Wednesday, September 05, 2007

morality in Ultima IV

This post is mostly for Stuart's benefit. I haven't played Ultima IV in years, so if anybody has something to add or wants to clarify my addled memory, please speak up.

Chargen in Ultima IV is unlike any other game I've played. You are in a gypsy fortuneteller's wagon, where she asks you a series of moral questions. None of these questions has a right answer, but instead you must choose one virtue over another. "You and your friend battle a dragon. He thinks he slew the beast, but you know that you are the one who struck the telling blow. Do you Honestly correct him when he claims the glory for himself? Or Humbly allow him to take credit?"

After a series of these questions you end up favoring one of eight virtues over another. Each virtue is tied to a class. The first time I played I ended up being a Bard, because my answer's favored their virtue. Compassion, was it? I think so. The second time I played I gamed the system, picking Humility at every opportunity so I could play a Shepherd.

Within the game you must achieve all Eight Virtues by meditating at the eight Shrines of virtue. Locating and gaining access to the shrines is a big part of the game, as is learning the proper mantra to chant for each virtue. After successfully achieving a virtue, you can lose it. Steal from people in towns? Lose a random virtue. Speak to beggars (some of whom have valuable clues) but fail to give them alms? Looks like you need to purify yourself at the shrine again, bub. Becoming virtuous was hard work. Staying virtuous means avoiding a lot of rascally behavior that many PCs get up to in D&D games.

Some of this looks a little hamhanded and hokey nowadays. But for a computer game with swords and orcs, circa 1985, this was pretty sophisticated stuff.