The Black Gate: My Way

From The CRPG Addict


Regrets: I’ve had a few. But then again, I’m riding a goddamned magic carpet.
           
There he was in front of me: Batlin of Britain. The anti-Avatar. The con man with a shuck-and-jive so powerful that he even seduced the in-game narration. “At once humble yet dignified, his gentle eyes exude caring for his fellow person,” the game fawns.
     
He knows who I am immediately. I pretend to be ignorant about him. He tells me he’s the Fellowship founder and leader. “It is rapidly growing throughout Britannia,” he brags, “and keeps me very busy as thou canst well imagine. Ha! Ha! Ha!” He doesn’t laugh; he actually says, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” God, I hate everything about him. 
    
I ask him about this “voice” that people talk about; he says I have to take a test to learn more. I ask him about the so-called “Meditation Retreat”; he says that it’s east of Serpent’s Hold but only active Fellowship members can visit. Finally, he gives me the Test.
Oh, it’s a clever device. He poses questions just like the gypsy of yore who first started me on this path. But he twists every answer I give into his own foul interpretation, becoming less charitable and more irritable as the questions go forward.
            
  • “Thou art feeling depressed right now. It is more likely because A) thou hast disappointed a friend or B) a friend has disappointed thee?” Answer A) and you take your responsibilities seriously and put too much pressure on yourself. B) means you trust people too much even when they’re not worthy. He smiles and nods after this interpretation.
          
I don’t even understand this question.
       
  • “Thou art at a feast hosted by a very high-ranking official. Thou dost believe the food he has ordered to be served is little more than swill, and thou dost notice that the other guests certainly think so. When thine host asks if thou dost like the food, dost thou: A) Tell the truth, or B) lie to him.” A) means you’re bluntly honest but your intentions are noble overall; B) means you’re concerned about others’ feelings. Batlin follows either with a sweeping hand gesture.
  • “Thou hast taken the last room available at an inn. Upon entering it thou dost find that it is filthy. t is the middle of the night; there is no one to clean it and there is nowhere else to stay. Dost thou: A) clean up the room thyself, or B) just go to sleep.” A) means you think you’re responsible for everything. B) means you refuse to accept your fate and expect life to offer protection. Either way, Batlin sighs.
  • “At a festive gathering thou dost tell a humorous anecdote, and thou dost tell it very well, creating much amusement Didst thou tell this story because: A) thou didst enjoy the response that thou didst receive from thine audience, or B) because thou didst want to please thy friends. A), you’re using your friends for self-gratification. B), you feel unworthy of having friends and have to buy their attention. Either way, now Batlin now frowns.
  • “If thou wert to become a person of leisure, one who had amassed a fantastic fortune of wealth, would it most likely be because: A) thou hadst discovered an infallible method of stealing the money of others, or B) thou hadst discovered an infallible method of illicitly duplicating the coin of the realm?” Either way, you feel that you’re incapable of achieving success legitimately (not that that’s one of the options!) and either have to exploit others or present the illusion of success. Now Batlin is sadly shaking his head at my answers. It was all I could do not to cut it off.
  • “While travelling thou dost find a man in terrible pain. His arm has been grievously injured. A healer tending to him tells thee that the man’s arm will have to be removed and that he will require thine assistance to do it. The man says he will recover from his injury and asks thee not to let the healer amputate his arm. Dost thou: A) heed the words of the healer, or B) respect the wishes of the injured man?” This is an odd one, colored by Batlin’s hatred of healers. But either way, Batlin reverses himself and interprets your answer positively. You either believe in mercy or value human life. 
  • “Thou hast just killed a small dog by throwing a rock at it. Is it more likely that thou hast done this because: A) the dog was going to attack thee, or B) the dog was going to attack someone else.” You’re either overly-defensive or overly-aggressive. Batlin is now stroking his chin.
  • “Thou art in a boat with thy betrothed and thy mother. The boat capsizes. In the choppy waters thou canst only save thyself and one other person. Who dost thou save from drowning?” Whichever you choose, Batlin reacts with horror that you didn’t choose the other.
         
This reminds me of a joke: A woman buys her husband two ties for this birthday. To please her, the next day he wears one. She looks at him and says, “What’s the matter? Don’t you like the other one!?”
        
Finally, he concludes that you’re a person of strong character, but “troubled by deep personal problems that prevent thee from achieving thy true potential for greatness”–in other words, perfect for the Fellowship. He welcomes me to the fold.
“No,” I say.
“I’m sorry?” he replies, concern on his face.
“No. I won’t be joining your corrupt little organization. You think I don’t see through you, Batlin? You think I can’t read between the lines of your vile little book? You think I don’t know what a ‘loaded question’ and a ‘spurious interpretation’ are? Sod off. I don’t know what you have to do with these serial murders and this ‘Guardian’ fiend, but I know you’re involved. I’m going to figure it out, come back, and nail you to the wall. And if I can’t find proof, I’ll just kill you anyway because this world is my sandbox and I can do what I want.”
He was non-plussed. “Until we meet again, Avatar,” he said dismissively, betraying nothing.
          
Smug bastard.
      
Okay, obviously the game doesn’t give that dialogue option. You can’t even refuse to join the Fellowship after answering the questions. You can only refuse to do the little errand that Batlin wants to send you on, involving the delivery of a sealed document to Minoc. I reloaded to before taking the test and refused to join.
    
Time for a little reconnaissance. Batlin clearly sleeps here, so we can’t wait until the place is empty. We wait until he wanders outside instead. There’s nothing in the collection box, and only clothing in his dresser. There’s a yellow healing potion on his shelf. On the shelf underneath is a key, which opens a magically-locked chest in the next room. It has 48 gold pieces (which I don’t steal) plus a note that says, “once the construction is complete, store the blackrock in the hold of the Crown Jewel.” That ought to be enough right there. Batlin has a clear association with the ship that carried the murderers from Trinsic, and he’s building something that involves the substance that’s driving all the mages insane. But the note opens up no new dialogue options.
It’s 19:00, so we wait for a couple of hours for the Fellowship meeting. As the members file in, we observe from the back. Batlin gives a sermon and the various members offer platitudes about how the Fellowship has helped their lives. At least my party members aren’t fooled.
        
You said it, Shamino.
        
As we prepare for bed, we look over our notes and try to figure out the best next move. I’ve got:
        
  • Britain: Buy swamp boots
  • Castle: Buy spells and reagents from Nystul (this and the above await my accumulating the funds)
  • Cove: Deliver bill, check on Rudyom
  • Great Forest: Check on Nikademus
  • Jhelom: Pick up Dupre
  • Minoc: Consult gypsy fortune-teller
  • Terfin: Report to Lord Draxinusom the death of Inamo
  • Vesper: Pick up ship and check out the Isle of Fire
        
In a broader sense, I can look for the Crown Jewel by visiting ports across the map. After studying the map, I decide to go east to Cove first, then pick up the ship in Vesper, and then probably visit Moonglow to see if Mariah has uncovered anything (or is at least okay).
Before leaving town, I stop by the Royal Orchards to talk to Figg, who I saw at the Fellowship meeting. He’s the caretaker whose testimony got Weston thrown in jail. He’s unrepentant, still selling apples for an absurd 5 gold pieces, and denies giving them for free to the Fellowship. There isn’t much else I can do with him.
On the way out of town to the east, I meet a farmer who I missed before. His name is Brownie. He ran against Patterson in the last mayoral election, but Patterson had the support of the Fellowship. Brownie could have won–he knew about Patterson’s affair–but he refused to stoop to that level. We also run across another farm run by a guy named Mack. There’s an alien spaceship inexplicably in his field. He claims that a “mean, ugly, liontiger” came out of the ship and attacked him, but Mack was holding his magic hoe and managed to kill the creature. (The ship and creature are references to ORIGIN’s Wing Commander. There’s a fan theory that Wing Commander‘s villains, the feline Kilrathi, allied with Mondain in Ultima; hence, the space fighting sequence.) The hoe, it transpires, was accidentally enchanted by a mage to be the Hoe of Destruction. Mack keeps it locked in his shed, but he lost the key on the shores of Lock Lake. I stop by the shores of the lake in the way to Cove–they are indeed polluted–but exploring the circumference is going to require swamp boots.
         
On the other hand, it doesn’t look like the ship could fit many of them.
      
On the way into Cove, the first thing I see is the Shrine of Compassion, which has a ring on the altar. A sad young woman is moping nearby. She introduces herself as Nastassia. She turns out to be the great-granddaughter of Ariana, the little toothless girl from Britain who gave me the Rune of Compassion in Ultima VI. Arianna apparently later took on the responsibility for caring for the Shrine of Compassion, a tradition that carries to this day. Nastassia is cagey about her personal reasons for upholding the tradition, but she warns me that not all the shrines of virtue are in the same good condition.
In town, we find Jaana running a clinic. She was elderly and white-haired the last time I saw her in Ultima VI, but now she looks like a young Olivia Arquette. She immediately wants to abandon her post, join the party, go find Dupre, and have a drink. I reluctantly take her, but something’s gotta give soon. Jaana oddly comes with a hawk in her bag and can equip it as a weapon. She otherwise has no armor, so I gave her the Avatar costume to wear.
          
Does it bother you that you’re saying that in front of two wounded men who you’re about to abandon to the care of no other employees?
         
More Cove notes:
         
  • Pamela runs the Out-‘n-Inn, a deliberate double-entendre since Cove is the “city of love and passion.” 
  • Lord Heather is the mayor. He says the Britannian Mining Company out of Minoc is to blame for the pollution of Lock Lake, so he happily signs the bill and takes it out of my hands. He also calls his city the “city of passion” and says that everyone in town loves someone else (he himself is in love with Jaana), save Nastassia who has a sad story. 
        
Jaana says goodbye to her lover, who’s like 150 years younger than her.
        
  • I don’t know about the mayor’s explanation for the pollution. Visiting the shores of Lock Lake, we find discarded garbage, broken cutlery, fishbones, furniture, and other things that look like they probably came from Cove itself. There’s a dead cat north of one of Cove’s houses, and “opening” it finds a dead rat, and opening the dead rat finds a piece of cheese and a Ring of Regeneration.  
          
I’m keeping this cheese for the next person who complains he’s hungry.
          
  • Zinaida runs the Emerald Tavern at which her boyfriend, the bard De Maria, performs. De Maria tells me the tale of Nastassia, the only unhappy person in town. Her mother, Nadia, was impregnated by a cad who abandoned his young family and got himself killed by some monster near Yew. After Nadia gave birth–prematurely–she committed suicide on the Shrine of Compassion, and Nastassia was raised as an orphan. Yikes. I guess I can see why Nastassia didn’t want to talk about it.
  • I returned to see Nastassia after hearing her story. She mentioned that Ariana had met the Avatar, which gave me the opportunity to tell her that I am the Avatar. She begged me to try to find out what actually happened to her father, Julius, in Yew, and I agreed. Then she suddenly kissed me.
            
This is a little uncomfortable given the age difference and the fact that you’ve clearly got some issues.
        
Rudyom is indeed a little odd, but this is the mage who kept a drake in his foyer in the last game, so the bar was pretty low already. He says he went mad when he was doing experiments with blackrock but he can’t remember any of them; his nearby notebook reveals that blackrock can only be shaped with magic and may have something to do with teleportation (say, a Black Gate)? He offers me his wand, a “blackrock transmuter,” which actually causes blackrock to explode violently. He also says the magic carpet isn’t working quite right, either, and that some adventurers borrowed it recently and “lost it near Serpent’s Spine, somewhere in the vicinity of the Lost River.”
            
Call our travel agent, Jaana, ’cause our itinerary has just changed.
       
Rudyom’s revelation about the magic carpet changed everything. There’s no point heading to vesper and a clunky boat when a method of conveyance exists that will get me across both land and sea. Serpent’s Spine surrounds Lord British’s Castle to the east, north, and west, and the Lost River enters the mountains to the west, ending in a pool. I figured I could circle around the western part of the mountains and the river and see what I could find. I stopped by the castle for food on the way, and to return the signed bill to Miranda.
       
Not with any kind of coin, I notice.
        
I left the castle, cut across the orchard to the east of the mountains, and started following them around to the north. We looped around the north, then south along the west side to the Lost River, where a thin sliver of land allowed us to walk along the banks between the mountains and the river. And suddenly, right outside a dungeon entrance, there it was: the magic carpet. With seats for eight passengers and everything.
     
Before we rode off singing “A Whole New World,” we figured we should search around the dungeon for the adventurers who had come here on the carpet. After all, if they were to emerge, broken and bleeding, to find their ride had been jacked, I’d feel pretty bad about that. As we entered, someone announced we were entering the Dungeon Despise. I thought Despise was more to the north and Shame was here, but whatever. I have Spark light up a torch and we enter.
Moments later, the party’s first combat ends in disaster as we encounter a ghost and mongbats in the dungeon corridors. After reloading, I try exploring in a different direction and encounter an obelisk spewing fireballs from all sides. The party is soon destroyed again.
          
Maybe we need to peek around bends in corridors from now on.
         
When you die in Ultima VII, you’re not resurrected in Lord British’s throne room. Instead, you wake up in the Fellowship homeless shelter in Paws. The proprietor explains that two Fellowship members, Elizabeth and Abraham, found you and brought you there. Screw that. I don’t know what those monsters did to me while I was unconscious. I reload instead.
So I guess we’ll assume that if we can’t survive Shame right now, some amateur party of adventurers couldn’t, either. It’s an interesting contraption. When you double-click on it, everyone takes their seats and it rises a few dozen feet into the air. To land it, you have to find an area with a carpet’s amount of space clear, and you have to position yourself to land above and to the left of the actual landing zone, as from the game’s axonometric perspective, the carpet descends down and to the right. It takes some practice. Otherwise, it’s pretty cool, and not for the first time, I wonder why the game bothered with horses and carts and ships and then put such an easy method of conveyance in the player’s hands so early in the game. Of course, such a statement reminds me that I have the Orb of Moons, too, and should probably investigate its various destinations when I get a chance.
Miscellaneous notes:
      
  • As with Ultima VI (but not Ultima V), the game does not require NPCs to travel between appointed places. They won’t disappear while you’re watching them, but otherwise they can simply teleport where they need to be.
  • The “Books of Britannia” page has been updated with practically double the number it had before. Cove had a lot of books.
  • Looking in a crystal ball in Rudyom’s place causes the Guardian’s face to appear and say “go away!”
           
I wasn’t even looking for you.
         
  • In a reversal of what we saw in Lord British’s castle, Cove’s city hall has enough chairs for more people than exist in the city.
          
Why doesn’t the Great Council just meet here?
       
  • I know this is probably the most frequent complaint about Ultima VII, but it bears repeating: God, is the party members’ constantly mewling for food annoying.
         
Now that I can go anywhere, the choices are a bit paralyzing. From a role-playing perspective, perhaps I should keep searching for the Crown Jewel. On the other hand, I already know (not from previous plays, just from logic) that the Fellowship is behind the murders because of some dispute they had with Christopher. Maybe I should head directly for their so-called “Meditation Retreat” and see what I can find.
On the other hand, my experience in Shame showed me I can’t just blunder into dangerous situations. I need more money, better equipment, and some character advancement. I also have space for two more party members (even if I keep all the people I already have), and it feels wrong to keep going for much longer without Dupre. Then again, I’ve been gone for 200 years, and I have no idea where the best place would be to grind for riches and experience. It’s a tough call. Next time, we’ll see what I decided.
Time so far: 12 hours
*****

Karkoth’s Keep (1983) was supposed to be next, but I can’t get it to run. If I say I don’t have an existing character at character creation, it doesn’t run the generator. If I try to run the generator myself, it quits after a few questions for which it doesn’t seem to accept my answers. These things happen with the versions I can download and with the online version hosted by Archive.org. There are screenshots from beyond this point online, so I know it’s possible. Fiddling with DOSBox cycles doesn’t seem to solve anything. I thus rolled again for a random game and came up with Morabis 1: The Dungeons of Morabis.



Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2020/05/the-black-gate-my-way.html