The Virtue System
A Summary of The Virtue System, Designed by Jonathan "Calandryll" Hanna [Edited by Joshua Rowan]
As many longtime fans of Ultima will tell you, one of the most unique features of its gaming world is the fact that they center around philisophical morality issues. These issues, as designed by Richard "Lord British" Garriott, many years ago consist of three Principles - Truth, Love, and Courage. Derived from those Principles Lord British came up with 8 Virtues in which he wanted his players to learn and understand. From Truth we gain Honesty. Love leads to Compassion. And from Courage grows Valor. By combining Truth and Love we get a better understanding of Justice. Love and Courage combined is Sacrifice. Truth and Courage is Honor. All three principles together brings us Spirituality. And the lack of all three brings pride, the opposite of which is Humility. This philosophy has come to be known as the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.

With this in mind, I present to you a brand new system for Ultima Online, The Virtue System. First, here is the design document from Calandryll, as was posted on the In Development section of on October 18, 2001.

- Joshua Rowan


The Virtues: Part One
September 12, 2001

I've been giving a lot of thought to this Comments from the Team, wracking my brain, trying to come up with an interesting topic that would generate some debate and give some insight into my own philosophies about a system. The problem was, I had a tough time coming up with a topic that I had not already talked about and that I was also passionate about. After reading posts on the boards from players about different topics, and thinking back to the ideas that interested me most as a player, it suddenly became very clear what I should talk about.

The Virtues. No system of ideals affected my own role-playing more than the virtues. My guild's charter was based on the virtues, my character's role-playing focused on them greatly, and the first design post I ever wrote on a UO fan-site board was a virtue system. Looking back, that design was horribly unbalanced and really didn't capture what the virtues are all about. Which is why, now that I have a couple of years of professional experience with UO under my belt, I would like to talk about them.

So let’s start with what the virtues are not. The virtues are not a system of government or laws, a way to judge a good person vs. a bad person, or a reputation system. As Lord Blackthorn taught us in Ultima V, trying to use the virtues in such a manner will only lead to disaster. You cannot judge a person as "un-virtuous" and declare them a bad person. A person can completely ignore the concept of the virtues and still be a good person. In fact, in many ways the virtues contradict each other. For instance:

You are a town guard. You see a man stealing bread from a local vendor to feed his starving family. You also know that the man who runs the vendor just barely makes enough profit to feed his own family and the theft could hurt him. Do you a) bring the thief to justice to save the vendor's business, or b) show compassion and let the theft slide this one time? Now I know many of you will answer neither and try to come up with a different solution. But humor me with this example. No matter which you choose, you will be "upholding" a virtue and at the same time "breaking" a virtue. But, neither choice is "wrong" and, depending on your outlook, either choice can be considered "virtuous". So how do you judge someone who makes one of those two choices? I submit to you that you do not. The virtues are not about judging people.

So what are the virtues then? To me, the virtues are about a few things, but two things that stand out for me are personal fulfillment and helping others. The virtues are a personal choice and every person can and will interpret the virtues differently. They are not about laws or about trying to force behavior, more so, they are about intentions and beliefs. If you subscribe to this line of thought, it makes coding a system of virtues difficult, but at the same time, it's also what makes the virtues so wonderful and unique. Coding a system based on something that is not black and white and is so subject to interpretation is not going to be easy...and such a task would have to involve some compromise. But, I do believe that any system based on the virtues needs to capture the essence of the virtues and be meaningful to those that choose to take the path.

Another question I hear a lot is "should people be rewarded for following the virtues?" I believe the answer to that is "yes." The Avatar in Ultima IV was rewarded whenever he completed a task and "attained" a virtue. But, I do not believe that Ultima IV is a good example of how the virtues should be implemented in UO. One does not "attain" a virtue. The virtues are not a goal. They are a that is never ending and always changing. While we absolutely should use the single player Ultimas as a guide when thinking about the virtues, we cannot allow ourselves to blindly ignore the aspects in those games that would not work in a massively multiplayer game. Again, given that this would be essentially coding a system that a computer would have to interpret (which basically means converting something to numbers), based on a system that is about personal growth and keeping into account that there are hundreds of thousands more people playing the same game than in a single player game like U4...the task is more complicated than it appears on paper.

The reason I write these comments is because I feel very strongly that we, both players and developers, need to understand exactly how the virtues fit into UO before even considering implementing them as a system. I've changed my view on the virtues so many times as I've changed roles in the UO community. As a player, I wanted them to be a reputations system. As a community manager, I actually saw them as a way to punish poor behavior (Blackthorn's mistake) and/or help reduce support calls. But as a designer, I see them as something much more than that...but I'll be honest, I'm not completely sure what exactly. I do know what I think the virtues are not, but what they are is really the tougher question.

Jonathan "Calandryll" Hanna
Designer, Ongoing Content

The Virtues: Part Two
October 17, 2001

In my last comments from the team, I discussed what I felt the virtues should not be. This time, I'd like to start talking about what I think they should be and why. I've broken down the virtue system into three main goals and would like to expand upon each of these in this update. Note that not every virtue will achieve all three goals by itself...but the system as a whole should.

* Promote a more "Ultima" feeling in Ultima Online.
* Give veteran players new goals to achieve that have an impact and are fun.
* Reward positive behavior in the game.

Promote a more "Ultima" feeling in Ultima Online.
When Ultima Online first shipped back in September of 1997, the first thing that struck me was the fact that the virtues were conspicuously missing from the game. Sure, we had the shrines and later the "virtue guards", but in all, the virtues had very little, if any, meaning for the players. To me, this always felt like releasing a Star Trek game without any real concept of the Prime Directive. The virtues, more than anything else, formed the cornerstone of what made Ultima games so special. However, it is important to remember that Ultima Online is not a sequel or a continuation of the single player games. The virtues may not be represented exactly as they were in those games mostly due to the fact that they were single player games and we must design with the multi-player aspects of UO in mind. But, we will do our best to keep the spirit of the virtues intact when designing how each of them will work.

The virtues are meant to give a player a sense of purpose in the world of Britannia. They are not a way of judging right or wrong, or a system or morality. They are a personal choice that each player will be able to make. If designed correctly, the system will ensure that it is very difficult to follow the path of each virtue at the same time. However, players will be able to find the virtues that most fit their character and/or their play style, and use the system to further their game experience.

Give veteran players new goals.
The virtue system will be designed with veteran players in mind. Some of the virtues will involve existing systems, giving veterans a different incentive to participate in them, while other virtues will have brand new systems created. Each virtue will have its own path with different tasks, goals, and rewards. Veterans will also be able to display their virtue "status" through the use of a new interface that will show how far they have progressed through each virtue using the symbols and colors of the virtues. An example of a prototype of the gump can be found here.

Reward positive behavior in the game.
This is the one that, as a designer, I am actually the most excited about. A lot of MMORPGs (including UO) have tons of policies designed to punish grief-players for poor behavior...and rightfully so. Grief-play, harassment, exploiting, and other such disruptive behavior have no place in these games and do quite a bit of harm to the community. But, the idea of actually giving significant rewards to players for doing something good has been missing. The more a community works together, the more successful it will be. Designing systems that encourage players to work together (without forcing it) is one of the things the virtue system will hope to achieve.

Some other points.
Following my initial posts and discussions about a virtue system, I have read a great deal of written and thought provoking responses from players. I'd like to address some of them here as well.

What about an anti-virtue system?
There are no plans to create a system that rewards people for unvirtuous behavior. There are two major reasons for this. One, such a system would have to be able to track the intent of the evil act. Was the player killing the other player because he was role-playing an evil character or was he simply killing for the sake of the loot with no concept of role-playing? The same would hold true for looting and stealing. Determining the intent behind an evil action is far more important than the intent behind a good action. If someone is helpful to another player simply to gain the virtue points, that causes no harm to the game. In fact, it can help the game a great deal if the helped player benefits as well (which he should if the system is designed correctly), especially if the helper would not have otherwise done the beneficial act. But with an evil act, with the notable exception of role-playing evil in a plotline, the only person who really benefits is the evildoer. Why give incentives to them that are any greater than they already are? I'm not set-in-stone against an anti-virtue system; I just haven't heard any compelling reasons for why it should exist.

Isn't rewarding people for being virtuous wrong?
Not really. The notion that doing a virtuous act is a reward in and of itself and that rewarding the player further is a bad idea is very much a hardcore role-playing mentality. Allow me to sum up the virtue system with the following statement to demonstrate why I believe there has to be rewards for virtuous behavior..."The virtue system is a role-playing system that is not just for role-players".

I'll explain what I mean by that. The virtues, as they exist as an ideal, are mostly considered a role-playing aid. Many role-players use the virtues as a guideline for their role-playing. In fact, I am one of those players. But, when designing a system as broad and important as the virtue system, it is imperative that as many play-styles as possible are able to use the system. That's where the rewards come in. If someone helps another player solely because they know they will get a reward is that really a bad thing? Sure, we may question their motivation, but in the end, that player helped someone where before they may not have. The more players we have helping and working together with each other through the system, the better off our community will be.

I called the virtue system a "role-playing system that is not just for role-players" in my statement for a very important reason. A system that only caters to one group will never expand that group. I want to expand role-playing in UO. The best example I can use to illustrate what I mean is a debate. If you gather a group of friends who all feel the same way about an issue and go to a rally to speak to people who already feel the same way you do, you will not actually gain any new supporters. But, if you all go to a place where people have gathered who either do not agree with you or are not sure, you have a chance of turning more people to your side. That is what the virtue system is about. If we design it only for those players who would do the tasks because of their propensity to role-playing, we won't increase the number of people role-playing. But, if we design a system that has role-playing elements in it without requiring one to be a role-player to enjoy it, we create a broader use of the system and increase the chance of more people trying out role-play.

The first official designs for the virtues will be on the site soon. We plan on releasing the virtues about one or two at a time to make sure the system starts having an impact. This will still allow us to achieve efficient and adequate testing while releasing a meaningful and robust system. I look forward to hearing what you think of the systems for Humility and Sacrifice once they are on the site.

Jonathan "Calandryll" Hanna
Designer, Ongoing Content


There is currently a philosophy within Ultima Online known as the Virtues. The Shrines are named after them, and players can read about the eight Virtues in certain books that are available within the game. But, beyond those small representations, the Virtues have never played a significant role in the world of Ultima Online. A system will be put into play which will reward characters who actively pursue the activities that represent each of the eight Virtues.

Listed below are the details relevant to pursuing the Virtues:

Shrine interface: Double-clicking any Shrine will display a special gump. This “Virtue gump” will include:

  • One button for each of the eight Virtues. Clicking on one of the Virtue buttons will display:
    • a message describing what is needed to gain in that Virtue
    • the benefits associated with that Virtue
  • A “status” button. Clicking the “status” button will describe to the player how close that character is toward achieving the next step of that Shrine’s related Virtue.
    • “You have not even started on the path of this Virtue.”
    • “You have barely begun your journey through the path of this Virtue.”
    • “You have progressed in this Virtue, but still have much to do.”
    • “Your journey through the path of this Virtue is going well.”
    • “You feel very close to achieving your next goal in this Virtue.”
    • “You have achieved a goal in this Virtue.”
Paperdoll interface: The paperdoll will be modified to allow players to display the steps achieved in each of the Virtues for their characters. Any player will be able to access the display on any character’s paperdoll by pressing a certain “Virtue button.”
  • The button used to access this display will be the mailbag icon currently in place on 2D paperdoll gumps.
  • A new Virtue symbol icon which will be added to the 3D paperdoll.
Double-clicking the “Virtue button” will present the player with a graphic display, indicating what steps they have attained in the Virtues. There will be eight sections, one for each Virtue, in the form of an engraved stone.
  • For characters who have not yet achieved the first step of a given Virtue, the respective engraving is empty. The engraved symbols for each of the Virtues are as follows:
  • When characters have achieved the first step on the path of a given Virtue, the engraved symbol for that Virtue will fill with the appropriate Virtue symbol, tinted light gray.
  • When characters have achieved the second step on the path of a given Virtue, the engraved symbol for that Virtue will fill with the appropriate Virtue symbol, colored a light tint of that Virtue’s respective color.
    • Humility: a tint of black (“medium grey”)
    • Sacrifice: a tint of orange (“light orange”)
    • Honor: a tint of purple (“light purple”)
    • Compassion: a tint of yellow (“pale yellow”)
    • Valor: a tint of red (“pinkish”)
    • Honesty: a tint of blue (“light blue”)
    • Spirituality: a tint of white (“pale grey”)
    • Justice: a tint of green (“light green”)
  • When characters have achieved the third step on the path of a given Virtue, the engraved symbol for that Virtue will fill with the appropriate Virtue symbol, colored in the respective color of that Virtue.
    • Humility: black (“dark grey”)
    • Sacrifice: orange
    • Honor: purple
    • Compassion: yellow
    • Valor: red
    • Honesty: blue
    • Spirituality: white
    • Justice: green
  • Progressing any number of steps in a Virtue will grant a character some special abilities. Players will be able to access these abilities by clicking the related Virtue symbol on their own Virtue gump. For example, clicking on the symbol for “Sacrifice” will activate the Virtuous ability for Sacrifice.
  • When a player moves his cursor over a given Virtue symbol, a title will be displayed under the respective symbol, indicating the step currently achieved for that Virtue by that character.
    • First step: Seeker of [name of that Virtue]
    • Second step: Follower of [name of that Virtue]
    • Third step: Guardian of [name of that Virtue]
  • A character that has achieved all three steps in all eight Virtues will earn the title “The Virtuous” on their paperdoll.
Players who progress any number of steps on the path of a given Virtue, but do not continue to actively pursue it, may discover that their Virtuous title reduces in steps over time.


Following are several questions by several different players and answers about the Virtue System, all answered by Jonathan "Calandryll" Hanna from the UO Dev Team:

Will Haven be opened up to all players for this?
-We're discussing it.

How much fame and karma will be needed for a player to sacrifice it?
-You get more Sacrifice the more fame you give. You have to be at least "admirable".

Will negative karma be sacrificable?
-Actually, we're thinking about removing karma from sacrifice and just using fame, that way negative karma players can still participate.

Why is the forum of Virtue discussion here, instead of RP board?
-Because the virtue system is not soley a role-playing system. It can be used as a role-playing tool though of course.

Virtue Questions:
Sacrifice is Love and Courage.
I do not understand why Gargoyles can be redeemed, they are not a race of daemons nor they are lost souls so to say. They might have their pride, but that is opposite to that Humility. Shouldn't Reediming be restricted strictly to supernatural(undead, spirits and Daemonic) creatures, to make it more logical?
--In the fiction, the enslaved and enforcer gargoyles are not attacking players of their own free will. By sacrificing for them, you save them from their turmoil. The stories on BNN have more info on the gargoyles.

Certain professions can gain Fame & Karma very easily, would their sacrifice of Fame & Karma be equal sacrifice to those who worked many weeks longer for it?
--True. This is why you can only sacrifice once per day.

Humility: opposite to pride
Doesn't Humility turn into pride if one advertices his Virtue Title? (rather philosophical question, I admit)
--No. The titles are given to you as recognition, it is up to the player to decide whether to advertise his title or not. Remember, the titles only appear on the virtue gump, so unless someone opens up your virtue gump, they won't see your titles.

General Questions:
Would it not be good to have all eight Virtues done (in design) before releasing any to shards? Eight Virtues meant to form the great Principle (Truth, Love and Courage) together, and therefor their "gain" should be in balance. If not, why not?
--We have preliminary designs done for most of the virtues, but we are releasing them one or two at a time in order to make sure we concentrate on them and to make sure the system actually goes in. If we tried to release one huge system, it could be a year before you ever saw any of it.

Have you considered if shrines could play a part in the system?
-They do. You go to shrines to get your status of your jounrey in each path. Also, they will probably play a bigger part in Spirituality.

Is the increase in HP/Mana/Stamina: 1) Time Based? 2) Cost Humility Points to access? I noticed the Humility points drain over time but at what cost, if any does using the ability cost. Sacriface is awarded per/week. Does the Humility Special Ability work similar or by cost basis?
--The bonuses gained by attaining a given step in Humility are perpetually active for as long as you remain in that step. If you increase a step, you gain instead the better step's stat bonus, and if you decrease a step, you gain the newer/lesser step's stat bonuses. There is not means to "activate" these stats bonuses, they are automatically up and running just by having achieved the related step in Humility. No Humility points are used up through the use of these stats, although points in Humility will naturally "decay" a certain amount over time.

I didn't know it was possible to be both just AND compassionate (your past example of the poor man stealing bread to feed his family and the guard having to decide whether or not to act). By being compassionate, would your justice points be unaffected? And vice versa of course.
--Not if we design it so the conflict isn't as prevalent as it is in that example. I'm not sure I like the idea of losing virtue points in one virtue because you follow another.

30 to each stat seems like a HUGE bonus! I take this to mean that becoming a Guardian of Humility will be extremely difficult?
-Yes. Getting to the third path of Humility won't be easy.

When do you think the other virtues may have some details ready? Or are you going to do some initial testing of these two virtues before beginning more development on the other six virtues?
--Honor will most likely be next, we have a basic design idea for it already. I want to concentrate on the master system and Humility/Sacrifice though first before getting feedback on Honor.

Mastering all 8 virtues was difficult in Ultima Prime.. so difficult that only the Avatar could do it. How do we explain a world in which everyone has done what only the avatar could have done.
--If designed right, it will be very hard to master all eight virtues. Even mastering those two won't be easy, not counting six more!.

"A character that has achieved all three steps in all eight Virtues will earn the title “The Virtues” on their paperdoll" how exactly does that work? "Bob the virtues"? "The Virtues Bob" or is that a typo where its supposed to be "the Virtuous"?
--Title is "The Virtuous".

Are the increases in stats permanent or temporary?
--Permanent as long as you maintain your path in Humility.

How much of a decay of virtue are we talking here? I mean, obviously I dont expect a specific answer, bu tis it going to be something where you haev to do it every day, or will you be able to maintain your virtue through regular gameplay?
--It will be enough so that you'll have to spend time on the Virtue from time to time, but not so much that you lose all the work you did in one day.

If I turned off my little mailbag ages ago, will the inclusion of this system stick it back up there? and will it still look like a mailbag? (kinda weird to click a mailbag to get virtues...)
--The mailbag system shouldn't do anything now even when turned on. It will not look like a mailbag, it will look similar to the center of the Virtue gump.

Can a sponsor have more than one squire?
-- No.

Do you lose.. err "virtue points" by dying like you do with fame and karma?
-- No.

Does "the Virtuous" title display profession like Glorious. Glorious Lord and the like?
-- It probably will. But considering we'll be releasing one or two virtues with each scenario, we have plenty of time to worry about that.