Sunday, February 28, 2021

Ultima III: Won!

My party was strong, fully equipped, and all but ready to take on Exodus. Two tasks remained, both of them in the unexplored dungeons - to find the mark of snakes, and locate the Lord of Time.

A dungeon only accessible by moongate gave a promising clue by the entrance.


This dungeon is non-linear with multiple ladders going up and down on each level, but it's not especially difficult. There are traps, but not the insane clusters of them seen in Fires of Hell. Combat didn't even seem overbearing, though there was one time that I had two encounters in a row without even getting to move in between them.

Level 4 is basically the hub of this dungeon.


The ladder in the center goes up to a room full of gold, and down to another room full of gold. And the ladder in the lower-right corner goes all the way up to an otherwise unreachable part of level 1 with two secret fountains, or down to level 5, where you can keep going straight down all the way to level 8.

What the crap is that? Oh, it's the Time Lord in tile graphics.

Even though I've beaten Ultima III once before, long ago, I'm completely sure that I never found the Time Lord. I'm just not sure how I did it without having this clue - trial and error, perhaps? It was the Amiga version, and I don't remember spending that much time in the dungeons.

There were also some marks here, but nothing serpentine.

I went back up to level 5, from where I could take a different ladder down to 6.

This level, I think, well illustrates how Ultima III's design often clashes with its intent. Upon entering this floor, a message reads "Long march," and indeed there is a long, winding path from one ladder to another, but secret doors turn it into a short march instead. Mapping gems will reveal these secret doors outright, and I can't fathom a situation where you've discovered the Time Lord's dungeon and survived long enough to reach this floor but haven't discovered where to buy mapping gems or found lots of money for buying them yet.

Also, wouldn't this floor design be a perfect place to hide the mark of the snake? Alas, it isn't here.

Beyond, in level 7 and a previously unseen part of level 8, there wasn't not much except for treasure that I didn't need.

At an unnamed dungeon, also accessed by moongate,  I found the mark of the snake at the bottom. There was absolutely nothing interesting about this place except for having a high degree of multi-axis reflection symmetry.


One last unexplored dungeon warned me, "Welcome fools to your doom!!" I didn't bother going in any further. I had well past my fill of dungeon crawling, and I had all the marks.

I went to Lord British's to level up, heal, then replenished my food, bought lots of thief supplies, equipped my exotics, and sailed to Exodus's island, where yelling EVOCARE brought my ship to the other side of the serpent.


Fun Ultima III programming fact - after making a typo here and finding it worked anyway, I discovered that typing anything with seven letters that ends with "E" works. EEEEEEE works just as well as EVOCARE. Other commands like BRIBE and DIG are similarly just checking the length of the word and the last letter.

Right as you enter, the grass attacks.

It's a bunch of invisible enemies, but they're weak and have no special abilities. They were beaten simply enough by standing in a row and blindly attacking northward.


I proceeded north and entered the castle.

I should note here that while exploring this area, this ominous melody, not heard anywhere else in the game, plays in the background, provided you are emulating a Mockingboard. I haven't said much about Ultima III's soundtrack, but this is one of the earliest to have a proper one. Around this time and earlier, only arcade-style games had any music at all, and was usually at most a single loop for gameplay, sometimes with seconds-long ditties for context-sensitive events. Ultima III's soundtrack has ten songs, half of them are 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes long - unprecedented for the time - which play during different parts of the game, and serve to evoke mood rather than just punctuate action. The earlier game I can think of with a similar approach would be Smurf Rescue, and that only had three songs, none lasting more than ten seconds.

Exodus' castle opens up into a huge, lava-filled courtyard. The demons and balrons are friendly, and even welcome you. "All may enter," they say when spoken to. Technically not true - only those with a ship, a mark of the snake, and who know the invocation may enter.


Northward goes to the prison, and to get in you'll have to kill some guards and also a party of terrified clerics who won't attack but do block your way, but it holds nothing of much interest. The chests here are mimics, the jellyfish-like monsters are garden variety pincers, and the humans just warn you to leave.

"Looking" reveals that this sprite means ranger. Why do I look like a ranger?

To proceed you must exit east or west from the courtyard to the battlements, where you'll face a gauntlet of dragons and daemons, who unfortunately aren't affected by time powders. In the interest of getting a complete map, I did both sides, at great cost to my health.

As it turns out, I was wrong to spend so much on thieves' tools. I should have bought lots of food instead. There are no doors worth unlocking, and time powders don't work here. Exodus's castle is full of lots of tough monsters, but they're not so tough when you cast Mass Kill on them. After losing my fighter in battle and retreating/refreshing, I tried again with a much more successful tactic of resting after each fight - simply waiting in place until my wizard's mana recharged completely, so I could cast Mass Kill right away as soon as the next fight started. The Cleric, when he didn't need to cure poison, was on heal duty - always basic heal, because greater heal costs five times the mana for only double the healing. I got hit with a few random fireballs while resting, but this was better than taking hits in combat.

Even with all this resting, my health trended downward. One, healing doesn't negate the damage done by the random fireballs, it only partly mitigates it. Two, Mass Kill often doesn't kill everything, and against dragons, who were the biggest damage dealers, it sometimes left as many as three of them alive. Three, I got mass poisoned by devils, and then the cleric had to use Cure Poison four times before he could go back to healing. And four, I made mistakes sometimes.

At the north end of the castle, there's one last force field and lava pit, and then the floor attacks!

It's just grass part deux, but there are four separate encounters in immediate sequence. The same tactics I used against the grass worked, and I got hit exactly once.

Finally, Exodus awaited, defenseless.

I inserted the cards, left to right, Love, Sol, Moons, and Death, as the Time Lord had instructed.

I have questions. Mondain and Minax built a computer... how? And what exactly was it doing this whole time? Why did it take twenty years to awaken - is it just a very slow computer? The game just ends abrubtly, and Exodus isn't really mentioned again until Ultima VII, and even then I don't really find its explanations of anything satisfactory.

GAB rating: Above Average. I have a lot of feelings about Ultima III. This is the first game in the series that really feels like an Ultima in retrospect. Where Ultima II tried and failed at becoming something grander than its predecessor, III mostly succeeds. The world is a bit smaller, with two main continents rather than five, but they're denser with more meaningful content, and there's no epic pointlessness like II's solar system full of planets you can explore but have no reason to. Everything serves a purpose - the towns, the dungeons, the mythical realm of Ambrosia. Ultima is at its best when you're exploring the world that Origin created and discovering its secrets, and that aspect is a joy here.

But Ultima III has some serious pacing problems that are almost enough to undermine that joy. It's not as bad as in II, where you can't even get started on the main quest until you've farmed lots of gold and started optimizing your character stats, but it's not great either. With the right party, you can accomplish a fair amount before upgrading any of your stats at all, but eventually you must, and if you can upgrade any of your stats, you can maximize all of your stats. And you might as well maximize as soon as you can - going through dungeons without a party that can steamroll the nonstop random encounters is a horribly tedious process. The fact of the matter is, for all of Ultima III's good points, there were very long stretches of my playthrough that felt like a chore.

I think part of the problem has a twofold cause - the game gives you a lot of control over your stats, and simultaneously lacks transparency on what your stats actually do. This manifests right from the moment you create a character - for every class, there's a single right way to assign the initial 50 points, a race that's obviously ideal in the long run, and an irrelevant sex choice. As you play, the relation between stats and your abilities isn't made very clear; strong characters seem to kill in fewer hits, but without even seeing numerical damage output, you can't be completely sure. By the time you have the ability to buy stat points and decide what they should be, you don't know what they need to be, and feel obligated to max them out. Or at least I did, but the fact that my maxed out party barely survived the final dungeon partly vindicates my caution.

Contrast this with Wizardry, a game whose influence Garriott acknowledged, which only gives you 10-19 or so bonus points to distribute to each character's initial stat sheet, and afterward grows or shrinks at random as they age and gain levels. Sure, you can farm Murphy's Ghosts for XP over and over again until you're overleveled, but XP and the stat benefits also accrue organically from just playing normally. The only thing that accrues naturally from playing Ultima III is your HP, which for whatever reason is governed by a completely different system than the one that governs character stats. This mechanical weirdness has been a part of Ultima since before the beginning, reached the nadir of clunkiness in II, and while III's works a lot better, it's still not a great system. Ultima I's rules, for all of their strangeness, are still the best in the trilogy in terms of making you get better at doing stuff as you play the game.

Others have noted the sociopathic amorality of your party as you rob, bribe, and kill without a thought for anyone else's well being. This, I can accept as contrivance of segregation of gameplay mechanics and storytelling, and it's become a trope unto itself by now. We know in retrospect that Ultima would move away from this - and it would feel pretty weird if the series continued in its direction of realism but never came to reckon with consequences for these actions - but other series taking after Ultima continued encouraging this ends-justifies-means behavior, whether it's Link smashing people's pottery and taking the loose change inside or the Dragon Warrior forcing a hapless axe knight to relive his violent death again, again, and again to power level himself.

Ultima III is a solid foundation not just for the series to come, but for almost all open world CRPGs to come, and I would dare say left a profound mark on the very concept of open video game worlds. In a series like Grand Theft Auto, where you can walk around town, discover hidden nooks and crannies, interact with the locals, and have a violently psychotic episode that cascades into an overwhelming police retaliation, you can see the seeds of that here. If Ultima III had flopped and bankrupted Origin Systems, the gaming world would be a very different place, and yet it would remain the most ambitious CRPG of its time, well worth studying for what it accomplished, and not just as a stepping stone to greater things.


My final map of Sosaria:

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Ultima III: Dungeons, minmaxing, and robbing Death Gulch again and again

My party, beaten to a pulp in Ambrosia, needed a ship, and my cleric needed a bit more meat on his bones before returning.

I rode around Sosaria for awhile, in search of a pirate ship, but also took every opportunity to level up my cleric as they presented themselves. Even with only 5 strength, 5 dexterity, and 150 max HP, he still had exotic weapons and armor, could still take on most overworld monsters 1 on 1, and occasionally 1 on 3. I just had to make sure to leave everyone else out of each fight once their numbers were whittled down sufficiently.

Sometime later, my cleric at level 3, I heard the distinct pew pew of cannonfire on the east coast of Sosaria, and I quickly took over the ship and steered it away before the whirlpool could gobble it down. And then I farmed Death Gulch again for awhile - my thief's trap avoidance wasn't perfect this time, and he even ate a few poison traps, but it was still worth it to farm this way rather than use magic to disarm traps; I could keep him alive with my healers until I was done farming, and then have the healer at the castle cure his poison status.

After farming, healing and buying more keys, I had about 6,600 gold left over, which I took with me to Ambrosia. This time my weakling cleric had 350 HP, not a lot, but perhaps enough.

It was enough. This time, after entering the gulch in the northeast, I took the east door instead of the west, which led to one last forest maze, and at the end of it, the shrine of wisdom, where I pumped my cleric to 91 wisdom. This maze also had two more locked doors, one of them opening right into a dead end, and the other a useless area guarded by some orcuses who poisoned me, but now I could finally cure poison in the field.

The dragons and griffons were no problem either. I didn't even need my cleric's magic power to beat them; my party's improved HP and offensive power were enough to outlast them. The forest region where they were kept had nothing else of note in it, but finally, my map of Ambrosia was complete.

My cleric now had 91 max mana points and access to every spell in the Liturgy of Truth (names are mine):

  • 0MP - Turn undead
  • 5MP - Disarm chest
  • 10MP - Heal
  • 15MP - Light
  • 20MP - Ascend
  • 25MP - Descend
  • 30MP - Teleport
  • 35MP - Cure Poison
  • 40MP - Escape dungeon
  • 45MP - Lasting light
  • 50MP - Great heal
  • 55MP - Map
  • 60MP - Kill
  • 65MP - Resurrect
  • 70MP - Mass kill
  • 75MP - Recall

This upgrade has a downside, though. The cleric's mana recharges pretty slowly - only one point per four moves (except in Sosaria where it's one point per move). With so much maximum mana, it can take a pretty long time to recharge after an expensive spell. It took me several minutes to recover from the fights against the dragons and griffons from all the heal spells I had to cast and keep casting, and that was with my druid and his double mana regeneration rate helping!

After returning to Sosaria, I noticed I had just one key left, so I went on one more Death Gulch run, bought a bunch more keys, plus some torches and gems. And then, finally able to cast a Lasting Light spell, I entered my first dungeon, one located due north of Britain. On the way I got to test out Mass Kill against a swarm of wizards, taking out all but one and earning the underleveled cleric a whole bunch of XP.


One thing that struck me was just how fast the pseudo-3D first person rendering was. If you've only played games like Ultima and Wizardry on DOSBox, then this might not seem like a big deal, but the wireframe view in Akalabeth was slow, and in Ultima it was even slower. Wizardry was a bit faster but you could hardly call it fast, and the wireframe view was constrained to a tiny window. Ultima II was finally fast enough to be bearable. But Ultima III, which ditches the wireframe in favor of a painter's algorithm, is even faster than II. Granted, the viewport isn't fullscreen, but it's bigger than Wizardry's, the scenes it renders are more complex than any dungeon crawler yet, and movement is brisk.

To see a map of the dungeon, I used one of my gems. The cleric's vision spell would do the same thing, but I didn't feel like waiting for his mana to recharge.

A sign at the first junction identified this place as "Dardin's pit." Question marks indicate points of interest - often these are food-stealing gremlins, or party-damaging traps, or "strange winds" that blow out your light source, even if it's magical, and less often, treasure, but I came here to find marks, so I had to check them all. The dungeon wraps around on the sides, and thankfully isn't very big, but it goes down a few levels.

Ultimately I found myself using torches, since Lasting Light spells can get blown out by wind, and the mana needed to re-cast Lasting Light just takes forever to recharge. Surprisingly, torches lasted quite a bit longer than normal Light spells had. If I had known that, I'd have visited the dungeons much sooner.

On level 2, I found the mark of kings, hidden behind a series of secret doors that were revealed by a mapping gem.

One annoying aspect of dungeon crawling is random encounters. In previous Ultimas and Akalabeth, you could see enemies in the first person view. Here, it's more like Wizardry, in that they just attack without warning, interrupting your exploration as the game switches to combat mode.

On level 3, repeated fights and dwindling HP forced a retreat, but thanks to the Mark of Kings, Lord British was willing to boost my HP to previously unprecedented levels, and the gold I gathered went toward rapidly filling it at the healers'. And so I returned to the dungeon stronger than ever.

Level 4 was a pretty annoying stage of endless identical corridors, with nothing to find in them except treasures, traps, gremlins, and monsters. Even with a map from peering at a gem, the constant random encounters kept making me forget my location, and between the traps and gremlins I started running low on food and torches, and had to retreat and restock.

Level 5 had a few fountains that conferred effects, including poison, curing poison, and restoring HP. The layout of this level partitioned it in two, and only the smaller part could be reached by climbing the ladder from the floor above. To reach the larger part, I had to cast Descend from above. This part had the ladder down to the next floor, but also had a long corridor full of gremlins that stole ALL of my food. Thankfully, starvation doesn't kill you immediately like in previous games, but instead slowly drains your HP, and with so much HP to spare I had no trouble escaping and returning to Britain to buy some more.

Level 7, a "colassal" cavern, was a mostly wide-open 16x16 arena, peppered with lots of traps, treasures, and gremlins, which I traversed lawnmower-style to try to hit every point of interest. Here, as before, the threat of starvation forced me to leave and retry it. A second attempt just barely made it to the end with nobody dying, just poisoned by repeated daemon attacks and nearly out of food and HP. At least this was good for multiple levels up.

Throughout the exercise, I couldn't help but notice a certain counter-intuitiveness in my battle tactics; the fighter and thief, with their ranged weapons, tended to attack from far away, while my druid, whose mana ran out very quickly, and cleric, whose glacially-recharging mana couldn't be wasted on offense, attacked up close with their exotics. At least until their HP ran low, at which point I kept them away from the fight and tanked with my thief and fighter, firing their bows at point blank range.

Level 8 at the bottom is once again partitioned into two sections, though they are inter-accessible through secret passages. The lower-right quadrant is full of traps around the perimeter, which I mostly avoided thanks to my thief being in front. Two fountains here cure poison and totally restore HP, which is very nice and would be extremely useful if the encounter rate weren't so through the roof that it barely feels worth it to traverse back here from any meaningful distance. The upper-right and lower-left quadrants are full of treasure, and the secret room in the upper-left contains another mark of kings. Absolutely no point in having two of them.

Next I went to the dungeon on the other side of the British gulf.

This one was called "Perinian depths." I found more marks of kings here very quickly. Level 3 is where things got interesting, as the only ladder you can reach goes straight down to level 8, where I found the mark of fire, and four ladders leading up to the rest of levels 8 through 3.

Level 4 was probably the strangest, as each quadrant is self-contained, but any of them can be entered from the "outer ring" of either the level above or below. One quadrant contains nothing but traps, one nothing but gremlins, one nothing but wind, and one nothing but chests.

With the proceeds from this stage, I went to Dawn where I bought a very expensive +4 bow for my fighter, and some more torches and gems for the next dungeon, "Mines of Morinia."

This place has six shafts on the first level, which lead straight down to levels 2 through 7, respectively. To reach any of them, though, you've first got to magic yourself down a level, from where you can find a ladder up to this staging area.

Most of the areas are pointless, though, with winding tunnels of wind, traps, gremlins, and not much treasure. Early on, gremlins ate all my food, so I explored most of the dungeon while starving to death - a surprisingly sustainable situation if your HP is high enough. One later area is a wide open cavern with light-extinguishing wind EVERYWHERE and some magic fountains in the middle. And throughout the whole exploration, there seem to be fights every few steps.

God I got sick of seeing this screen.

The shaft to the eighth level, though, is easily missed. It's right under your feet as you enter. Two marks are here, but they were ones I already had, so apart from the treasure and XP this place just wasted my time.

After this, Lord British stopped increasing the HP of characters who reached levels beyond 25, declaring "no more!" The absolute HP cap here is 2550.

The dungeon by the lava flow was appropriately titled "Fires of Hell." It was fairly straightforward, for the first four levels. After that I trudged through two open plan floors including a nasty "gremlin city" full of wind and gremlins, and a sprawling two-floor maze that had to be traversed up and down repeatedly to reach the goal.

Just imagine traversing all this nonsense, hitting every '?' in case it might be a mark, getting a random encounter every few steps (one time I got three in a row without even leaving the spot), only to find out that there's nothing here but pits. The combats were the worst part; not challenging, but slow and tedious, and I got so bored that I kept pressing the wrong buttons, wasting turns by issuing bad or meaningless orders, making combat drag out even longer. At least level 8, whose rooms could only be fully explored by entering from several different ladders, had lots of gold.

But to get the real prize, I had to first climb back up to Gremlin City.

This place really sucks.

The ladder in the lower-left corner here goes straight down to the last unexplored sector of level 8, where I found the mark of force in a small room deemed "chamber of fire."

With this, I could finally finish exploring Lord British's Castle and Death Gulch. I did the castle first to see what was in the previously inaccessible areas.


Twelve treasure chests in the storeroom and nine in the southeast tower, behind two guards that you have to bribe and a force field. Underwhelming - Death Gulch pays out better even without the mark of force.

So I went to Death Gulch next.

The only thing of note in the lava flow east of the gulch is a daemon who tells you "Exodus is four as one!" The mark of force, however, lets you enter the armory's front area, where you can help yourself to another 21 chests, but the merchant complicates things.

This is because if you take any of the chests in the top row, you'll have to fight him, and unlike stealing, this alerts every guard in the place. You can probably outmaneuver a good number of them by following an exact pattern, but I expect the best approach is to negate time before pilfering the front chests and avoid that trouble altogether. For this first time, though, I just took everything and fought a crapton of guards. I've fought worse at this point.

I had well over 10,000 gold at this point - to exceed the 9,999 piece limit, I had purposefully used the Join command to consolidate about 9,000 gold to my fighter before continuing to enrich my thief. I took the opportunity to return to Ambrosia and visit the shrine of strength, where I boosted my fighter's strength to 99 and my thief's to 75. Once your party has more than 9,999 gold combined, using Join to transfer money will make you lose everything but the 9,999 that the recepiant can carry, and the only other way to transfer money is by manually transferring 99 gold at a time, which bites.

I decided, with my ability to farm Death Gulch now optimized, it was time to build my endgame party, and get the gold farming done with.

I rolled a fuzzy mage "Nimax" and swapped out my druid, who lagged far behind in levels, not being especially good at anything but rapid mana regeneration used exclusively for casting magic missile. I got my new mage her exotics, then took her to the Fires of Hell and Mines of Morinia to get her marked like the rest. Once I knew exactly what I was looking for and where, these were surprisingly quick journeys; to get through the Fires of Hell I used magic descent to reach Gremlin City and took the stairs from there direct to the bottom floor where the chamber of fire held the mark of force, and in the Mines of Morinia, the shaft to the bottom floor is right at the entrance. Nimax held her own quite well - even with just 25 intelligence, she took out a bottom floor Orcus with magic missile. I just had to be diligent about keeping her out of harm's way and heal her regularly, as getting marked hurts you for 50 points and she only had 150 total, like everyone else when they started.

Then I bought some time powders and put my Death Gulch optimization theory to the test. It worked - you need two powders to get all of the chests without fighting the merchant, but took me exactly three minutes to complete a run that got all 46 (I must be getting faster at this), and three runs made me 7,737 gold richer, including sold gear. With the cost of two powders and a key, that made out to about 2,350 profit per run.

Many Death Gulch runs later, plus two visits to Ambrosia, I had a properly minmaxed party, with the highest possible value in every character's useful stat, even the dubiously useful dexterity. For good measure, I also loaded up my spellcasters with daggers so they could attack at range when they ran out of mana.

My new mage, with 99 mana, could cast these spells (names again are mine):

  • 0MP - Goblin slayer
  • 5MP - Magic missile
  • 10MP - Light
  • 15MP - Descent
  • 20MP - Ascend
  • 25MP - Fireball
  • 30MP - Teleport
  • 35MP - Horror
  • 40MP - Lasting light
  • 45MP - Lesser cleric spell
  • 50MP - Mass fireball
  • 55MP - Kill
  • 60MP - Time stop
  • 65MP - Mass horror
  • 70MP - Mass enfeeble
  • 75MP - Mass kill

All that remained was to give her some levels and the HP to go with it, and I did this in the most hilarious way I could think of. I used Mass kill to murder Lord British's guards, rode away on horseback, waited at sea for my mana to recharge, and then rode right back in to get my reward from Lord British and do it again.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Ultima III: Ambrosia can kill you

My last session explored almost all of Sosaria and found the fabled exotics. Only Death Gulch remained mostly unexplored as most of it was behind a locked gate, and I made this my next destination.

Right after I disembarked, a whirlpool sucked down my ship, leaving me stranded. Thankfully I had saved recently, and could just reset and reload without losing my ship or too much progress. I guess you could also recover by dispersing and reforming the party to go back to Lord British's, but the ship would be gone.

Keys and bribe money in hand, I returned to Death Gulch and unlocked the gate to the rest of it.


The gulch proper, forming a jagged loop with mountains on all sides, is time consuming to map out, but at least it's more interesting than rows and rows of trees. There's not that much in the gulch - just a bar and grocery store on the east side of it - which I sorely needed to buy more food at. Beyond the gulch is a lava flow that I couldn't explore, having only so much HP to burn.

The real find here is a third forest maze, leading to the armory's backroom, where all the money is kept. Three guards are stationed in the maze, and one must be bribed to allow passage. The armory is divided in half by a force field, but 25 chests can be opened in the back part, and the guards don't even care. Each run took me about six minutes and left me 1000-1400 gold richer and 1 key poorer, and that was just with robbing the eastern half of the armory. If I could find a way to pass the force field and enter the armory's main room, it would be even more lucrative.

After accumulating 7,500 gold, I replenished my keys at Fawn, and decided it was time to leave Sosaria. I set sail in search of the whirlpool, eventually found it, and had to chase it down, a task made tricky not just by the fickle wind, but also by the fact that the whirlpool moves around in realtime while your movement is turn based.

Ambrosia! And lots more of what I was definitely wasn't sick of by now - mazes of forests and mountains!


Going northwest first, I traipsed through some open meadows that narrowed into dense woods, where I fought some daemons and then... wild horses? A shrine in a grove to the south yielded a "card of love" when searched.

Exploring clockwise, I encountered a locked door on the north of the map, a forested area that dead-ended, and a forest maze where I saw a second shrine across a body of water that I couldn't cross. In the southeast corner, the trees opened up to a hidden lake where I found and hijacked a boat, taking it across to another shrine which gave a "card of sol." A locked door was nearby, but I left it alone

Returning to the starting area, I found a passage in the mountains to the west, which went to yet another forest maze, and at the end of it was a second pirate ship on the other side of the lake, which I took and parked by the shore where I started.

I then returned to the sol shrine and unlocked the door, seeing no other way to reach the other side. All I found was a group of nasty and poisonous "bradle" monsters, who gave me a sound drubbing and forced my retreat by sailing back into the whirlpool. The rest of Ambrosia would have to wait until I could heal up.


After returning to Sosaria, I went to Dawn to cure my poison, and there I spent most of my leftover money on exhausting the oracle's hints.

  • And so the sage said unto thee 'If thou can solve my rhyme,'
  • you'll learn of marks & playing cards & hidden holy shrines.
  • Of marks I say there are but 4 of fire, force, snake & king.
  • Learn their use in Devil Guard, or death you'll surely bring.
  • Shrines there are again but 4 to which you go and pray.
  • There uses are innumerable and clues throughout I say
  • The cards their suits do number 4, called sol, moon, death and love.
  • Unto the Montors thou must go for guidance from above.
  • To aid thee in thy cryptic search, to dungeons thou must fare.
  • There seek out the Lord of Time to help you, if he cares.

Finally, I spent my remaining cash on food. Then I farmed Death Gulch for awhile.

I spent a lot of time looking at this screen.

A note here - no character can carry more than 9999 pieces of gold, and if you try to join your gold when your party collectively has more than this, the remainder is lost. I learned this through experience, but fortunately only lost a few hundred.

Before setting out to Ambrosia with a big sack of money, I swapped out two of my fighters for a fresh thief and cleric. My idea was I'd boost their stats for dungeon crawling, then hunt for the mark of force so I could farm Death Gulch even more efficiently.

I got them their exotics, bought the thief a bow, and set sail for Ambrosia again.

With my somewhat underpowered party, combat was risky. Enemies hit hard in Ambrosia, and my new characters only had 150HP each. I had to be sure to tank with my fighter, and heal everyone to full after each battle, which felt like it took forever even with two healers.


As the oracle hinted at, the reason for your trip to Ambrosia is to find the shrines, not just because this is where you find the all-important cards, but this is also how you truly upgrade your character's power.

Each Ultima up to this point has had a strange and sometimes inconvenient way of increasing your stats - Akalabeth had the Lizard Man spell (and Lord British's quests, but mainly Lizard Man), Ultima had its shrines in the corners of the world, and Ultima II had donations at Hotel California. Here, it's like a combination of Ultima 1 & 2 - you have to find Ambrosia, locate the shrines, enter them, and donate gold in increments of 100 per point boost at the desired shrine. As every character starts with 50 points and each class can have up to 300 total, maxing out every character in all stats would take 1,000 boosts, and cost 100,000 gold. Granted, this isn't necessary at all, as most classes have dump stats. Fighters and thieves, for instance, don't need intelligence or wisdom, and nobody except hybrid spellcasters need both.

I didn't quite make my stats goals for the newbies - although I did find the shrine of dexterity and pumped my thief's dex to the max, and discovered a bit more of the map. To the north was a gulch behind a locked gate, and branching off to the west behind another one was lakehouse, with a big sign saying "AMBROSIA," and jail cells holding bradles, jesters, and a triple-locked area with two dragons. The lake had another pirate ship, which I hijacked and took to the other side, where a a poison attack by orcuses on the other side forced my retreat before I could find the shrine of wisdom and improve my cleric. I did, at least, boost my fighter's strength to 40 at the shrine of strength before fleeing, making her considerably deadlier.

So I farmed Death Gulch some more. I still only had access to half of the loot per run, but my efficiency doubled anyway; by having my 99 dexterity thief take the chests instead of using magic, the runs took three minutes instead of six and I still avoided all of the traps. Eager to finally have a viable cleric, though, I left for Ambrosia after farming 6,000 gold.


Here I majorly screwed up. I finished mapping out the northern lake area, and its northeast shore led to a grove with the shrine of intelligence. Back at the lakehouse, thinking I could lure the dragons to my ship and blast them with cannons, leaving me free to explore that area, I unlocked the doors. Big mistake - they pelted me with breath, damn near killing my cleric, and certainly would if I tried to retreat. So I fought them - even bigger mistake. The first pack killed him with magic and seriously weakened everyone else. The second pack, which turned out to be griffons, killed everyone else with their own ranged attacks. Total party kill.

Luckily I had my money, so I swapped out the cleric for one of the living fighters, reformed the party to warp back to the castle, and paid the healer to resurrect the rest. Then I swapped my cleric back in and resurrected him. I noticed that everyone had very low HP, so I paid to heal everyone except the cleric, whose maximum HP of 150 made this uneconomical - easier just to heal him with my own magic. Total cost of this misadventure - 2,600 gold, and more importantly, my boat. Landlocked, I guess I had some time to level up my weak cleric and reflect on my own stupidity as a I searched for a new sloop.

My last act for this session was to take the horses, still parked outside the castle, and ride to Dawn to buy my fighter a +2 bow, and spend the rest of the money on food.

My todo list:

  • Find the shrine of wisdom in Ambrosia and boost my cleric's wisdom
  • Explore the dungeons and find the marks
  • Find a way past the force fields in Lord British's Castle
  • Find a way to explore the lava flow in Death Gulch
  • Save 6,550 gold to buy a magic +4 bow

Monday, February 22, 2021

Ultima III: Fawn to Dawn

With a complete map of Sosaria and several new options available to me, I went with the ones that didn't need money. I explored the two island towns - and nearly got swallowed up by the whirlpool while sailing between them.


Fawn by the sea was mainly notable for its clues dispensed by the clerics, one of them immediately usable.

  • Pray in the circle of light!
  • Pray for the invocation!
  • To pass you need a mark!
  • Invoke the silver snake!

The other island town's terrain did not match its surroundings at all.

Immediately on entering, a daemon warned me "begone fool!" And a guard at the door flat out told me to bribe him.

Exploring the gateway area revealed two forest mazes - both of them pretty time consuming to map out - and the southern led to an alternate way in, where I found weapons and armor shops, and the town's name - Death Gulch. Entering proper, though, would require a key.

My todo list now looked like this:

  • Enter the whirlpool to explore Ambrosia
  • Locate Dawn
  • Explore the dungeons and find the marks
  • Buy keys, explore Lord British's Castle more fully
  • Buy keys, explore Death Gulch more fully
  • Bribe the jailer in Montor West and explore the prison
  • Get more clues from tipping the bartenders
  • Pray in Yew's circle of light


I started with Montor West.

Big surprise - inside the prison are locked cells, housing two thieves. I'd need to buy some keys to interrogate them. Now that's three things I need expensive keys for. The bribing set me back 100 gold, and since towns reset when you leave, I'd have to do it again when I came back.

Next I went to Yew to pray in the circle of light.

The other hints at Fawn suggested that this was an "invocation," and that something cool would happen if I invoked the silver snake, but when I sailed there and shouted at it, nothing happened. Other clues hinted I might need a mark first.

At this point, Lord British stopped increasing my party's HP, and instead told me to seek the mark of kings.

All of my remaining options now involved money, so I sailed back to the horses and farmed the storehouse in Grey, using poster arthurdawg's advice. With horses, I didn't even need to trap the guards; with careful maneuvering I could simply gallop around them and high-tail it out. Each run got me 200-280 gold and took me about three minutes.

So long suckers! See you soon!

Before long I accumulated 2,000 gold, and then turned around right back into grey to spend half of it on ten keys, and a few hundred more on bartender tips to get some more clues.

  • Ambrosia, ever heard of it?
  • Dawn, the city of myths & magic!
  • The conjunction of the moons finds link!
  • Nasty creatures, nasty dark, sure thee ready, fore thee embark
  • None return or so I'm told, from the pool, dark and cold!
  • Shrines of knowledge, shrines of strength, all are lost into the brink!
  • Fountains fair & fountains foul are all found in dungeons bowel
  • EXODUS: Ultima III which is next? Now could it be.
  • Seek ye out the Lord of Time and the one was is a sure find!

And I robbed the storehouse one more time for good measure on my way out.

Next I went back to Montor West to re-bribe the guard, unlock the cells, and talk to the prisoners, and got some new tips from them:

  • Search the shrines!
  • Search for cards!

Next I went back to Lord British's castle to see where the locked doors would take me.

Lord British is operating a torture chamber behind that guarded door! Walking past the cells, two jesters were trapped in pools of water and lava. The one in water was beyond reach, but enduring some burns to speak to the lava one gave a useful clue indeed.

The locked door in the throne room goes to the battlements, and to the left, a spiraling, lava-filled corridor leads to an oracle, where clues can be purchased for 100 gold increments. I would need 4500 gold to hear them all, so I added this to my todo list. To the right, a straight corridor goes south from the northeast tower to the southeast, blocked off by two guards and a force field. One more door going out the back gives access to a frigate in L.B.'s moat, which can be taken to "The Wise Cleric" who just told me "4 cards, 4 slots," which I already heard in Montor East long ago.

Two regions here remained unexplored thanks to force fields; the aforementioned southeast tower, and the store rooms. Something to come back for later.

I took the advice of the jester trapped in lava, and headed 8 squares west and 35 squares south, which took me right into the middle of the forest. When both moons reached their new moon phase, a town appeared.


Oh joy, another forest town to spend forever mapping out with limited vision!

Apart from all the trees, this is the best town in the game. Not only is every kind of shop here - oracle included - but the weapons and armor stores sell exclusive - and very pricey - enchanted stuff. The best gear is +2 plate, costing 8,250 gold each, and +4 bows, costing 6,550 each.

But the real reason we're here is for clues on exotics, and they're given by a trio of wizards hiding in the lower-right corner of the town wall, surrounded by trees. The third wizard in the corner is blocked on all four sides, so to talk to him - and his clue is the most important one - you have to kill one of the other wizards first. Even after dispensing with rocket ships and time travel, this series sometimes makes no sense.

  • Dig carefully
  • Dig up exotics
  • Dig on isles

I easily escaped from Dawn's guards on horseback. I then searched every tile of every island in Sosaria, and found that exotic weapons can be found on the island immediately southeast of Fawn, and exotic armor in the gulf east of Grey. There's no limit - once you're on the exotic-bearing tile, you can just have every character dig in sequence and get theirs. I equipped the armor but kept my slings for now - I didn't want to give up ranged attacks. Only my druid, otherwise unable to wield anything better than a mace, equipped his exotic weapon.

My todo list:
  • Enter the whirlpool to explore Ambrosia
  • Explore the dungeons and find the marks
  • Find a way past the force fields in Lord British's Castle
  • Explore Death Gulch more fully
  • Save 4,500 gold to hear the oracle's clues.
  • Save 19,650 gold to buy magic bows

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