Ultima Tips and Tricks

Ultima is a fairly primitive game, which is to be expected considering it's written in Basic. There are a number of ways to exploit the relatively simplistic logic of the game to give yourself an advantage. Indeed, understanding how the game works is key to avoiding frustration and achieving victory. This document covers anything you might want to know that isn't part of the main plot walkthrough. (Space flight is covered on its own page.)

Combat Strategy

You'll find yourself fighting almost constantly in Ultima, whether when traveling the land, delving a dungeon, or even when in civilized areas. The specifics of combat are different in each context, however, and understanding them all will make your life considerably easier in the long run.

Overworld Combat

Enemies will attack at random on the overworld, both on land and at sea. Exactly which enemies appear depends on the terrain (there are different enemies for open lands and woods). You will be attacked by a single enemy type, but it can be a large group. If you move while in combat, this will be considered an attempt to flee, and the enemies will try to block you. Note that you cannot hit enemies with a ranged attack (Hidden Archers and all sea creatures) without a ranged attack or spell of your own. You can also use your vehicle's weapon, if any, to fight these creatures.

There isn't much strategy to speak of when fighting overworld creatures. For the most part your only options are attack or run. Magic Missile is fairly effective if you have a weapon that enhances it. It's worth fighting to earn money (and experience, if you like to cast spells), but don't push it if you're weak.

Town/Castle Combat

Unlike later games in the series, there's no need to be ethical in Ultima. (I think it's more fun to act virtuous, just so the game works better in the retconned story of the later series, but to each his own.) You can steal from any armour, weapon, or food shop, and you can even find weapons and armour this way that are not currently available for sale. However, if you are caught, the Guards will come after you. It's easier to steal in towns because the Guards have far less HP than those found in castles. You can't cast spells, so you'll have to either run or stand and fight with weapons. Note that ranged weapons can give you a free attack or two. In castles, running is always the best option. Understanding how to run away is the key to survival.

Guards always make a beeline for you, moving around obstacles with some intelligence, so it's virtually impossible to completely elude them. In general you can take advantage of the fact that Guards are entirely predictable. Most notably, they will not move as long as they can attack instead. Therefore, you can usually get around a guard as long as you're willing to take a few hits, though early in the game this will likely be impossible. However, at some point in the game you will have to rescue at least one Princess, which requires you to deal with Guards.

To save a princess, the first step is to kill the castle Jester, who will drop a key (you should immediately check to see if it is the key to cell #2). This will alert the Guards, so move directly to the prison where the Princess is held, maneuvering Guards to get them stuck on walls when possible. If you manage to bring the Princess back to the castle entrance, she'll reward you with 3,000 experience, 3,000 hit points, and 3,000 gold. If you're a space ace, she'll also reveal the location of the Time Machine you need to confront Mondain (Bat).

Note that you can also kill the residents of any city, including Merchants, but this has no real purpose (aside from possible taking your frustrations out on that thieving Bard!). You won't get any reward, and the citizens will be back like nothing ever happened when you return.

Dungeon Combat

Dungeon combat works a lot differently than those found in other parts of the game. Dungeon monsters tend to dish out a lot of damage on the lower dungeon levels, and can take a few hits as well. Magic Missile is enhanced in dungeons, but special weapons no longer increase its damage. Kill is a useful tool for a wizard. Dungeon monsters usually get the first attack, especially if they attack from behind or from the side, since the game's graphical limitations make it impossible to see them coming. It's often prudent to fight from the far end of an empty hallway to ensure you only fight a single enemy at a time. Being surrounded by enemies is a good way to die quickly. Note that you will occasionally see far-off enemies that don't approach despite an apparently empty hallway. This is a sure sign that there is a pit trap in the hallway, so be careful.

The good news is that you do gain extra rewards for fighting in dungeons. First off, food isn't an issue while in a dungeon, which can save you some cold hard cash. You'll also find money in chests and coffins. (Coffins often produce a random creature who gets a free attack when you attempt to open them. You can prevent this with the Open spell.) The real prize of dungeon delving (aside from finishing the plot-important gem quests) is that you will gain HP simply by making it out of the dungeon alive. The amount gained is equal to double the experience value of the creatures you killed. This probably won't offset your losses if you delve especially deep, but it's a nice bonus in any case.

Increasing Your Stats

There are a surprising number of ways to increase your stats in Ultima. Experience is obvious—go kill creatures or save a Princess. Oddly, level increases over time (and its only purpose seems to be increasing shop inventory and allowing you to finish the game). But the rest, including hit points and food, are a bit more interesting. I'll cover each in turn.

Increasing Hit Points

The basic method of increasing your hit points is to offer gold to any king. The king will grant you some amount of hit points based on how much gold you offer. I am not sure how the exact amount is calculated, but the rule of thumb is that it is always best to give as much gold as possible, up to the maximum of 90. Even once you reach extremely high HP totals, you will get at least 150% of you gold back as hit points, but only if you give the maximum. At this point you may be better off Dropping gold into the lake in the southeast corner of any town. This will grant you 150% of the gold Dropping as hit points, but you can offer any amount.

The other two methods of increasing your hit points were both mentioned above: you gain double the experience earned in a dungeon as hit points when you successfully exit the dungeon, and you are given 3,000 hit points (among other rewards) when you save a Princess.

Increasing Food

You have two basic options for gaining food. The basic option is to buy it, which has a base cost of 5 gold for 10 food. This cost drops by 1 gold for every 20 points of Intelligence you have, to a minimum of 1 penny for 10 food at 80+ Intelligence. Alternately, you can drop gold in the southern pond in any castle and gain back 5 food for each gold dropped. This is the cheaper option if you have less than 60 Intelligence, and is much quicker than buying from a shop.

Increasing Strength

Unless you're a wizard with money to burn, you're usually going to be attacking creatures with weapons, and efficient weapon use relies on Strength. This is arguably the most important of your six basic stats. There are only two ways to increase Strength after character creation. The first is to go on a Strength increase quest. One of the two kings in each land (the one that lives in the castle near a city) will offer you a quest to find a particular landmark in that same land. If you do so, not only will you gain the usual benefit from visiting that landmark, you will also gain Strength when you return to the king that gave the quest. The amount of Strength is 9 − (current Strength / 10, rounded down). This decreases rapidly as it approaches 99, making it hard to reach the cap in this way.

Fortunately, there is another way to increase your Strength. The same castle ponds that can randomly increase your other stats have a chance of increasing your Strength. See the next section for details.

Increasing Other Stats

Your other five basic stats can all be increased by visiting various landmarks. Check the landmark list for specifics. Six of the eight landmarks increase a stat (two increase Stamina) when you visit them. You can gain this increase multiple times, but you have to visit a different location before the first will offer its bonus again. Fortunately, pairs of landmarks in a given land are generally pretty close to one another. You can't reach any landmarks until you obtain a vehicle that can traverse water, as they are all on islands or other continents. When going landmark hunting, it's useful to activate Strength quests as well. The increase to your stats is based on the same formula as the increase to Strength from quests.

There is another, less well-known method for increasing your stats. Castles each have a fountain that will increase one stat at random if you drop enough gold in it. The stat increase is the number of gold dropped divided by 10, rounded down. It can choose any stat, even one that you've already increased to 99, so this isn't a very reliable method for specific increases. Not only that, it can increase hit points, which is a big risk since it will cap them off at a mere 99 even if you had thousands! This method is relatively cheap and available immediately, but it's risky so it helps to save first. This is a very good method for reaching the 99 cap on your stats once the bonus from landmarks and quests becomes too small to be effective.

Obtaining Equipment

You begin wearing a suit of Leather armor and wielding a Dagger (with a second in reserve). You'll need to upgrade both of these, buy new vehicles, and perhaps buy new spells during the game. For the most part you have to buy items at a shop, but there are some other ways to gain new gear.

Obtaining Weapons

Of all the item types, you have the most options for obtaining weapons. The basic method is to buy them. Several item types, also including armour and vehicles, start off with abbreviated shop lists that grow as time passes in the game and you gain levels. The other shops have their full lists at level 4, but weapon shops grow again at level 7. Also, unlike other shops, there are two types of weapon shop, each with a different item list. See the weapon list to find out when weapons become available.

Of course, shopping costs money, and not every weapon is initially available. There are a number of other ways to get weapons. The most obvious is to steal them. While this is risky, you can steal any weapon from any weapon shop, even weapons sold in other shops or those not sold at all. You can also gain a random weapon at no danger to yourself at the cost of only 10 gold, by dropping the money in the northern pond in any castle. It can take a few tries to get a really good weapon, but this is almost certainly a better use of your money than actually buying items, especially since you can sell the extras. (If your Charisma is high enough, you can sell them for more than you'd buy them for!) A third way to gain random items is to Get them from the storerooms in The Castle of Shamino after completing the king's quest. He'll give you permission to take 9 items, including both weapons and armour.

Finally, there is a non-random way to collect the full set of weapons in the game. Simply visit the The Pillars of the Argonauts, a special landmark that gives you a free weapon each time you Enter it. Like other shrines, you'll need to Enter another location before you can get a second weapon. This process is reliable, but it can take a while, because you will always receive the least powerful weapon you don't already have at least one of. (If you have every weapon in the game, you won't receive anything.)

Obtaining Armour

Every town that has an armour shop sells the same, full list of armour. Early in the game, you won't find a Vacuum suit or a Reflect suit for sale. These only become available once you've reached level 4, in much the same way weapons are restricted. Armour is expensive, but as with other goods you can bring the price down by raising your Intelligence. Unfortunately there are no magic ponds that give you cheap armour or anything. Your only alternate methods of finding new armour are to steal it or to take it from The Castle of Shamino after completing the king's quest. Note that stealing allows you to obtain any armor, even a Reflect suit, right at the start of the game (if you're lucky).

Obtaining Spells

You can't steal spells, so you'll be forced to buy them. Because they are used up when cast, this can get expensive pretty quickly. Note that unlike other items, all spells are available at the start of the game (though you need to be a wizard to buy some of them). However, spells cost an equal amount of experience points as gold to buy. If you're going to make heavy use of spells, you'll want to increase your Wisdom. This will drop the price of spells in experience as well as gold.

Obtaining Vehicles

The bad news is, there's only one way to obtain new vehicles, and that's to buy them. As with armour, the last two vehicles (the Air Car and Shuttle) won't become available until you reach level 4. You can never buy a Time Machine, as they must be earned by saving a Princess after becoming a space ace and reaching level 8. Note that when you buy a vehicle, it appears on an appropriate adjacent square outside the city it was purchased in. If there are no open squares of the correct type, you will not be able to buy a particular vehicle at all.

General Considerations

Understanding the specifics of combat and the item system is important, but you'll need a basic understanding of other game functions to complete Ultima.

Food

Food is one of the more annoying aspects of the early Ultimas. If you should run out of food, you will immediately die, much like running out of hit points. Make sure you always keep an eye on your food supply. The specifics of obtaining food are covered above, but how does it get used? The good news is that you won't use much food in dungeons, towns, or castles. You only really need to worry about food on the overworld.

You consume one food for every other move you make while on food in the overworld. The rate of two actions per one food is actually based on your current vehicle—if you're riding a horse, you instead use three food for every seven moves, for instance. (Vehicles are defined in terms of the food used per fourteen moves.) For this reason it is usually best to be riding in a vehicle of some kind. Note that you don't have to X-it your vehicle to enter a town, castle, landmark, or even a dungeon.

Taverns

You don't actually need to go to taverns at all, but theoretically they are where you'll learn many of the game's secrets. Each ale you buy costs one gold, gets you slightly drunk, and may come with a hint from the bartender. There are eight of these hints, and you can read them without worrying about being seduced and robbed on this page.

The risk with taverns is that if you drink too much, you will be seduced by the tavern Wench. This will result in the loss of all of your gold. You can reset your drunkenness by leaving the city and returning. Exactly how many drinks it takes to get drunk is random, but the number is generally based on your Stamina. To be safe, never have more than a couple of drinks in any one trip to the tavern. (Good advice for real life, too!)

Selling Items

You can sell extra weapons or suits of armour you come across for some little extra cash. You won't find any in dungeons, but you can steal them, get weapons from magic ponds, or sell your old gear when you buy new. The sale price is based on your Charisma. You'll get very little money for your goods when your Charisma is low, but once it reaches 99 you'll actually get more than the full price of the item. If you need money badly, it is entirely possibly to buy weapons or armour from a shopkeeper then immediately sell them back to him for a profit.

Death

Death doesn't mean game over in Ultima, but it comes with some rather harsh penalties. First, your hit points will be reset to 99. Your food is also capped at 99, though it won't be raised to that amount if you had less. (You will always come back with at least 19 food). Second, you lose all of your weapons, including the one you had equipped. And finally, you lose all of your money. This last one hurts the most, since you need money to get back all of the other things you lost. If you're worried about dying, and unwilling to simply reload the game to a point before you died, your best insurance is to buy a lot of armour, which you can then sell after being resurrected.

It's not really a penalty per se, but it's worth noting that you will not be resurrected at the exact point where you died, but rather within a screen or so on the overworld. If you died in a dungeon, town, or castle, you will appear near that location. Due to shoddy programming, it's possible that you will reappear in an inaccessible location, such as in the middle of some water. In this case your best bet is to wait for some monster to come and kill you again. If you died in space, however, you will not be resurrected and must reboot the game.