Dragon Slaying 102: Unsung Heroes
The next story focuses on valuable artifacts known as "sigils" in Ultima Online. Ownership of these sigils grants important powers within the game.
Ultima Online: Sigils
I was the Commanding Lord (elected leader) of the True Britannians faction in UO. One of the objectives of factions is to capture various 'sigils', small gems that represent control of a given city. If you can keep a sigil on its pedestal for 24 hours straight (in theory), the sigil becomes 'corrupt', meaning you can take it to the corresponding city and place it on the pedestal there to take control of the city's finances and security. Other factions try to achieve the same goals, and when one faction has one or more sigils squirreled away in its stronghold, it's a good bet other factions are going to launch a raid to come and take the sigils. Or, they may try a sneakier approach, sending in stealthy thieves.
Only faction members can handle sigils, and only faction members can enter a faction HQ, so anyone inside an HQ is either your friend or your enemy. Through sneakiness and exploitation of enemy laziness, my faction had captured the sigils for all 8 contested cities. We'd held them all in our base for quite some time, constantly expecting an attack and trying to arrange a sufficient force to guard the base against enemy faction raids around the clock... 24 hours continuous is the requirement.
But it was difficult because people had distractions. Adults had real life responsibilities creep up and had to attend to them, kids got bored just sitting there, and were easily distracted by enemy feints in other locations. We had never taken the cities before, and the most powerful of the factions, Minax, had held the cities for literally months on end without interruption. As it became almost time for some of the sigils to start corrupting, we grew more and more nervous and started really working hard to keep our troops in place to defend.
Eventually, the expected attack came, and not one of the sigils had yet corrupted at that point. The sigil room inside the TB headquarters is a ways back from the main gate in the outer wall, and it was there that my troops had assembled their defense and dug in. When the attack came, everyone in the sigil room rushed out to the front lines to hold the fort, while I sat listening to the battle reports and waiting for the sigils to corrupt. Finally, even as our defenses were being breached and our last warrior fell dead, the sigil for the city of Trinsic became corrupted. I shouted via the party chat system for support and a distraction, and I siezed the sigil and sprinted out the front--I was going to have to run right through the front line to get out and into the countryside.
No magic can be used in transporting a sigil, so even if I made it through the line, I'd have a long ride ahead, with my enemies nipping at my heels. When a person grabs a sigil, he and his clothing are flushed with a brilliant purple color. As I rushed out the front door of our castle, two enemy raiders ran in past me. Because I was glowing purple, they mistook me for one of their comrades who'd gotten to the prize first, and kept right on going to grab sigils of their own.
When i came to our fortifications, witnessing the aftermath of a massive battle with many TB casualties and only a few dead Minax troops, I realized I hadn't participated in the construction of a barrier which had been erected specifically to make it hard to see how to get to the other side, to slow or stop the enemy advance. Unfortunately, it also slowed and stopped me, and I was trapped there unable to go forward. I wasn't about to go backwards, and it wasn't long before the Minax streaming through some other hole in the fortifications realized I wasn't one of them. I was slain, and the sigil fell into enemy hands.
But once a sigil is corrupted, it stays corrupted until it is used to seize its city, or until another faction corrupts it for their own use.... meaning they'd have to secure it for 24 hours in THEIR base. And that is just what Minax tried to do. Hours after our defeat, weary from the long night but energized by adrenaline because of coming so close to our goal which was not yet out of reach, I led three other warriors--only four of us, total-- into the Minax base. Two sentries were posted there, and no fortifications had been erected. They apparently believed they'd broken our will to fight. They were wrong. The guards were not experts at player versus player combat, and they were outnumbered 2 to 1. One of them died, and the other ran for his life.
We made off with four of the coveted sigils, most importantly the corrupted Trinsic sigil. Long before Minax reinforcements arrived on the scene, my comrades and I were gone with our prizes. I made a beeline to Trinsic with two allies in tow. When I arrived, I discovered that four of Minax's fiercest fighters (any of whom was more than a match for me) were waiting, and they had hired at least 20 NPC faction guards. They were all patrolling the area surrounding the pedestal on which I had to place the corrupted sigil to seize the city. I realized that they had not been leaving their base undefended so much due to underestimating my people, as it was due to the fact that they were making preparations to defend the Trinsic pedestal in case the sigil WERE stolen.
We made a valiant effort at distraction and a mad rush to the pedestal, but the players weren't biting on our bait and the NPCs were literally unable to do anything but guard where they had been ordered to guard. So we three died. But we were not finished yet. Remember, we had 24 hours again until Minax could corrupt the sigil for themselves. Taking it from them at any point in that window would start the timer over, giving us another 24 hours. And as long as it was corrupted in our favor, all we had to do was get it to Trinsic.
The next morning, I organized a massive assault on the Minax fortifications I rallied all available troops (about 10 or 15 of us), made sure everyone had every scrap of gear they could possibly need, gave the pep talks, and led them to the wall of the Minax stronghold. This time, Minax was literally ready and waiting. Once we got there, a tremendous battle ensued. The largest, most involved, and longest lasting PvP battle I've ever seen, participated in, or even heard of. We laid siege to their castle. Archers and mages stood atop their parapets, flinging death and destruction down at us as we huddled for cover behind earthworks and ridges near the front of their base. My people returned fire, hurling exploding potions and arrows and spells of our own. Tamed dragons were brought in, and daemons and elementals were summoned. The coordination of the Minax defenses was somewhat shaky, but there were at least as many of them holed up in there as there were of us outside.
For a long time, we slaughtered any Minax reinforcements who tried to make it in their front gate, but we weren't making any more progress at that same task ourselves. Traps had been laid and barriers placed, overlapping fields of fire and the chokepoint of the fortress gateway were murder on any of my people who attempted a breach. Gradually, we worked our way forward, destroying or removing various barriers, but we paid a terrible price in casualties. We had set up an aid station about a screen away from the front line, where our ghosts would run for resurrection and healing, but we couldn't res as fast as Minax would kill us whenever we go too close to the gateway.
Eventually our supplies began to run low, and it was hard to get anyone with a surplus to part with it for others of our team in need, unless they volunteered it themselves. Despite Minax's fortified positions, we had killed more than half the defenders, and their ability to resurrect was limited by their own supplies trapped inside with them. Attrition was beginning to work for us, but for every time we killed a Minax defender, three or four of us would go down.
I had difficulty coordinating any strategy more complex than the impromptu aid station, because when the chips are down and a person's life (and loot) are at stake, folks have a tendency to run for cover and heal up before they do ANYTHING else. A very understandable tendency, and it would take a much more experienced team of folks used to working with each other in order to overcome that natural panic reaction. On top of that, many of my peole got discouraged after a few deaths and not much progress, and several of these left and went to do other things, or logged off UO altogether. The base was too well-defended, and eventually our battle was lost after many hours (I myself had had time to go and have dinner with my family and come back home and rejoin the fight, it lasted that long). All this happened at least three years ago, but as you can tell, it was a very memorable experience for me, and I'm sure for many others. [UO, M, 29]
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