The Black Gate: La Forge

From The CRPG Addict

I have a feeling we’re going to regret this.


So far in our chronology, expansions have been rare enough that we haven’t devoted any significant time to them. Although not common, they are nearly as old as CRPGs themselves. The first that I can identify for sure two 1981 games in the Dunjonquest series: The Upper Reaches of Apshai expansion to Temple of Apshai (1979) and the Keys of Acheron expansion to Hellfire Warrior (1980). Only shortly after those came the second and third Wizardry scenarios (1982 and 1983). They are now known colloquially as Wizardry II and Wizardry III, and later titles would continue from that numbering, but the original releases required the original Wizardry to create characters.
Lots of other games have lacked expansions as such but have been modular from the start, such as Eamon (1980) and its various clones. And of course outside of the CRPG genre, expansions go arguably back to 1976, when Advanced Electronics released Pong Extras for the pong console.
We have also seen in this era some confusion between the term “expansion” and wholly original games. For instance, the Bloodwych Data Disks (1990) are often given as an expansion of the original game, but my reading of the description is that the disks contain standalone executable files that read saved games from Bloodwych and offer more levels. I only consider a game an “expansion” if it requires the original game installation to run.
Thus, Forge of Virtue doesn’t earn any extra points for being the first expansion. But aside from the modular titles in which you could move characters in and out of different adventures at will, Forge of Virtue might be the first “interlocutory expansion”–that is, taking place entirely within the context of the original adventure. (We can come up with a better term.) The opposite would be “coda expansions,” which take place after the main quest and generally can only be played after solving it (e.g., most of Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal). There are of course still others that allow the player to choose either way (The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone), and others beyond that that stand completely separate from the main title (Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry). There are weird combinations such as Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, which can be a coda expansion or a standalone expansion depending on how the main plot went, or the “Watcher’s Keep” part of Throne of Bhaal, which is an interlocutory expansion to a coda expansion that can also be an interlocutory expansion to the original game.
Interlocutory expansions are tricky because developers can’t gauge exactly where the player will be when he begins the expansion. What they can gauge is how the expansion will affect the character for the rest of the main game, and the answer is almost always that it overpowers him. Such is the case with Forge of Virtue, as we’ll see.
Heaven knows why ORIGIN decided that Ultima VII needed a few extra hours of content, or why they thought the Avatar needed even more power. The game isn’t that hard as it is. I’ve heard cynical theories that the original game was so bugged that the company came up with the “expansion” idea as a way to deliver crucial patches while getting players to pay extra for them. In a contemporary interview with Warren Spector published in Game Bytes magazine, he had no explanation other than, “Someone realized we could do it, and so they did it.” If anyone knows of any source that explains Forge of Virtue better, please link it.
The expansion is introduced into the main game in the clumsiest way. The Avatar has just arrived in Trinsic and is just beginning to hear about the murders and absorb that it’s been 200 years, and then suddenly there’s an earthquake. Way to pile it on. As you recall, once the Avatar reaches Lord British, the king has this to say:
The foundation of Britannia was shaken with the rising of an island. This event was no random disaster, it was one of sorcerous intent . . . I felt a great disturbance in the ether when this island arose from the sea. The island is none other than the Isle of Fire where thou defeated the Hellspawn Exodus . . . Avatar, thou shouldst know that when I created the shrines of the Virtues, I also set upon this island three great shrines, dedicated to the Principles of Truth, Love, and Courage. They reside within the walls of the Castle of Fire. I never revealed this to thee before as I thought them forever lost when the Isle of Fire mysteriously sank beneath the waves. The shrines are meant for the use of an Avatar only, and therefore a talisman will be necessary to use one. The talismans are guarded by tests that thou shouldst have no problem passing if thou wishest to seek their counsel.
There’s a boatload of retconning in that paragraph. Originally, the shrines of virtue were created after the events of Exodus: Ultima III, and thus after the Isle of Fire originally sank after Exodus’s defeat. The entire world has been reconfigured since the events of Ultima III, so it’s hard to believe, geologically, that this is the same island even if it could somehow be determined by geography. Third, there was no Avatar before the events of Ultima IV, so the shrines would have been useless (none of the other shrines require you to already be an avatar to visit). Fourth, it wouldn’t make any sense to lump three shrines to the principles of virtue in one place; it would have made more sense to co-locate them with the Lycaeum, Empath Abbey, and Serpent’s Hold, just as the shrines of virtue were co-located with the towns that exemplified them.
If you can ignore all that, it’s not a bad opener for a plot. The true nature of Exodus has always been a bit of a mystery. Was he man, machine, or a combination? Was the computer in which I fed the data disks Exodus himself, or was it just controlling him? Either way, his defeat definitely felt less complete than that of Mondain or Minax. I could see their heads fly off their bodies (I imagine), but Exodus just . . . sank. The endgame text even takes care to specify that he was “defeated”–not killed. His return is the least implausible thing about this backstory.
Lord British unnecessarily gives you his ship, docked in Vesper, to travel the five paces between the mainland and the Isle of Fire. Even if you didn’t finish the expansion, this already makes the game a lot easier because it saves you from buying a ship (admittedly, if you grab the magic carpet early, it hardly matters), not to mention all the stuff that its holds are stocked with. The king also gave me a “focused magic crystal” that’s supposed to do something on the island.

The healing potions are nice, but why did Lord British have so much hooch stashed on his ship?


I was originally going to save my visit to the Isle of Fire for late in the game, but an organic reason to visit came up earlier: I can’t defeat the demon guardian of the blackrock generator. Mages, friends, people I love, are suffering migraines so bad that they’re going insane, and I need to stop it as soon as possible. If I can’t defeat the guardian with my current skill set, that means powering up as soon as possible. And although the Avatar doesn’t know exactly what he’ll find on the Isle of Fire, his experience in the past has been that most shrines confer some benefits, as do the former lairs of evil overlords. 
Just so I can say I sailed a ship briefly, I land the magic carpet in Vesper and take the Golden Ankh to the Isle of Fire. You sail a ship in this game by boarding it, double-clicking the gangplank to raise it, double-clicking the mast to prompt everyone to sit down, and double-clicking the sail to unfurl it. Then you can go in any direction with the regular movement keys; you don’t have to worry about wind direction or speed as in some of the earlier Ultimas. I guess the Avatar finally learned how to tack. You reverse this process when you arrive. You have to pull the ship up to some place that has accessible land on the other side of one of the gangplanks and then drop one of them. 
The Isle of Fire has no dock, so I pull up to a marshy area and let everyone off there. The arrival area is a small inner bay with a half circle of land around it. At its apex is a ruined fortress covered with ash and ruined iron, although somehow torches are burning. There’s a moongate nearby, and entering deposits me outside the entrance to the Lycaeum. I reload and continue into the keep.

Looks a bit different from when we last visited.


The entry hall leads back to a room with three statues: a maiden, a knight with a sword, and an old man in a robe. I temporarily leave them to scout the rest of the structure, which has a number of portals and dragon statues.
In a western bedroom, we find an old blind man named Erethian. He knows who I am immediately, recounting my victories against the triad of evil in the first three games. He claims to be a researcher, recently arrived, which starts to explain why his food, furnishings, and books aren’t hopelessly waterlogged, but then he goes on to claim he’s found many interesting books in the keep. He gets tetchy when I question how books are useful to a blind man.
Almost immediately, he confirms that “the machine that [I] destroyed was Exodus’s means of communication with and control of the world,” not Exodus himself. The computer was a bridge between Exodus’s psyche and an evil database called the “Dark Core,” which blended mundane information with knowledge of taking over the world. He confirms that the gargoyles imprisoned Exodus’s psyche in the Statue of Diligence. A book in his room called The Dark Core of Exodus elaborates on these theories. (The Books of Britannia entry has been updated with two books by Erethian: Converting Moongates to Thine Own Use, The Dark Core of Exodus, and one by “R. Allen G.”: Ethical Hedonism.)
Erethian suggests several times that he knows me better than makes sense; that he saw me defeat the triad close-up; that he knew them personally. He makes asides about Iolo’s bardic abilities and the Avatar’s tendency to steal artifacts for his own use. At the same time, he seems unaware that the gargoyle world is gone, and he suggests that it was never daemons with which gargoyles were confused but balrons. I believe the creatures last appeared in Ultima IV.

Canon in the making.


Erethian is the putative author of the expansion’s manual, A Guide to the Isle of Fire. I’d have mentioned this book at the beginning, but it’s unclear exactly when the Avatar is supposed to have acquired it, so I’m assuming we found it in Erethian’s room. The book deals with a few of my “retcon” objections. It claims that Lord British built the shrines to the three principles of virtue on the Isle of Fire at the same time he created the eight shrines of virtue. (Previous sources have suggested the Great Council created the shrines, but the statements aren’t irreconcilable. I assume it was a collaborative effort; that Lord British directed the project and the Council did the work.) While the shrines of virtue were meant to help produce the Avatar, the three shrines to the principles were to help serve the Avatar, and thus were protected by beasts and traps that only the Avatar could solve. As for the Isle of Fire sinking, I guess I was relying on a faulty memory. Nothing at the end of Ultima III says that it sank, and neither does anything in the backstory of Ultima IV. Thus, it could have sank days before the Avatar arrived for the fourth game. Erethian thinks it sank because of the gargoyles’ removal of Exodus’s psyche, although he doesn’t specify the mechanism by which this would happen.

Yeah, when I need them to save the world.


Erethian claims in the manual to have started studying the Isle of Fire using an enchantment that allows him to breathe underwater. After he found Exodus’s Dark Core, he used the lenses to view the Codex and see how to raise the island from the depths. Thus, Erethian takes responsibility for the events of the expansion.
We return to the statue room and speak to the old man in front of us, assuming he represents truth. He introduces himself as the Keeper of Truth and asks if we seek the “wisdom and boon” of Truth. We say yes and are teleported to a small room with a moongate and two plaques. The plaques read: “Truth is truth” and “Only appearances are deceptive.” The south wall of the room turns out to be illusory.  It leads to a series of invisible corridors through which we have to travel before we come to a door operated by a switch. On the other side is the Talisman of Truth. Picking up the artifact, we are teleported back to the statues, where the Keeper of Truth says that we have “mastered the path of truth.” He raises the Avatar’s intelligence and magic to 30 (the maximum), warns us that “the psyche returns to the core,” and falls silent.

Guys, did that seem a little too easy to anyone else?


The statue of the woman tells us to enter the portal to the south for the Test of Love. We find ourselves in a valley with a small hut. A logbook written by the hut’s former owner, Astelleron (mentioned in Erethian’s history), tells of how he lived on the island and created two golems to protect the shrine. The golems were originally unthinking machines, but Astelleron managed to use some artifact called the Stone of Castambre to imbue then with intelligence and reason. Astelleron has apparently died; a gravestone behind the hut reads HERE LIES BELOVED FATHER AND MASTER.

I don’t know. Was he a confederate general?

We find the golems, one of them dead and broken in a circle of stones, the other standing mournfully over him. The intact golem, introducing himself as Bollux, pleas for help. He explains that a wall fell on his brother, Adjhar, destroying him. He hands us one of Astelleron’s books, which explains how the Stone of Castambre can be used to animate golems and other inanimate objects. It outlines a process:

1. Find the Stone of Castambre, which should be located in the center of a group of five boulders, with a tree growing out of it.

2. Place something (it was smudged) within the chest of the creature

3. Use a pick-axe to strike the tree and fill a bucket with the tree’s blood.

4. Set down five rocks in a pentagram shape around the creature. Anoint each with blood from the bucket.

5. Cast VAS FLAM UUS on each puddle of blood while chanting some sacred words. Fortunately, VAAS FLAM UUS is contained within the book.

We grab a bucket at Astelleron’s old well. A mountain pass leads into an old mine, where we find a pick-axe. At the end of the pass, a teleporter brings us to a separate valley, where we find the Stone of Castambre and the tree growing out of it. Then next step takes a while because I’m first convinced I have to get up to the level of the tree, so I waste a lot of time trying to stack powder barrels to make stairs (this works with regular barrels but not powder barrels). I then equip the pick-axe and try attacking the tree in combat instead of double-clicking on it to use it. Finally, I figure it out and get my bucket of blood.

The deer was tempting, as I was low on food, but I figure you don’t kill helpless forest creatures during the Test of Love.

I still don’t know exactly what to place in the golem’s chest, so I start the ritual without it, pouring blood on each of the five stones that someone (Bollux?) has prophetically placed around the body. I then cast VAAS FLAM US. As I do so, Iolo remarks that we’ll need a heart, and Bollux immediately volunteers his own, digging it out of his chest and collapsing to the ground.

Technically, this qualifies more as “sacrifice.”

We place the heart in the body and finish the incantation, which causes Adjhar to awaken. Adjhar, created second, is the more articulate of the two golems. Seeing Bollux’s body, he demands to know what has happened. When we tell him, he asks for our assistance in restoring Bollux to life. At first, I’m worried I’m going to be stuck swapping hearts and collecting blood for eternity (Iolo even makes a joke about this), but it turns out we can fashion a new one with a chunk from the tree.

Too soon, Iolo.

Back we go to carve the heart and collect the blood. (The tree is looking a bit sickly by this point.) We repeat the ritual, and soon both golem brothers are standing before us. Adjhar happily gives us the Talisman of Love, as we have demonstrated an understanding of the principle. That raises a question: Was Adjhar really injured in a fall? Or was all of this just a test? If the former, what did the original test look like?
The Keeper of Love bestows 30 dexterity and combat on me and warns me about an evil stirring in Britannia.

Yes, I’m sure two golem brothers encompass “all that is love.”

Third comes the Keeper of Courage, who again asks me to enter a teleporter. On the way, I happen to pass a mirror full of swirling colors. I double-click on it. A demonic face appears and calls me “master” before realizing that I’m not, in fact, his master. Recovering from his faux pas, he introduces himself as Arcadion. He says that he’s served Erethian for 200 years, and he clearly hates the mage. Erethian, meanwhile, is clearly up to something he hasn’t let on.

Give it a few minutes.

We return to Erethian, expecting to somehow “expose” him, but he agrees freely to possessing the creature, saying that he is “sometimes useful.” Apparently, Arcadion is keen to possess the Ether Gem, which he thinks will free him, but Erethian insists that it will just confine him to a “more mobile prison.” In any event, a dragon apparently burst into the castle and stole the Ether Gem some time ago before disappearing into the Test of Courage. This accounts for the damage and debris in the rooms leading to the teleporter.

Yes, it’s too bad you don’t have a better relationship with your demon.

We take the teleporter to the Test of Courage, which turns out to be the hardest of the tests–hard enough that I probably would have done less reloading if I’d just stayed at the Tetrahedron Generator and kept trying to defeat the guardian. The hardest part is near the beginning–a large room full of the remains of previous adventurers, in which skeletons and headless spring to life, a mage casts spells from the center, and a lich casts spells from an area to the north. Even worse, the lich is protected by some kind of ring of candles, so he can’t be engaged.
The mage has in his possession the key to the next door, so his body must be identified and looted before progressing to the next section of the dungeon. Meanwhile, flames are burning everywhere for no reason and there are two red moongates in the lower corners of the room.
Trying to get through this room with my entire party alive reminds me why people hate combat in this game. In previous entries, I suggested it wasn’t so bad, but I recant those statements. The primary problem is that you cannot keep your party in any kind of sensible formation. The moment combat begins, they go storming off in every direction. Party members with missile weapons become convinced they need more room and go tearing off in search of a better vantage. Anyone with combat settings for “hardest foe” or “easiest foe” or “random foe” will go charging after distant enemies–sometimes ones on another screen entirely. The only way you can keep people remotely together is to have everyone target the “closest” enemy, but even then, some party members have an odd idea of “closest.” Then they decide to flee when they take too much damage–sometimes–but they have no discernment while fleeing and often flee right into the path of other enemies or into patches of fire, where they enter a never-ending cycle of falling unconscious from the fire damage, slowly regenerating health (characters don’t take damage while unconscious, even if they’re sleeping in fire), waking up, taking damage, and immediately falling unconscious again.

This room has a lot happening.

Enemies in this room seem to spawn more or less continually, so I’m trying to herd everyone through the room while still killing the mage and anyone else who’s a direct threat. The only way I can do this is to periodically exit combat, which causes everyone to rush back into formation, and then enter it again.
The issue isn’t that it’s hard to win; it’s that it’s hard to win while keeping everyone alive. The more characters you have, the stronger your party is collectively, but the greater chance that someone doesn’t survive a tough combat. Not for the first time, I wonder why ORIGIN allowed you to select individual party members in Ultima VI but not VII. With that option, I could hustle some characters across the room while others fight. I could leave most of them around the corner and send one character forth to lure enemies one-by-one. Instead, I’m reduced to a lot of reloading. I can’t tell you how sick I am of hearing the Guardian say, “Poor Avatar. Poor, poor Avatar” before waking up in Paws.

At least there’s some good equipment in the room.

All of this complaining should be tempered, of course, by the knowledge that I’m in Forge of Virtue a bit earlier than the game probably intended, so the particular difficulty of this dungeon is by design. Eventually, I do get everyone through the room, picking up a lot of valuable magic armor from the corpses on the way. We unlock the door and continue down the corridors.
The rest of the dungeon has a few switch puzzles, giant spiders, giant scorpions, and other creatures before we reach the end. There are a couple of puzzles in which you have to sacrifice magic gear (although you find the gear in the same dungeon, so it’s really a draw).
There’s a room with a couple of dragons before the final room with the dragon. I think I’m being clever by using a Potion of Sleeping and a vial of sleeping powder on the dragons, knocking them out long enough for my party to administer a couple of coups de grâce and then looting their corpses for gems. Then I encounter a locked door that requires the same key used on the first door, which I left behind. By the time I return, the dragons have respawned and I have to defeat them “for real” this time.

I thought I was so clever.

In the final room, we meet the dragon Dracothraxus, who indicates that he’s the final test of courage. We’re plainly meant to defeat him with a glass sword found on a charred body within the chamber, but I don’t find it until after we’ve won with regular weapons. This only takes one try, which surprises me given how hard the first room was.

The true Test of Courage.

For our victory, Dracothraxus gives us the Ether Gem and says that we won’t have passed the Test of Courage until we defeat him for good, which will require an artifact that doesn’t exist. This doesn’t make a lot of sense given that Dracothraxus forced his way into the test, but whatever. We have to walk back through the dungeon–fighting the dragons a third time–to return to the castle.
Back in the fortress, Erethian tells us that the artifact of power we’re looking for is probably a giant blackrock sword, which he once attempted to make but lacked the strength to properly forge it. He waves his hands and magically summons a blacksmith’s workshop in the entry hall of the castle, including a well and bucket, a trough, a hearth full of coal, a hammer, an anvil; a bellows, and the sword blank he’d previously attempted. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the help, but this part seems far too easy. I think I might have preferred if I’d had to take the sword back to the mainland, find a forge, and figure it out for myself.

Erethian, acting as the deus ex caminus.

There’s a lot of trial and error in the ensuing process. The winning sequence goes: Fill the bucket a few times at the well and dump it into the trough; put the sword blank across the hearth; pump the bellows until the sword is glowing bright; put the sword on the anvil; beat it with the hammer; repeat the process until the game tells you you’ve done as much as you can; heat up the sword one last time; douse the sword in the trough. For a game that allows you to do so much with the environment it is unnecessarily finicky with the controls during this process. You can’t manually pick up the sword and move it to the anvil; you have to double-click on it and then click on the anvil. You can’t equip the hammer and then attack the sword as in combat; you have to double-click the hammer and then click on the sword. And the first few times you heat it up and pound at it on the anvil, there’s no encouragement that you’re doing the right thing.

The Avatar hammers the blackrock sword.

When it’s all done, the game tells us that the sword is too heavy to wield, so back we go to Erethian for advice. He suggests binding Arcadion to the Ether Gem and then binding that to the sword. This is supposed to be as easy as holding the gem in my hand and smashing the mirror, but here I run into significant problems. It turns out the Ether Gem is about the size of a marble, nearly impossible to find in my backpack, and at the same time I never really looked at the gem that Lord British gave us. I confuse that gem for the Ether Gem and keep trying to use it, which keeps causing it to shatter. It takes loads of time and a YouTube video to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Afterwards, I do it right–but what the heck is the purpose of the gem Lord British gave us?

Denial to acceptance in a few words.

Arcadion is at first delighted to be freed from the mirror. He then swiftly goes through the five stages of grief as he realizes he’s trapped in a gem. In the resulting conversation, I order him to bind with the sword, which then becomes usable as a weapon. I can talk to Arcadion at any time by double-clicking on the sword in my inventory. It allows me to call up on special abilities titled “magic,” “death,” “fire,” and “return,” all of which I need to experiment with more.
We return to the Trial of Courage, fight our way through the monsters a second time, and confront Dracothraxus again. He and Arcadion have some dialogue indicating that they’re old enemies as the battle commences. I defeat the dragon without much trouble and he departs, giving us access to a northern room with the Talisman of Courage.

A little smack talk before the rumble.

We are teleported back to the room with the three statues, where the Avatar’s strength is raised to 30. The Keeper of Courage then demands that the Avatar seek the Talisman of Infinity.
Erethian again fills us in: If we focus the convex and concave lenses on the combined Talismans of Truth, Love, and Courage, it will call the Talisman of Infinity from the void. “Once here,” he says, “it would seem that its sole purpose is to coerce a powerful force into the void.” He suddenly realizes what that “powerful force” might be and shuts down, but Arcadion pipes up and fills us in on how to perform the rest of the ritual.

The persistence of NAME and JOB when talking to a sword belie the Avatar’s newly-increased intelligence.

We have to take the Golden Ankh to Britain to grab the two lenses from the museum, then head back to the Isle of Fire.

These don’t really belong in a museum anyway.

Back in the fortress, we arrange the Talismans as instructed on top of the Dark Core. (Until this point, I didn’t even realize it was the Dark Core. I thought it was just a pedestal.) The Talisman of Infinity appears long enough to snatch the Core into the abyss. Erethian teleports in, enraged, and tries to cast VAS ORT REL TYM, which means something like “through great magic, change time,” but his spell backfires and reduces him to some bones scattered across the floor.

The Talisman does its job while the bones of Erethian litter the floor above it.

We sail back to Vesper, board the carpet, travel to Britain, wake up Lord British, and tell him the news. As a reward, he doubles my strength to 60. And thus the Forge of Virtue ends.

What if Exodus had returned and the Guardian invaded at the same time? That would have been interesting.

I have to say, as much as I’ve enjoyed Ultima VII so far, there wasn’t much that I liked about the expansion. The backstory started out promising, but then the game started playing me instead of vice versa. There was too much exposition from Erethian, his instructions were too explicit, and the resolution of his story was unsatisfying. I had hoped that it would turn out that he was Exodus–or at least his psyche–trying to figure out how to reunite with his “Dark Core.” Something needed to explain the mage’s familiarity with Mondain and Minax and other mysteries in his backstory.

If Lord British is going to keep to one side of his king-sized bed, I don’t see why I shouldn’t crawl in next to him.

Finally, while it’s nice to leave an expansion with some improved stats and gear, this one goes way too far. The Avatar’s dexterity, intelligence, magic, and combat all doubled, and his strength quadrupled. There’s no point in any further training or development for the Avatar, except for leveling so he can cast higher-level spells. And honestly, if you have a weapon this powerful, is it really necessary to make it capable of a “Death” spell, too?

My character at the end of the session.

But of course I knew most of these things going in, so I can’t complain too much. The trip serves its purpose. After our visit to Britain–where we return the two lenses, as well as cash in our accumulated gems and gold nuggets–we return to the Dungeon Deceit and the Tetrahedron Generator. The Avatar goes in and its guardian dies in a couple of hits from the sword. The Generator is destroyed.

You’ll have to take my word for it. I would trade every spell that sword is capable of casting for a permanent “Light” spell.

We cap this expedition with a return to Moonglow. Mariah is her old self, no longer confused or insane, although her character graphic still suggests she hasn’t slept, bathed, changed, or combed her hair in a while. She thanks me for restoring magic, as does Penumbra.

The way you know is that no one else ever solves any problems in Britannia.

I think it’s finally time to move on to Jhelom and Dupre, and to test out our new sword in the Dungeon Destard.

Time so far: 40 hours


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