Friday, March 23, 2018

Ultima Underworld: Things Fall Apart

You mean "again," right?
I ended the last entry noting that I had all of my runes, and that as such, I would try to experiment more with the game's many spells. I then descended to Level 7, which immediately sucked away my mana and left it empty for nearly this entire session. This was particularly annoying because the level had a lot of creatures of various types, and it would have been a great place to test out spells.

Level 7 was just an awful experience. I mean, more so for the character than the player, but still. In contrast to the openness of previous levels, it had a ton of sectioned areas largely inaccessible from each other and one-way paths and doors. Where previous levels were largely solvable from within the level, solving the main puzzles of Level 7 required me to dip down into Level 8 (which seems to be even more partitioned). And in addition to the lack of mana, there were plenty of places in the level where health just disappeared for no reason, often killing me. I think I had more reloads on Level 7 than the entire game combined leading up to it.
Between the platforms and the lava, it's the platforms that are dangerous. I have boots for the lava; the platforms damage my health for no reason.
Oh, and I may have encountered a game-breaking bug.

When I first arrived, I ran into a fighter named Cardon at the bottom of the stairs. He wanted a bottle of port, which I didn't have, so he didn't offer me a lot of help. Later down the path, I found a goblin guarding a passageway, and the goblin demanded a medallion. Since I didn't have a medallion, any option I chose resulted in combat with the goblin and about half a dozen other goblins and trolls in the area.
Troll massacre!
A few minutes later, I ran into another goblin asking for a medallion behind a portcullis, and also had to fight a bunch more goblins and trolls. At this point, I was feeling like I had messed up and perhaps needed to try harder to find this medallion. In any event, I was so weakened from combat that I decided to return to the previous level and either rest or let my mana recharge enough to cast a few healing spells.

That's when it happened: the dreaded inventory bug message.
This was the first time I'd seen it. Someone told me that it happens because a level accumulates too many items. I thought maybe I could make it go away if I reloaded from a save before I descended to Level 7, then run around Level 6 destroying superfluous items.

It didn't work, but the experience was useful in other ways. First, I found some more incense blocks and burned them, giving me two more visions of the Cup of Wonder--more about that below. Second, I found a bottle of port for Cardon. As for the inventory bug, I don't know if it will prove fatal or not. Nothing seems to have gotten corrupted in my carried inventory. I hope I can hang on until the end of the game.

Thus re-starting Level 7, I gave Cardon the port, and he had a lot to say. The lack of spellcasting ability on the level is the work of a mage who rules over the level and has taken a number of prisoners, including Cardon's brother. He confirmed that the wizard's minions look for a medallion of passage and said that he lost one in the "haunted mines" to the southeast.
These creatures were new on this level and almost comically easy.
I did my best to make my way to the southeast, sometimes leaping high over lava flows, sometimes walking on top of them. I battled through walking trees, giant spiders, gazers, and ghosts, and ultimately found the medallion. In the end, it turned out to be mostly a waste of time. It kept the wizard's guards at bay for a while, but they turned hostile once I escaped the prison, and I had to kill them all in the end.
I prolonged his life a little while.
The culmination of the goblin area was a prison. To get in, I had to bribe a troll guard with a few gems, the last time (I suspect) that wealth will be important in the game unless I want to identify items or have the dwarven smith repair them.
Probably my last barter.
The prison, among several massive doors I couldn't open yet, had several helpful NPCs. A guy named Naruto gave the name of the evil wizard as "Tyball" (has this appeared earlier in the game?) and said that Tyball's orb is responsible for draining everyone's mana and transferring it to Tyball. He suggested that if I could find the material the orb is made from, I can destroy it with that. He also provided the location of an important key.
Learning the name of the bad guy for the first time.
A man named Griffle said that Tyball keeps prisoners to work the mines on the next level, but he doesn't know what they're mining (Tyball seems uninterested in gold). A dwarf named Kallistan gave me a crystal shard that he'd found in the mines and said that it often makes an eerie keening. I think it helped me find a secret door later or something. Dantes, a human, told me of piles of treasure on the next level and showed me an escape tunnel he'd dug. This turned out to be important because the troll had locked the prison behind me, and the escape tunnel was the only way out.

The escape tunnel led to a long river of fire, where I faced about 8-10 fire elementals. I soon exhausted my wands. I never would have made it through them except that I found a stairway to Level 8 about halfway down the river, and I was able to duck down there between battles, sleep, and recharge my magic to cast "Create Food" and "Heal."
Toughest bastards in the game.
Throughout all of this, every time I rested, the same face that invaded my dreams at the outset of the game appeared to blather nonsense, only that nonsense slowly became more comprehensible. He identified himself as "Garamon"--I had been assuming this whole time that it was Cabirus--and indicated that Tyball, his brother, is cooking up some summoning ritual. Has the name "Garamon" appeared before?
His life!
Past the fire elementals, I found a Ring of Levitate, which really helped get around the multi-tiered level. But after that, I hit a dead end. The only place left to explore was a maze in the right-central part of the level, but it drained my health every time I set foot in it.

I took one of several stairways I'd found to Level 8 and soon found a stairway heading back up to a hidden area of Level 7. It was guarded by a couple of golems and an imp, who spoke to me.  He said I could only take a particular crown from the treasure chamber, one that would "open my eyes." The chamber beyond had numerous piles of gold, gems, magic items, and crowns. I investigated the latter until I found one labeled "Crown of Maze Navigation."
Did they think all this extra treasure would tempt me? I have one pound free!
Back up on the main part of Level 7, in the maze that drained my health, wearing the crown showed me a golden "safe" path along the floor. This took me to a large open area with an orb on a pedestal and a portcullis behind it, trapping Princess Arial in her cell. As I investigated, Tyball attacked me. All of this was a complete surprise; I had assumed I'd find Arial and her kidnapper at the climax of the game on Level 8.
Oh, right. I just remembered my primary goal!
I hadn't found anything to break the orb, so I had to fight Tyball without magic. He killed me the first couple of times. The third time, I used a few scrolls I had on hand, including "Monster Summoning," which kept him occupied while I attacked his rear. I also used a couple strategic retreats to use potions in the middle of combat. Eventually, I killed him.
I didn't get a great shot of Tyball. He was floating in the air for most of the combat for some reason.
As he died, he had a speech:
Thou hast just doomed this world, meddler! My ritual was designed to release the creature from its bonds, then bind it to the body of yon young lady. Thanks to thee, however, only the first part was accomplished. It is mine own fault. With my brother gone, only I could save our world. Ironic, is it not? I stood ready to save Britannia, and thou did slay me to save but a girl. The creature, the Slasher of Veils, which I sought to bind will soon escape. And its ambitions are horrible indeed. All Britannia shall suffer. Thou hast earned thy reward, fool. Thanks to thee, I shall not be here to see it.
I don't mind saying I'm a bit confused here. Tyball was trying to "save Britannia"--from a demon he freed in the first place? Why just, you know, not free it? And why go through all the trouble of kidnapping the princess to bind it? Why not just grab some poor fool who was already in the abyss? 
"The Slasher of Veils" sounds like a short story Stephen King might have contributed to Modern Bride.
The answers died with him. He left two keys, one of which opened the portcullis (again, how?) and freed the princess. She fortuitously had an "Amulet of Travel" that she could use to flee the Abyss and warn the populace to flee the island. After a quick speech, she took off.
I wonder why Lord British never gave me one of those.

The rooms behind the orb chamber contained some interesting books and scrolls, including On the Process of Resurrection and Demonic Summoning and Control: Theory and Practice. A scribbled note indicated that Tyball had killed Garamon but meant to resurrect him. 

Before I wrapped up the session, I wanted to clean up a few things, including the Cup of Wonder. The three visions had shown three different pairs of letters on the cup: IN, SA, and HN. I didn't think of them as mantras because "HN" isn't exactly pronounceable. 

I walked back up to the ankh on Level 5 (I either hadn't found or hadn't annotated any on 6 or 7). I had reached max level (16) at some point, so I used my final skill-boost mantras to increase "Lore," "Sword," "Attack," and "Defense." Then I tried combinations of the mantras from the vision--SAINHN, INHNSA, etc.--until I hit paydirt with INSAHN. "The Cup of Wonder is northeast and above you," the ankh said.
As it happened, I needed to visit earlier levels anyway, since I had never collected the moonstone and was now drowning in "Gate Travel" scrolls. I used one to reach its hidden area on Level 2, kill some slugs, and obtain the stone. "Gate Travel" takes you to wherever the stone is. I dropped it near a convenient staircase on Level 6.
This would have been hard to collect before I obtained my dragonscale boots anyway.
The ankh on Level 2 said the Cup of Wonder was below me. The one on Level 3 said it was "west" but not above or below. So I poked around various rooms to the west, playing Cabirus's favorite tune on the flute, until the cup appeared to me in a nondescript room off a river. At last, I had all eight artifacts of virtue. But for what?
That could have been more . . . wondrous.
Back on Level 7, I tried another stairway to Level 8 and found, amidst gold-veined walls and gold nuggets, an "orb rock." This destroyed Tyball's orb on Level 7 and removed the mana-draining effect. I wonder what would have happened if I'd done that first.
It was satisfying how instantly my mana filled back up.
Tyball's keys opened the previously-locked doors in the northwest part of the level. NPCs in those chambers told me of the Key of Courage and the Key of Truth, the former accessible from a staircase in the northwest area. I followed it upward, filling in small areas in the northwest of several levels, killing hostile goblins, lurkers, and mages, until I found a key labeled "Key of Courage" in a small room. This key opened a nearby door, where I found a small object also labeled "Key of Courage." So I'm guessing the first key was technically the key to the Key of Courage.
Walking through walls of fire on the way to the Key of Courage. Note that the error message keeps appearing.
As for the Key of Truth, a seer named Gurstang said he had been looking for it. My dialogue options included a choice to tell him that his "colleague Illomo" was worried about him. He gave me a password to speak to Illomo. Problem is, I can't remember where Illomo is and have no notes about him. I guess I'll search the seers' enclave first, of course. Naturally, there will be a Key of Compassion, of which I've heard nothing, but I'm 99% sure it will come from Judy on Level 5 once I find the portrait of her lost love.
I checked on her briefly to make sure she hadn't fallen in the lava.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Level 7 has a "mellow earth golem" just hanging around a little dead-end room. It feels like there should be something I can do there, but he won't talk and there are no secret doors.
  • Every level still has central windows looking into the "volcanic core." They're getting brighter.
If you're going to wall off the "core," I'm not sure it makes sense to put windows in it.
  • Although I had been determined to stick with the Sword of Valor as the primary weapon for weight purposes, I couldn't resist replacing it with an "excellent magical black sword" I found somewhere on Level 7 in a room guarded by a "shadow beast." It does seem to outperform the Sword of Valor.
  • I encountered a wisp in one of the small areas near the Key of Courage. He was "mellow," but he wouldn't talk to me. That was disappointing.
I thought he'd have some news from the Xornite dimension or whatever.
At some point after I killed Tyball, Garamon came to me in a dream and said that the Slasher of Veils was unstoppable, but Garamon might be able to help if I could properly bury his bones, which are somewhere on Level 8 ("beneath Tyball's chambers"). I collected all the bones and skulls I could find on the level and brought them up to the graveyard on Level 5 and clicked on Garamon's grave. It congratulated me for giving the bones a proper burial, but Garamon didn't appear or anything, so I suspect I had the wrong bones. I'll have to keep looking.
I "thoughtfully" create a mass grave.
It feels like the game is becoming a bit unraveled towards the end here, but my perception might be influenced by the near-desperation by which I'm trying to wrap things up before the inventory bug makes the game unwinnable.
Time so far: 27 hours

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nippon: Authorial Presence

Thorsten brags about size.
It's been fun having authors Rüdiger Hoppe and Thorsten Suhr/Sommermnn visit my entries on Nippon, clearly enjoying the fact that someone is playing their 30-year-old game, while carefully--some might even say to a fault--avoiding spoilers.

Having played almost 25 hours of Nippon, it's hard not to feel like I already know them, what with their initials appearing in multiple island chains and town walls ("RTG" for "Rüdiger the Great" and "SFG" for "Suhr Fantasy Games"); these are mentioned on Thorsten's Nippon Museum as being as much copyright protection as self-glorification.

In the game, you meet Rüdiger's sister in one town:
"Bist du Single?"
And then in the city of Funatabi, you run into the developers themselves, standing at the end of a long pier:
I've been playing for over 20 hours! It's a little late to "welcome" me!
I have to admire their restraint in not making themselves mikados, like Richard Garriott would have done. However, I do have to note that the developers have nothing to say if you approach them "friendly" or "normal." They only talk if you choose "submissive."

Having explored most of the game world at this point, I have to offer some praise for the design of the landscape and the towns. The settings that they created are as original, interesting, and evocative as possible with tiles. As you sail along, you encounter archipelagos of complex shapes, broken continents crisscrossed by rivers, valleys fully enclosed by mountains, and snow-capped peaks amidst pools of lava, all surrounded by a black void that sucks your ship over the edge if you sail too close.
I sail into a lake surrounded by lava surrounded by mountains surrounded by lava.
Among the game's 30+ towns are Yogan Haikyo, a city in the midst of being destroyed by a volcano; Mizu-Do, designed like a giant spa; Kokoro-Kazan, a mountain city with tunnels hewed through the rocks; and of course Ulti-Tori, shaped like Ultima III's Sosaria. Every city has a unique and original layout that incorporates elements of the surrounding terrain and creates navigation obstacles for the player. For instance, in Funatabi, there's a hidden armor shop that requires you to buy a ship, sail it to the northwest corner, and walk through a bit of lava. Lots of other towns have areas only accessible via swimming or finding invisible doors.
A dying town riven with rivers of lava.
I've been visiting these towns one-by-one as I continue my north-south exploration. I think I've logged 13 new ones since last time. I have to say, it's a bit exhausting to prepare to play this game, as I have to load my map (waiting for ArcGIS to load can take about half an hour by itself), then open an arrange the game window, my notepads, and my translation web site. This is definitely a game that requires two monitors and an Internet connection--something that's going to become a big problem if I don't finish it this week.

Once I have everything open, however, I fall into a certain rhythm. Visiting each city is roughly the same. To start, I explore more or less randomly, talking to NPCs as I find them, until I find the city map. Every city has one, and the developers did a good job varying how difficult it is to find them.
This one wasn't too hard to find.
The in-game town map makes it easier to plot a path. You have to visit not only all the buildings, but all the open areas as well.
Once I have a screenshot of the map, I use it to plot a more systematic route through the town, trying to ensure that I don't miss any NPCs. A single missed NPC can mean serious trouble, and I'm sure I've missed plenty.
An NPC has nothing more to say to me after I bungle the approach.
Here's where I cheat a bit. Once I encounter an NPC, I take a save state, then quickly run through the various dispositions, reloading the save state after each one. This is necessary because NPCs clam up at about half of your approaches, and the only way to reset them is to leave the town and re-enter. Even if they speak to you, they might not offer all their keywords unless you use the right approach. This isn't quite as bad as it sounds, because you sometimes have information from another NPC that suggests the one you're speaking with has more to say, and you sometimes get hints on the right disposition to use. Even with these considerations, it's pretty bad. I can't imagine completing the game under these circumstances on original hardware.
An NPC offers a vital clue.
Of course, even if I get them to talk, I have to translate the results. Their sentences are short enough that it's faster just to type them one by one than to get a massive text dump from the game file and to find, copy, and paste from there. Moreover, this far into the game, I only have to use the translator for about one-third of the words. No, that doesn't mean I'm "learning German." I wouldn't have a clue how to construct a sentence from scratch; I'm utterly lost on the gender of nouns, conjugations, and tenses; and of course I have no idea what these words sound like. But simple word recognition is becoming simpler.
An NPC named Gandalf tells me about mittelerde.
Except for the most obvious throw-away pleasantries, I copy the NPC dialogue into a notepad. About 1 in 15 dialogues gives me some kind of "to do" item that I copy into a different section of the notepad. Many of these items concern cities I've already visited, but I've decided to save "backtracking" for when I'm done with my first pass through the game world.

Aside from that, I check out any new weapons and armor (I recently bought an expensive suit of "master samurai" armor, which creates a constantly-pulsing magic aura around regular samurai armor), re-stock keys, incense, and food, and buy the occasional night in an inn or massage at a spa. Incidentally, getting a massage, like sleeping with a prostitute, sometimes confers experience points.
I like to think there's some amusing German reason behind this.
If the town has a treasure room, I typically re-visit it as many times as necessary to get my gold up to around 15,000 before moving on. The most lucrative so far has been in Kokoro-Hi, where you can get 2,500 gold per trip for the price of one key.
Looting the treasury of an evil god.
The main quest has become marginally clearer. It doesn't appear that the Wheel of Time is going to take me home, but rather to dates in which certain things happen at the game's various mountains. An NPC told me I should "consecrate the sacred great mountains of the world by meditating there," which will "call upon the gods who receive you, and prepare the way back." In Chuibukai, an NPC told me the specific date that I need to visit the mountain near its city. 
The first piece of hard intel that I have.
Operating the Wheel of Time just advances or rewinds the world, however. It doesn't magically transport you. So if you're going to go back 60 years, you'd better be at least 70 years old, or you won't be much use when you arrive. Ditto for going forward in time. I wondered why some of the magic shops offered the ability to age you as well as rejuvenate you, and now I know.

The problem is, I didn't come all the way here just to find the way back, did I? The manual made it sound like I was supposed to stop the emperor's marriage and keep both him and his bride from spending the rest of their lives in misery. I haven't heard anything else about them since the last entry.
Is this the NPC who was supposed to have more to say?
Beyond that, the game has introduced more mysteries than answers. Here are the five major enigmas occupying my mind right now:

1. How spells work. I learned "magic" (generically) in the last session, but every time I follow NPC clues to find a spell, the game tells me that I'm missing some prerequisite to use it. The "cast" icon on my icon bar doesn't do anything.

2. This pair of items. I've found several artifacts during my travels. Most of them don't appear under the generic "use" button but instead add additional buttons of their own to an already-annoying icon set. This session, I followed several NPC clues to find a "magic ball" and a "mirror of the earth." To get the magic ball, I had to find a secret mountain pass into the "inaccessible island," which has an invisible wall around most of its perimeter, preventing landing. 
As promised, I find a crystal ball under a palm tree at the end of a mountain pass.
Anyway, the two artifacts seem to work together in some way. The ball cycles among 10 syllables--yonno, san, ni, chi, rei, kyu, hach, shich, roku, and go--and you select them to string them together into two lines of eight total syllables, like "Reigorokuchi Sannikyuchi" or "Hachreinisan Nichisango." The mirror, meanwhile, gives you one of these combinations when you look at it. But if you repeat what the mirror says on the ball, the disk just runs for a bit and nothing happens and I'm an idiot. I just figured it out while I was typing this. It's a teleportation device, isn't it? The mirror tells you where you are, and the globe lets you program a destination. The syllables represent coordinates. I'll have to experiment, but if I'm right, I don't see how the globe isn't horribly over-powered, obviating both flight and the "gate" system, which I also can't figure out.
I think I just understood what this means.
3. Unsolvable side quests. The towns offer dozens of encounters that seem like side-quests but don't seem to give any option to solve them. For instance, in Chuibukai, there's a guy on an island who says he has malaria. In another area of town, there's a guy who says he has a cure for malaria. There's even a scroll on the floor of his office that suggests something that you might be able to pick up. But I can't find any way to unite the cure and the sufferer. In Yoga-Haikyo, a woman surrounded by lava screams at me to help her escape, but I can't think of any game mechanics that would allow me to do so.

4. The Gates. There are portals all over the game world. They apparently chew up one of your gate icons and age you a bit, but otherwise allow quick transport between towns or between select locations on the surface and towns. The problem is, I can't get any of them to work. Often, I can enter the initial portal and find myself in kind of a portal nexus, but after that, nothing I do--standing, pressing the mouse button, moving up, moving down, searching, using any of the icons--will let me through the other portals. I suppose this is moot if the globe works as I suspect it does or if I find the flying horse. And sailing doesn't take that long.
Okay, but how do I use them?
5. My new status bar. Speaking to one of the Buddhas resulted in not an enhancement to an existing status bar but a brand new one, to the right of the existing ones. Moreover, there's a gap indicating a possible place for yet another one. The new bar is unlabeled, and I don't know what it's for. Nothing seems to budge it. I thought it might be for magic, but the "cast" icon still doesn't do anything.

Incidentally, I'm still confused about the difference between the shaded and unshaded portions of those status bars and will happily take explicit spoilers on the subject.

Late in this session, I finally found Mizu-Do and paid a sensei to teach me how to swim, adding another icon to the unwieldy icon bar. (Although as many as it has, I feel compelled to point out that it still doesn't have 26, meaning there's still no excuse for not mapping each action to a key.) About half my "to do" items involve returning to cities where you need to swim, including an entire city (Hinode-Tori) inaccessible without the skill. Swimming takes a rapid toll on health, so you can't do it for an extended period.
What an inhospitable place.
Most of the rest of my "to dos" involve bringing various items to statues who demanded them. Most of these are weapons, so I've had to purchase half a dozen slaves to carry my excess. Statues also often demand food, so I've tried to keep a variety of food items. A few other tasks are dependent on finding the Amulet of Hi, which should allow me to walk through fire; that's in a city (Fujokawa) I haven't discovered.
Another statue wants a yari!
I didn't mention combat much in this entry because it's become almost trivial. I blast a few enemies with my cannons or my bow when they won't leave me alone. Supposedly, the experience adds to my standing, which the game currently has me at gakusho, which my translator tells means "forehead," so I'm not sure how good or bad that is.

I've visited several Buddhas during these voyages, and I've been good about leaving (rather than save-scumming) if I don't know the answers to their riddles. One question, for instance, told me that "a silver flute attracts wild animals" and wanted to know "what do these animals tell the user of the flute." This reminded me that I heard of a magic flute in Namazaki but never found it. I need to give it another try if I want to answer that riddle.

But I got most of them. One Buddha wanted to know why the connection between Watashibune and Funatabi no longer exists; having visited Funatabi, I knew it was because "the ferryman died." (Answering this correctly caused a bump to my mystery meter.) Another Buddha wanted to know how long the nights are in Nippon, as measured by hours. I solved this one in a silly way because I forgot that I had a clock. So I put the emulator in "warp" mode, waited for night to begin, timed its length, and timed when it began again. It lasted 15 seconds out of 60 total seconds for the day, or 25%, so I answered 6 hours and got it right.
It's a stupid answer, but I know the answer!
As I wrap up, I'm in the city of Atatakami, home of the evil god Hachiman, who is "not home" right now. Hachiman supposedly stole the sun horse of the goddess Amatseru, and the horse can fly, making it possible to visit numerous places on the map ringed by mountains. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the horse anywhere in the city. I'm getting ready to make another pass.
A snake attacks me as I enter Atatakami.
Nippon has its moments. In basic structure, you could say that it's a lot like Ultima IV: visit towns, get clues from NPCs, fight monsters in between. But the game world is simply too big, and what happens in between the towns too uninteresting, and the character development too limited, to sustain interest for what probably will be at least 40 hours. I'm not eager to make a second pass through all of these cities if it turns out I missed some key clues, so if I don't know what I'm doing by the end of the next session, I'm going to start asking for explicit hints just so I can bring it to a close.

Time so far: 23 hours

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A CRPG Glossary

I wasn't able to get anything else written over the last couple of days, so it's time to reveal my long-in-progress CRPG Glossary, just now published as a "page." Regular browser users will see it as an option on the side-bar in the upper right. Mobile users will see it the drop-down box at the top of each entry, just under the header (it it set to "Blog" by default).

Because commenting on a page interrupts the "Recent Comments" feed, you can use this entry for comments on additional terms that should appear in the glossary. I seeded it with a couple dozen entries to start, but it's far from complete.

There are plenty of other places to get "real" definitions for these terms, so some of the entries will--in the manner of Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary--unapologetically reflect my particular perspective.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ultima Underworld: Artifice and Artifacts

The Avatar contemplates something rash.
Let's take a moment to consider the "eight arcane artifacts" collected by Sir Cabirus, of which I now have seven (the Avatar seems to have completely forgotten about rescuing kidnapped girls). They are:
  • Book of Truth or Honesty depending on whether you go by the manual (Truth) or the in-game description (Honesty)
  • Ring of Humility
  • Cup of Wonder
  • Shield of Valor
  • Standard of Honor
  • Sword Caliburn, unique in not naming a virtue, but according to its description, it could "cleave truth from falsehood."
  • Taper of Sacrifice
  • Wine of Compassion
The artifacts are a near-but-not-perfect fit with the eight virtues of the Avatar: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. The manual's use of "Book of Truth" was a bad idea, because not only is truth a "principle" of virtue, and not a virtue, but there was already an artifact of that name, used with the Candle of Love and the Bell of Courage to enter the Abyss in Ultima IV. If all three artifacts had made a re-appearance here, that wouldn't have been a bad idea, but it's clear from the backstory that these artifacts are a new set.
I obtain the Shield of Valor from a golem.
Though it doesn't say so anywhere, Caliburn is clearly supposed to be associated with justice. Spirituality, however, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get the "Cup of Wonder." It supposedly comes from an ancient oak in Skara Brae, so it has that connection to spirituality, but I question whether "wonder" and "spirituality" are truly synonyms, and even so, whether a cup is the best way to depict it. Yes, I sometimes see weird things and get a sense of awe when I'm drunk, but I wouldn't exactly call that "spiritual."

Some of the other choices are also odd. I'm all for the Standard of Honor, the Book of Honesty, and the Taper of Sacrifice. The latter is a particularly good metaphor: it "produces light only through its own destruction." On the other hand, literally displaying humility on your finger as jewelry seems a bit paradoxical. And why is wine associated with compassion? I guess we can add sympathy to the virtues we can only feel three sheets to the wind. Meanwhile, a sword only symbolizes "justice" in cases where someone has to be killed. If the person is innocent, that's not really just; that's terrifying. I don't know what should symbolize innocence--maybe a key or some kind of check for reparations. Actually, that would be a better idea: the Coin of Justice. It goes the defendant if falsely accused and to the victim otherwise. The sword should be associated with valor: the commandment to seek and destroy evil. Then you make the shield associated with compassion, because you're literally shielding people from danger. For spirituality, you make a damned ankh cross that you can carry with you, because it's the sign of spirituality (as well as the "complete" eight virtues) everywhere else in the setting. Really, how hard is this?
Nothing says humility like bling!
In any event, I started this session with the blade part of Caliburn, the Standard of Honor, and the Taper of Sacrifice. I collected the rest over the course of Levels 5 and 6.

Both levels replaced water with lava--rivers and pools of it all over the place. It was naturally deadly to fall into, but on Level 5, I found a "ghoul" who fancied himself a tailor. When I showed him my dragon scales, he made a set of fireproof "dragon skin boots" from them in exchange for some food. The boots allow me to walk freely across the lava, because lava is perfectly safe as long as it doesn't come in direct contact with your skin.
A scientifically-accurate screen shot.
Level 5 appeared to be the ruins of Sir Cabirus's administration center. It was dominated by a large "High State Chamber" with multiple alcoves overlooking it and a huge rectangular meeting table. These days, it was swarming with headless, skeletons, and giant spiders. Weeds and mushrooms grew in the corners of the formerly-noble corridors, now patrolled by ghosts.
Fighting a headless next to Cabirus's meeting table.
The southwestern part of the level was taken up by a set of "zanium" mines, and the southeastern corridors were the homes of "ghouls," basically just humans who had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive and had thus become outcast from other humans. Some of the ghouls had fallen so far that they lost their minds and became hostile--one might even say "feral"--and attacked me in the areas outside the enclave.
None of this explains why their language degraded.
The northeastern section served as the cemetery for the Abyss, with multiple rooms full of gravestones, and a ghost or skeleton standing next to just about every stone. Oddly, the whole "bullfrog" puzzle from Level 4 was dedicated to finding a back stairway down to this area, but you can reach it without having to solve that puzzle via an obvious secret door. 
In a world of undead, why isn't everyone just cremated?
Level 6 was a complicated level full of lava, platforms above and around the lava, and islands within it. It took a lot of jumping to get around the level. Within that lava, a new enemy was introduced: fire elementals. These bastards are capable of throwing actual fireballs at you. I defeated them by hiding behind nearby walls and darting out to zap them with a Wand of Lightning.
I'm close here, but you really don't want to get this close.
The southern area of Level 6 was dominated by the Seers, including about eight named NPCs who had various side-quests and hints for the artifacts. One of them, named Dominus, agreed to identify my items, which was nice, but he requires 10 gold pieces per identification. Gold is heavy to carry around. I was a little annoyed that he wouldn't take gems or gold nuggets or anything. Still, I left plenty of gold on Level 4, and after this session, I'll probably spend some time shuttling it down.

The first clue I got about an artifact was from a ghoul named Shanklick, who said the pommel for Caliburn was hidden among the tombs in the northeast section of the level. Sure enough, it was just laying there on the ground. I'm glad no one tossed it in the trash. I ran it back up to Shak on Level 2, who reunited it with the blade for 20 gold pieces.
This reminds me of my favorite scene in Lord of the Rings, where the elf smith assembles the broken shards of Narsil on the anvil and starts hammering away at the cracks, as if that's how broken blades are actually reforged.
Caliburn replaced my jeweled magic longsword. I don't care if Caliburn is technically the best weapon in the game or not. It's indestructible, it's magic, and it's a sword. No way am I adding 4 more pounds to my encumbrance to carry something else.

("Caliburn" is, of course, the original version of what would become "Excalibur" in Arthurian legend. The original form is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae of 1136. The sword is called Caledfwlch in Welsh legend and its variants include "Esclabor," "Eschaliborc," and "Estalibore." In the earliest tales featuring the Sword in the Stone, Excalibur is that sword, but in later versions, including Malory, the Sword in the Stone is a different sword, and Arthur gets Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.)

The next artifact I found was the Ring of Humility. It should have been the first, but when I originally reached the lever puzzle in the northwest corner of Level 5, I had forgotten that one of the knights already gave me the solution.
Getting the Ring of Humility was a matter of flipping four switches in the right order while avoiding the center of the room.
On Level 6, a seer named Dr. Owl was grateful that I'd freed his associate, Murgo, from the lizardmen on the earlier level. He not only gave me a Flam rune but told me where to find the Wine of Compassion under a secret compartment in a checkerboard area of the level.
Is it the wine itself or the bottle that holds the enchantment?
The clue to the Book of Honesty came from a seer named Morlock. To get it, I had to deliver a book to him from another seer without reading it, then answer honestly when he praised me for killing a hydra. The kicker? I'd already found the Book of Honesty by just wandering around.
It's a good thing I remembered I hadn't killed such a beast. I kill so many things.
The last artifact I obtained was the Shield of Valor, held by a stone golem standing on a platform amidst a pool of lava. He warned me when I approached that he was nigh-unbeatable, and that he had been placed there to test knights.

In combat with the stone golem.
He was tough, but I was able to defeat him by quaffing a few potions during the battle and using my Wand of Fireball a few times. When I had the shield, I replaced my existing tower shield under the same logic as the sword above.

As far as the Cup of Wonder, I have a couple of clues but no idea what to do with them. A seer on Level 6 taught me how to use incense and a torch to have visions. I got a stark one of what I assume is the Cup of Wonder floating in space.
I mean, it's a nice cup, sure.
Meanwhile, a ghoul named Eyesnack said he used to play the flute for Sir Cabirus, who enjoyed a spiritual called "Mardin's Song of Wonder." Eyesnack taught me the notes to play it, and I have a flute, but I don't know where to play it, only that if "you play it in the right place, wondrous thing happen." Maybe it will become clear on a lower level.
In addition to the artifacts, there were of course plenty of side quests on the two levels. The single ankh shrine on Level 5 was tended by a mage named Anjor who wanted me to help him find a mineral called "zanium" which helps in the process of turning lower metals to gold. The dwarves apparently used to mine it in the southwest section of the level, but the mines were closed and locked by a lever puzzle.
I'm surprised you don't have other priorities here in the Abyss.
A ghoul named Kneenibble had once worked in the mines and knew the code to set the levers, but he wanted 10 fish before he'd give me the code. I had to return to an earlier level and use the fishing pole for a while.

With his code, I set the levers, entered the mine, ran around collecting zanium, and returned it to Anjor. He promised me he'd make me a huge gold nugget, but it would take an hour. I wandered away to do more exploring in the meantime and completely forgot to go back until now, as I type this. I almost don't want to. I don't have space for a huge gold nugget and don't know what I need it for anyway.
Fighting a ghost while collecting zanium.
Also on Level 5, standing on a platform amidst the lava, I encountered Judy, an old woman pining for her lost lover, Tom. She said she used to have a picture to remember him but had since lost it. I got a chill of terror when I met Judy and immediately took a save game that I'm keeping separate. The last time I played Ultima Underworld, Judy fell into the lava, and I was unable to complete the game because she has some key item. (I can't honestly remember if that was the second or only time I played this previously; it's possible that even back in the 1990s, I didn't win the game.) To test how that might have happened, I spent some time bumping into Judy, and while she does fall into the lava, she doesn't sink--she just stands there. So I'm not sure what happened the first time. I just pray it doesn't happen again.
This probably wasn't nice, but I had to know.
Of the other Level 6 seers, one of them told me that there are lost mantras that can deliver items or information when used at shrines. One powerful mantra was "divided into three parts," but she didn't know any of them. Illomo wants me to find his friend Gurstang, but I haven't yet. Ranthru wanted me to return a stolen copy of On the Properties of Runestones and increased my magic ability when I did. Fyrgen recently had a vision of some kind of demon entering our world.
Miscellaneous notes:

  • I am heartily sick of being poisoned.
Argh. Enough of this.
  • It's funny how the designers made the ghosts look like stereotypical Halloween ghosts.
Why not just give them cloth sheets?
  • The toughest puzzle I faced on Level 5 was getting out of an area where a grate closed behind me. The solution was to use a key found in the area on the grate. I hope you can understand why it took me so long--what was I using the key on?
The key unlocks what lock?
  • I haven't been mentioning it much, but every time I sleep, the face that started the game--I assume it's Sir Cabirus--appears in my dreams with fragments of text. He never really manages to say anything coherent.
". . . eat a balanced diet."
If you drink more than 2 bottles of regular alcohol, your vision goes wonky. If you drink more than 4, you pass out and wake up in the morning.
  • Sick of encumbrance problems, I ditched my plate leggings for some leather ones, saving 4 pounds. Combat hasn't been hard enough that I need all this plate.
I found the final mantras to the skills on these levels. "Lore" was one of the last that I found, and afterwards I spent four slots on it, but my current level (18) still isn't enough to identify everything. I'm between 17 and 20 with "Attack," "Defense," "Sword," "Mana," and "Casting." Annoyingly, I'm about to hit the game's level maximum of 16. I'm currently at 15. That grinds my gears. A level cap should never be reachable through normal gameplay unless the player does a lot of grinding.

I stopped leveling "Search" because I seem to do well enough finding secret doors at its current level (14), and honestly, I'm not sure what the skill really does because it seems to me that every time you eyeball a secret door, it tells you. I haven't found a lock I've needed to pick in about two levels, so I stopped leveling that skill. I have not once used my 11 points in "Repair," since my items rarely degrade below "serviceable." "Swimming" no longer seems a good investment, but I suppose a few more points in "Acrobat" might have helped against some damage. Frankly, the most baffling skill to me is "Traps." Is there a single trap in the game? 
Some of the ways that the game teaches you mantras are amusing.
I am pleased to report that I at last have a complete rune bag. My last two were Flam, given to me by Dr. Owl the Seer, and Vas, the result of following a complex set of instructions from a seer named Gralwart. Perhaps now is the time to start casting more spells than In Lor ("Light"), In Mani ("Heal"), and In Mani Ylem ("Create Food").

I'll try to test more spells from the spellbook on the last two levels, especially since I've learned so many undocumented spells, like "Monster Summoning," "Sheet Lightning," and "Turn Undead" from scrolls and NPCs.
This would have been more useful on the earlier level.
As for the monsters that I might encounter to test the spells on, a quick scan of the bestiary shows that I have yet to face any golems other than the stone golem, imps, reapers, invisible "shadow beasts," or wisps.

Despite my demonstrated ability to tackle two levels at a time, I suspect the events on the next two will be complicated enough that I'll need at least two or three more entries to finish this one. Still having a great time.

Time so far: 21 hours