Pre-Publication Draft: Interview with Dragons

Exclusive Interview with Dragons of The Syndicate

1. Dragons, the Syndicate is certainly one of the largest combined efforts of it's kind, in any on-line game. What was it like a the beginning?
The Syndicate was founded more than 4 years ago. I was over in Merdian 59, knew UO was coming and knew the nature of guilds and the benefits they could offer. I had played MUDs for many years and saw lots of opportunities for a group to be formed that was dedicated to its' members, all about fun and friendship and that set itself to higher standards. Even then, groups came and went all the time and what was really lacking was a stable platform. There were some quality, long term groups at the time in games like NWN but they were few and far between. So I decided to form my own group. Initially the focus was very small. It would exist for Ultima Online. But over time that focus grew and expanded and we changed from being a "guild" (i.e. entity within a game running by the limited rules set up by the gaming company itself) into an "Online Gaming Group" (OGG, a group that isnt about one game, but exists for itself, within its own rules, and plays whatever games strike its fancy).
I'm quite proud of the success of the guild. We are hundreds of members strong, lasting for more than 4 years. And despite its' size, since we only recruit referred, veteran gamers, we maintain a close-team-of-friends atmosphere. Members go out of their way to help other members and to do things together. It's a TEAM and we are all proud to be a part of it.

2. To what do you attribute its' success?

I attribute many things: probably too many to go into in this article. But some of the highlights are:
  1. Standards: We maintain high standards for recruiting. We only accept the best people (less than 7% of all applications are accepted, and we have had thousands of apps to date) who are referred by existing members in good standing. Quality, not quantity, is our motto and as we have seen, quality begets quality.
  2. Teamwork: We have some outstanding members in this guild, who would give their left arm to help others. It's that attitude that pervades the group, and is our core strength. No matter the challenge, we overcome it and grow stronger.
  3. Resources: There is no mistaking that size does have its advantages. We have the resources of hundreds of bright people both in real life and without. There are very few things that we cannot accomplish when we set our minds to it. We have private UOAM servers, private IRC servers, private chatzones, T-Shirts for members, we meet in real life whenever possible, we are known to most major gaming companies and maintain relationships with them and much more. We have the professionalism and resources to get things done and offer value to our members far beyond what any one game offers.

3. It has come to my attention that The Syndicate, although strong both in numbers and in resources, is not the most popular group of players in either UO or EQ. Without naming names or pointing fingers, I can remember having heard that many of LLTS's members were dishonest, cheaters, noto-PK's, and immoral. What is your response?

Isn't the Internet a wonderful thing? One can say anything and back it up with nothing, yet people assume the same values most people hold in real life, apply here. In fact, for many players, they do not. Some feel they are anonymous and above getting caught, so they say whatever they want and do whatever they want. They assume that whoever yells the loudest is correct. You will notice that The Syndicate never gets involved in those yelling contests. We KNOW where we stand. We KNOW we are on the side of honesty, goodness and decency and we have no reason to enter into yelling contests based on rumors and so-called "facts."
To answer your question more directly: No, we are not cheaters, noto-pks and immoral. The Syndicates' core values are that of teamwork, friendship, anti-bug, anti-cheat, and anti-pkilling. We KICK OUT members who break those rules and we don't tolerate anything less than perfection when it comes to those standards.
There is another reason why these rumors exist. We are an anti-pk guild. That means that we stick up for the little guy, the new players and those who dont like being pkilled for no reason. That means we have actively hunted many pkillers in the game. However, every pkiller in game has a friend (read: healer) who is blue. Every pkiller has a blue mule. Its' very easy to use those characters to spread false rumors and discredit your enemy. If you can't win on the battlefield, you might as well try and trash your enemys' reputation in the hopes that they crumble, fold, and stop fighting you on the battlefield.
As a wave of recent emails (due to a recent event covered later in this interview) have shown, hundreds of players don't support that view-point and, in fact, it is held by a VERY small minority. That minority is composed of people who are uninformed of all the facts, pkillers and anti-social players in disguise or people who fall into similar catagories.
So, for the record, The Syndicate is anti-pk, anti-cheat, anti-bug. We don't tolerate their use among our members, and we kick out members who do so. We stick up for the little guy and as you will see in questions below, love to do things for the good and decent players of the games we are in :) As evidence of this, we also have a very large and strong Everquest presence. We are known, on Tarew Marr shard, as one of the most professional, decent, honest, helpful guilds there is. Since our guild there was initially based around our UO team, you dont develop that reputation bringing pk, bug use and cheating values with you.

4. Is it possible that a few members of LLTS have slipped through the cracks, and are, indeed dishonorable and untrustworthy? After all, in a guild that boasts as many members as The Syndicate, it must be very difficult to weed out all the bad apples. Statistically speaking, there must be at least a few of them.

Absolutely!! I agree with your assertion 100%. In a guild our size (hundreds of members), lasting as long as we have (more than 4 years), it's obvious to anyone who thinks about it, that SOME bad apples MUST have slipped through the screening process. Fortunately for us, VERY few have done so, but yes, we have had our share of jerks in the guild who did things that warranted removal. For example, we once had a player named Gregor. He used a bug to fight a pk guild. That guild reported him for cheating, he was banned by OSI and soon after we kicked him out. He then joined the same pkiller guild under a new account and still plays today. Over our history we have had several members go pkiller. I'm proud to say that our current crop of members does not contain even one of those players ;)
I'm sure that, because we will continue to exist for years to come and will have hundreds more players as part of our team, an occasional jerk will slip through our screening process. To anyone wronged by those players, you have our deepest apologies. Please drop us an email us and we will take action and remove those persons from the guild. None of our members tolerate anything less than perfection when it comes to our team-oriented, anti-pk, anti-cheat and anti-bug stance.

5. I have personally met Dragoon and HUCK, both of The Syndicate. Both seemed to be very nice fellows, and one even provided my thief with a recall scroll (his magery is abysmally low). However, I really haven't dealt with many of LLTS's members. Perhaps you could shed some light onto the matter, by telling me of a few of the more notable occurances, within the guild, in which LLTS reached out to help fellow players?

Yes, both of those are good examples of the quality members we have. But it doesnt stop there. We have a whole guild like that :) To answer your question, though, we do a TON of events for fellow players. We run the oldest player-run town known as Arx Draconis. We call it "AD" for short. What AD does is serve as a focal point and spring board for a great many events and things we do for players.
Some examples include Scavenger Hunts, Lotteries, Quests, Magic Resistance Training Sessions, PvP Contests, Craftsman Nights and various Tavern Games. There are 1-3 events on AD EVERY week that are completely open to the public and FREE :) We even provide gates from the major banks and then back to town so that newer players can participate Ed. Note - I have personally witnessed this sort of thing taking place.
During those events, we do not engage those guilds that are orange to our warstone either (unless they chose to attack us, as some do). It's a free event, open to the public and fun for all :) We try not to exclude anyone.
Here are some specifics on a couple events, so you can see what I'm talking about:
  • Craftsman Nights: These are one of my favorites. For about an hour, once a week, GM craftsman of all types (Smiths, tailors, alchemists, inscriptionists etc..) gather in our large forge on the left side of the island. A team of gaters heads out to the major cities bringing, in players who dont already have runes to AD. Inside, the craftsmen will do free repairs and make items for you free of charge if you bring the raw materials. We have had entire guilds show up to get things fixed or items made for their stockpiles. Its a great way to meet other players, get free items and learn more about AD.
  • Lottery Nights: This has to be our trademark event. Just about every week we have a Lottery night. Lady Circe is our MC and dozens of members support the lottery in different roles. It works like this: Once again, a team of gaters heads out and brings in players. So many already have runes and love the lotteries that the gaters tend to only account for about 50% of the 100-150 players that show up EVERY week! We gather in the large, white temple in the middle of the island city. Anyone who comes is automatically entered and then Circe just starts calling random names. If she calls yours, you go to the tavern and receive your prize. Prizes are great items, too, like powerful magical weapons (force, power, vanquishing), boats, regs, sandals, potion kegs, rare items etc. These have become our signature events and they are really alot of fun to do.
Again, I point to these as examples that a guild that was cheating up a storm, pkilling, npkilling and just generally anti-social, wouldn't waste their time spending hours a week and tens of thousands of gold pieces in "stuff" giving back to the community. :)
Besides those actual events we also offer other things. For example, we have a large house on AD called the Treasure Map Runes House, used by 8000+ treasure hunting groups. One can simply go there and recall off a rune that takes them right to their map. It's open to all players ;) We have 2 other complete rune libraries on the island as well. We help train new players we meet. We actively report, in detail, all bugs we find to get them fixed. In short, we are very active and very community oriented.

6. Several months ago, there was a rumour going around that LLTS intended to take up as much lad as possible in the new lands, Trammel and Felcuccia. Any words on that?

Arent rumors great? No, there is no truth to that rumor. And, while we are on it, no, I am not Lord British Ed. Note - I never heard this one!
. No, we dont have several GMs as members. No, we dont get special fact, we are so high profile a guild and so well known, that's its been nearly impossible to get blessings for the city despite the city offering more than any other player run establishment that has blessings! No, I dont live in a castle in real life. No, I'm not a dragon in real life (that was a funny one, when a Russian player told me that one day). We are just a large group of dedicated, team-oriented members who have busted our collective arse to become as successful as we are today. There is no substitute for hard work and dedication, and this group of people has it in spades.

7. What is the LLTS policy on guild membership, guild fees, and rank advancement (if any)? Is there any truth to the fact that the proceeds of said fees goes towards the purchase of new buildings? If so, how does this effect the less wealthy members, who may not be able to afford a hefty payment?

An excellent question. As I mentioned above, we only accept veteran game players who are referred by members in good standing. We get about 10 apps a day and accept about 7.5% of all apps that come in. Now, if a new player wants to join and doesn't have the game knowledge or a referral, we ask them to come to Arx Draconis and meet members. We will spar with you, take you on hunts and get to know you :) Friendship is a cornerstone value for us so doing that is a key to joining.
In terms of dues themselves, we have dues of a value of 2000 gold pieces. We collect them about every other month. Dues go to alot of things. The help pay for guild buildings (each of our squad has a squad hall that members get friended to for AD log outs, vendors, storage etc..) like our tavern or castle. They also pay for events like training sessions for members, quests, etc. And, they are also used to help members in need. Hacking and accidents are a way of life in the UO world. We stand by our members and support those in need. We also save some for a rainy day in case of a guild wide accident.
Dues are kept at a very low amount (it works out to about 33 gold a day or one dead orc) intentionally. When you have a guild our size, it only takes a small amount from each member to add up. You can do lots of great things with only a small amount of support from every member.

8. Along the same lines, how much devotion does the LLTS give to it's members, as far as character advancement, gaining of wealth, and such?

The Syndicate (LLTS is our motto, not our name), is ALL about its members. We dont exist for any one game, we exist FOR our members. The entire guild is devoted to everyone else in the guild. We are a TEAM of FRIENDS. If a member is in trouble, we help them. That could be in the form of gold, or equipment or time to spar with them. That help has even extended outside the guild to assistance with real life things. The Syndicate isnt a fly-by-night group. It's a mature, professional, dedicated Online Gaming Group. We are a team of friends who support each other 100%. We hold events for members to earn gold (you earn more than your dues at just about any one of those). We do many fun things as a guild. We have chatrooms and chatzones to talk. We spar and train each other. We back each other up in combat an we just focus on having a good time together. EVERY member is important from the newest recruit to the oldest veteran :)

9. Aside from the normally sceduled in-game events, are there ever any major guild functions, such as major meetings, dungeon hunts, or other such things, in which a majority of the guild takes place?

Absolutely. In all honesty, most members have "finished" playing the games we are in long ago. The game itself holds little value in and of itself for them. The GUILD is what makes it fun for most members. What makes it fun, besides the great inter-personal relationships, are the many things we do. From our guild-famous Dungeon Explorer events (weekly, lengthy trips to different game hotspots), to our Survival Hunts (Start naked, with no items and go out and earn your items and survival together for fun), to guild quests, to guild training sessions, to our tavern to our chatzone to our chatroom to much much more. In addition we provide members with vendor spots at Arx Draconis to help them earn income there (since hundreds of players shop there each week). We provide out of game help with PCs, security, and much more (since we have an expert in most things just due to our size). In short, The Syndicate is all about its members and offers back to them everything we can think of :)

10. In my correspondance with you, you mentioned your dissatisfaction with one of my reporters' stories about The Syndicate. What, indeed, would you like to say in response to his article?

Everyone is entitiled to their opinion. However, when opinions are based on rumors or when they are voiced without sharing all sides and all the facts, that is wrong. As your readers can see from this article, that other opinion didn't look at both sides of the issue and left out huge amounts of factual data for people to draw their own conclusions. Fortunately most players already think highly of us based on our actions and those that don't, already have pre-formed opinions that aren't likely to change. It reminds me of an old quote: "For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, none will suffice."

11. Okay, you knew this was coming...your banning. I have heard many, many rumours, and I cannot begin to guess what is true, and what is blown way out of proportion. Now that everything has cooled down, what exactly happened? Which GM was responsible for your banning, or do you care not to say? Do you think that the recent lay-offs at OSI had anything to do with this?

Ahh yes, the banning. It's actually a whole mess of a story and one that is completely unfair, unjust and should be corrected by OSI. It is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of non Syndicate members, along with, of course, my entire guild, have voiced their displeasure with what happened. To give you an example, I have guilds in Everquest coming to me in that game, offering assistance to petition for the return of the accounts. People I thought were enemies are mailing me burying the hatchet and offering to help. The overwhelming public opinion is that this is not just.
My explanation of events is as follows:
Eventually, all good things must come to an end. In late March of 2000, Richard Garriott, the visionary behind the Ultima series and the director of OSI, resigned from the company. With him, 20 others were fired including most of the "X" staff and several top Ultima Online people. Following those firings many then quit OSI, including such noteables as "Designer Dragon" who now works for Verant. In short, out with the old guard and in with the new. OSI was in a massive state of flux, with most of the "powers" in OSI moving on to new challenges. This change shook OSI to its core. To quote one GM "As you can imagine, things are very tense around here and no one is sure what is going to happen or who is in charge of what." These departures put alot of people into positions they wouldnt normally have and alot of mistakes began happening in my opinion.
Chief among those mistakes were bannings that should never have happened. One poor girl plays UO along with her brother. Her brother is away at college and she lives at home. Both accounts are paid for by her parents. Her brother was caught macroing on his account so they banned him. They then searched and banned ALL other accounts on that credit card. This same type of problem was echoed over and over again, where OSI is banning all accounts on the same credit cards because of actions done by one acct, unrelated to the others. A poor lady from the TSU guild had the exact same thing happen to her as she explains on the TSU board. A poor guy from GL shard posted on the Crossroads site with another similar story. A father posted on rants and raves that his son was banned for cheating so OSI banned his account as well because it was his credit card paying for them. A pattern of behavior began to emerge that reflected a not so nice philosophy for attracting new customers. Especially since they considered UO to be a game families could play.
All this really stunk, but didn't affect The Syndicate much until OSI made the same mistake with regards to us. They banned the accounts of Dragons, the guildmaster, because of charges that aren't actually valid/true and because the other accounts were paid for by the same credit card as the one they had false issues with. Let's explore that a bit more in depth shall we?
One of the accounts paid for by Dragons credit card was an Elder in the volunteer program and had been involved in it since it first began when UO came out. In September of 1999, OSI went through some changes in the program forcing all Elders and Seers to sign a Terms of Service Agreement (TOS version 2b, that has circulated the net and many have read, was signed by the Elder account) on things they could and could not do.
The Elder program assigns volunteers to specific shards of work. The account mentioned above has spent time on several shards. In order to get assigned to a shard where there are other accounts paid for by the same credit card OR that you play on you have to request permission. OSI reviews ALL shard assignments and then accepts or rejects them based on its own criteria. After the Sept 1999 TOS, this account was assigned to Atlantic shard by OSI with full knowledge of everything relating to it because, after all, how can you hide anything from the company that has the billing records.
About February of 2000, OSI launched a long, detailed but poorly planned quest to herald in the UOR release. I say poorly planned because things were not staffed enough to complete all the parts correctly nor were roles fully assigned. About the middle of February, an IGM (Interst Game Master) was on Atlantic shard and needed the Elders to support the events there by spawning in other towns (like Vesper) and to play their Troubador characters (all Elders are given one of those for permanent use) to help move the plot along. Unfortunately there weren't hardly any real troubadors on Atlantic shard and they were under-staffed in Elders.
So, they solicited help from the Elders to play roles. With the Elder character, from an account paid for by Dragons credit card, standing right there, with full knowledge of what was going on, the IGM created a troubador character on another account paid for by Dragons credit card. This character was meant to be permanent to support the ongoing plotline and future plotlines and was made with the full knowledge of OSI and was to be used by the Elder account to act various parts in various plot pieces and Seer quests.
Life continued onward from there with the Elder in question becoming known as one of THE best elders on the shard! It was so widely thought of that when another round of restructuring came in late March of 2000, the Elder was going to be promoted to a shard lead. At this same time the big shakeup at OSI happened and several GMs started to go bonkers with banning people (draw your own conclusions as to why but popular news sites speculated that it was to make a name for themselves in the new structure). Of course, since we are speaking about emotions and feelings and desires its impossible to know exactly what someone is thinking when they do something but an educated guess, based on the completely outrageous shifts in policy that some (but not all) GMs implemented right at that time, can be drawn.
At this time an IGM reviewed the Elder in question to promote him to a more senior role because he was doing such a great job! There was no abuses of power! Tons of events being led for new players. Excellent training of new Elders. Great team focus. In short, everything was being done exactly by the book. However this IGM saw the troubador char wasnt on the main Elder account. He saw which IGM it was robed by but wasnt able to or did not check with that GM to ask why he did it. Instead, he banned every account relating to that credit card for this and called the Elder into a meeting to yell at him.
Well the Elder was simply stunned. A GM created this char, to support an OSI event and to support future OSI events allowing the elder to spawn and that char to participate at the same time via using 2 PCs and connections by the same person. He filled a gap in OSIs staffing and was not asked for by the Elder himself nor was he hidden in any way. On and on the "discussion" went until finally it was stated all accounts would remain banned pending that IGM getting to "think about it". This just didnt make any sense. You are punishing your top elder on the shard because of something a GM did and that wasnt abused in any way?
Several days passed and a letter arrived stating that all accounts were permanently banned. Several reasons were sited in that letter. They were:
  • TOS Violations by having the potential for access to the elder account by someone playing on the other accounts paid for by that credit card. (**Note, no access to the Elder CHARACTER ever took place and NO abuse of power or special help took place)
  • Having the Troubador on the other account (that was created by and for OSI as a long term actor for their events. Word to the wise: say NO if you are ever in this position).
  • Having an Elder on the same shard as accounts on the same credit card
Well needless to say this pissed off Dragons, the guildmaster of The Syndicate, because Dragons guild accounts are now banned for no reason and/or not valid reasons relating to the Elder account via the same credit card. Why do we say no reason when OSI clearly sited several of them? Lets explore those closely:
  1. If you read TOS 2b (that has been tossed around the net since last September when it came out), it says no one can access the Elder CHARACTER. And no such access took place of which OSI admits. Even if it had, which it did not, according to the Elder Roles and Responsibility guide by OSI, such offenses are punished by a warning so long as no abuse of power takes place. If such an abuse does place the ELDER account is then banned OR the Elder deleted depending on the infraction. In short, no violation of the TOS took place and had one existed it wasnt of the kind for banning but of the kind for warning. The formal text of how infractions are punished is as follows:
    If a volunteer does not meet the minimum set of expectations, fails to treat the players in a proper manner, or fails to conduct themselves according to the guidelines set in this policy document and the Terms of Service, they will be given two warnings. On the third offense that volunteer will be stripped of their powers and removed from the volunteer program. This is a guideline. Depending on the nature of an offense, other steps may be taken, including immediate removal from the Elder program and review of the incident for the determination of penalty-boxing the offender’s account or permanently banning the offender's account from Ultima Online.
    So what we have here is an offense that didnt break the TOS and even if it had is incredibly minor since no access to the elder character itself took place and no abuse of power etc.. The punishment given doesnt even come close to matching the documented punishment but besides that, no infraction took place according to the TOS.
  2. The Troubador char on another account isnt documented anywhere as an issue. But regardless of that, it was created by OSI as a LONG TERM actor for their events. It wasnt a 1 shot character. OSI has changed the program such that each Elder gets one LONG TERM actor now. It was created by OSI for OSI. How can that be the players fault. If OSI had issues with it, it should never have been created.
    Some players, who arent up on the current rules, state that Troubadors are 1 time event people and are wiped after each one. That is not correct. Troubadors exist permanently now and can be assigned roles that exist for 1 event or for an entire plotline. Here is the current troubador role definition according to OSI:
    Role: Actor. The Troubadour performs the necessary roles that are needed in the various events created by the other levels of Events Programming. These roles range from single event characters to characters that are persistent throughout an entire plot line.
  3. The Elder on the same shard as other characters from the same account is just as dumb of a charge. OSI has to approve every single assignment for all elders. At the time the assignments were made there were only 1-2 elders per shard. Barely anyone to watch over with 2-3 IGMs doing it so a "mistake" didnt occur. The assignments were handed down by OSI with full knowledge of all facts surrounding it. After all, they maintain the database of that information. In addition if you read the TOS you see there is no mention of a requirement that the Elder cannot be on the same shard and in fact there are many active people today doing just that with OSI sanctioning. However they have not excelled in their duties and risen to the point of promotion under the new regime so they perhaps have not been noticed by the new guard.
In summary, what we have here, is an unfair banning. Not only was it unfair to ban the accounts that were paid for by the same credit card BUT the banning itself should never have taken place. The "infractions" sited as reasons are either just plain false or were created by OSI actions not by the players actions. To punish the player for something OSI made a decision to do is not fair or right.
How can they get away with this you ask? Thats actually very simple. During this massive time of turmoil there was very little oversight. Second, most everyone in a position of power to appeal to was fired or quit. Third, the "agreement" that every player agrees to just to play UO says that OSI can make up any rules they want, change them without notice and remove your right to play the game for any reason, even if it doesnt break a rule. So find an anomaly, find out its linked to a very well known player, ban the player (even though its an OSI caused anomaly) and you score instant "points" because you fixed a "problem". Thats a conclusion many players have drawn and its a pretty easy one to make from the facts of the case. And the best part is, they ban you without getting your side of the story AND they dont let you appeal it! No player rights.. no appeal process.. no oversight.. Thats what it boils down to.

12. It is my understanding that you still have one active account which hasn't been taken away from you. Do you plan to continue playing UO, and > reassume your position as Guildmaster, or are your UO days over with?

That is an incorrect statement. I do not have a single account in UO that I own or operate. All guildhouses and properties exist on accounts run by some of my officers. My intent is to get my unfair banning overturned and my accounts returned and to resume playing. But I would prefer to play under those conditions only. I still lead my guild and will always do so :) I just have to coordinate more from "afar" (via our IRC server) and rely on talented people in game to assist where needed.

13. While on the subject, how goes the appeals process with OSI? Is there any hope of your being allowed to return to UO?

At this time commenting on this wouldnt be helpful I dont think. OSI has no formal appeals process. All decisions they make, they state, are final and unappealable. However, we are trying to appeal and to get our case heard to the right people. I cant comment on any progress right now.

14. What are your plans for the future of LLTS? Do you plan on moving to any of the newer games currently available, or in development now, such as UO2, Asheron's Call, Middle Earth, and Atriarch?

As I mentioned above, we are not an Ultima Online guild. We are an Online Gaming Group. We dont exist for anyone one game but instead exist for ourselves. We have a very large presence in Everquest and we have our sights set on the future. We have been making ourselves known to a large number of game developers with contacts in several major ones. We hope to participate in a number of beta tests and have our eye on a few very promising games coming. We will not be participating in AC. We get into games on the ground floor :) The rest you mentioned are all in development and there are others out there just as impressive if not more so in some cases. We will be participating in Diablo II when it comes out but we will not be recruiting any members specifically for that game. It will simple be a fun, side game for us.
Ed. Note - I would like to thank Dragons for the extensive amount of time and effort he put into making this interview possible. Having extensively communicated with via email, it is my personal opinion that The Syndicate has been unfairly stereotyped in the past, and it is my fond hope that this interview will cause a few people to re-evaluate their opinions of Dragons and The Syndicate.
If you would like more information about The Syndicate, you may access their offical web site. Additionally, a recent article at Games Domain, featuring quotes from Dragons and info about The Syndicate can be read here.