I have decided to resurrect an old document for the sake of posterity. It is the Ultima Storyline FAQ, which is an old computer game series that ran in at least thirteen installments, helped launch the CRPG niche, and was the basis of the first Mass Multiplayer Online Game, Ultima Online which is currently running. I started the FAQ by posting it to the rpg newsgroup.
Ultima Storyline FAQ by Chris Paul Billows
Final Version 1.5 10/30/95
This FAQ is in no way affiliated with Origin. All information within this FAQ is from the author, contributors or from books. Since this is the final version of the FAQ I will no longer be accepting any comments pertaining to it. Thank you.
The purpose of this FAQ is to ask and answer some the questions that come up when one plays any of the Ultima game. These questions do not pertain so much to how to solve the game in particular but is more to try to make sense of some of the inconsistencies that exist within the story line between each game.
I) Why an Ultima Storyline FAQ?
Why would you want to waste your time trying to make sense out of a computer game, why not just play the bloody thing and enjoy it?!
I am not doing this to read any deep meanings into the Ultima games. I enjoy just playing the games like thousands of others do but I find it fun and entertaining to find plausible answers to some of the story line inconsistencies. To me it is like writing a story which allows me to enjoy playing Ultima in a different way.
Furthermore the purpose of this FAQ is not to make the story of Ultima believable! It is a fun attempt to make sense out of the storyline. I will not attempt to cite historical and scientific accounts of time doors actually existing on Earth like they do in Ultima II as that is neither important or the purpose of this FAQ. The Ultima series is fantasy and this FAQ seeks to make that fantasy more enjoyable.
Are there not books out there that already answer many questions concerning Ultima?
The two books I have (The Official Book of Ultima by Shay Addams and Master Ultima by Ralph Roberts) are both very good in terms of helping the reader complete the individual games. But what this FAQ is to do is answer some of the questions concerning the story line which in many places is very inconsistent. So I see this FAQ having a unique purpose.
Which Ultima games does this FAQ apply to?
All of the following:
- Ultima I
- Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress
- Ultima III: Exodus
- Ultima VI: The Quest of the Avatar
- Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
- Ultima VI: The False Prophet
- Ultima VII: The Black Gate / Forge of Virtue and Serpent Isle / Silver Seed
- Ultima VIII: Pagan
- Ultima Underworld I: The Stygian Abyss
- Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds
- Worlds of Ultima I: The Savage Empire
- Worlds of Ultima II: Martian Dreams
Since the second and third trilogies are more consistent in terms of storyline there isn’t as great the need to answer many questions concerning those games. As well the Worlds of Ultima games are more like “side adventures” that have little to do with the Britannia/Guardian theme so they will not be focused on too much in this FAQ. If people do have questions or answers concerning any of the Ultima games they can e-mail them to me to be entered into the FAQ.
II) Questions and Answers to the Ultima Storyline.
In the first trilogy there existed up to five different races available to players. They were humans, dwarves, elves, bobbits, and fuzzies (who appeared only in Ultima III). In Ultima IV and onwards only humans were available to play with. What ever happened to the dwarves, elves, bobbits, and fuzzies?
A combination of factors eliminated these races from further Ultimas:
- The continent of Sosaria was transformed between Ultima III and IV. Many people of all races were killed due to this violent transformation, but because these other races were less populous than the humans they had a more difficult time surviving.
- In Ultima IV and onwards these other races still exist within Britannia but play a non-role because of their reduced numbers, self-induced isolation, and because of the dawning of human achievement.
Note, however, that in Ultima Underworld I, Dwarves are reintroduced. As well we see in Ultima VII new races appear such as the Emps and the Faeries. We could assume that the Fuzzies from Ultima III evolved into Emps while Elves from Ultima I through III became the Faerie race.
How do you explain the presence of high-tech weapons, armor, and vehicles in Ultima I and II despite the fantasy/medieval atmosphere of both games? As well, from Ultima III and onwards these high-tech items do not exist, how do you explain their disappearance?
In Ultima I Mondain the Wizard was intent on world domination. He was also intent on conquering other civilizations. Using his magic and power, Mondain altered the dimension doors (the very same ones that allowed for Lord British and all later heros to enter Sosaria) so that they would allow him to enter a point in time into the future. In this new dimension Mondain encountered and became allied to an alien race who too shared Mondain’s thirst for power.
With these new allies Mondain intended to totally conquer Sosaria and many other dimensions. Adventurers and earlier heros managed to use Mondain’s time door to steal some of the weapons, armor and transport that belonged to the aliens for the defense of Sosaria. Merchants eventually got a hold of some of these items as well and began to sell them to those who could afford them. Thus the presence of high-technology became common in Sosaria.
In Ultima II the game takes place no longer in Sosaria but on Earth. This change of battleground alone explains the presence of biplanes, blasters, reflect armor, and spaceships among other things. The presence of time doors upon Earth is something that will be explained later.
In Ultima III the battle has shifted back to Sosaria (though a radically different place than before) and we find that the high tech items of the earlier games no longer exist. The only explanations for this lie in the actions of Lord British who had decided to do away with these items since their potential for evil was far too great.
He felt that these items posed a threat to the natural balance of Sosarian life. Besides with the death of Mondain, the dimension door to the future had closed and these high-tech items could no longer be recharged/repaired thus limiting their usefulness. You can bet that the merchants were sure upset!
Yet Ultima III does have an element of high-technology within its story. This is based on the fact that Exodus is actually a computer! It seems likely that Mondain and Minax had worked together and combined their black magic with the sciences of the future dimension opened by Mondain to create Exodus.
Why do the continents change so drastically in the first three Ultimas?
The only change that does actually take place is between Ultima I and III, since Ultima II is played on Earth and not Sosaria. Sosaria as found in Ultima I consists of 4 separate continents, with towns, castles, and dungeons found on each one. The change to the world as seen in Ultima III is quite radical since it changes to a world of two continents, one of which has Lord British and various towns, while the other is largely uninhabited.
It seems that the loss of two continents can only be explained by some kind of massive cataclysm (perhaps a comet hitting the planet, or the last dying magical wish of Mondain) which totally gutted two continents and transformed the others. The continent that Lord British lived on (which became Sosaria in Ultima III) was spared in large part due to his magical power. The hidden continent of Ambrosia was created when the cataclysm submerged the continent, separating it from Sosaria.
In Ultima II the geography changes radically because the setting takes place in four different time eras of Earth. The reason for the change from Sosaria to Earth is that Minax wished to destroy the planet that produced the hero who killed Mondain. Minax accomplishes this by creating time doors upon Earth to go into the past and future and set up the conditions for a nuclear confrontation. It was the goal of the hero in Ultima II to defeat Minax so that the future created by her would not come to pass.
The transformation of Sosaria in Ultima III to Britannia in Ultima IV can be explained by the ending of Ultima III when the heros kill Exodus. Following the death of Exodus, great natural catastrophes took place which was due to a self-destruct mechanism that would be activated if Exodus was ever destroyed. The catastrophes consisted of earthquakes and volcanic explosions killed many people and also transformed Sosaria into what is now Britannia.
Please also note that Ambrosia returned in Ultima VII and that Serpent Isle itself is one of the four Ultima I continents. Thus those original continents of Sosaria still play a role in the Ultima series.
How do you explain the presence of Lord British on Earth during Ultima II when he belonged in Sosaria?
Lord British used the portal to come back to Earth to help the hero of Ultima II to defeat Minax. Since Minax had plans to destroy the Earth, Lord British worked to prevent this by summoning the hero and then providing support during this battle on Earth. When Minax was defeated Lord British returned to Sosaria to help in its rebuilding. It was likely during this time that Lord British also recruited many of the future Avatar Companions, such as Dupre and Jaana to invite back to Sosaria.
Why is it in Ultima I-III players steal, cheat, kill “innocents”, and commit other non-virtuous actions, yet that all changes in Ultima IV and on?
In each of the first three Ultimas, players found themselves in a time where survival was of the utmost importance. Because of the great threat that the Triad of Evil represented to Sosaria and Earth little importance was placed on virtues and principles. Thus players found themselves doing some un-avatarish things such as stealing, lying or even killing “innocents” (Remember the Clown in Ultima I)!
Despite what traditional history tells us, it was not the Avatar who saved Sosaria and Earth from the Triad of Evil, but it was other brave individuals who sometimes had to do wrong things for the right reasons. (Stealing food in Ultima II was a necessity if the player wished to live)! This all changed after Exodus was defeated and a new age came into being. Lord British rediscovered the ancient ways of Avatarhood that existed in ancient Sosaria, and called out for the players to now embody this new philosophy. Thus the eight virtues and the three principles became a new way of living for Britannia, its inhabitants and its visitors.
This theory runs in conflict with that posted by Batlin in his rendition of Britannia history (as in Ultima VII). Batlin states that the Triad of Evil was defeated by the Avatar and that he never committed any non-virtuous acts. This makes little sense as one of the main purposes of Ultima IV was for the player to actively strive to attain Avatarhood which is something the player never had to do in the first trilogy.
Furthermore having a human Avatar playing a role in the first trilogy makes no sense as players could choose to be any race or class they wanted. It is unfair to assume that all of the Ultima series has to be formed around the Avatar character. Surely throughout Sosaria’s and Britannia’s history there must have been other heroes and heroines.
Why does the magic system change so much through the Ultimas?
All of the same basic spells appear in each Ultima. (for example there is a magic missile and blink spell in each Ultima) Some new ones are created due to progress in the magic arts, while some old ones are lost. It seems that spell components were abundant in earlier times (Ultima I-III) such that if you needed something,
it was easily found along the countryside. After Exodus was destroyed, the lands went through violent change and spell components became harder to come by. It thus became more expensive to collect these reagents and thus players were now charged for them which is a practice that began in Ultima IV.
Also in Ultima II players were also charged for acquiring spells but we must remember that this episode took place on Earth, were magic is rare and to practice it is expensive. Think of all the props that David Copperfield must buy! 😉 Seriously the presence of magic on Earth during Ultima II can only be explained by the presence of the time doors which linked up Earth and magical realms such as Sosaria and the Age of Legends. From Ultima IV and onwards the magic system remains relatively stable and only seems to change if the player moves to a different land such as Pagan.
It is important to note that in Ultimas I and II an often used spell was the Prayer spell to call upon the aid of a personal deity. This is unique since in Ultima III the Priests seemed to rely on the power of truth instead. From Ultima IV onwards there have been no signs of deities existing or playing an active role in the history of Britannia. Possibly the deities of Ultima I and II did not survive the cataclysms that shook Sosaria from Ultima to Ultima.
How would you explain the changing of professions between some of the Ultimas? For example in Ultimas I through III there is a Priest class yet there is not such class in Ultima IV and onwards. As well how do you explain the changing of professions by certain characters, such as Shamino being a Ranger in Ultima IV but in Ultima V he is a Fighter?
The Priest profession transformed over time between Ultima I, II and III from that of a god following profession to one that follows the way of truth. Many of the spells in Ultima III were truth oriented. For example they could turn undead since living death is an untruth and their second most powerful spell Zxkuqyb unleashed the power of truth onto all enemies. In Ultima IV and on truth is one of the three Principles upon which the Avatar’s virtues are based. The Priests’ disappearance was due to the fact that evil was mostly banished from the land which made their existence as a distinct profession not necessary. Instead their order disbanded and turned to forming towns based on the virtue of truth. Some towns created were Moonglow, Trinsic and Yew.
Shamino and others likely changed their profession due to necessary circumstances. Each of the eight professions of Ultima IV ended up congregating into the three major professions of Ultima V and VI. It looked like this:
Fighter, Ranger, Paladin, Shepherd --> Fighter Bard, Tinker --> Bard Mage, Druid --> Mage
The reason for the change was to have each of the eight professions embody the three Principles more than the eight Virtues. The Fighters embodied Courage, the Bards embodied Love, while the Mages embodied Truth. This took place due to the pressures of the three Shadowlords who tried to corrupt the three Principles in Ultima V. The people of Britannia and the Avatar Companions responded by strongly emphasizing the three Principles in an effort to combat them.
What is the time lapse between Ultima I-VIII?
The time lapse is given while the reasons for the lapse follow:
The first era begins with the Triad of Evil and the resulting Three Ages of Darkness (A.D.) Time was not kept during this difficult era so these ages are identified only as 1st, 2nd and 3rd A.D. This era ends with the founding of the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.
1st A.D. The First Age of Darkness : Mondain the Wizard 2nd A.D The Second Age of Darkness : Minax the Enchantress 3rd A.D. The Third Age of Darkness : Exodus
The second era involves the establishment of the Principles and Virtues as embodied by the Avatar. Thus this time was called the Ages of Virtue (A.V.) Time begins with the founding of the Codex by the Avatar. The “+” means that the resulting adventures happened around the time noted.
123 A.V. The Quest of the Avatar 139 A.V. Warriors of Destiny 161 A.V. The False Prophet 162+ A.V. Savage Empire; Martian Dreams 171 A.V. The Stygian Abyss 360+ A.V. The Black Gate; Labyrinth of Worlds; Serpent Isle
Since Pagan is in a different dimension from Britannia the time line changes no longer applies. We can assume Pagan has some unknown time line of their own. We can call this time the Guardian’s Age (G.A.).
... G.A. Pagan
Is it possible to tie in the history of Ultima to the Wing Commander universe?
Sure it is. In fact in Ultima VII there are references to the Kilrathi! To explain this would not be too difficult. It would be safe to say that Earth would not be the only place that had portals connecting to Britannia. Surely some of the planets within the Kilrathi empire also had these portals as well.
Furthermore we could make an assumption that it was the Kilrathi that Mondain recruited in his efforts to conquer Sosaria in Ultima I! As well there is one reference of them in Ultima Underworld II. Unscramble the name ‘Trilkhai’ who are the creatures who dwelled in Killorn’s Keep and asked you to uncover their true identity and you get ‘Kilrathi’.
What are the origins of the Avatar’s Companions (Iolo, Dupre, Shamino, etc) and where did they come from?
Unfortunately not all of the origins of the Avatar’s Companions are known at this present time. What information I did collect was found in the book, Ultima : The Avatar Adventures (Copyright 1992).
Iolo the Bard is named David Watson in his Earth life, who really does make crossbows for a living. He and his wife, Gwenno, write songs together. They both first appeared in Ultima I.
Shamino the Ranger is in reality the only native Britannian. He does not have an Earth identity but appears to maintain his youthful appearance through some unknown means. Perhaps there is some bond between Shamino’s and Lord British’s slow aging and their identical physical appearance. Shamino first appeared in Ultima I.
Geoffrey the Fighter also has the Earth identity of Jeff Hillhouse who works for Richard Garriot. Geoffrey first appeared in Ultima IV.
Jaana the Druid is a friend of Richard Garriot whose Earth name is also Jaana. She first appeared in Ultima IV.
Mariah the Mage is in reality Richard Garriot’s personal secretary, whose Earth name is Michelle Caddel. Mariah first appeared in Ultima IV.
Why is it that people from Earth (Lord British and the Avatar) age at a slower rate then people in Britannia?
This could be linked up to the travels that take place between worlds through the moongates. When a person travels through a moongate their age is set back to a younger age. The basis of this could be found In Ultima VII; The Black Gate, where in a cave south of Dungeon Destard lives a unicorn. The unicorn explains that a person’s virginity is restored when you travel through an interworld moongate. It would seem logical that if virginity is restored, so should age.
I am flattered that this FAQ has reached the eyes of Mike McShaffry at Origin. Mike is the technical director for Ultima IX and has expressed his enjoyment of the FAQ! He has told me that Ultima IX will attempt to tie in many of the previous Ultimas into its storyline. Like many others I am looking forward to it!
Thanks to Ralph Roberts for his appreciation of the FAQ. Ralph is the author of the book, Master Ultima.
Since this FAQ was started over a year ago, it has made an attempt at answering some of the questions that have been hounding the Ultima games. Thanks to the great response I have received the most important questions related to the games have been answered! For this reason and due to other personal time commitments, I have decided to let the FAQ stand as it currently is and will not be making any more additions to it. What this means is that this FAQ will continue to be available but will no longer be updated by myself.
I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this FAQ! It was a new concept that was given allot of support by the great people on the Internet. If someone is interested in continuing the job of maintaining this FAQ I would be willing to entertain proposals.
I would like to thank countless people for their contributions and support. I hope you had as much fun as I did.