Since the first entry in the series, the Ultima games made use of the Runic Alphabet on its maps and game manuals (see especially The Book of Mystic Wisdom from Ultima IV). Beginning with Ultima V, it was also used for many of the in-game signs, books, etc. For example, the words of power are only told in runic and one important message from the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom has to be manually translated. Also the Book of Lore mentioned that by that time, runic already was more common in the countryside than in cities, although there were activities to make city-folk more aware of their cultural heritage.
This alphabet is especially present in Ultima V and Ultima VI, less so in Ultima VII and Ultima VII Part Two. In the Book of Fellowship, Batlin claims that it is slowly being replaced by the latin alphabet. While this can't be claimed for most of the signs, tombstones, etc. in Britannia, the Fellowship was never seen using the runic alphabet and the tone Batlin uses indicates ridicule towards those businesses that do use it, calling it "an antiquated style of operation".
The Translation spell found in Serpent Isle can translate both these runes and the ancient Ophidian writing. Runic is strong in use on Serpent Isle, but not in the ruins of the Ophidians, who had developed their own alphabet.
By Ultima IX, the runic alphabet could only be seen on the Maps of Ultima IX Towns and it was stated that the usage of it (probably in no small part due to the Great Cataclysm) has went down significantly, although all official documents are still written in it, as noted in the Journal.
It is based on the Germanic / Norse runic alphabet.
Note that Q is missing. Q has its own symbol, but it's found on the chart at the top of the page.
The language of Britannia is rich and poetic. It is derived from Old Sosarian, which varies mostly from the widespread current language in its alphabet, which is more runic than today's. The old runes continue to be used widely in rural areas, and there is a movement to increase their familiarity to city people. Still, among the cityborn, translation of runic messages, letter for letter, is sometimes necessary. The Runic Alphabet is the earliest known system of writing sounds using runes or letters. The most commonly used runes follow, with their modem equivalents.
In your travels you will no doubt come upon the occasional sign or placard written in a curious runic script. Passed down from one generation to the next, this written runic language is directly descended from the language of the druids of old. Though strange and seemingly indecipherable, the process of interpreting runic script is really quite simple. The following key will enable the traveler to translate runic characters into his native tongue.
Following a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries, many signs and placards in Britannia are written in a unique and attractive runic script that was once the language of the druids. This strange writing is older than Britannia itself. While the presence of such writing might befuddle a casual tourist, the wise traveller knows that it is a worthwhile pursuit to learn the meaning of this writing.
Nowadays, the use of rune writing is beginning to fall out of fashion, and its use generally denotes an establishment that clings to an antiquated style of operation.
I include an alphabet of the druidic runes as well. I do this for comparison's sake only, for I can but hope that any similarities between our language, the druidic runes and the serpentine alphabet will lead to a better understanding of their ancient culture.
The use of runic script has waned in recent years, yet one cannot journey through Britannia without encountering the ancient alphabet in maps, scrolls or signs of various kinds. It is part of our rich heritage. As such, it should not be forgotten.
- The letters that are used for two latin letters are only seldomly used, since most likely they couldn't be typed into a translator without problem by a programmer. This also goes for all true-type fonts.
- Runic Magic in Ultima Underworld and Ultima Underworld II got its name from the fact that the runic letters are etched onto the rune stones that are used for casting, each letter representing one word of power, with just the XEN and ZU stones missing (there are no stones for runic letters that represent two latin ones).
- The Stranger can't read runic in Ultima IV, which hints that he or she didn't have much exposure to it in the previous adventures in Sosaria.
- Interestingly enough, runic was also known to the Zealans of Pagan, as Bentic describes it as "Archaic Alphabet". The implications of this remain unclear.
- Translating Runic manually is absolutely essential in Ultima IV, or otherwise the player never knows the answer to the final question of the Codex ("Infinity"), as the letters are only shown when gaining an eighth, and that only in Runic. This also applies to Ultima V, where without manual translation, the player never learns the Words of Power (especially that from the Codex).
- Runic is also found in the spellbooks in Ultima VII and Ultima VII Part Two, where the runic letters are used for the words of power of the spells. This however does not go for the spell scrolls found on the Serpent Isle, which use the Ophidian Alphabet.
- Runic at first was used on Ultima Online maps, but abandoned by later installments, probably to not confuse new players.