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Fresh From The Oven: More Tales of an Omnipotent Public Servant

2:00 PM on 08.27.2009 // Sean Carey

In the comments of the second edition of TOPS, many of you in the Dtoid community voiced their desire for a third installment of Ultima Online stories. With a few other write-ups in the rear-view mirror, I'm happy to oblige and bring you another hearty helping of comforting nostalgia! If you haven't read this series before, feel free to check out TOPS Part 1 & TOPS Part 2.

"Well met, traveller! Fortune smiles on me once more, to be graced even briefly with such worthy companionship. Or any companionship. These forsaken servers are a mere shadow of their former glory. But they were once dynamic and teeming with avatars, and I grew to know and love them all. If you have the desire, I can summon a portal to give you yet another glimpse into a time when I was charged with the protection and stewardship of a vast realm.

Have you brought the necessary reagents? Excellent. They will act as a beacon to draw us into the time of their ascendance. Place them on the circle in the four directions. To the north, Goldeneye 007. To the east, Diablo. To the south, Fallout. And to the west, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. Good! It's working, I can see ConAir in my mind's eye! Join me inside, quickly!" 

Games keep on slippin', slippin', slippin'. . . into the future.

Reservoir Sharks

Britannia was not a safe place for the naive. The learning curve for new players was steep and demanding. It was tough to survive long enough to get the necessary skills and equipment to thrive, unless you had a friend to help you out as you built up your character. This resulted in a dynamic where you had a constant influx of new players attempting to make nice with established players in towns.

This also resulted in roving bands of predators just waiting for newbies to get impatient and wander outside the womb-like safety of the town guard. The siren call of "Can you help me get some gear? I'm new ..." was like chum in the water for these sharks. Anyone unwise enough to leave the town without ensuring the coast was clear became just another meal.

Players foolish enough to venture out of the shallows were few and far between, so the sharks had to get creative to make sure they had enough guppies to stay fed. Player-killers in UO had their handles flagged in red, so even the fresh meat knew to stay away from them. What evolved was schools of griefers who kept at least one member of their group in good standing.

There was a group of player-killers that had a great deal of success who took their inspiration from Quentin Tarantino. Many a new player would find themselves looking for handouts near the bank only to find themselves in a pleasant conversation with a player by the name of Mr. Orange. Before long, the silver-tongued Mr. Orange would work his magic, and the guppy would find themselves swimming blindly behind the shark with visions of free loot and powerful allies dancing in their heads.

Once the hapless victim had been led away from town and near the griefer's base of operations, that's when the carnage began. Mr. Orange would tell the player that he wanted to introduce him to the rest of the guild. That was the cue for Mr. Blonde, Mr. White, Mr. Pink, and Nice Guy Eddie to come rushing in and fireball spam. Fresh meat barbecue. Their machinations, while cheap, didn't violate the game's Terms of Service. As a GM, I couldn't do anything for the victims who would inevitably page me for assistance except offer some fatherly advice about not taking candy from strangers.

I saw this scam in action a handful of times, and I couldn't help but feel bad for the new players who just wanted to learn the game and have a good time. But at the same time, there was a dark little part of me that got a real kick out of what happened next. Once the killing was over, the corpse looted, and the gear divvied up -- Mr. White would always say, "I'm hungry. Let's go get a taco."

Ultima Online, like any online community, was a self-regulating organism. The Reservoir Sharks eventually got their come-uppance as the forces of good got fed up with their antics and gave them a taste of their own medicine. But that's a story for another time.

Now that's a well-dressed team of griefers!

I've Fallen (In Love). . . and I Can't Get Up!

I always strove for fairness in the execution of my GM duties. While there were some players that I enjoyed interacting with more than others, I never gave those players any advantages, items, or special favors. The extent of my corruption was fairly benign. If two or more pages came into my queue around the same time, I would give priority to the players who made their help requests courteously. It sometimes pays to have manners, kids.

Other GMs weren't always as conscientious. I had to deal with plenty of players upset because I wouldn't afford them the same luxuries as other Game Masters. This was a common conversation --

Player: "cmon, man! GM so-and-so always teleports me when I ask!"
GM Backlash: "If I see GM so-and-so, I'll be sure to tell them you need a lift."
Player: "that's lame. you're a sucky GM."
GM Backlash: "I'm sorry you feel that way. Have a nice walk."

Since the word through the grapevine was that being friends with a GM had some perks, I also had my share of people trying to suck up for their ultimate benefit. Players would sometimes call for help just for the sake of getting me to show up so that they could make small talk in the hopes that they'd end up with a demigod on their side.

People would come up with any excuse to page you for help, much like the gal who leaves an earring at your place so that she can call you later that day without seeming clingy.

I remember one guy who was quite fond of playing the damsel (damsir?) in distress. UO, being played from an isometric view, had its share of glitches when it came to the z-axis. Any place there were a lot of elevation changes, there would also be the occasional tile where a character could get stuck in the map. Unless they had magical means of escape, they were forced to page me for divine intervention. Yes, I was an in-game Medic Alert bracelet for the shard population.

Knowing this, this guy would seek out tiles to get stuck on so he would have an excuse to talk to me. The first few times, I thought nothing of it and dealt with him cordially. But as the frequency of his pages increased (sometimes 4-5 times in a night) -- his creepy intentions became obvious very quickly. I was never mean or rude, but I had a job to do, and this guy was honestly making me a little weirded out.

"hey backlash! thanks for helping! whats ur favorite band?"
"you're awesome, man. i heard you give cool players stuff. i'm pretty cool!"
"sorry i got stuk again. that robe looks sweet dude! can i wear it?"

So I began showing up invisible to teleport him out of glitched tiles, and he finally got the message when I started dropping items into the glitched spaces afterwards to ensure that my cyber-stalker would have no more legitimate reasons to go all Cable Guy on me. Moral of the story -- flattery will get you everywhere, including into a restraining order.

Save me, GM Backlash -- You're my only hope!

I Am The Man -- Ergo, It Is Stuck To Me

Up until now, I've told a lot of stories where I come out looking pretty snappy. In the interest of full disclosure, I got just as good as I gave in my interactions with the player population. You can't please all of the people all of the time. Being a person, and not an actual deity as my avatar would suggest, there were times when I could have done a better job. How did I know?

Simple. I was interacting with other gamers. Gamers are nothing if not willing to voice their frustrations. Despite the vitriol that was often spewed all over my bitchin' red robes, I always found myself amused with the creative ways in which UO players chose to give me the business.

One player chose to spread his message through the written word. After being alerted by a page from a concerned citizen, I began to discover books in all the major cities with poll questions inscribed. Some examples included such glowing appraisals as --

GM Backlash -- Bad GM or Worst GM Ever?
If GM Backlash were literally a pile of turds instead of just figuratively, how many pounds would he weigh?

On the verbal front, I had a group of players harass me for about a week after banning one of their guildmembers. The banning was legitimate, but that was beside the fact for these innovative protesters. Several times a shift, they would create a dummy character whose handle I didn't recognize and then page me for a bogus reason. They would then wait in silence until I appeared, so that I wouldn't catch on.

When I showed up, the guild would join their voices in unison to send me a complex and poignant message -- "GM Backlash. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO".

This happened about 20 times over the course of a week. I know that I should have been annoyed or taken some action to stop the protests since they were keeping me from answering other calls, but I was always too busy laughing at their trolling antics to drop the hammer.

Finally, being a huge fan of puns and wordplay myself, my favorite instances of GM hate took the form of name permutation. Some were fairly benign and clever. Many players, going with a PC themed twist, were fond of calling me "GM Backslash". This was later shortened to just "/". Another one of my favorites was "GM Backwash."

But the real gem, which must have taken the furious player a legal pad's worth of brainstorming to develop, took me back to the days of simple and passionate junior-high insults. I'll leave you with this shining apex of gamer witticism --

"GM Backlash? More like GM Asshatch!"

I tell ya', GMs get no respect. No respect at all!

Sean Carey,
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