The Black Gate: Gunpowder Treason and Plot

From The CRPG Addict

Druxinusom asks me about Inamo. I love that the dialogue options allow you to say that Inamo was murdered or to say something like, “Uh, well, he’s not doing so hot.”


I suppose it’s time for a recap before we move forward. The Avatar hasn’t been in Britannia for 200 years in Britannian time. He leaps through a red moongate when it appears in his back yard (it’s still a mystery how or why) and finds himself in Trinsic, former City of Honor, where a gruesome murder has just occurred. A local blacksmith named Christopher and a wingless gargoyle named Inamo have been killed in a ritualistic manner. The Avatar teams up with his old friend Iolo and Christopher’s son, Spark, to solve the mystery. He soon learns that the murders were committed by a gargoyle and a man with a hooked hand, and that they may have fled to Britain on a ship called The Crown Jewel. In Britain, the Avatar learns that a similar murder happened years ago in Britain.

Spark seems to think we have the kind of relationship where he can talk to me like this.


The victims of both the Trinsic and Britain murders had the misfortune of running afoul of a relatively recent fraternal/philosophical organization called The Fellowship, which seeks to replace the old Virtues of the Avatar with a simpler doctrine. They have maneuvered Fellowship members into positions of authority all over the land. The player should have some idea going into the game that the Fellowship is up to something suspicious, as the game manual–written by Fellowship founder Batlin of Britain–is a thinly-disguised revisionist history that undercuts both the Avatar and Lord British. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that the Fellowship (or at least its leaders) are taking orders from an otherworldly demon called the Guardian, and that they have a plan that involves a mysterious substance called blackrock. Someone has built a generator in the Dungeon Deceit, fueled by blackrock, that is affecting magic all over the world and driving mages insane.
While this is all going on, a mysterious island–the very one on which the Avatar defeated Exodus in Ultima III–has risen out of the ocean, causing worldwide tremors, and is waiting to be explored.
Most players join the Fellowship in Britain, either because they haven’t been paying attention and believe it’s a worthwhile organization, or else to investigate it from the inside. If they want, players can follow a relatively linear path that chases leads from one city to another until the game comes to an end. My Avatar, Gideon, declined to join the Fellowship and decided to conduct his investigation in his own order, starting with visiting the cities in the classic order of virtues: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. I decided to visit each city’s associated dungeon at the same time, so I could engage in a little side exploration, wealth-building, and experience-earning. I also decided to take the opportunity to do a little “surplaying” (see the glossary) by following the virtues as in Ultima IV, visiting the associated shrines, and returning the Runes of Virtue to people in each town who deserve them.

In Moonglow, I stick the Rune of Honesty in the desk drawer of the town healer.
I made some significant progress in Moonglow, where I awoke the sorceress Penumbra–who had put herself in an enchanted slumber 200 years ago in anticipation of these events–and told me about the anti-magic generator. She said that to destroy it, I would need the Ethereal Ring, currently in possession of the gargoyle king Draxinusom in the gargoyle city of Terfin.
In replaying these events, I mostly stuck to the script I related in my series of April and May entries, including visiting the Dungeon Despise (incorrectly called Shame) after Moonglow. I nabbed the magic carpet a little bit earlier. I found the switch that opened the room with the full set of plate armor in Lord British’s castle. I saved myself from a repeat visit to the mines near Vesper by purchasing “Unlock Magic” from Nystul before I left Britain the first time. I probably missed the odd NPC or two. And of course I didn’t repeat my Lock Lake clean-up efforts.


Despise ended up exhausting me with its numerous traps, teleporters, and locked doors; you find at least half a dozen keys in the dungeon and still not all the doors open. But I got far enough to serve my purpose, which was to make enough money to feel comfortable buying some spells and getting some training. I also got some nice equipment upgrades for my six characters. Before I gave up on the dungeon, a teleporter brought me to a little tower poking out above the mountain tops. There was a locked chest there. I’ve learned the hard way to open locked chests at a distance, as they can be trapped and explode. (In a weird subversion of reality, you can double-click on your lockpick and then have them open any accessible chest on the screen, no matter how far away from the characters. If it’s far enough, they don’t take any damage if the chest explodes, even though presumably one of them would have had to walk up to the chest with the lockpick in hand.) There wasn’t enough room to get away in the tower, so I had Shamino lug the entire chest out of the tower and back to the streets of Britain, where I opened it in safety. It contained a sword called Magebane, which I don’t remember from previous experiences with the game (admittedly, they were a long time ago). Magebane doesn’t appear in Vetron’s Guide to Weapons and Armor, so I don’t know how much damage it does or why it’s called “Magebane.”

Finding a chest at the top of the world.

What I can tell you is that if you keep it wielded, it hums insistently. This problem doesn’t just affect this one sword. If you equip a Wand of Fire, it cackles constantly until you run out of charges or put it away. Since there’s no easy way to have characters “sheathe” weapons, having them make continual noise was one of the more obnoxious design choices in the game.

I had previously explored Britain, City of Compassion, and I had given the Rune of Compassion to Nastassia in Cove. Next up is Jhelom, City of Valor. But as I prepare to board my magic carpet, I realize that for role-playing reasons, I really need to go to Terfin next. Mages–including friends of mine–are being actively assaulted by the anti-magic generator in Deceit, and I know how to stop it. That’s not something I can justify putting off.

The party takes the magic carpet to the island that was formerly the site of Blackthorn’s castle. Shamino seems lost in thought as we arrive, and I recall that he was guillotined here back in my party’s experience with Ultima V. It occurs to me that I failed to note his miraculous resurrection when he appeared at the beginning of Ultima VI. It’s probably too late to ask him about it now. Terfin was settled by gargoyles fleeing the destruction of their homeworld after the events of Ultima VI.

Even here I have to hear this nonsense?

The first gargoyle we meet is a winged one, a trainer named Inforlem, who is capable of training in both strength/combat and intelligence/magic. Between him and Sentri in my party (dexterity/combat), I’m not sure we need anyone else. I suppose other trainers out there might be more efficient, requiring fewer slots to increase more attributes, but you can’t hold your slots open forever while you run around comparing trainers.

The gargoyles’ Shrines of the Principles–control, passion, and diligence–were relocated to Terfin, including the statues of Mondain, Minax, and Exodus. Exodus is again represented as a demon instead of the computer that he was in the game. You can’t talk to them anymore, so either their spirits didn’t make the trip or they just don’t have anything to say. In my winning entry for Ultima VI, I talked a bit about how odd it was that the gargoyles would hold up humans as exemplars of their virtues, particularly tyrannical humans. It’s as if some aliens came to Earth and told us their virtue system was exemplified by Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler. But the gargoyles seem to be using the triad more as examples of unbounded adherence to a single virtue–as in, Minax is an exemplar of passion unchecked by control and diligence. As such, I’m not sure they’re really “worshiping” the triad so much as using them as warnings.

Someone bellyaching about food screws up this shot of Exodus.

Of course, the Fellowship is trying to make their way into Terfin, too, despite being closely associated with the Britannia Purity Society. The chapter hall is run by a winged gargoyle named Quan who refuses to explain the self-selected name. He sees a lot of overlap between the Gargish system of virtues and the Fellowship’s Triad of Inner Strength. Runeb, a particularly rude winged gargoyle, is his assistant. I toss the building but don’t find anything incriminating.
Quaeven runs a kind-of community center, a combination between an athletic facility and a library. He’s also a Fellowship member, and currently working on converting Betra, the provisioner. He imparts some interesting information about the “voice” that Fellowship members supposedly hear after visiting the Meditation Retreat: it not only helps guide them in effective life choices but also helps them win at the gambling games at Buccaneer’s Den. That’s a bit worldly for a deity.

Anyway, Betra says he has no plans to join the Fellowship. Indeed, he’s heard rumors of a plot to destroy the gargoyles’ altars of virtue. He notes that only two gargoyles in town have the necessary supplies to pull this off: himself and Sarpling, a Fellowship member whose name, ominously, means “snake tongue.” Upon further investigation, Sarpling has a note in his chest from Runeb, the Fellowship clerk, talking about the forthcoming use of explosives on the shrines. When confronted with the note, Sarpling caves immediately not only to the plan to blow up the shrines but also to assassinate Quan so that Runeb could take over the Fellowship branch.

This is why you don’t talk without a lawyer.

Runeb attacks me when confronted with the evidence, and we’re forced to kill him. Upon reporting all of this to Teregus, who maintains the shrines, we all get 50 experience points. Quan, for his part, refuses to believe in the plot even after Runeb’s death.

The 6-to-1 odds didn’t really work in his favor.

The tavernkeeper also tells us of continued problems between winged and wingless gargoyles and suggests that we talk to them about it. A gardener, Silamo, is a wingless gargoyle and clearly bitter about it, but he doesn’t want to talk to us. I otherwise can’t find any dialogue options related to this supposed problem.

Lord Draxinusom lives in a small, one-room hut next to the community center. He fondly remembers the old days and notes that no one really seems to look up to him anymore. He’s suspicious of the Fellowship. When asked about his Ethereal Ring, he says he was forced to sell it, along with most of his other possessions, to the Sultan of Spektran to finance the gargoyle move to Terfin.

Before I can bring up the subject independently, Draxinusom happens to mention that Teregus’s son, Inamo, is in Trinsic. Inamo left Terfin because of the growing influence of the Fellowship, with which he had vocal and public disagreements. This suggests that either the Fellowship got lucky when they were able to kill Christopher and Inamo at the same time, or that perhaps Inamo was the main target after all. We then have to break the news to Teregus, who is understandably upset and asks for updates on our investigation.

It was a waste of all life.

I’m surprised that I don’t hear anything about the mines north of Terfin during our time in the village. I briefly pop in to check them out and find in the storeroom enough powder barrels to indeed destroy the shrines. We find lots of gargoyles working, but none of them will talk with us. I’m also surprised we didn’t find an NPC companion in Terfin. I could have sworn I remembered there was at least one.

This guy has some issues.

The island of Spektran is northwest of Terfin. I think it’s where we found the pirate treasure in Ultima VI. No longer a desert land crawling with giant ants (giant ants in general seem to have ceased being a problem in the last 200 years), Spektran is now lushly forested and dominated by a single large building. The door slides open as we approach, and the Sultan greets us from an armchair just a few feet into the hall. Wearing a Persian headwrap, he introduces himself as Martingo, the Sultan of Spektran. The man is clearly quite mad, hallucinating subjects–including a harem of 11 women–throughout his barren fortress. He repeatedly speaks to an invisible “advisor” during our conversation. I’d like to think that elsewhere in this game, you can find an interesting backstory on this person.

When we bring up the Ethereal Ring, he says that it’s in his vault, and he welcomes us–dares us, in fact–to test its defenses and to retrieve it. His “vault” is in fact just a large room behind him. We soon find that the Sultan’s vaunted “security system” consists primarily of a stone harpy that comes to life when we enter the room. The damned thing kills me repeatedly, and I hate waking up at that Fellowship shelter in Paws. I have never once kept playing from this situation, as I don’t trust what the Fellowship did while I was unconscious, and I don’t trust these doppelgangers of party members who are suddenly all full of praise for the Fellowship for finding and rescuing me.

Kind of a dumb thing to yell at a creature made of stone.

After dying a couple of times at the harpy’s stone claws, I have this idea that it can only be defeated with fists. I don’t know where I get this idea; I think maybe I’m muddling it with another game I played recently where that was true. It would make sense that conventional weapons wouldn’t be able to do much damage to living stone, but then again, neither would fists. Either way, it seems to work, although it takes me another couple of reloads before I’m able to kill the harpy with all of my characters left alive.
Martingo’s vaunted vault has nothing in it except three magic rings and the Ethereal Ring, which is the only one I take. We defeat some wolves before lifting off to the Dungeon Deceit.

My one fourth-level spell is looking a bit lonely.

Deceit is a man-made dungeon with brick walls. Its first challenge is a magically-locked door, but we take care of that with “Unlock Magic.” A few harpies attack us on the other side, but they’re regular harpies, not stone ones, and we don’t have any problem with them.
A switch lowers a door which leads into a room with a dragon! We actually manage to kill the thing, but not before losing three party members. Since that route only seems to mislead you into a dragon battle, I reload and go a different direction. I soon find that the dungeon is characterized by unavoidable traps: arrows shooting out of the walls, fire erupting, lightning bolts zapping–which I can only avoid through trial and error or finding whoever sells the “Detect Trap” and “Disarm Trap” spells, but I seem to remember from previous experiences that they don’t work very well.

Despite the yells, no one is protecting anyone here.

In the dungeon, I meet two warrior sisters named Eiko and Amanda. They are in pursuit of the cyclops who killed their father, a mage named Kalideth, and studied under a trainer named Karenna of Minoc specifically for the task. I find the cyclops in a clearing in the middle of the dungeon. He introduces himself as Iskander and admits he’s done some monstrous things in the past in defense of his clan. He complains that humans seem to think that cyclopes exist solely to be killed by adventurers, and thus Iskander has been wandering the world looking for some place that will serve as a homeland. Neither conversation gives me dialogue options to use with the other parties, and I ultimately decide that it’s none of my business and move on.

To be fair, your kinsmen in Cove attacked us first. After we invaded their home with weapons drawn.

Eventually, we make it to the tetrahedron generator. Exhausted and out of most spell reagents by the time we arrive, I am annoyed to find there’s nothing obvious to do. Pointing Rudyom’s wand at it doesn’t cause it to explode. Double-clicking on it does nothing. Trying to walk into or on top of it does nothing. Frustrated, I consult my screen shots and am reminded that Penumbra wanted me to bring the Ethereal Ring back to her before I tried to use it.

Trying various things that don’t work on the tetrahedron.

Rather than fight my way back out, I decide to reload from before I entered the dungeon. I take the carpet to Penumbra’s and get the ring enchanted. Afterwards, she asks me an odd question: how did I know to come to her in the first place? The answer is, I didn’t. I was exploring the towns in systematic order and followed the clues I found to wake her up. But that’s not one of the answers I get, which are Nicodemus and the Time Lord, neither of whom I’ve actually met this game. It’s a bit annoying that Origin didn’t anticipate a player simply stumbling upon the quest this way.

Why is that even important?

Some miscellaneous observations before the end:

  • It’s kind of annoying that the bedroll, which you often need to find in the dark, is one of the darkest items in the backpack.
  • Either the “Light” spell has a bizarrely random duration or something else is going on. I cast it while the party was exploring the Vesper mines. After that, I did the MoonglowPenumbra segment and then flew to the Dungeon Despise. The spell was still active when I entered the dungeon and lasted for most of my exploration. Then, later, when I cast it in Deceit, it blinked out after about three minutes.
  • To land the magic carpet, you have to find a section of ground the size of the carpet that has no obstacles. A large plant, rock, or log is enough to stop the carpet from settling down. As I flew to Despise from Moonglow, I happened to pass over the ruins of Skara Brae, and I noted that the entire island seems designed to disallow using the magic carpet to get there. It is scattered with just enough rocks, logs, and other debris that there’s no clear place large enough to accommodate it. That’s just an impression, though; I didn’t search the whole island.


They really want you to come in the long way.


  • I took note of some experience point rewards for solving quests. Returning the signed bill from Cove gave everyone 10 experience points. Solving the gunpowder plot gave us 50. These are small numbers in comparison to combat.
  • If I start the game with the GOG settings, it frequently freezes in the middle of NPC dialogue and I have to wait about 30 seconds, clicking around occasionally, before I get it unstuck. If I just fire up DOSBox and open the game on my own from there, this never happens. But I worry that not using the GOG settings is what caused the corruption last time.
  • The Books of Britannia entry has been updated with Brommer’s Flora, The Book of Forgotten Mantras, and Book of Prophecy.

I fight my way back to the tetrahedron, and this time it lets me enter the thing, although my party members are unable to accompany me. I am pitted against a monstrous, demonic defender, and nothing I can do allows me to defeat him. This is the consequence of following my own path and reaching this point before most other players, who probably have more advanced protection spells, better equipment, higher levels, more training, and so forth.

Sorry it’s so dark, but I ran out of sulfurous ash for the “Light” spell.

Thus returning to the outdoors, I reflect on my next move. The responsible thing to do would be to return to Britain and pick up the path the way the game was meant to be played. The second most responsible thing to do would be to continue my previous path, returning to the tetrahedron later when I’m more powerful. I thus board the magic carpet and aim it west, towards the Isle of Fire.

Time so far: 30 hours


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