Historical Background of the Shattered Worlds

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Original Author Seer Adamantyr, with thanks to SunWolf and Judas D’arc
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   Historical Background of the Shattered Worlds



This document, and all that follow, are a comprehensive framework of history of the land of Britannia, covering the period from when the Gem of Immortality shattered, up to the beginning of the game itself, when history becomes the domain of the players to write with deeds and action.

All of this is intended to be of use to the quest designers, both at Origin and within the Seer program, so that quests can be designed that have legitimate roots, and can further develop and detail the colorful and varied history. I also hope it can prevent conflicts between quests from arising, and lowering enjoyment of the game. And hopefully also as a source of ideas for new adventures!


The following materials are considered canonical sources:

  • Any and all official texts in-game
  • The website player’s guide city and atlas entries, as well as the bestiary
    • The unofficial Ultima Online historical files, which while inadequate and slightly inconsistent (especially considering a 2nd continent was excluded from the final design), still are invaluable sources.
    • All released Ultima games and manuals that make references to past events, in particular the Ultima 1 instruction manual, “The First Age of Darkness” (reprint with the Trilogy)

There is a large volume of material to draw upon in the creation of a historical background for Ultima Online. However, there are conflicts. This is a result of the many writers who have contributed to the games, and the necessities of commercial enterprise and cinematics, which demand that some liberties be taken in the course of a better story line. The best thing to do in such cases is to find a compromise, or choose a side, and go with it. Considering the amount of material, it’s amazing it fits together as well as it does.

Chronological Range

At the start of the project, the first task was to set a baseline by which events could be recorded and measured against, a dating system for use, and how much time has passed. Whenever “final” started is considered to be the end of the historical reference, and the point at which history is developed by the players and quest designers as they see fit.

I chose 300 years as the amount of time that has passed since the initial shattering of the Gem and the present day for the following reasons:

  1. It is extremely close to the present events in Ultima Prime. This makes it a little more ‘neat’, as writers can assume that outside the shard, things are about midway after where Ultima 6 left off, approximately. It should also be noted that too much time would lead to UO’s events happening long after events in Ultima: Ascension, which may, if rumors hold, be involving the destruction of the entire world (and the shards) anyway.
  1. The official city dialogue for Ocllo notes that they had been farming their land “for centuries”, which suggests that at least two centuries have passed.
  1. Cities and cultures need enough time to build, but not so much time that they could become something else. Ultima has never been a land like Middle-Earth, where everything stays the same for thousands of years, like any healthy culture things are always moving and changing.
  1. Lord British and any human counterparts from Earth, according to the Ultima 5 instruction manual, age at approximately one tenth the rate as regular humans. This means there is a limit to how much time can pass. Three centuries equals thirty years for our esteemed Lord, which puts him in his prime years. Any more than that would be difficult to explain.

There is one argument that can be used to combat these:

Passage of time in the shards may flow differently. In the Chronicles of Narnia, one of Ultima’s source materials, the other world advanced at different random rates compared to Earth.

This is true. However, this particular magical theory applied to beings traveling between the two worlds. The shards are self-contained worlds, no travel is possible between them. Were such travel to be possible, then I certainly would not want to be the coder for it. (4th dimensional programming would be enough to give anyone a headache.)

While it is possible to explain that each shard’s time flows at a different speed (possibly related to their relative physical size), it would complicate matters extremely. The purpose of this background is to provide a solid universal framework by which all shards can be used, not further complicate the issue. Individual shard histories can be further developed from this framework, making each shard history unique. It is logistically easier to have everyone start off with the same ideas. Not to mention that since every shard has the same map and NPC cities, it makes little sense that they could be older or younger than another could.

Alternate and Parallel Theories

A large area of confusion where Ultima Online is concerned is its exact nature. Much of the player base is ignorant of the history and background in Ultima Prime, and others are aware of it, but are not aware of the differences.

The shards of Ultima Online are parallel universes of Ultima Prime with echoes. Parallel means that while they progress at the same time, and are extremely similar, different events and occurrences make two distinctly separate timelines. Echoes are similarities between the two parallels that strongly suggest a connection, but may be the result of different paths, and totally unrelated, but they exist all the same. (The existence of all the cities from Ultima 4 in Ultima Online could rightly be called an Echo.)

Here are the most common observed and known parallels and echoes:

  • The shards cosmetically resemble the Britannia from Ultima 4 through 7, with minor alterations in various regions.
  • All eight original ‘Virtue’ cities exist, as well as the eight corresponding shrines, and seven of the original dungeons. (Excluding the Abyss.)
  • Lord British and all of his companions and the Avatar’s companions exist, as well as Lord Blackthorn.

Here are the most common observed and known differences:

  • The destruction of Paws, a well known settlement in Ultima Prime.
  • The existence of Ocllo, Wind, and NuJel’m, who’s existence in Ultima Prime either never came about, or remain hidden.
  • The existence of the Shrine of Evil on the Isle of Fire.
  • Clearly variant city histories and cultures in many cases, suggesting a far more diverse and less culturally unified populace.
  • Some major geographical features are missing, relocated, or strangely twisted, including the Bloody Plains, the Drylands, and Dagger Isle.

Mondain, Minax, and Exodus: The Triad of Evil

Due to oversights in the Development phase of Ultima Online, mention of both Minax and Exodus were completely excluded from the finished plotline and histories, as well as in game texts. This actually, through accident, was likely the best thing. Aside from the fact it leaves two major mysteries for players and future plotwriters to explore, it also removes several problems, as follows:

Minax was bent upon the destruction of Earth in Ultima 2: Revenge of the Enchantress, which clearly in the closed world of Ultima Online did not exist. Without Earth Minax would have had to focus upon Britannia, which clearly would create an entirely alternate history. (In addition, those who sought to make it accurate to Ultima Prime would discover very little time passed between Mondain’s death and Minax’s ascension, which would be difficult to explain or deal with.)

Exodus does not suffer so much as Minax, although much of his animosity was derived from the death of his parents. In addition, the cards that would disable him, Ambrosia, and the Marks, as well as the TimeLord’s interference, are additional items that would need to exist. Supposedly the Lost Lands are Ambrosia, so there is a possible connection there…

The final complication with these two is the complete absence of the Stranger. (Or pre-Avatar, if you will.) Since he cannot show to defeat them, they clearly had to be defeated by someone else. While this could certainly happen, it makes little sense in the long-run, since it would deprive current players of the chance to defeat them themselves in future plotlines. (And bringing them ‘back from the dead’ for that purpose would be somewhat lame.)

The best way to operate in this area is to assume that Minax and Exodus are unknown to UO, perhaps some ancient texts would make mention of a young female apprentice to Mondain, but little else. This would make her revenge all the sweeter, and unexpected. (And Exodus’s as well.)

The Virtues

The Virtues in Ultima Online are, to best describe them, intangible. The shrines exist, and the framework is there, but the shard, on a whole, does not follow them with the zeal and dedication that existed in Ultima Prime, for a number of reasons:

  • Because Minax and Exodus did not appear in the early years, Lord British and his “Stranger” who would defeat evil never reached quite the level of renown and admiration that they did in Ultima Prime.
  • The city of Magincia, a blatant foil to the Virtues, continues to exist.
  • Lord British’s political conflict with Blackthorn has weakened his image and position.

The end result of this is that the Virtues are viewed and considered more as an enlightened philosophy, and the shrines as useful, but the populace on a whole has not embraced them. Lord British is distinguished and respected in his own city, and seen abroad as an enlightened and good ruler, but not to the level and degree that he is in Ultima Prime, and his continuing conflict with Blackthorn weakens his political power, and the Virtues as an extension. The Kingdom itself is not as stable as well, it is possible that one or more city-states within could break away if certain events occurred.

The Codex

The Codex is a powerful artifact in Ultima, which originates from the Vortex, a great maelstrom that rests at the center of the Void. The gargoyle seer Naxatilor removed it from the Vortex using the eight Moonstones, the Vortex Cube, and the twin Lenses. The removal of the Codex created a karmic imbalance that resulted in great prosperity in the Gargoyle world, and the Age of Darkness in Sosaria. When the Avatar removed it from the Gargoyle shrine deep in the Abyss, the effect backlashed, leading eventually to the decay and destruction of the gargoyle’s world and the Underworld. Eventually the Avatar returned the Codex to its rightful place in the Vortex, restoring balance.

The Codex is clearly powerful, and not just ‘a book’. (In fact, it is likely that it simply takes the form of whatever the user sees as a source of knowledge. To the Gargoyles it was likely a stone tablet with carved lettering that changed, to a modern who wasn’t the Avatar it would appear to be a computer system or something else.) My theory runs as this:

It is highly improbable that the Codex could be ‘copied’ within the Gem of Immortality. Thus, its existence in UO is highly unlikely.

While some would feel this is a disappointment, it clearly sets UO apart from Ultima Prime, and saves the Developers considerable problems. Aside from the fact that the Codex would have ALL answers, something hard to deliver on, it’s removal would also precipitate trouble with gargoyles, something that is far beyond the scope of the game at this time. (It is very likely the gargoyle’s world was cloned with Britannia, and highly likely it still exists, in a possibly more stable state. This would certainly do well for future expansions.)

The Codex would exist as an ideal, however. It has been suggested by some of the writers at OSI that Lord British has ‘echoes’ in his memory from the other Lord British’s, which aided him in constructing the system of Virtues, and the idea of the Codex. This would explain quests and stories about it. In addition, echoes of the Avatar would also likely lead him to designate the champion who would win the ‘lost’ artifact as such, and also the pinnacle of his Virtues.

The Stranger/Avatar

This particular character is all of us. Thus, (s)he really can’t appear in an online genre.

The only instance of the Avatar being involved with the shards (to date) is his use of the corrupted shards the Shadowlords used as vessels in Ultima 5: Warriors of Destiny. Since the shards are closed worlds, it’s quite impossible for people to enter and leave them. (And suggesting as such in plotlines could be very rocky, since that would involve them appearing in Ultima Prime.) The only cross-shard occurrences are events, and the memories of some of the major characters, which clearly have some connection with their alternate selves across the shard continuum.

Could players become the Avatar? Possibly, but not altogether desirable. Aside from the fact Virtues are an intangible element in game, and only measurable by individual perception, it would also be a potential hotbed of trouble for the PR department. “The ‘Avatar’ of Ultima Online a criminal sex pervert IRL!” would be a good example of such titles to make PR personnel shudder.

The Avatar serves best as a name given by Lord British to the one who could champion his cause of Virtues by embodying them in every form, and also being the finder of the Codex, a lost and fabled artifact that he knows exists, somewhere…

Glossary of Terms


The original name of the country and continent that Lord British was given Lordship over. It eventually became known as the Lands of Lord British.

Avatar. The

The name Lord British has given to one who would successfully embody all the Virtues. The term is largely unknown to the populace.

Cataclysm, The

Name given to the massive tectonic alterations which occurred in every shard right after the shattering of the Gem of Immortality.

Gem of Immortality       

A powerful magical artifact. The jewel was originally a possession of Wolfgang, the last king of Akalabeth. He offered it to his second son, Mondain, in hopes that it would turn him back from the dark paths he trod. Mondain instead slew his father for the Gem, and twisted its powers to make himself immortal and wreck havoc upon Sosaria. The Gem was shattered by the Stranger, which created the Shards.

Nine, The

A slang term referring to the Magincian Parliament.

Shattering, The

The name given to the event where the Avatar slew Mondain by breaking the Gem of Immortality.

Stranger, The                   

The hero that slew Mondain. He is often confused with the Avatar of Lord British’s Virtue philosophy.

Ultima Prime

The single-player Ultima universe, outside the shards.


The last king of Akalabeth, and Mondain’s father. Wolfgang had two sons, the elder’s fate is unknown to this date.

Last modified: December 30, 2011

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