Lord British was an NPC. The character was the first King, and indeed the founder, of Britannia, and the inventor of the Virtue system. Initially, this character was played in-game by Richard Garriott, who is the creator of Ultima Online, and the creator of the single-player games upon which UO is based. (See Ultima Prime.) Lord British is currently gone from the game, having taken a powerful artifact to the Ethereal Void to guard it against Minax.
Lord British's history begins even before Ultima Prime. A person from what you or I would call the real world, by the name of Cantabrigian British, found somehow found a way into an enchanted realm of orcs, kings, elves, goblins, and "bobbits" (similar to Tolkein's hobbits, but with the first letter changed). He ended up becoming a King of an island nation, 1 of 4 such island nations in this strange, magical world.
This world was threatened by an evil mage named Mondain. Lord British used powerful magics and summoned forth a "Stranger," who became known as the Avatar, from his former world. In this strange new world, the Avatar found his true potential, grew in strength and wisdom and knowledge, and ended up killing Mondain. To do so he had to shatter Mondain's Gem of Immortality, and the shattering of the gem created a great number of parallel universes, which we in UO know as Shards.
At this point, the histories of Ultima Prime and UO diverged. In all the UO shards, Lord British consolidated many of the peoples and kingdoms under his wise, benevolent rule, and the unified country was known as Britannia.
Lord British's Reign
In the past, the NPCs of UO consistently, and with apparent sincerity, discussed their love of and respect for their King, which added to the fiction that the realm was well-governed and that Lord British was a benevolent ruler. These ranged from the respectable townsfolk to the gypsy vagabonds who roamed the countryside. Save for the Player Killer problem, there was for the most part every reason to go along with this fiction and view Lord British as a ruler both benevolent and efficient. Though the Kingdom was, well, a Kingdom, and not a Democracy, there were aspects of Democracy present, in the way Lord British listened to his subjects, and in the way his rule was tempered somewhat by a Council, which would eventually become the Britannian Council or Ruling Council or Royal Council, which would come to rule the Kingdom in Lord British's stead after his departure.
Lord British's military chief was the famous Dupre, and his court wizard was the famous Nystul. The seat of government was Castle Britannia, also known as Castle Britain, which was located in the western part of the capital City of Britain.
Lord British and Nystul, facing an invasion from Mondain's former lover Minax and her innumerable evil minions, created a mirror universe called Trammel using powerful magics, renaming the old land Felucca and largely abandoning it save for Dupre's off-stage participation in the Faction wars. Lord British's abandoning of the old realm is hands down the most-often question decision he made as ruler of Britannia.
Of Order, Chaos, Virtue, and Blackthorn
Lord British's most enduring legacy is probably the creation of the complex Virtue system. (See the appropriate article for more details. The Virtue system was also sometimes known as the Order system.
One day, a noble in Lord British's court, a good friend of British named Blackthorn, overheard a conversation between British and the Time Lord, a conversation also overheard by Sherry the Mouse. The contents of this conversation are described elsewhere, but the result was that Blackthorn created an alternative moral system that came to be known as Chaos. Whereas Order and Virtue stressed, well, order and virtue, Chaos stressed individual rights and individual freedoms.
The two noblemen continued to play chess together, while their more fanatical followers fought and slaughtered one another in the streets (as part of the Chaos/Order PvP system).
Lord British's First Departure, and the Consequences
Lord British vanished from the realm, for reasons that were never disclosed. In his place, the Council ruled. Despite Blackthorn's philosophical adherence to equality and freedom, in his heart he was an arrogant aristocrat. Blackthorn harbored deep resentment against British for not naming Blackthorn as his successor, leading him to an alliance with the evil entity known as Exodus, and with the Juka. These 3 parties waged a savage, brutal war against Britannia, which was eventually repelled by the players, under the nominal leadership of Dawn.
Some time during Lord British's first absence, the out-of-character reason for the absence was revealed, on 30 March 2000: Richard Garriott had left OSI.
Lord British's Return
Off-stage, some kind of bargain was struck between Richard Garriott and the company he founded, leading to Lord British's return shortly after the release of the Age of Shadows expansion. During this time, British was not played by Garriott.
Lord British's return was designed to be, and was, temporary. Lord British eventually left, again, to take a powerful artifact (said to be shards of the Gem of Immortality that powered Mondain) into the Ethereal Void, which would secure it beyond permanently Minax's grasp.
Some weeks before his departure, Lord British held a memorial service for Blackthorn, wherein British stated, among other things, that he was abandoning his goal of unifying the Shards under the Virtues. And thus, Blackthorn effectively "won" the Order/Chaos conflict, in death.
The British character has appeared in other games, played by Garriott.
After British's Departure
The Royal Council ruled the realm for a number of years, until the ascension of the evil Casca, who became Britannia's second monarch. Casca was succeeded by Dawn, the same woman who had killed Blackthorn years before.
||During a speech on August 8, 1997, Lord British was killed. It was during UO's beta version when Lord British was killed by a player. The character Rainz has just stolen a firewall scroll and used it on the wall where Lord British (controlled at the time by Richard Garriott himself) and Lord Blackthorn stood.|
|While Blackthorn was unharmed as he stood directly in the flames of the scroll spell, Lord British dropped dead upon entering the flames. It appears that Garriott forgot to turn on his "invulnerable" flag.|
|Rainz was allegedly banned, for this and other naughty things he did during the beta test. Garriott also challenged his killer to a rematch in his more recent game project, "Tabula Rasa." So far as anyone knows, the challenged never responded, and that game is now (March 2009) dead.|
||This event was used in the fiction for the Royal Leggings of Embers artifact.|
||Killing Lord British was often a built-in puzzle in the Ultima single-player games.|