[OOC] Britannia: A Post-Apocalyptic Setting?

Greetings, all.

I was looking back through some of my earlier musings, and I came upon this thread, which I had forgotten that I had ever written. It was an intriguing idea at the time, something that I thought might prompt some thoughtful discussion, which it did.

I want to share it again, because ten years later, I believe it is still a relevant and interesting take on Ultima lore.

* * *

"The world now fallen. All torn and undone until it is remade whole again but different. Where I was is no longer where I am yet I have not moved a step. Fate has swallowed the world and spat it out, gnawed, ruined, changed. We are lost in our own land."
- All That Remains, Britannian News Network: An Introduction to Ilshenar - Part 1.

I recently had an interesting discussion with a fellow roleplayer on Baja. It was just after midnight and we were stuck watching the house of an old friend shift from 'Greatly Worn' to 'In Danger of Collapsing.' It came as a shock to both us (neither having seen this individual in months) and it wasn't how we planned to spend the evening. But we were determined to be there to rescue any items of sentimental or historical value before the carrion eaters picked it apart; even if it meant loosing sleep in the exchange.

We couldn't find an excuse to remain IC; the two characters are itching to kill one another. And we had a more important task at hand than gutting each other in the middle of the woods. So we hid ourselves and began discussing the Lore of Ultima Online. Questions such as where the denizens of Montor fled when the volcano erupted (drawing allusions to a UO Atlantis) and what would be the perfect new villain to replace the Shadowlords (we agreed that the developers need to be allowed the freedom to branch out and create new stories and villains rather than recycle Ultima canon). And then she said something that struck me.

"You know... I've always interpreted UO as a post-apocalyptic setting."

Wait... what?

But that was the grease these gears needed. I began to consider things I hadn't before; elements of our storyline that have been largely forgotten or ignored. You wouldn't know - with how bright and peaceful the world is so often portrayed - that just a generation ago the land was gripped in a conflict that eclipsed anything our characters have ever had thrown at them. You wouldn't realize with how clean and tidy the cities are presented that they've been invaded and destroyed time and time again; with cities such as Trinsic and Vesper housing scores of refugees from Magincia. You wouldn't know that the human race is a fraction of what it once was - surviving genocide - and in the span of one generation has fallen far from the power of a people that built the Stygian Abyss and who bent the Ninth Circle to their collective will.

Think about it. Before Britannia there was Akalabeth. Was it a Kingdom? Was it an Empire? We don't really know. Some people choose to interpret it as being akin to the Roman Empire. Others see it as Carolingian France (Charlemange and the Holy Roman Empire); noting that the mainland continent was described as being divided amongst several feudal lords before British united it under his rule. But that is our interpretation, based on little more than a small Kingdom rising from its ashes with elements of medieval Britain; complete with an Arthurian monarch, his sorcerous advisor, a traitorous friend, and a Messianic figure who would one day be sent on a Holy Quest. We have precious little lore to tell us what Sosaria was like before our characters parents walked it. Our parents and grandparents were Akalabethan. Our characters are (for the most part) Britannian. That is a major break. One our characters should be cognascent of.

But we do know a little about the world that came before Britannia. Akalabeth was ruled by Wolfgang. He had two sons; the youngest of whom was named Mondain. Cantabrigian British was no more than a Knight mentored by Shamino Salle Dacil and Blackthorne was his closest (albeit jealous) friend. We know the land was fertile and that the civilization that came before us was much more advanced than we are. And then Mondain murdered his father and thrust the world (comprised of eight known kingdoms) into a war that would end in in the Akalabethan Kingdom (renamed Britannia) being the only visible survivor.

Mondain didn't conquer the world overnight. Several years passed between the assassination of Wolfgang and his first excursion against Akalabeth. He created a number of new creatures to aid him in his conquest. Orcs. Ratmen. Exodus. He conquered and destroyed with (I am speculating here) the intent to remake the world in his perverse image. He was defeated by Cantabrigian (who was then made King of Akalabeth); and was forced to regroup and practice destroying seven other empires before he would return to bring the Akalabethans to their knees.

"Mondain the wizard hath wrought his malice well. Our nobles bicker amongst themselves, and each hath retired to the confines of his keep in hopes of watching the downfall of his rivals. Velily, the Evil One hath heaped indignity upon curse by releasing upon the Realm a host of creatures and beasts so bloodthirsty and wicked that our defenseless people fall as grain before the reaper's scythe. These denizens of the underworld hold sway over all that can be surveyed, save for the strongholds of the nobles besotted with their own ambition. Nowhere in our once peaceful country may a traveler find safe passage or lodging, save in the keeps of the self-proclaimed kings - - and they demand hard labors for their indulgences."
- Unknown​

It might be cliche but being an orphan whose parents were murdered by Orcs is exactly what happened to most living Britannians.

The Stranger then shatters the Gem; inadvertantly causing destruction on a much larger scale than Mondain had ever intended. He is known as the Destroyer to the people of Ilshenar and the False Prophet to the Gargoyles. Continents rose and sank. Volcanos erupted. We know that Britannia looked nothing like the one we know now; and it is plausible that more than half of Akalabeth lies beneath the bottom of the Great Ocean. (Magincia and Nujel'm may have once been connected to the mainland. It would explain the lack of beaches or land that slopes gently into the sea. We know with relative certainty that the entrance to the Underworld sank beneath the waves along with the rest of the pre-Britannic continent and rose again when the super-volcano beneath it ruptured and lifted the shelf back to the surface.)

Then British had to reunite and rebuild a people that had fallen back into the Dark Ages. There was the Britannic Civil War between British and his brother Lord Robert. We had Minax and Blackthorne. Exodus. Minax, again. The Ophidians. The Shadowlords. And it looks like we'll be fighting Minax, again. War after war that tore what was already a fragmented and weakened race into shreds. The Royal Council has barely managed to maintain their hold on the continent in the absense of British and Queen Dawn doesn't appear to be faring much better. The Council of Mages and the Secessionist Magincian Parliment no longer has a people to rule. One facet is stuck in a state of endless winter. Two others are being consumed by the Void.

I am almost thinking that destruction on such a massive scale warrants a more visible place in our stories and fiction; especially when it happened only a couple decades ago in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps Britannia isn't so cheerful or idyllic? How do our characters react knowing the world just barely survived complete annihilation? What stories could your characters parents or grandparents have told them of the previous kingdoms? What treasures and heirlooms remain of our not-too-distant past? And what lies at the bottom of the Great Ocean?

I think perhaps it is time we begin to reimagine the world our characters live in. A world that is darker and closer to the brink of annihilation than we ever imagined.

Discuss.

Comments

  • IvenorIvenor Posts: 1,120
    Greetings, all.

    I was looking back through some of my earlier musings, and I came upon this thread, which I had forgotten that I had ever written. It was an intriguing idea at the time, something that I thought might prompt some thoughtful discussion, which it did.

    I want to share it again, because ten years later, I believe it is still a relevant and interesting take on Ultima lore.

    * * *

    "The world now fallen. All torn and undone until it is remade whole again but different. Where I was is no longer where I am yet I have not moved a step. Fate has swallowed the world and spat it out, gnawed, ruined, changed. We are lost in our own land."
    - All That Remains, Britannian News Network: An Introduction to Ilshenar - Part 1.

    I recently had an interesting discussion with a fellow roleplayer on Baja. It was just after midnight and we were stuck watching the house of an old friend shift from 'Greatly Worn' to 'In Danger of Collapsing.' It came as a shock to both us (neither having seen this individual in months) and it wasn't how we planned to spend the evening. But we were determined to be there to rescue any items of sentimental or historical value before the carrion eaters picked it apart; even if it meant loosing sleep in the exchange.

    We couldn't find an excuse to remain IC; the two characters are itching to kill one another. And we had a more important task at hand than gutting each other in the middle of the woods. So we hid ourselves and began discussing the Lore of Ultima Online. Questions such as where the denizens of Montor fled when the volcano erupted (drawing allusions to a UO Atlantis) and what would be the perfect new villain to replace the Shadowlords (we agreed that the developers need to be allowed the freedom to branch out and create new stories and villains rather than recycle Ultima canon). And then she said something that struck me.

    "You know... I've always interpreted UO as a post-apocalyptic setting."

    Wait... what?

    But that was the grease these gears needed. I began to consider things I hadn't before; elements of our storyline that have been largely forgotten or ignored. You wouldn't know - with how bright and peaceful the world is so often portrayed - that just a generation ago the land was gripped in a conflict that eclipsed anything our characters have ever had thrown at them. You wouldn't realize with how clean and tidy the cities are presented that they've been invaded and destroyed time and time again; with cities such as Trinsic and Vesper housing scores of refugees from Magincia. You wouldn't know that the human race is a fraction of what it once was - surviving genocide - and in the span of one generation has fallen far from the power of a people that built the Stygian Abyss and who bent the Ninth Circle to their collective will.

    Think about it. Before Britannia there was Akalabeth. Was it a Kingdom? Was it an Empire? We don't really know. Some people choose to interpret it as being akin to the Roman Empire. Others see it as Carolingian France (Charlemange and the Holy Roman Empire); noting that the mainland continent was described as being divided amongst several feudal lords before British united it under his rule. But that is our interpretation, based on little more than a small Kingdom rising from its ashes with elements of medieval Britain; complete with an Arthurian monarch, his sorcerous advisor, a traitorous friend, and a Messianic figure who would one day be sent on a Holy Quest. We have precious little lore to tell us what Sosaria was like before our characters parents walked it. Our parents and grandparents were Akalabethan. Our characters are (for the most part) Britannian. That is a major break. One our characters should be cognascent of.

    But we do know a little about the world that came before Britannia. Akalabeth was ruled by Wolfgang. He had two sons; the youngest of whom was named Mondain. Cantabrigian British was no more than a Knight mentored by Shamino Salle Dacil and Blackthorne was his closest (albeit jealous) friend. We know the land was fertile and that the civilization that came before us was much more advanced than we are. And then Mondain murdered his father and thrust the world (comprised of eight known kingdoms) into a war that would end in in the Akalabethan Kingdom (renamed Britannia) being the only visible survivor.

    Mondain didn't conquer the world overnight. Several years passed between the assassination of Wolfgang and his first excursion against Akalabeth. He created a number of new creatures to aid him in his conquest. Orcs. Ratmen. Exodus. He conquered and destroyed with (I am speculating here) the intent to remake the world in his perverse image. He was defeated by Cantabrigian (who was then made King of Akalabeth); and was forced to regroup and practice destroying seven other empires before he would return to bring the Akalabethans to their knees.

    "Mondain the wizard hath wrought his malice well. Our nobles bicker amongst themselves, and each hath retired to the confines of his keep in hopes of watching the downfall of his rivals. Velily, the Evil One hath heaped indignity upon curse by releasing upon the Realm a host of creatures and beasts so bloodthirsty and wicked that our defenseless people fall as grain before the reaper's scythe. These denizens of the underworld hold sway over all that can be surveyed, save for the strongholds of the nobles besotted with their own ambition. Nowhere in our once peaceful country may a traveler find safe passage or lodging, save in the keeps of the self-proclaimed kings - - and they demand hard labors for their indulgences."
    - Unknown​

    It might be cliche but being an orphan whose parents were murdered by Orcs is exactly what happened to most living Britannians.

    The Stranger then shatters the Gem; inadvertantly causing destruction on a much larger scale than Mondain had ever intended. He is known as the Destroyer to the people of Ilshenar and the False Prophet to the Gargoyles. Continents rose and sank. Volcanos erupted. We know that Britannia looked nothing like the one we know now; and it is plausible that more than half of Akalabeth lies beneath the bottom of the Great Ocean. (Magincia and Nujel'm may have once been connected to the mainland. It would explain the lack of beaches or land that slopes gently into the sea. We know with relative certainty that the entrance to the Underworld sank beneath the waves along with the rest of the pre-Britannic continent and rose again when the super-volcano beneath it ruptured and lifted the shelf back to the surface.)

    Then British had to reunite and rebuild a people that had fallen back into the Dark Ages. There was the Britannic Civil War between British and his brother Lord Robert. We had Minax and Blackthorne. Exodus. Minax, again. The Ophidians. The Shadowlords. And it looks like we'll be fighting Minax, again. War after war that tore what was already a fragmented and weakened race into shreds. The Royal Council has barely managed to maintain their hold on the continent in the absense of British and Queen Dawn doesn't appear to be faring much better. The Council of Mages and the Secessionist Magincian Parliment no longer has a people to rule. One facet is stuck in a state of endless winter. Two others are being consumed by the Void.

    I am almost thinking that destruction on such a massive scale warrants a more visible place in our stories and fiction; especially when it happened only a couple decades ago in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps Britannia isn't so cheerful or idyllic? How do our characters react knowing the world just barely survived complete annihilation? What stories could your characters parents or grandparents have told them of the previous kingdoms? What treasures and heirlooms remain of our not-too-distant past? And what lies at the bottom of the Great Ocean?

    I think perhaps it is time we begin to reimagine the world our characters live in. A world that is darker and closer to the brink of annihilation than we ever imagined.

    Discuss.

    Kudos! Very well written post and with many an interesting point... :)
  • Thank you!
  • I think you're mixing a few different kinds of fruits just a bit. The term post-apocalyptic setting, to me and I think to others like me who consume these sorts of media, doesn't just mean "a setting that has had an apocalyptic event occur in the past," but has broader implications: Specifically it has implications of disorder, chaos (the bad kind of chaos), shortages of basic needs (in most MMOs by definition this'd mostly impact the NPCs but you get the idea), violence as an inevitable fact of daily life, tenuous or non-existent governmental and law enforcement structures, and things along those lines.

    UO's fiction surely includes at least one apocalyptic event (the Shattering) and probably more (the Tram/Fel break; the Minax invasion that led to it; the Ilshenar equivalent of the Shattering; the Ilshenar timeline breaks; the Haven timeline break; etc.)  -- and to the extent that RP exists in, and/or conflates around, the Felucca and Ilshenar facets, those elements I referenced above are definitely prominent as a general rule. (Though in very different ways, for very different reasons, and shown in-game in very different ways.)

    Having said that....If we go with the official fiction (more or less), then at least the main UO map (Britannia in Trammel) has a degree of stability, and a specific lack of want among most of the populace, that would make us the envy of almost every fantasy setting I'm aware of. (Some examples.....In both Skyrim and Westeros, things have fallen apart or are about to. In Thedas, the only reason things haven't fallen apart, as near as I can tell, is that they have better roads and a more-coherent infrastructure than Skyrim or Westeros do. In Middle Earth, at the end of LotR it's pretty clear that Good King Aragorn is going to have a rough time putting things back together.) The only time we broke from this, and on GL it was presented in an utterly fascinating and gritty realistic manner in the hands of EMs Malachi and Elizabella, was during the inter-regnum, between the reigns of Queen Dawn and King Blackthorn, when the realm basically splintered apart. (Also we had elements of a dystopia under False King Casca but that didn't seem to be as bad from the perspective of the day to day lives of the NPCs as was the inter-regnum.)

    Maybe not every RP community sees it that way (Europa was famous for trying to RP as based in RL medieval social categories as possible, and that included that lifestyles were very different between the various social categories). But that does, indeed, seem to be how the official fiction has described things.

    Having said that.....There's very, very clearly some dark elements at work. Right now Britannia seems to face, at minimum, two separate potential world-ending threats: Relvinian and The Entity Behind the Fellowship. Minax, the Clockwork Exodus and its cult, the ant worshiping tribe of Eodon, and probably more enemies I have forgotten about are contained, but not defeated. And there is a never-ending parade of new enemies, whether provided on a game-wide basis, shard by shard by the EMs, or by players, to face.

    And most RP I've been a part of has acknowledged this one way or the other, though of course the reactions have varied a lot character by character, and community by community. Would that make the setting post-apocalyptic? My feeling would be no. Would that make the setting darker than we often give it credit for? My feeling would be yes, and in all the fiction I write and the way I portray my character in-game I try to portray this to the best of my limited ability.

    So I guess my answer would be maybe, and no, and yes most certainly, and sometimes, and perhaps, all rolled into one.
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