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Tales of the Multiverse

My tale of the original MMORPG, at the dawn of time. If folks like it, I might even start collecting other stories based around MMORPGs for inclusion in an e-book.

Author: GrumpyOldGuy

The Great PK War part II

Posted by GrumpyOldGuy Tuesday May 17 2011 at 5:02PM
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(This is Part II of a long story.  Please read Part I first so that it makes sense.

Together both parts are pretty long (about the equivalent of 50 pages in a book),  which I'm starting to think is just too long for a blog format.  If you're not up for reading for a while, you may as well not bother.  Just trying to not waste your time.  But if you feel like reading a medium-length short story, put up as a blog post, you may find it worth a read.)


I came back as a ghost. I didn’t talk. There was no reason to say boo to them.

Pua sent me a message over ICQ. That was the app we used for external comms.

“Sorry man,” he said. “I didn’t mean for them to do that.”

I knew he was telling the truth.

“That’s ok,” I messaged him back. “Not your fault.”

I sat there in my chair and watched the PK gang swoop down on my body like a flock of ravens, picking me clean. They got my full suit of mithril armor, my bag of magic reagents, the Boots of Speed and the Halberd of Destruction. My entire suite of premium equipment that I had kept intact from the first day, gone in one shot. All of my best stuff.

Lord Og had fallen.

So much for going undefeated.


The forces of Blue called ourselves the Antis, for Anti-PKs. I don’t know who came up with that, it wasn’t the greatest of labels, the catchiest of monikers. Though it did the job.

But it wasn’t Ryan. Marketing wasn’t his thing. Hacking was.

Ryan’s character was Simkin. You might have seen him on the net back then, it was the name he used for all his early exploits in the shooters. Nowadays he’s married and has a kid, but he still plays, he just doesn’t hack anymore. Mostly runs as Foo now. Say hi to him if you see him, he’s still out there, he’s a good dude.

Simkin was the best of us at fighting, and the first to go to disposable armor.

It wasn’t that hard to get, there was one room at the bottom of Hate where it spawned all the time. You just had to Recall down there and get in line, kill skeletons for an hour or so to get a full suit of Bone. It was nearly as good as plate, weighed a lot less and it was worthless to the PKs. It was like the body armor that the storm troopers wear in Star Wars, the white plastic stuff, total crap but pretty durable.

The PKs, of course, kept wearing mithril.

Ryan and I played together in his computer room whenever we could, smoking Marlboro Lights and drinking beer. Because we could talk directly to each other in real life it gave us a big advantage in fights, we were better coordinated. We didn’t always get to play together but it helped when we did, it was loads of fun and I spent a lot of time over there.

Ryan was the first to recognize that war in UO couldn’t be fought fair if we were to have any chance at all. He started using the glitches and bugs to his advantage, treating it as all one thing, a single struggle to be fought with whatever weapons were available. It didn’t matter if it was part of the official game or not, if it could be made to happen then it was acceptable.

It was like using real magic. If he could figure out the spell then he would cast it.

Exploiting all possibilities became the game. The boundaries were anything we could pull off using legal weapons, game glitches, third party add-on software, and custom hacks. All was fair as far as he was concerned, the end justified the means.

I disagreed at first, but he won me over in the end. All is fair in love and war.

Simkin is actually world-class talent, I think. He still works at the very center of it all, at one of the great network hubs that run the guts of the internet. I cannot grade his early hacking, I did not see it, but he could have done almost anything in the early days, before the security apparatus really got started.

He’s a pain in the ass but he’s awfully smart.

He’s a gifted player tactically too. I watched him once when two PKs jumped him, as he hunted alone in the Wyrm caverns. They went into their casting motions to attack and he immediately hotkeyed Hide. Remember I told you about it, the skill called Hide, that form of ridiculous invisibility. If you Hid successfully then you disappeared from view of other players, even if they had been watching you, even if you were in the middle of combat with them. It could be done anywhere at all, regardless of common sense, right out in the open with not a spot of cover in sight.

The only caveat being that if you moved you became visible again.

You weren’t supposed to be able to move or cast spells if you were hidden. You had to stay still. But Ryan knew that there was one spell he could cast while he was Hidden and he wouldn’t reappear until after it fired on the server.

“In Jux Hur Ylem,” appeared on the screen above where Simkin’s head would have been if he had been visible, which he was not. It was a known bug, you were officially not supposed to do it, it was a banishable offense.

So what? A Blade Spirit appeared and started chasing one of the PKs around the cavern.

Simkin appeared when the spell fired on the server. He ran about five feet and Hid again before the other PK could get a bead on him.

“In Jux Hur Ylem,” appeared in the air again. A second Blade Spirit appeared and started working on the second PK. Blade Spirits were really annoying, once they locked in on you they would chase you for a long time, slowly chipping you down until either you wore out or they did.

“You’re cheating!” said one of the PKs as he ran by, Blade Spirit in tow. He tried a hack with his axe at Simkin, who took two steps away and Hid again. Both of the PKs ran around in frustration, the Blade Spirits like free wheeling blender blades slowly turning them into slushy pink frozen margaritas.

“In Jux Hur Ylem,” said Simkin again, invisibly. He became visible but it didn’t matter by that point. A third Blade Spirit appeared and latched onto the first PK, who was already looking rather poorly and trying to Recall away without success. One of the few rules about casting in UO was that you could be disrupted if you took damage during the cast, and though Blade Spirits didn’t do a lot of damage per hit they were pretty constant about it, whittling you slowly down to zero.

Simkin didn’t have a lot of mana left by then but that didn’t matter either. The first PK went down in a heap in front of the Blade Spirits, trying to cast Recall right up until the end.

“You’re a fucking cheater!” shouted the second PK. The two extra Blade Spirits converged on him and he bought the farm too.

The two PK ghosts ran around.

“Booooo,” they ranted. “Booooo booooo booooo booooooooooo.”

Ryan leaned back in his chair and took a long drag on his cigarette before he looted their bodies.

“That was awesome,” I said. I had watched the whole thing over his shoulder.

“Fucking PKs,” said Ryan. “Wanna complain about cheating. Gimme a break.”

Grandmaster Hacker. He was quite an asset.


After the going got tough, a lot of the Beta testers went over to the PKs, not a crushing majority but more than we had. But we still had the great bulk of the population with us, vast swarms of newbies, PK cattle mainly, but not all of them completely incompetent anymore.

I knew where the PK castle was, Vile Blades. It was obviously their chief hideout.

I told everyone about it and we hashed over what to do.

We decided to lay siege, to surround them in their castle. We were hoping whoever owned it might be so cocky as to leave the door unlocked when he was home, because that was the only way we’d be able to get in. Or maybe the PKs would be so overcome by how cool the idea of a siege was that they would come out and fight us for fun.

Simkin was skeptical, but no one had a better plan.

We assembled in the great city of Britain itself, as exciting a place as any backwater provincial capital in the middle of nowhere during the dark ages, only cleaner because it was virtual. No smell and no disease either, no black death, which was too bad. It would have been cool, because they did have AI rats, which were exactly as smart as everything else, i.e. dumb as rocks. We had quite an army, maybe fifty of us in all, with eight former Beta players on horses as our tanks, myself, Rand and Simkin included. We gaggled gloriously down to the swamp outside Trinsic, in amorphous blob formation.

As our leading elements came up to the castle there were a few shots exchanged. Psycho the Idiot was on the upper battlements. He saw how many of us were there.

“Go fuck yourselves,” he said and hopped back inside the castle.

We stood outside the gates of Vile Blades and shook our fists.

Because the damn door was locked.

Now, true to the idiosyncratic brilliance that was the hallmark of UO, there was no way whatsoever to breach the walls of a castle or any other building. If it was locked the smallest mud hut was just as invulnerable as a gigantic fortress, i.e. completely. They hadn’t had the time to build in anything about demolition, if you had the key you could open the front door and walk in, and if you didn’t you simply couldn’t. Never in a million years.

No siege engines, no trebuchets or catapults or battering rams, no explosives, no tunneling. No boiling oil poured on us from above, either, but I’d rather have had the whole siege, that would have been awesome and we might have actually busted in and taken some heads.

That would have been the tits.

They probably do it nowadays, I’ll have to check with my kids.

But back then Psycho the Idiot had the only key and the door was locked.

We milled around and wished we could get inside somehow. Every now and then one of the PKs would appear on the battlements and toss down a defiant fireball, Vas Flam, or Por Ort Grav a lightning bolt at us, but they always ducked back inside before we could blast them to smithereens in return. None of them showed any inclination to come out and face us outside on the field of honor, and inside the castle we couldn’t touch them.

They couldn’t touch us either, but that wasn’t the point.

They got us all the time, all over the world.

But in the face of our fearsome horde they showed regrettably little tendency to suicide.

We did manage to bag two unlucky ones early, because Recall rules didn’t let you Recall directly into a building, you had to Recall outside. The two of them Recalled into existence just outside the front door while we happened to be there. They were planning on a visit to their clubhouse, didn’t suspect a thing, and we swarmed them into screen freeze. Same tactic they used on us, it was great to be on the other side of it for once.

But then they spread the word via ICQ and the rest of the rats knew not to come over to the castle. We couldn’t starve them out, not even the ones we had caught at home. All they had to do was teleport away, to anywhere on the whole damn map they had a Rune for. You could Recall out of a building just fine. They could go anywhere they wanted, anytime, we couldn’t keep them there. We stood outside in our assembled host of fifty, unable to do a damn thing.

Fifty real people running one avatar apiece, quite a crowd, really. At least it seemed so then. But we couldn’t stay there forever. We were real people, with real lives. As much as a bunch of people freaked totally out over a video game can be said to have lives, anyway.

And we couldn’t exactly macro standing guard in front of Vile Blades. Eventually we had to give up and go away.

So much for laying siege.


The war ground on.

In the Antis all of the remaining Beta testers supported each other however we could. Everyone had died at least once, even Simkin, and we had lost our best magical weapons and armor. But we remained equal to the strongest PKs in our ability to cast spells as Grandmasters, because even though we had died, some of us many times, when we died we took only a small experience hit, enough to notice but we could recover from it. Our equipment was gone and we were no longer the tanks they were, but we remained Grandmaster Mages.

It was our only equalizer.

We used our mule characters to mass produce the highest quality non-magical swords possible, huge quantities of potions and poisons to coat our swords and axes. It took mining a lot of ore, collecting a lot of ingredients. We handed it out to anyone who was willing to fight along with us, but our equipment was a pale shadow compared to PK regalia, all the best magic items on the server concentrated in their hands, harvested and stolen from the rest of us.

And it was not only happening on Chesapeake, it was happening on all the server sets, every single Shard was undergoing the same convulsive transformation, as the PKs became ascendant. They were a small percentage of the total population and yet they dominated the servers with dungeon wipeouts and wild killing sprees. They went anywhere they wanted to go, except only the magically guarded cities, and all of us died at their hands more than once, if we stood and fought.

For stand and fight we often did, calling over ICQ for help, knowing that even if we died our Bone armor and steel swords would do the PKs no service. And we took little experience penalty, as I have mentioned. So we fought many times to the death, help coming sometimes before the end as we began to react more quickly. But the arrival of the cavalry only caused the PKs to Recall away, we could never hold them in our grasp.

I suppose I cannot blame the PKs that they never stuck around for their executions.

We tried the Paralysis spell, An Ex Por, to hold them fast.

It didn’t work on players.

UO again. Nothing worked the way it was supposed to.


We played all the time, it was a war.

What percentage of our lives? I don’t know exactly, there are so many slices to a life. But a lot. It would have been more but I had to go to work sometimes, chase paper around the building, though that was all just busy work and I didn’t really pay it any mind. I spent half my time at work reading the message boards in fact, ripping up the PKs in long diatribes.

I was quite the online debater, quite the ranting scribe.

UO eventually even trumped my love of sleep, and that is saying a lot.

Sleep? What was that? I got up at three in the morning every night to scour the magic shops of Britannia for reagents so that we could cast our spells. The PKs didn’t have to worry about that, they got reagents in neatly packed bags from their victims, but we Antis had to go to the shops. There was no way to macro it, you had to catch the spawn. I had a route, Rune to Rune to Rune to Rune, teleporting around the world, checking every shop in turn, looking to score. Three AM was good because anyone vaguely normal was in bed, visions of sugarplums, etc.

Not me.

I used to clean those shops out from top to bottom when the spawn hit, buying every single thing they had, every last scrap, like the Grinch cleaning out the last can of Who Hash, trying to keep us in the fight. It was like picking up ammo cans, we all pitched in, we all helped each other out if anyone was short.

Ryan began studying the UO code, the packets sent back and forth between our computers and the servers. He disassembled the packets into their component parts and studied them, looking for weaknesses. I concentrated on keeping my swords smeared with deadly poison at all times, and tried to stay alive. I still had Sparky, and he was now the fastest horse on the server, the last of the originals.

I rode him through the forests alone, wrathful.

I sought vengeance, like Oromë the Hunter with his horn, only there was no horn, no warning that I was coming. Even in Bone armor I was still more than a match for anyone that had not been a Beta tester. I was bad fucking news for any little PKs I found hunting in the woods, I slew them without quarter or mercy. I knew every inch of the world, knew all the tricks, had been there a long, long time. I never hesitated to attack one or two, and even three broke and fled before me, Recalling away rather than face an actual fight. My only worry at those times was whether I could finish one before they got away.

Many times I did. They hated me as much as I hated them.

I took the loot from their bodies to the city, leaving it on the ground for anyone to take. I had no use for it. If I found myself outnumbered too heavily in the forest I fled, on the fastest horse in the world.

I got away with so much that I became overconfident, like Ryan in the Japanese banks.


I found the four PKs near the entrance to Shame, the very place we had first watched Psycho killing the newbies, the first PKing we had ever seen. I was alone and I moused them as I came through the woods and they were all Red and I knew none of their names, they were just Murderers. I charged them and hit with my first swing and the deadly poison started dropping the first one’s life bar slowly but steadily and I ran past them and Hid.

I cast a Blade Spirit from my Hide, “In Jux Hur Ylem,” then ran to cast another.

But the tactic was known by then and there were four of them. One got off a Blade Spirit on me when I was visible and I had to run in and out of the screen to keep away from it, slashing at them as I went by fast on my horse. Lightning struck me and I hit the first PK again and he went down in a heap, and I saw the curling line of an energy bolt fly in from the side and impact on my avatar.

My health bar was barely half and I healed myself and switched swords for fresh poison. I got the blade into one of the PKs that I had not touched yet and the poison started on him, and I ran and Hid.

But one of them had Search and I was revealed before I finished the Blade Spirit this time and it was disrupted and the mana wasted. They sprang at me with their swords and I used the speed of my horse to keep the three of them from being able to strike me at once, dodging and twisting through the forest.

I concentrated on the one my Blade Spirits were grinding and hacked him down as I took punishment from the other two. The Blade Spirits time was over and they vanished, no more help from them. I ran Sparky to the edge of the screen and healed myself again and I was out of mana. I turned back and fought them sword to sword then, advancing and retreating in the trees, trying to finish one of the last two. If I could just take one more down I felt sure that I would win and I gambled, I hit the weaker one and hit him again and then I did not run when the other was on me as well but stayed, needing just one more hit to finish the dying PK, trusting to speed to save me from his companion long enough to catch my breath, return, and kill him as well.

But I did not get that hit I needed until too late, and the PK did not die fast enough. He stayed standing for one round too long before he died, and he hit me as well, my weak Bone armor betraying me then. The fourth and last PK was next to me, still swinging. My health was the tiniest sliver of blue.

My screen went black. I came back as a ghost.

The final PK was still dropping hit points from the poison I had put in him. I might get him yet. He walked to riderless Sparky, who stood motionless next to my body, which was what horses did when you died, they waited around for you to come back. The PK couldn’t take Sparky because that wasn’t how it worked, a horse would only carry his master, he couldn’t be stolen, he would only carry me.

The PK swung his sword instead.

Sparky neighed and made futile kicking motions as the PK attacked.

Sparky could have run for the stable, escaped a hundred times over without a scratch, but instead he stood there next to my red-cloaked body while the PK hacked him to death. It took a little while, he wasn’t a particularly tough PK. UO Artificial Intelligence in all its glory didn’t give Sparky enough sense to trot away from his own murder.

There were new horses for sale, but there would never be another of the originals.

I watched it all as a ghost. I didn’t say boo. It was shitty of the PK to do it.

It made me feel really bad.

Sparky was a good horse. He didn’t deserve to die like that.


We were losing.

Despite all of our efforts, all our cooperation and the fact that we were the good guys, the PKs were in control. They went anywhere they wanted, anytime, killed anyone they came across.

Ryan finished hacking the packets and built us a weapon. He set up a program so that we could triple cast spells, unload all of our mana in a single shot, usually three energy bolts chained into a single blast, a crafted packet. He couldn’t get us extra mana or hit points, that was all server-side, but we could unload a huge first strike in the time it took to cast one spell. It was like hitting someone with a bazooka, it would blow a huge hole right through them. We were trying everything we could think of by then, no one even considered fighting by the rules any more.

The hack was an advantage, but not enough. Even cheating we were losing.

They held a party one day, the PKs, outside the bridge into Trinsic. On one side of the bridge were the invulnerable, Murderer-executing guards inside the town limit. On the other side were the PKs, just where the road into the wilderness began.

They set up shop on the far side. They had brought all sorts of stuff, virtual tables and chairs, virtual food, virtual beer, wine and liquor. They all sat down in the chairs around the table and chatted and had a picnic right there on the main road out of town.

In fact the only road. It was a great choice of location, brilliant even.

The bridge at Trinsic was the only way in or out of town. Newbies without the skill to Recall yet began to pile up on the town side of the bridge in a mob, terrified to venture beyond the range of the city guards. A few people put their toes a little too far over the bridge and the PKs shot them down without getting up from the party table. They didn’t bother to loot the bodies, but they killed anyone who came out to pick things up.

All the newbies who logged in to Trinsic that day were stuck there until the PKs left.

It was quite the coup.

I watched the PKs from the bridge, on foot, in my Bone armor and red cape, with my steel sword. I knew a couple of them, most I did not. I didn’t dare leave the protection of the guards myself, the PKs would waste me just like anyone else, it would only take a round or two longer. Of course I could have Recalled away and done something else, but this was the most interesting thing I had seen in a long time.

I had to admit, it was a stylish maneuver. They were rubbing our noses in it.

They sat there for hours, about twenty of them. It looked like they were having a grand time.

There was nothing we could do.

We were beaten.


And then Hong returned.

The Great Lord Hong, Grandmaster Mage, Grandmaster Warrior, Grandmaster Baker and Brewer.

If I thought of myself as Clint Eastwood – and I was at best a poor man’s version – then Hong was Kwai Chang Caine, Man of Peace, the mysterious Shaolin monk from Kung Fu, American child raised by Chinese monks, possessed of inscrutable oriental wisdom and the secrets of the human soul, master of an ancient fighting style that allowed him to rip the still-beating heart from your chest with one clawed hand, if he so chose.


He said he was a stockbroker in New York in real life. He was a badass in UO.

Some people are just like that. He had what it takes, whatever it is.

I don’t know where Hong had been while we were losing the war. He had been a legend in the Beta, the first tester to achieve Grandmaster status in any skill, the first to make Great Lord. But he’d disappeared; we hadn’t seen him in months. I hadn’t known he even had a character on Chesapeake, much less Great Lord Hong, Grandmaster Mage, which was what came onscreen when I moused him. He showed up out of the blue, wearing all his super shiny mithril gear, his perfect rep and flawless stats and skills totally intact, not beat to pieces like the rest of us.

Though he was still only one soldier, no matter how superb. No one player could change the outcome of the war. But he brought us more than himself. He brought an idea, a plan.

We had numbers, we still had the will to fight and our mule characters, we were not utterly crushed. We could still muster an army if there were reason. We lacked only the means to overcome the vast disparity in equipment, the unbreakable castle, the PK’s ability to Recall away from danger whenever we managed to threaten them.

Hong gave us that means. He broke the code, he figured it out. Who knows how it came to him? I’m not bad myself, I’m a professional officer, I know what I’m doing, but he smoked me like an old cigar. The man was a tactical genius, I felt like I was with Jackson in the Shenandoah.

And his plan wasn’t even all that complicated. Good plans often aren’t.


Hong formed us into three teams.

First team was Strike, the force that he would lead, the strongest group, that would assemble in a city and wait for the word from our spies, transmitted over ICQ outside the game, that a PK dungeon wipeout was in progress. It didn’t always happen, so we might have to be ready to wait for a night or two. The Strike team was all equipped with Runes for every dungeon, so they could Recall there together and confront the PKs in force when we located them.

A pitched battle was expected.

Second team was Siege, to be posted near Vile Blades, just out of sight of the castle. When they got word that the battle with the PKs had begun they were to move up to Vile Blades, to stand in a cluster on the front steps, blocking access to the door. We were sure that the PKs would flee from Hong and Strike, that they would reappear in the vicinity of Vile Blades. By the laws of UO, of course, they could not Recall inside the castle, but had to appear outside, where Siege would be waiting. The idea was that they would be easy pickings then, weakened by the dungeon battle with Strike.

Siege would lay in ambush and take them unawares, the anvil to Strike’s hammer.

Hong put Simkin in charge of Siege.

And there was more: a final touch that made it brilliant, a neutron bomb for PKs, like hitting them with a can of RAID. The last team, Shrine, that was mine.

For if you remember, a Murderer could only be resurrected at one Shrine, the Chaos Shrine, so every one of them could be counted on to go there if we managed to kill them, they had no other choice if they wanted to regain materiality and stop speaking in boos. When they did, we would kill them again. Whether the Murderer had been alive for one second at the Chaos Shrine or had never died before did not matter, any death would result in another Murderer death penalty, the skill drop cumulative. We hoped to make those losses catastrophic.

We were going to kill them as many times as we could at the Chaos Shrine, fair play and honor be damned. Slay them while they were naked and weak as babies in their loincloth underwear, easy to kill as newborn kittens. One death in an ambush at Vile Blades would do them damage, but if we could inflict multiple deaths on them we could harm them irreparably, get rid of them forever.

We would destroy their characters.

So simple, so elegant.

We had a chance to win after all. We would exterminate them.


It only took three nights.

The plan worked perfectly. The PKs never knew what hit them.

On the third night I watched on ICQ as the chatter told the story of the battle in Despair, of the PKs Recalling out as Hong and Strike won the field. Of how all but one appeared at Vile Blades, weakened and vulnerable, and how Siege tore them to shreds, their mithril armor and magic blades flying away into the crowd that killed them.

Simkin didn’t take any of the loot. He knew that he was done with the game.

We waited by the Chaos Shrine, Rand and me and ten foot soldiers, Hidden, as the ghosts of the Murderers arrived. We waited until all of them had resurrected. They stood at the Shrine in their loin cloth underwear in a group and complained of our dirty tactics, how they would take revenge.

Psycho the Idiot was there, and Pua, and many more.

And we came out of Hiding and killed them again as they stood on the steps of the Shrine, naked and helpless. Many of them were so angry at the unfairness of it that they resurrected again, and again, each time telling us to stop, they only wanted to talk.

But we did not stop. We killed them as long as they let us, until we stood at the Chaos Shrine amid the heaped, repetitive, bodies of the slain, with the crowd of Murderer’s ghosts around us, unable to touch their Shrine in our presence. I killed Pua myself for the fourth time and I knew that was enough, that his character was ended. For though they had gear aplenty to replace what they had lost, waiting in the castle that we could never break, their characters were nothing when we had finished, just mid-level management. They could never threaten us seriously again. They would never go to the trouble to rebuild the characters, it would have taken months, it was too much trouble, and we would hunt them wherever they went, chase them to ground like rabid curs.

We had broken them.

The newbies came forth from the cities and spilled onto the land.

And they did hack, and chop, and slay monsters with fireballs and shiny swords, with cheerful abandon, just as the gods of UO had said they should. All was right with the world.

Thanks Hong, whoever you are, wherever you are.

You’re the man.


We were the only Shard where the good guys won.

On all the others, the PKs ruled until the day the software company finally reset everything, rolled it all back to zero, declared a new beginning, version 2.0, with controls on PKing to stop the massacres, a switch so that players could turn off the ability of other players to hurt them. No one can be PKed now without turning the switch, choosing to be part, and that is all the difference.

There are no more Murderers, even if the reputation label remains, there on the PK-enabled servers. The company wants to run a profitable game, with a large customer base, and I cannot blame them for that. People did not enjoy being robbed and killed and were threatening to cancel accounts, though I don’t think many did. It was not a place you left easily once you were there.

I don’t know if the designers ever knew about our war, if they ever heard rumor of it, but I think they must have. And I don’t know about the struggle against PKs on other Shards, what their own sad stories must be, only that the boards reported that PKs held them all.

But there must have been resistance, of that much I am certain.

It was a swift process, our little demonstration, loss of control, degeneration into savagery. But on Chesapeake we beat them. We won control only of an imaginary world, with a lame interface and bad graphics, a ridiculous affair of slaying moronic monsters by means of dirty tricks, as thrilling and ludicrous as Pong.

But I am proud to have been there. Proud to have served. One of the few.

We fought until they beat us down and we stood like prisoners in the cities, cowering behind the guards. And a leader came to us and we rose from the dust like slaves casting aside shackles. We threw the PKs down, and broke their spines, and ground their bones into the dirt.

They deserved it and more.

The forces of good were triumphant on that one Shard, Chesapeake, and that one only. We didn’t have to wait for the reset, or for future games with more balance and smoother graphics, fewer quirks. A single iteration of the new dynamic held by Blue in the virgin megaverse where evil had taken root so quickly, sprouted, grown and flourished overnight. Some of us had faced it, had resisted with all our might, had gone beyond the game to fight them, broken every rule. We had fought with everything we had, real and virtual, given it our all.

And in the end we only beat them because of Hong’s plan and their own stupidity in resurrecting at the Shrine so many times. It was a close run thing.

One out of twelve. That is not much.

I believe a higher percentage of people than that are good, a much higher percentage than eight percent of us are decent folk. Just as most of the players on the server were with us and hated the PKs. But evil does not need numbers. Lunatic prophets and idiot madmen guide our destinies and our histories far out of proportion to their numbers, though most of us want nothing but to live in peace, to be left alone.

That year in UO was a time when I was free to choose any side, play any part, and I found to my surprise that I was good to my dying breath, from top to bottom, stem to stern. I would fight until the cause was lost and even after. They could have kept killing me forever and I would never have gone over to them, the PKs, I would have kept trying.

It was a moment of history for the whole world, virtual though it was.

It revealed something true. It was like a dream that way.

Given a choice, some of us will fight for right and justice every time.

Show me the dotted line.

I’ll sign.


Life is not a game. Choices are rarely so clear-cut as they were in UO.

Real life is a patchwork, shades of gray, smears of other colors, some bright, some dark, a multi-shaded jacket. In real life there are so many nuances.

UO then, Chesapeake, Rand and Hong and Simkin and Psycho and Pua and the rest. The low-rent ghosts and the bumbling ogres; all of us drunk at the races. And me too, Og, in my tattered Bone armor and blood red cape, bright steel sword in hand, on my fast horse in the forest, riding like the wind, like the wrath of God.

We were the first, the very first, never to be repeated, never to be replaced.

We started the whole thing. The multiverse began there, at that instant.

And for no good reason, no reward, some of us stood against the darkness.

We carried the fire.

One out of twelve.

We did good.




This is, I believe, one of the first of all the histories that will come out of the multiverse, out of virtual reality that is reality, that is nearby now. It is not so long before it is real all the time, it only feels distant because of the brevity of our lives in the scrolling lines of history, mere dots, points on the graph. The multiverse will make the world seem bigger again, there will be a lot of places to go.

There are going to be a million stories coming from our new electronic lives. As many as there are of us, because as they say, people make the story. It’s cliché but it’s true. It will become news, it will be reported, it will be followed by hundreds of millions or more, the things that we do to each other in virtual space.

And perhaps one day a thousand years from now we will all lie in drawers, wires running from our heads, living long lives of total fantasy, while alien intelligences use us as batteries. If an alien intelligence shows up, doesn’t have any decent battery technology, and crams us all into boxes. Just like in The Matrix.

Then again, maybe not.

The Great PK War

Posted by GrumpyOldGuy Tuesday May 17 2011 at 4:26PM
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(This is Part I of a long story.

Together both parts are pretty long (about the equivalent of 50 pages in a book)  which I'm starting to think is just too long for a blog format - most people don't want to read a blog entry for half an hour.  If you're not up for reading, you may as well not bother.  Just trying to not waste your time.  But if you feel like reading a medium-length short story, put up as a blog post, you may find it worth a read.)




My story takes place where fantasy and reality overlap. It’s about a turning point in human existence that has passed unremarked so far, a moment when something fundamental changed for the species, a course change for the ship of history steaming placid as a cow through green fields of time. The helmsman spins the wheel and the rudder swings over though the ship keeps straight for a while before she begins to turn.

But the rudder has turned.

We are nosing over to our new direction even now. And the course change will gain clarity with every passing year, become more obvious. It will never lessen until the day technology dies. And if that happens, most of us will die as well.

Skynet is a bad idea, Air Force guys.

You’re gonna get us all killed by those robots, I’m telling you.

But in the meantime, the times they are a-changin’ and we should take note. Maybe I’m the only one who was there who wants to write it down anyway, we were a small group, only five hundred of us in the Beta, and writers not so common among Beta testing computer gamers anyway. Maybe I’m the first to take the multiverse completely seriously, to recognize it as reality. I sort of hope so. Because that part is true: reality is falling into a new pattern, a new alignment, even as we speak. Part of what is real has changed forever, though none of us will live long enough to see the final result.

I don’t know anyone else who’s said so out loud, though I might have just missed it.

There’s an awful lot of stuff out there flying by, you can’t catch it all.


I was present at the dawn of virtual time, the birth of the multiverse.

I saw God reach out his fingertip to touch Adam, the moment of germination, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It’s true. Because I was part of the first persistent online universe. The very first.

Even the Beta test before it went Gold, before it went live. The first time it ever happened, that people lived online. The first iteration, the first large group ever cut loose from physical bodies to become pure ego, pure identity, pure personality interacting on the web, avatars without worry of physical pain or legal repercussion. And the way we reacted to the stimulus is worth recording, the way we rose or sank to the occasion. What we did, the first explorers of the virtual universe, Digital Cortez and Hex-Code Pizarro, free of compulsion, free of consequence, able to act however we wished.

It wasn’t very pretty.

And maybe you’ll want to say that it wasn’t quite divine creation, God and Adam, whatever. But that Play-Doh-stuck-together-with-duct-tape-and-Elmer’s-Glue world was the original incarnation of the endless parallel electronic universes that are all around us now. The multiverse, where more and more of the future will be lived. It was a vision of the future, that cloudiest of crystal balls.

It’s real already, and growing.

There are friends there, and enemies.


The first live version of Ultima Online had a hundred thousand players.

In that hundred thousand there must be others who remember events as clearly as I do, or better. I only know personally what happened on Chesapeake, and there were fewer than ten thousand of us there. But there may be other voices; someone else may someday have something to say about this, maybe a footnote in a musty history of the digital dawn, more accurate in its facts than my account.

If anyone cares that much. Maybe not.

But anyway, don’t get after me about every little detail. This is my version of events.


And one final caveat. There is something missing from this story.

There is no female lead. There is no kissing. There are no girls.

That is not a problem. There were no girls on the desert island in Lord of the Flies and those fellows did just fine. Girls have cooties anyway.

This story is about boys.



It was the turn of the century, the sharp edged pivot at the end of the millennium. We were partying like it was 1999, because it was. Dot coms booming and at the Y2K bug threatening to bring down civilization, waving scary tentacles of potentiality. I was in the Army at the time, fat, dumb and happy as we were, and I remember a senior officer lecturing me seriously that he would be riding out New Year’s Eve in a cabin in the woods, stocked with survival supplies.

It was hard to keep from laughing out loud but I sucked it up and nodded attentively.

I was still looking to make light colonel, working software out of DC, trying to make sure that the power grid stayed up so that all our toasters would work on New Year’s morning. I could tell we were on track with that and overall things were looking fab. The Soviets had imploded a decade before, people were making money hand over fist in the stock market, the USA was the big kid on the block, what with our 12-1 record and our recent big win over those renowned warriors, the Iraqis. Yer.

I had been dragged by the Army to Washington, kicking and screaming all the way, but was surprised to discover that I liked it there after all. There was a lot to see and do and I had nothing to do at work but shove the occasional paper in a circle around the building, collecting signatures and such in the E ring.

The Pentagon isn't like the TV show. I had plenty of free time. Life was swell.

We watched the fireworks from an Embassy rooftop in Kalorama as 1999 counted down to 2000 and the lights stayed on, my dress uniform looking sharp with its shiny medals all in a row, my new wife in a shimmering metallic gown with a slit up the side that showed off her long legs. It was a great time to be alive and a simply excellent time to be in the Army. Nobody wanted to take us on, not a bit of it. We had won our victory nine years before, bloodlessly from our point of view, and bedamned how long the uranium particles from our long rod penetrators floated around the desert.

Pay was good and the hours were short.

Screw the camel jockeys anyway.


Washington was among the very first places on the planet to have residential broadband access to the internet and my neighbor Ryan convinced me to do it, even though it was still completely bleeding edge. DSL was the shit back then, so early in the evolution that the phone company actually sent a special technician to your place to run extra wires at no charge. You worked with the guy to get the software running once it was all connected, writing down a lot of settings on paper along the way.

Thems was the old days.

But it was cool and it was interesting and it opened up some chances for fun. Because anyone with a broadband connection was a valuable commodity; to the game market we represented the customer of the future. Which is funny, me being old and all, I can remember when home computer storage was the tape recorder you connected to a TRS-80. You had to write your own programs, it was supposed to be fun.

It wasn’t, not all that much. But some people got really into it.

Ryan was a serious player in the computer world, a low-ping legend in the early shooters, one of the kings of Doom and Tribes. He was a high school dropout, acid freak and highly paid computer specialist, back in the days when you could still get away with such things. And he wasn’t just a dweeb, a phreak-gamer. Ryan Zack was a cool dude, tall and goateed, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, jamming on the guitar, dating hot chicks, going out to clubs in his slick little two seater sports car. A genius, even if he did say so himself. As a kid he lived in Japan while his Dad did a tour as an Air Force bird Colonel.

Ryan got kicked out of the country for breaking into the banking system.

I am sure that made Papa very proud, sort of.

But Ryan told me he had only gotten caught because he got away with so much earlier stuff that he got overconfident and sloppy. And Ryan was the one who heard about Ultima Online, the first massively multiplayer game that looked like it might actually get off the ground. He read about it in a chatroom or a message board or a usegroup or something. I don’t know exactly where, he kept up with everything about computers and kept me posted. He called it UO, like You-Oh, for the initials, Ultima Online. There was going to be a Beta test, a chance to get in on it early.

It sounded like fun. I’m a geek, when I was a kid I played D&D with Stephen Colbert.

We applied for the Beta test.

With our hot DSL connections we were shoo-ins.


UO was set in a world of fantasy, dragons and magic and dungeons and such. Over the long run the game itself turned out to be pretty lame, though just like Pong it seemed amazingly cool and state of the art at the time.

The world was called Britannia, a sad collection of mud huts and swampy backwaters set on a single ‘continent’ about the size of Lichtenstein. It was bug-ridden beyond belief, prone to frequent crashes and resets. But the colony was viable, the characters persisted and grew and changed. You could pick your face and skin color and hairstyle, though they didn’t render all that well on the screen. But clothing choices were recognizable, green floppy hat or red pants, whatever.

It was the first, and it worked, just like Fulton’s Folly.

It chugged and belched smoke, but it ran.


There were five hundred of us, the Beta testers, on a single iteration of Britannia.

Not that operating on a single iteration was a problem. One copy of Britannia was supposed to house seven to ten thousand customers when the game went live, and though the whole world wasn’t quite open for business there was still plenty of room for all. We wandered around, hacking and slashing and blowing things up with fireballs. Talking to each other via the text that appeared above each avatar’s head when we typed, everything seen from above at a forty five degree angle. Dutifully or not so dutifully reporting the bugs we found, learning the weird little quirks of the game, the bizarre tricks of the experience curve that caused fantastic aberrations in skill gain, as if the Ultima universe were all connected together randomly behind the scenes, the buggy code a Fiat wiring harness designed by Retardo Confusioni, a fantastic, disorganized complexity of random unplanned connections.

The programmers must have been working like madmen to keep it all patched together. That code was like spaghetti in a bowl, all covered in gooey meat sauce.

But it ran.

During the Beta we discovered that we could hurt each other’s characters, kill each other even. It made sense, of course we could. And it was pretty fun sometimes. We organized a couple of big fights and had a great time blasting away at each other. It made for a break from the idiot monsters.

But no one did it as a matter of course.


When the game went live the company erased our Beta characters and brought up twelve Shards simultaneously, twelve copies of the world of Britannia for public consumption. Everyone had to create new characters, and characters created on one Shard could never move to another. Once you chose your server set you were stuck there. You could never leave.

The Beta testers scattered randomly across the Shards, picking whichever server cluster had the lowest ping to their location. And from the first day it was apparent how different things were, what a difference the new population made to the game’s basic algorithms.

The point of the game was supposed to be gaining abilities in various skills, so as to slay wandering livestock and monsters, collect phat lewt and so on. But the experience algorithms had been misadjusted, our tiny population of five hundred in the Beta unintentionally providing skewed data. Things were way out of balance. The new population base was eight or ten thousand per Shard and it had changed some fundamental variable in the equation. Everyone’s skills were expanding fast, but most people were competing for the same skill sets, not knowing any better, holding each other back.

Only the Beta testers knew the glitches, the back door connections between skills, the secret tricks. Like the way that cornering a bunny, blasting it and healing it over and over jacked the Mage skill through the roof in no time flat, or the way that baking bread actually raised the Warrior skill. And since no one else was performing those particular actions, the universe gave us all the juice, the whole feed, and it went ten times faster still, our skillz puffing up like a mad bull fed on steroids, cow chow and corn whiskey.

It was classic UO, it made no sense at all, it just worked that way.

Of course it wasn’t me that figured out the rest of the tricks, like using macros to record and repeat repetitive practice actions overnight. It was Ryan. He was the evil genius, the black hat hacker, the dark neuromancer of the new century. I just benefited from his brilliance. For some of the lesser used skills, the subtle ones like alchemy, you could actually watch your mule character’s skill rising in real time, the tenths of a point ticking up as the macro repeated the sequence. We could do infinite loops if we wanted, though the maximum level in any skill was one hundred point zero. When the skill clicked up from 99.9 your avatar’s title changed to Grandmaster and you got a lot better at whatever it was, so it was a big deal.

The idea being that we were supposed to work really hard to get there. As if.

But there was no limit to how many Grandmaster ratings one character could achieve. Ultima was like that, it had no rules or balance and you could be everything at once. With Ryan’s macros it was like we never left the keyboard, like we played twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. We ran three computers for the different characters so they could all macro at once, two at Ryan’s place and mine at home, right across the hall.

I thought it was cool, all the stuff Ryan knew how to do, how awesome our characters were going to be. We had already earned them, had already suffered through the learning process while we were Beta testers. We were just getting our characters back.

And plenty of other people macroed up too. Within a few days about half of the former Beta testers playing on the public servers were simultaneous Grandmaster Mages, Grandmaster Warriors, Grandmaster Swordsmen, and perfect Hiders.

Of course it was against the rules. So what? Rules? What rules?


Now, not to bore you, but Hiding is worth taking a second to explain, because it will come back later. Hiding was another UO quirk, the ability to become invisible anywhere, at any time. And to stay invisible until you moved, a sort of freeze-tag invisibility. If that sounds strange, it is, but in UO it was a skill like any other, something you could learn if you practiced. And it was a really useful thing to be able to do, because if a monster was kicking your ass you could get a little distance away, hit your Hide hotkey, and Poof! you disappeared and were safe. Could catch your breath, reorganize the junk in your backpack, go to the bathroom and brush your teeth, whatever.

All while the monster stood nearby looking stupid, wondering where you had gone.

Though not looking as stupid as they really were. There was no way to do that justice, no way to adequately describe their imbecility. The AI just wasn’t there yet, the monsters were slower than retarded vegetables. They had all the brains of strained peas and the wisdom of pureed carrots. But idiot monsters aside, Hiding was important. It worked in defiance of all common sense and logic, the idea that you could suddenly disappear like that, but it worked.

Sometimes near the end I sat on my horse in town, in my Bone armor of brown and white, wearing the skull helm, with my red cloak and silver sword. I would stop under a lamppost, as the swirling crowds of newbies, PK fodder all, wandered this way and that, hit my Hide hotkey and disappear from view.

Just like that, poof, invisible under my lamppost until I moved again.

Totally, totally ludicrous. And precisely how it worked.


The game designers posted notices that anyone using external programs like macros would have their account deleted, but they never caught anybody, not even when we were absolutely blatant about it, doing it every second of the day. It was just a bluff, they had no resources to watch us, they were already hanging on by their fingernails, posting new bug fixes every day, trying to keep up with the latest hacks and tricks. And meanwhile all the new players were logging in for the first time, trying to get the game basics down, relentlessly beating on practice dummies, clicking their little fingers off just like we had done months before, trying to make Novice Swordsman so maybe they could finally slay a Cow.

Don’t laugh. Even Sheep in UO were pretty mean if you were a newbie.

A Cow would just totally kick your ass. Bulls were bigtime.

Sometime after the first week a programmer at the software company finally noticed the numbers that one of the former Beta testers was toting on his character, massive stats like he had been chowing Virtual Growth Hormone and pumping iron the size of the Brooklyn bridge. The programmers weren’t stupid, not by any means, and they figured out fast what was going on. They traced the experience algorithms, tweaked the equations and suddenly it was a lot, lot harder to get good at the major skills. They even turned off a couple of the weird back door connections between skillsets. But they didn’t roll back the servers, they didn’t reset us all to zero. The game had gone live and there weren’t that many Beta testers, they weren’t going to wipe entire Shards’ worth of paying customers’characters just to get rid of us.

We were grandfathered in, allowed by default to keep our macroed characters.

It was a fantastic boon.

Our characters were maxed out across the board, pumped up like multi-Hulks, all green and massive, while the other players got to struggle with the new, improved, much harder experience curves.

It was awesome, it was perfect.

It would be almost a year before anyone actually built a character from scratch that could challenge someone from the Beta. We were a pantheon of demigods, hugely more powerful than the thousands of other players around us. It was like being one of the Avengers, Iron Man or Thor. I could take on a roomful of people at a time if I wanted. We pillaged Britannia, camped out on the bottom levels of the dungeons killing the toughest monsters (such as they were, they never grew any smarter) and collecting lewt, building top of the line equipment sets of magic armor and shiny, dangerous swords.

We could go anywhere we wanted, do anything at all in the game.

Though the game wasn’t really all that. It never was. The monsters were so incredibly, genuinely stupid, like Lenny from Of Mice and Men squishing the mouse in his hands even though he loves it more than anything. You had to hold yourself to rigorous standards, never exploit any of the zillion bugs, in order to make it exciting and hard to kill them.

Fighting cretinous AI has its limits. I was having fun, but it would never have held my attention for very long.

And that was when the Player Killing began.


The Murderer Psycho the Idiot was frying someone with lightning bolts.

“Por Ort Grav,” he said, waving his arms. The lightning zapped down again.

The last body fell over just as we got there, the storm of bolts around her bent like stalks of white bamboo, close spaced like a spiked iron fence.

“Booooo,” said her ghost. It was dressed in a gray hooded cape, like a low-budget Grim Reaper.

I stood at the edge of the clearing outside the entrance to Shame with Simkin and Rand, watching Psycho and his gang occupy the space in front of the cave that was the only entrance to the dungeon. We knew Psycho from the Beta. UO had a reputation system, and ‘The Murderer’ that proceeded Psycho’s name was a title that supposedly represented the cumulative effects of his actions. His avatar turned bright Red if you ran your mouse over him, him and all his little cronies, there must have been ten or twelve of them. Murderers all.

Pua was the only other Beta tester that I saw among the Red people that day.

Most of the rest didn’t join the PKs until later.

Me and Rand and Simkin were all Blue if you moused us.

We were going to Shame to ransack the fifth level of the dungeon, the bottom level, to rob the stupid Balrogs, who were known to drop phat lewt like magic breastplates and greaves and so on. We were still playing the game itself then. I was known as Og, or Lord Og, or That Bastard Og, which I heard from some of the PKs later, after our stakeout at the Chaos Shrine. It is a simple name and a classic and it suited me well. Lord Og was as high as I ever got too, I never made Great Lord, and in my opinion the people who did were mostly pussies, wasting their time using gimmicks to kill weak-AIed monsters to raise their reputation, afraid of the hit their rep would take if they died.

What’s the point of a game if you never die, if you never lose?

They didn’t turn out to be much use in the end, most of the Great Lords. They were afraid to actually mix it up when the struggle began, always worried about their precious reputation. Several of the lamest actually made it through to the very end as Great Lords, always Recalling away to safety at the first sign of trouble.

Big-titled chickenshits, like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

Though Hong was a Great Lord. He could do it all.

“Hey, what gives?” said Rand to Psycho. They stood together to one side of the bodies.

“We’re PKing,” said Psycho. “It’s cool, it makes it more interesting for everyone.”

I looked at the three bodies, which Psycho’s lackeys were busily looting, tossing random crap on the ground as the bodies got progressively nakeder. I was pretty sure it wasn’t more interesting for them, having all their stuff stolen. Because that was what PKing was: Player Killing. Which in a fair fight was good fun for one and all, blasting each other with lightning bolts and fireballs from a distance, lopping off heads and arms with swords and polearms if we got close enough. But killing each other once in a while had never gotten us out of Blue. I’d never seen anyone with the Murderer label before, and especially not a whole bunch of them at once, all of them bright Red if you moused them.

It meant they had killed a lot of people.

A cluster of ghosts stood nearby.

I checked their names but had no idea who they were. Newbies, no doubt. Another ghost ran out of the entrance to Shame and joined them.

“Boooo,” said the new ghost.

“Booooooo boooo” replied the others. The words that made up their speech on the screen were grey and ghostly. The ghosts ran around and looked unhappy.

“Booooo boooo boooooo,” they said.

That was how UO worked. If your body was dead you reappeared as a ghost, controlling said ghost via keyboard and mouse just like your normal avatar, and stayed a ghost until you made the trek to a Resurrection Shrine and were called back from the underworld in your loincloth underwear. Thence to make the naked run of shame back to your body, hoping all the while that no one had snagged your gear.

If it was a monster that had snuffed you there was a decent chance that your things would still be there when you got back, if no one had stumbled across your body, minus maybe one item that the monster took. But if PKs got you then your gear was gone forever. None of the ghosts in front of Shame were worried about being fast to a Shrine and back because their stuff was long gone, the gang of Red Murderers stripping them clean while we watched.

The ghosts stood in a circle and talked among themselves. You could talk to other ghosts while you were dead, you just couldn’t speak to the living. There were a few interesting discussions that took place when we were all dead, but no matter what you typed all the living saw was ‘boo.’

“Boooo,” said the new ghost. “Booo booooo boooooooooooo.”

“Booo boo,” replied one of the others.

It looked to me like Psycho and his boys were being fuckers. But there were a lot of them.

“Vas Flam,” said one of the lackeys, and his avatar made a couple of canned arm waving motions. A lame animation of a ball of flame appeared on top of Rand’s avatar for a second. The blue health bar over his head dropped by maybe a tenth.

“You little shit,” I said, watching. I punched buttons on my keyboard and rolled my mouse.

“PK assholes,” said Ryan across the room, punching his own buttons. We were both in his extra bedroom where he kept his computer lab, card tables and folding chairs, the connections made via shielded CAT-V, no other furniture but the computer rack. Cigarettes and beer in abundance.

“In Vas Mani,” said Ryan’s avatar, Simkin. Rand’s hit points went back up. Spell words of power were always capitalized on the screen. In Vas Mani was Greater Heal. He was just doing it to be cool, Rand was in no danger.

“Kal Vas Flam,” said my avatar. I was a figure in full platemail, shiny mithril looking stuff, spiffy in a red cape and black boots, wearing a full faced silver helm, swinging a massive halberd. But the halberd and uber-armor didn’t stop me from doing the canned magic animation, waving my arms backward and forward, tossing off a flamestrike.

Good old UO, where you could be the greatest warrior in the world and the greatest wizard on the same day. Where you could hide a horse behind a lamppost and become invisible.

“Corp Por,” said Rand. Things went off in sequence sometimes, and it was pretty funny how we cast the same spells over and over again, the ones that worked, that packed a punch. Kal Vas Flam was flamestrike. Corp Por was energy bolt. Both our shots hit Psycho’s lackey simultaneously and he fell over dead.

His ghost appeared.

“Booooooo,” he said. “Boooo boooo.”

A couple of the other lackeys had started forward to attack with him but they failed to press the issue when they witnessed the instant frydaddy action of our Grandmaster level spells. After a second they began to pick their friend’s body clean instead. The stuff just flew off him.

PKs are like sharks, they eat their own.

“You suck, Psycho,” I said.

“Kal Ort Por,” said two of the piranhas, waving their arms. They vanished. It was the Recall spell, that took you to a predetermined location known only to the player casting, keyed off special runes we kept in onscreen backpacks. There was no way to trace where they had gone, they were just outta there.

There were three of us on our side, Beta testers all. The extra little PKs barely counted, only Psycho and Pua could stay on the field with us in a fight. We had the balance of power and Psycho and Pua were probably low on mana, having just used theirs up to cast spells to kill the three newbies outside and who knew how many others in the dungeon.

We should have at least tried to kill them then.

“Kal Ort Por,” said three more of the lackeys, and vanished. “Kal Ort Por,” said Pua.

“Fuck you, losers,” said Psycho, and did the spell animation.

“Kal Ort Por,” he said, and was gone.


We went into Shame to look around.

It was scrubbed clean, from top to bottom. Psycho and company had gone through it from the first room to the last, killing everything that moved. The monsters were an afterthought, Shame was mostly a beginner’s dungeon, but they had killed them too.

I had never seen so many dead people. There were stripped bodies everywhere, in almost every room. It reflected how seriously the game was stacked for the PKs. The players in Shame had been a formidable force in total, but they hadn’t been in one place, they had been scattered in small groups through the dungeon, working the monster spawn. The PK gang had hit each group in turn and wiped them out. A few might have managed to Recall out and escape, but that was all. Everyone else was dead.

And stripped.

The PKs were getting the greatest loot of all, the items won from the game by the murdered characters over tens or hundreds of hours. Each of them had been dungeon crawling, probably wearing their thickest armor, carrying their best weapon. Killing a person was infinitely more profitable than killing any monster, and the PKs were getting their pick off the bodies.

It meant that even the little PKs were now armed to the teeth.


Of course we fought back.

Murderers had weaknesses. Anyone labeled ‘Murderer’ could not set foot inside the borders of the towns or invulnerable guards would pop into existence and slay them with one automatic hit. Retarded but effective. It didn’t stop their mule characters from going into town to do the chores, but the actual PK character, the fabulously rich and powerful one, had to stay outside city limits. Not that having mule characters was wrong. We all had mule characters to perform various functions. Part of the game.

There was also a penalty to dying with the Murderer tag active, a skill drop. We weren’t sure of the exact percentage but we thought it was about seven percent. We picked off one of the little ones once in a while and could tell it hurt them, but we never knew exactly how much and the PKs weren’t telling. But the Beta testers turned PK, if we could get them it would drop all their skills down from the perfect 100.0 skill level required for Grandmaster. It would make a big difference the next time we fought them.

But we had to catch and kill them to make it happen. Easier said than done.

The last penalty to going PK was more of an inconvenience than a penalty. Whereas the rest of us could resurrect at any one of nine locations in the game, there was only a single Shrine at which Murderers could be returned to life, the Chaos Shrine. It meant they had to run a little farther to resurrect, that was all.

If we ever killed them, that is.

Because we hadn’t gotten any of the Beta testers, yet.

Because being a PK had many advantages besides all of the awesome equipment. They got to choose the time and place of the action every time, by joining up beforehand into a gang of fifteen or so, never going to the same place twice but hitting different locations, dungeons, crossroads, bridges, killing everyone they ran across. Nothing could withstand fifteen serious players in a group. There was no communication, no early warning system, not even screams. Even if the PKs were one room away, offscreen by one pixel, you heard nothing, had no idea they were there. And when a PK gang swarmed onto the screen, computers had the most horrifying habit of seizing up, all of the animation and incantations breaking down and freezing into lurch frames, the sudden influx of data from the attack too much for the program to handle. Even our DSL connections didn’t help much with a lag freeze.

All there was to do then was hit the hotkey for Recall and hope. There was no way to fight during a system lockup like that, Beta tester or not. It happened a lot of times in those first weeks. With the screen herky jerky it was impossible to know just how much damage the PKs had put out in the first rush, and there were a million glitches and chokes in the software. So there was always the danger that the hotkey string would get lost in the chaos of bouncing packets and my Recall wouldn’t fire on the server. But it never happened and I always materialized in the safe spot outside our Smithy with half a bar of health or so, glad I was a demigod.

Most people saw that screen lockup and woke up two minutes or so later as a ghost.

We joined together to hunt the PKs, organized posses, but they wouldn’t cooperate in being hunted. It is, as it turns out, far easier to find random people to murder wherever you may be than it is to locate specific Murderers and force them to fight, especially in an online universe where teleportation is free, easy, and untraceable. There were no physical clues, no trails to follow. On those few occasions when we actually managed to confront them in force they just Recalled away.

We had no way to know where they had gone, no way to follow them and force the issue.

All of the tactical advantages were theirs.


I tried PKing once, to see what it was like. We were still in touch with some of the PKs via ICQ and they talked about it like it was great fun, like man was the greatest game of all, thrill of the hunt, life of danger, brigands in the forest, all that. So I rode my horse Sparky out in the woods until I came upon two newbies cutting lumber. It was part of the mad genius of the game that at the very beginning you actually did that sort of thing, cut lumber or mined ore or other menial labor to raise cash as you worked your way up.

It was a good game that way, completely Tim Burton.

I looked at the two lumberjacks. They had some of the odd words above their heads that indicated Japanese players, sort of a Japenglish that they spoke.

“Hi,” said one as I rode up.

I hacked him lightly with my big halberd and he started to run away. He didn’t make two steps, I didn’t even have to chase him, one more hit and he was down. I put Sparky into a trot and lopped off the other one’s head as he tried to run too. Sparky was loads faster than a man on foot, it didn’t take me five seconds to run him down.

Their ghosts appeared. I hadn’t been scratched, hadn’t used a single spell. I could have taken ten more like that, no problem. If they got in line I could have taken a hundred. It wasn’t exciting at all.

I looked through the stuff on their bodies. It was sad, pathetic stuff, newbie stuff, leather armor and a bearskin hat. These were exactly the kinds of players that the PKs slaughtered on a routine basis.

“Boooo,” said the ghosts. “Booo booooo.”

There were people on the other end of those ghosts. Real people that I had just been an asshole to, even if they were Japanese. It hadn’t been exciting, it had been simple wickedness.

PKing? Thrill of the hunt?

I checked my rep. I was no longer Lord Og. Murdering two players had dropped me one level, I was now the Honorable Og, still nice and Blue. I left their stuff on the ground. I hope that it was still there when they got back.

I got back up to Lord in a day or two and never lost it again.

PKing made me feel like shit.


I had fun being Lord Og, though.

“Lord Og! Lord Og!” cried the newbies at the door of our Smithy. “Please help us!” There were three of them. It was cool with me, it was kind of in character with the whole feudal nature of the gig. I opened the door.

“There’s a PK on the road!”

“How many?”

“Just one.”

They meant one of the roads that ran between towns. They were pretty simple, just mud tracks through the vegetation leading to the other settlements of our merry, cutthroat land. You didn’t walk any faster on them and there were no carts or other traffic, but at least they cut down on the percentage of time people spent wandering around totally lost. Some houses had appeared along the roads in recent days, players using the magic deeds that you could buy at the general store in town. Plop the deed onto an open spot in Britannia and boink! a structure, be it simple house or vast castle, would instantly appear. Simkin and Rand and I had staked out our spot way early, it was ultra prime real estate, the Monaco of the virtual world. An intersection of two mud tracks, it was.

Oh, Britannia, you lovely and two-dimensional realm, world of fantasy, rich in detail well not quite. Fair land of stumbling Ogres staggering dazed about the countryside, imbecilic, clutching clubs and ready to whack, supposedly. They would, eventually, if we jumped up and down and bit them on the leg. But even then they had a tendency to wander off. Their minds on other matters. Looking for something to eat, perhaps, or maybe a nice Mrs. Shrek. Though Shrek was a thousand times smarter than these guys. We never let them get away though, we lusted fer their lewt, we cut them down.

It was just UO.

And the deeds for structures were great, nice and portable, be nice if it worked like that in real life. But try to not get PKed when you’re walking out to put that hundred thousand gold piece tower on your empty lot in the country, ok?

Anyway, this particular encounter took place on the north road between Vesper and Minoc, near our Smithy at the intersection. A Smithy at the time was still big stuff, and Simkin and Rand and I had gone in together on it, saving up our hard won virtual nickels until we had enough. There was plenty of space inside, several rooms, and we kept it filled with our chests crammed with loot, spare equipment and reagents for casting magic spells. It wasn’t completely share and share alike, we weren’t communists, but we were pretty cool about it, you were definitely allowed to borrow stuff, nothing was locked.

I trotted out front in my shiny armor, the giant Halberd of Destruction in my fist, wearing my red cape as always. I headed up the road in the direction the newbies indicated. The newbies trailed behind at a respectful distance.

Respect for the PK that is. They didn’t want to get fragged by a stray fireball.

When I got there, it really was just the one guy. He stood there in a suit of silver platemail, owning the road, the black knight and all that, even if his armor was shiny. A couple of bodies lay scattered about, he was Red as a fire engine when I moused him.

The Murderer Pua. Go figure.

So we didn’t start shooting right away, we talked for a little bit. We had known each other in the Beta and Pua wasn’t a bad guy, he was a grownup, not a fucked up fourteen year old like Psycho, who seemed to have some issues in real life. Me and Pua chewed the fat until he chucked a lightning bolt my way and we went at it for a couple of minutes. It was like old times, he was Red and I was Blue but it was just the two of us, the newbies stood back and watched. We fought it out using the game rules, blasting and hacking like it was real, magic medieval knights, tank mages pulling out all the stops.

It was honorable, old school. No hacks or sploits, just a slugfest.

I had him at the end. It was the big halberd that did it, when we were both out of mana and couldn’t heal or shoot any more, had to go hand to hand. That halberd put out a load of damage.

Pua was hacking at me with his sword, the same animation we must have all seen ten thousand times, when I got another big hit. His health dropped down to the final sliver of blue and I knew I had him, one more would do it. I was still at about a quarter health myself. He spun and ran a few steps and went into the spell casting animation, swinging his arms and sort of bending over like he was trying to give himself the Heimlich maneuver. He was trying to punch out, Recall away, but he had waited too long. I was right behind him and the halberd was swinging and he didn’t have the hit points to give.

Pua was toast.

My screen froze with my halberd in the air.

When it started again Pua was gone, and my avatar made the hacking motion at nothing.

Typical UO. Happened all the time. Though I was actually ok with it that once.

Pua was ok.


But UO wasn’t one hundred percent blowing stuff up or running things through with spears or hacking each other to pieces with our sharp, shiny toys. Not quite. Though as long as preparing for combat is counted as part of the fighting process, we spent probably 95% of our time fighting, the other five percent or so we spent doing other things around Britannia. The nonviolent pastimes, the crafts, which in theory were supposed to be a big part of the game.

Oh fair Britannia, that thrilling land somewhat like the Holy Roman Empire in the thirteenth century, pigs rooting in the dirt, no plumbing, muck aplenty, filthy tavern wenches leering. Bring out your dead, bring out your dead. I’m not quite dead oh get back in the cart.

Twas a lovely place.

There weren’t actually any tavern wenches, though we could have used some. Tavern wenches would be good fun. I hope they put them in the next version. But verily, UO was filled with silly skills and in many ways like unto a Renaissance Festival. Baking, sewing, brewing. Oh the excitement. Yer.

One of the crafty types, who claimed to be a chick, even arranged a horse race around the town square in Magincia with a big bag of special virtual beer as the prize. Grandmistress Brewer and all that, gotcha, even though nobody can actually taste the beer so it could be bottles of distilled monkey piss for all we really care, hello!?!, but we’re all friends here so if it makes you happy then whatever. Milady.

So everybody got their horse out to race. Magincia was on an island theoretically way out in the ocean, really remote, but since we could all teleport anywhere we wanted to go it was just as easy to get to as anywhere else. As long as you had a Rune everywhere in UO was exactly the same distance away from everywhere else, i.e. no distance at all, zero. I must have had a hundred Runes stashed in the bank for speedy travel. Recall to the bank, look at your runes, click and poof, off to Fiji.

It’s a great way to travel, beats the hell out of airport security lines.

But the square at Magincia was a good choice for horse racing because it was fenced, and it was no problem to transport the horses there, because if you Recalled while you were sitting on your horse then it came with you, sort of a frequent flyer companion ticket. The road around the square made a good track and no one could cut across and cheat because of the fence.

The races were just one lap. Ready, set, go.

I had my horse Sparky. He was one of the old horses, from before the horse patches were applied on the tenth day. I had been one of the few able to afford a horse in the first ten days and he had never died, which made him one of fewer still. He was white, an unusual color, and I liked to feed him virtual apples. I actually grew sort of attached to Sparky, unreal though he was.

Sparky was faster than all the other horses, especially the new ones. Not by a vast amount, but definitely. He defeated all comers that night. It was sort of like having Shadowfax, though his AI was as pathetic as all the other digital denizens of UO and he wouldn’t have run away from a fight if a tiger had jumped on his back and bitten him on the ass.

So he wasn’t quite as bright as Shadowfax, but at least he was fast.

I handed out the virtual beer I won, shared it with everyone. What the hell else was I going to do with it? We drank it.

Yum yum, mighty tasty ma’am. You librarian.

But it did make us drunk much faster than usual. Our avatars stumbled around the square belching bubbles and reeling into each other, saying incoherent, slurry things.

That was pretty funny.


Sparky’s speed came in handy at times. I was out once, somewhere between the towns of Britain and Trinsic, when it did. Though calling them towns was quite a stretch. Stone hamlets, really. But I was wandering the hinterlands in search of ye olde adventure, otherwise known as random wandering monsters that might drop phat lewt or cash, when I came upon something I had never before seen in the game.

It was at a bridge over a river, a chokepoint. Because in UO there was no such thing as swimming a river, or fording one. You could teleport anywhere you wanted to go, but if you were on the ground, on foot or on horseback, and you came to a river you were crossing at a bridge, period. It had something to do with the way the servers handled the different areas of Britannia, transition zones.

Water was no touchy. We could no leavy dry land.

On the near side of the bridge as I came up was a huge field of items, random bits of minor treasure, capes and boots and swords, antlered deer helms and backpacks, pots and pans and brick-a-brack. It spread over my whole screen, from side to side and top to bottom and more. Equipment, hundreds and hundreds of semi-valuable items, the kind that might be useful to newbies, thousands of pieces, scattered on the virtual grass like a vast field of melons.

I walked Sparky up through the field of castoff loot until I came to the bridge.

There was no one there. After they had finished killing all the traffic on the road the PKs had sifted through the loot and Recalled away. Judging by the amount of items they had left behind they had been at the bridge for a long time, had probably killed at least a hundred players. They were harvesting the players like buffalo hunters in the old west, stripping the hides, taking whatever they found worthwhile, leaving the carcasses to rot. Which they did in UO, player’s bodies decayed away fairly quickly.

The PKs had been gone a while when I got there. All of the stripped bodies had decayed and disappeared from the game. But the excess loot was still there, the wastage. It reminded me of the first Gulf War a little, the way the Highway of Death looked when I was a kid lieutenant in 2nd Armor.

No one came by while I stood Sparky at the bridge. It was creepy.

I rode over the bridge and turned west into the swamp. I rode randomly, there was nothing I feared among the monsters of the UO wilderness. As I rode I came to a structure I did not recognize, high walls of stone, turreted and towered, that sat in the middle of the swamp. Which swamp, mind you, did not get my feet wet or interfere with my movement in any way, it was just a different background on the screen. But this was a castle, a private structure like our Smithy, that had been purchased by an individual who held the deed. I had never seen one before, I only knew they were theoretically possible. They cost over a million gold pieces at the store in town, an insane amount, about as hard to get in UO as in real life. One player could never kill enough monsters in the game to collect a million gold, not in ten years of looting.

I rode up to the front door and moused the sign on the front.

“Vile Blades.”

I considered that for a second. A figure appeared on the top rampart of the castle. He began the arm waving incantation as I moused him, Red as blood of course, didn’t quite get his name. The door of the castle opened and another one came out.

The Murderer Psycho the Idiot.

But I was already galloping for all I was worth, heading for the edge of the screen. That fourteen year old punk Psycho scared the crap out of me at the time.

He was probably five feet tall and weighed ninety four pounds in real life.

“Por Ort Grav,” said Psycho. Lightning bolt, his favorite.

But we were too fast for them, Sparky and me. We got right away.

Run, Sparky, run!


I ran into Pua again, as I strolled through Despair. I used to do that, wander the dungeons in my shiny mithril outfit, lending a helping hand here and there if some group was struggling, being a good guy in general. I don’t know, maybe I felt sort of like Clint Eastwood roaming the west on his pale horse, helping the poor but honest Mexican villagers as they struggled to make ends meet, raise their corn and beans and their little brown kids.

I was magnanimous. Being a hero is a good time.

Pua was in one of the caverns about halfway down. There were bodies scattered around the room, not too many, maybe seven or eight. There had been some sort of dustup between PKs and the players in the dungeon. It looked to me like the players had taken it on the chin, like they always did, but they had put up a good enough fight that all of the little PKs had run off, Recalled out in the middle of the fight to make sure they saved their own skins.

That was very like them.

But Pua had stuck it out and killed the last of the players in the dungeon. It must have been a good fight, he was pretty torn up, health about a third and his armor with the dented look that meant it needed to go to a smith character for repair. And it was obvious he didn’t have any mana left or he would have healed himself.

I was alone and I didn’t feel any hatred for Pua, he was ok. So I didn’t jump him, just said hey instead.

We hung for a minute, chatted about how it was going. We were under a flag of truce.

From the left side of my screen I saw a telltale flood of words of power and herky jerky figures. It was Pua’s PK buddies coming back with reinforcements. My screen slowed way down, lagged hard.

“Stop,” said Pua. “Not him.”

I didn’t think it would happen so fast. I figured that they would pay some attention to Pua, I might get nicked up a little before he called off the dogs but I wouldn’t die. We were old friends, they knew who I was. So I didn’t hit my Recall hotkey right away. But they didn’t stop, they kept casting. There were a lot of them, I don’t know exactly how many. Maybe ten.

I hit the hotkey but it was too late.

“STOP!” said Pua.

My screen went dark. Shit.

I came back as a ghost. I didn’t talk. There was no reason to say boo to them.

Pua sent me a message over ICQ. That was the app we used for external comms.