A while ago I got an email from Preacher, one of WoD's founding members, and in it he shared a lot of how WoD was started. I thought it was incredibly interesting and asked if I could post it publicly for everyone to read. He replied back with an updated and even more detailed account of the early days of the shard. I'm really thankful he and Aviendha took the time to do this as I think preserving this kind of history is very important. Hope you all enjoy.
The History of WoD as told by Preacher and Aviendha
Greetings and Salutations fellow travelers! So, you're curious about the origins of The World of Dreams, are you? Then prepare yourself for a riveting tale brimming with intrigue and excitement. It all started in the dusk of a crisp October evening back in 1997 as I read an article that spoke of a nascent revolution in the realm of computer gaming: using the internet to simultaneously connect multiple players in a single environment. For years, I had dabbled in the shadowy realm of MUDs and other text-based games via the now archaic channels of BBSes, so I was enchanted by the idea of a multiplayer game that had full color graphics and a persistent online world. Making the situation even more enticing was the fact that the game in question was an extension of a number of popular single player games that had ensnared my imagination since I was a kid, the Ultima series.
Ultima Online had been released only a few weeks prior (September 24, 1997 to be specific), and the world of Ultima, a once solitary journey, now bound together the fate of thousands of players, all tethered by the ever-reaching tendrils of the internet. I couldn’t be more excited. However, the article spoke of several issues that plagued this new realm: the server instability constantly casting players into frustrating time warps, users that cheated and exploited so often that it threw the economy into chaos, and, of course, the highly criticized PvP system.
During that autumn, my life was shackled to a soul-sucking job that seemed to drain the very essence of my being while at the same time I was grappling with the throes of a tumultuous breakup. The prospect of entering this problematic gaming world seemed like inviting yet another demon to take up residence in the already haunted corridors of my existence. So, I put the game out of my mind. For a while.
It was in April of 1998, when a twist of fate led me to cross paths with a new companion. She was a kindred spirit, a woman who had been steeped in the world of fantasy novels since her youth. It wasn’t just fantasy we had in common, as a child in the 1970s, she had been the envy of her peers, her father's eccentricity manifesting in the form of a four-player tabletop Pong arcade game that took up residence in their living room.
A mere eight weeks into our blossoming relationship, I posed the question: would she be intrigued by the idea of exploring the untamed territory of a fantasy-based online video game with me? To my elation, she agreed. After procuring a copy of the game, we retreated to my abode, eager to delve into this new digital realm. We huddled together before the battered visage of my trusty PC, the steady hum of my 9600 baud modem serenaded us as we embarked on our journey, signing up for the siren call of EA's digital world.
Logging in, we chose the Lake Superior shard due to the fact that we were living in Minneapolis. We collaborated in creating a character, bestowing upon her the name Harimad-Sol (taken from a mutually adored book entitled The Blue Sword). With youthful naivety and an eagerness for discovery, we ventured forth into the great unknown. As we meandered through this brave new world, we stumbled upon our first adversary: a seemingly innocuous hart. Confident in our fledgling abilities, we dared to challenge the creature, convinced it would be no match for us. To our dismay, the hart struck us down with swift, brutal force, leaving our character a spectral shell of her former self.
As Harimad-Sol’s ghost materialized, we frantically debated our next course of action, our minds racing with the urgency of resurrection. Fortune seemed to favor us as another player emerged from the digital ether, extending a helping hand to our stricken hero. Gratitude swelled within us as the stranger breathed life back into our character’s battered form.
But our reprieve was short-lived. Before we could utter a word of thanks, or warn the stranger of the vengeful hart, he struck Harimad-Sol down with a merciless blow, looting our meager possessions. With a cackle that chilled us to our very core, the treacherous player sneered, "hahhahahahaahaahhha dumass noob" before vanishing into the shadows from whence he came.
Harimad-Sol's spectral form hovered forlornly, a mere ten minutes into our digital odyssey, and we found ourselves at a crossroads. Our ethereal existence within the game left us adrift, the desolate forest bearing silent witness to our anguish. As we weighed our options, the questions hung heavily in the air like a thick fog: Should we erase Harimad-Sol's very existence and begin anew? Seek aid from strangers, despite our recent betrayal? Or simply surrender to our fate, returning the game to the store from whence it came?
The game's merciless difficulty loomed over us like a storm cloud–if a lowly hart could deliver us unto death, and fellow players would resurrect us only to revel in our demise, perhaps it was best to abandon our quest before the darkness consumed us entirely. The specter of defeat whispered to us, tempting us to relinquish our grip on the digital world of Ultima and retreat to the safety of our “real” lives.
In that moment of despair, the fates intervened, weaving a new thread of hope into our story. A pair of wandering souls, their hearts bound by camaraderie and goodwill, crossed our path. They safely escorted us through the twisting, treacherous forest to the sanctuary of Skara Brae, where they breathed life back into the dispirited form of Harimad-Sol.
In the bustling square outside the bank, they bestowed upon us gifts: armor to shield our vulnerable form, weapons to wield in the face of adversity, and a modest cache of gold to line our pockets. This benevolent duo, Shade and Dundee, selflessly dedicated themselves to our cause, spending the next few hours imparting their hard-won wisdom and guiding us through the labyrinthine mysteries of the game. It was then that they extended an invitation that would forever alter the course of our journey: they asked us to join their guild, TNO – The Nameless Ones.
In that fateful instant, we found ourselves embraced by a newfound family, a beacon of light to lead us through the darkness that lay ahead. The following day, emboldened by their generosity, we forged a second character, Corlath (Harimad-Sol’s paramour from The Blue Sword), and they welcomed him into the fold. As we delved deeper into the game, we danced a delicate duet between our two avatars: she, embodying the spirit of Harimad-Sol, and I, inhabiting the persona of Corlath. Together, using a single UO account, we alternated who got to login and when and for how long, our newfound family of Nameless Ones ever by our side.
As the warm embrace of August unfolded, my girlfriend and I found ourselves entwined in a dual infatuation: a blossoming love for one another and an unyielding call to play the game that had become a shared obsession. Compelled by our fervor, I procured a second computer and arranged for an additional phone line to be installed. I even splurged on two brand spankin’ new 28.8k baud modems. Our commitment to Ultima Online had swiftly become the centerpiece of many of our conversations.
Transforming my small apartment into a sanctuary where we could delve into the digital realm in tandem, we arranged our electronics in my tiny dining room, monitors pressed back to back, allowing us to steal glances at one another as we navigated the virtual landscape. She acquired her own copy of the game, and together we breathed life into a fresh pair of characters: Aviendha for her, and Preacher for me. Fueled by the flames of love and the intoxicating allure of adventure, we set forth on a journey to hone our skills and ascend the ranks of this treacherous world.
Scarce were the days when the familiar faces of Shade, Dundee, Preacher, Aviendha, and our fellow TNO brethren could not be found traversing the digital realm of Ultima, gathering in Skara Brae to extend a helping hand to those new to the game. Among our many cherished companions, Jemma, a spirited and youthful guild member, stood out as a constant presence by our side. This vibrant soul guided us in the art of PvP, his boundless energy and enthusiasm infusing our adventures with an invigorating vitality and humor. He was endlessly entertaining. Ever eager to share his knowledge, Jemma kept Aviendha and me well-versed in the latest tactics and clever stratagems, ensuring we remained at the forefront of our ever-evolving world. He was such an important part of our lives, we named one of our cats after him.
The allure of our digital escapades was a mystery that bewildered friends and family alike. They gazed upon our zeal with incredulity, unable to fathom the irresistible magnetism of the game. The notion of investing substantial sums into this virtual world was beyond their grasp, as was the idea of devoting an entire Sunday to the online adventure of “farming regs”.
A chorus of baffled murmurs met our explanations of attending virtual guild meetings, as we excused ourselves to return home and gather with our TNO brethren in cyberspace. The concept of forging meaningful friendships within this digital landscape proved equally confounding to those around us. To the uninitiated, these novel ideas were enigmatic, perplexing notions that lay just beyond the reach of their understanding.
In time, Shade and Dundee revealed their desire to unite their characters in virtual matrimony, and the choice of who would preside over their in-game nuptials was clear: the guy named Preacher. In stark contrast to modern times, when online weddings will bestow players with achievement rewards and the like, the notion of a digital marriage was met with skepticism and bemusement. Many deemed it peculiar, bizarre, and utterly foolish.
Yet, despite the naysayers, the union of Shade and Dundee captivated the attention of numerous staff members and countless players, who gathered to bear witness to the much-anticipated event. I devoted hours to crafting the perfect speech, consumed with anxiety that any misstep might tarnish the sanctity of the occasion. The Wedding of Shade and Dundee reverberated through the community, and even now, screen captures of the ceremony continue to circulate, a testament to the enduring impact of their unconventional bond.
In the budding blossoms of April 1999, Aviendha and I took our union beyond the confines of the virtual world, exchanging vows not only in the game but in reality as well. Newly married, we settled into an apartment in a Minneapolis neighborhood that had been graced with the city's pioneering DSL lines. Eager to embrace the cutting-edge technology, we signed up for a year of blazing 256k speeds and procured a pair of state-of-the-art machines, the most formidable available at the time.
Our devotion to Ultima Online remained unwavering, but our list of grievances had burgeoned. We yearned for more from the game than the developers seemed willing to provide, our restless spirits seeking enhancements and improvements that would rekindle the passion we once held for our digital haven. Like many players, we dreamt of a shard free from involuntary PvP.
As projects like UOX, RunUO, and POL began to gain momentum, I delved into researching them, contemplating whether I could create one tailored to our desires. The obstacle I faced, however, was that the coding required surpassed my capabilities. During a late-night conversation with Dundee, he confessed that while the coding posed no challenge for him, it was the myriad other tasks—such as server hosting, website maintenance, user management, and most crucially, the décor—that daunted him.
In that moment of shared understanding, we agreed that by joining forces, and with the aid of Avienda and Shade, we could enhance EA's original design in ways they refused to. Although POL was still in beta, Dundee and I found it more appealing than the alternatives. Engaging in spirited discussions about the nature of the shard we envisioned, the rules we would implement, and other crucial aspects, Dundee set to work on the foundational code while I tackled the server, website, and forum setup. A few weeks later the shard known as "Tel'aran'rhiod" came into existence.
However, it wasn't long before heated debates erupted over the use of Robert Jordan's term "Tel'aran'rhiod." Players passionately discussed the legal and moral implications, often becoming incensed with one another over such seemingly trivial details. Wanting to avoid unnecessary strife about something so inconsequential, I decided to take matters into my own hands. One fateful evening, without talking to anyone else first, I took the server, website, and forums offline, rebranded them, and relaunched the following day. As it turned out, the majority of players neither appreciated nor understood the meaning of "Tel'aran'rhiod" and favored the new moniker—one that would endure for years to come: The World of Dreams.
The shard took off with a few hundred eager players signing up. After the initial couple of weeks, the server was never empty, always bustling with at least a handful of active users. Those seeking a PvE environment were enamored, while PvP enthusiasts quickly moved on. What remained was a harmonious group of players all craving the same experience: a world where the only perils came from monstrous adversaries, not fellow players. A close-knit community emerged, built on mutual support, so the banning of players was a rare occurrence.
As users made requests, Dundee and I deliberated over them and endeavored to incorporate their desires. Dundee handled the coding, while Aviendha and Shade were responsible for the deco design, leaving me to tackle the rest. The persistent challenge Aviendha faced each day was the arduous deco process. It became apparent that we required some kind of sysadmin tool to assist with deco, design, and server maintenance, but there was no such tool available for POL. At that time, my real-world job had assigned me a project in PASCAL—a language I was unfamiliar with. Since I now had to learn and employ Pascal at work, I chose to code a rudimentary piece of software dubbed "The Hand of Dundee" in PASCAL.
Things progressed merrily for a while. Our player base grew so large that we upgraded to a 512k DSL connection as soon as it became available, despite the cost exceeding our expectations. Dundee and I both had side projects beyond WOD, and it began to become apparent that our preferences for game-play design were diverging. We found ourselves agreeing less and less on WOD's future, so Dundee increasingly dedicated his time to his PvP project, while I focused on other gaming obsessions, like the Quake and Diablo 2 LAN parties that Aviendha and I hosted.
Contrary to claims that the lack of PvP was sucking the life from the server, the reality was quite the opposite—the server flourished. The problem wasn’t the server, the problem was that Dundee was bored with it. By the time Dundee landed a job at LucasArts working on Star Wars Galaxies, his interest in The World of Dreams had severely waned, and my problem was that maintaining a private server was a very expensive undertaking (particularly back then). After a short discussion between Dundee, Shade, Aviendha and I, we all concurred that it was time to pass the torch to those we trusted to cherish and nurture WoD as we once had. With that decision, my tenure as a founder, coder, financier, staff member, and designer for The World of Dreams came to an end.
WOD was born amidst a whirlwind of passion, collaboration, and innovation. Through the shared vision and hard work of a tight-knit team, a vibrant community arose, woven together by the common threads of friendship, adventure, and a dedication to the realm they inhabited. It was a testament to the power of imagination, the resilience of the human spirit, and the unyielding allure of a dream brought to life. And so my fellow travelers, that’s the story of how The World of Dreams came to be.
-Preacher & Aviendha
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