we get around to it."
"To know you are reliable."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"Well, you know, I actually kept my promises to the gargoyles in a timely fashion."
"I always thought of that more of a fluke than anything."
"To be concerned that Inamo's parent shall never know what happened." He appears saddened. "To bid farewell."
Nystul has been kicking around for 200 years, so you'd expect him to have gotten rather old in the meantime. I don't think he comes from Earth, like Lord British and the Warriors of Destiny, but mages in Britannia seem to live a long time (Mariah seems to be an exception as she is a Warrior of Destiny, but as we'll see, she has problems too). Anyway, something's wrong with him, as we'll soon learn.
You see your old friend Nystul, now a decrepit old man in mage's robes. He seems lost in thought, far away.
"Do I know thee?" Nystul asks.
"Do I know thee?"
The mage looks confused a moment. "My name is Nystul? Yes, that is it!"
"I kind of remember you. You had a crystal ball or something and told Iolo to keep hold of a book."
"Well, I used to perform quite a bit of magic," he says apologetically. "At least... I -think- I used to do so. There is a man named Lord British, I think. I work for him."
"Of course thou dost work for Lord British, you daft fool!"
"Lord who? Dost thou mean that old man who sometimes sits on the throne?"
"Maybe senility is responsible for your magic issues."
"Errrrr, no, but... uh... Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doth not." He waves his hand, and drops his wand. "Oops!" he cries, as he bends to pick it up.
"Art thou sure this man is not really the jester?"
"Anyway, as I was saying, uhm, what was I saying? Oh yes. Magic. I can still sell thee some spells or reagents if thou wouldst like."
"We'll pass for now. I'm not sure I want to know how much you think you understand right now."
"Oh. Never mind, then."
"Well, see you later then."
"Are we going somewhere?"
Something's up. Iolo mentioned that magic wasn't working too well before. Nystul seems all but out of his mind. Maybe Lord British can help?
Very dangerous sign. See today's Cheater's Corner below.
Lord British finally thought to get some actual guards. He's still (mostly) invincible and capable of killing stuff with his bare hands, so I'm not sure why he needs them.
"I'm not sure I want to know how you got back here, Steve."
"What, you mean you didn't summon me? I saw a random red moongate in the backyard and idiotically bumbled into it."
"I certainly did not send for thee. In fact, we have been having great trouble of late with the moongates and with magic in general. Only recently, one of my advisors tried to travel to the Shrine of Humility, and his body shattered upon entering the gate! Incidentally, I suggest you use the moongates to travel. Didst thou bring thine Orb of the Moons?"
"Oh, don't worry, here's mine."
"That's rather generous of thee, Lord."
"Oh no! By all means! Use the moongates to travel! Steve should go first. Wink wink."
"Did you just say 'wink wink?'"
"So what's wrong with magic, anyway? Nystul seems to have completely lost it."
"There is something wrong with magic these days. Why, even I can sometimes not conjure food at times! Those mages connected to the power of the Ether seem to have gone particularly mad. I do not know what is happening. There are those who say that magic is dying, and I fear that they could be correct after all."
"I haven't really noticed anything wrong with myself."
"How would anyone be able to tell?"
"It is possible that thine short time in Britannia has prevented whatever is happening from affecting thee. If thou wouldst like to find out, I have a spellbook in with some equipment thou couldst use."
"No thanks, already got one."
"Where the hell did you get that?"
"Where indeed. The whole magic-driving-you-and-me-slowly-insane thing aside, how's life in Britannia?"
"Well indeed! Perhaps too well. The country is prosperous, and has been at peace for over 200 years since thou last left-"
"I'm sure it's just a coincidence."
"-and though the kingdom is strong, the people seem unhappy. Perhaps it is the lack of anything to strive for. Why, if not for the Fellowship, I do not know what they would do."
"I've seen that Fellowship around, actually. They seem sinister...ly benign."
"The Fellowship is an organization which has done much good in the kingdom since their founding 20 years ago. Their leader, Batlin, is a most kindly man. Their headquarters is here in Britain in fact! Thou shouldst meet with him. He was once a druid, like thyself."
"That doesn't really strike me as a positive comparison."
"You know... no, it really doesn't. Well, I'm sure it was nothing."
"Yeah, we'll see about that."
"Naturally, even the problems with magic cannot prevent me from offering thee aid. I can still heal, cure poison, and resurrect thee or thine allies."
"You're damn right it won't. Now where's the stuff you said I can have?"
"'Tis in the castle storeroom. The key is in my study. I'm sure that thou canst find it. Consider it something of a game!"
"But not something of the Game, I hope."
"God, I want to kill that jester."
"Anyway, thou shouldst probably track down thine deadbeat friends. Shamino lives here in Britain, yet somehow never seems to find the time to visit. And Dupre... why, I knighted him, and have not seen hide nor hair of him since! Typical. I hear that he is in Jhelom."
"That would probably be a good idea, but we'll need a ship."
"Just use the moongates."
"I'm not using the damn moongates!"
"Okay, okay, fine. There's something I wanted you to check out anyway. Didst thou feel the quake when thou didst first arrive?"
"How would you have known that?"
"I'm Lord British, jackass. That quake was no mere occurrence. The Isle of Fire, where thou didst once defeat the monster Exodus, has risen from the depths once more! Before the island sank, I had built three shrines to the Principles of Truth, Love, and Courage on the island. The shrines were meant only for the Avatar. Perhaps you could find out if they still stand, and what this return to the surface means for the remains of Exodus."
"That sounds like boring expansion stuff."
"You'll get a free sword and max stats."
Everybody wants to kill Lord British. It's the forbidden fruit of Ultima games. If you read the old Ultima IX LP, you've probably seen the "poisoned bread" trick. Ultima 7 has multiple British-slaying maneuvers to choose from. This is one of them.
Every day at about 6 or so, Lord British takes a walk, heading out of his throne room and into his garden. He pauses for a few seconds beneath the sign. If we double click the sign, it falls...
"YES, Avatar! That is EXACTLY the right thing to do!"
...and strikes Lord British...
...rather harshly. This is the cleanest, least guard-summoning means of killing British in the game. Nobody even notices or cares that he's dead. There's something fun on his corpse, but I'll save it. We've got a few other ways to kill him yet, and I wouldn't want to spoil the punchline.