MUDs Hat

MUDs

Playing In The MUD

by Rawn Shah and Jim Romine

Julian slices through the fog but misses the black skeleton completely. The skeleton hits Julian and you die. You see yourself floating above your own corpse. The black skeleton touches Julian with its grubby metacarpals. Julian washes over in a blue halo as he thrashes and screams. An evil grin crawls across his face. Julian turns to attack and M'elkin screams as Julian hacks off his left arm with a two-handed sword. M'elkin runs away, cast. Don't fret, you'll probably come back to life. M'elkin should be able to get a new arm, and hopefully Julian can be exorcised of his possession. After all, you're only in a game. Somewhere out there on the Internet, your friend Peter (who's playing M'elkin) is cursing away at his station for falling for the trap, yelling across the room at the top of his lungs at Julian.

Maybe that sounded like a flashback to your fantasy role playing game days or maybe you've already been exposed to the adventure and amusement of the Internet based role-playing games called Muds. A Mud (or MUD if you prefer) is a Multi-User Domain of numerous people venturing through fantastic landscapes, conversing and grouping with each other to counter the foes of the virtual land in the ultimate goal to become immortal and wield amazing powers. Every Mud is played on a game server located somewhere on the Intemet, which houses the imaginary realm. Mud players can start their own character and join in the fun of a Mud from any text-based terminal on the Net with access to the Telnet program or special Mud client programs such as Tintin and TinyFugue. Once connected to a Mud, players will see a text description of the environment including descriptions of the items and players encountered. But don't let mere text fool you. The excitement of Muds lies in the group interaction with other players.

Making MUD

The Mud phenomenon started over a decade ago with the first game known as MUD (which stood for Multi-User Dungeon, at the time) at Essex University in the U.K. Soon other developers saw the opportunity to improve on this concept of multiplayer games. Currently, there are over 15 different types of Mud servers including systems known as LPmuds, DikuMuds, Abermuds, TinyMUDs. Mud servers run on everything from Macintoshes and DOS PCs to multiuser systems such as UNIX and OpenVMS. If the Mud server has full access to the Intemet it can be made available to the huge base of players with 'net access. The more popular types of Muds include the LPmud, DikuMud and TinyMUD family of Muds. We call them families because independent programmers have taken the code from the original parent of the family and created their own improved versions. LPs and Dikus lean more towards the traditional concept of hack Ďní slash adventuring intermixed with role-playing. The TinyMUD family leans more towards Mud programming and socializing of players.

Within a family of Muds there are many types of Muds, each with a different theme (Star Trek, Swords and Sorcery, Cyberpunk, et cetera). Each particular Mud is run by special players known as Wizards, Immortals, Gods, or Builders, The "creator" players spend their time detailing every possible object, item, monster, and area found within the Mud itself, similar to what a Games-Master does for a traditional role playing game. Since the Mud itself is automated, there is no need for the Games-Master to take care of the tedious combat calculations, necessary for people to play the game, which plague book-based adventure games such as the ones from TSR, Inc. Though some people may pine for the personal interaction with a Game referee, it's a good thing that the computer takes care of handling the problem of all calculations for player characters and all other creatures and objects in a Mud, since many of these games can handle between 20 and 200 players on-line at the same time. The total number of players that are recorded or registered on each Mud often numbers between 500 and 5,000. Besides human players, Muds are often populated with hundreds or thousands of NPC (non-player characters). These are computer controlled characters who can react to players in any number of ways. Most have the basic ability to react to physical or magical injuries and live and die just like real characters. Sophisticated NPCs can even carry on entire conversations with players. Sometimes you may even mistake a very smart NPC for another player because of the enormous variety of actions and reactions they can perform. When properly developed, Muds become literally virtual worlds to explore; when coupled with rewarding interaction with other live players, "Mudding" (using a mud) can be an extremely addictive pastime.

Get Yourself MUDdy

After you decide to enter a Mud, use a telnet program or a Mud client such as Tintin to connect to a Mud server (See Diving In). After connecting to the Mud as a player character you can start to build your online persona by characterizing their physical and mental attributes like Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence. Your character is fleshed out by describing special skills, such as weapon and magic proficiency, and physical attributes like height, weight, and age. Since many Muds involve combat, you usually also have attributes for the number of hit-points which determine how long a character can survive when fighting something. You also have experience points which determines your overall proficiency as a player character, and if you do well in your online adventures you will collect experience points which can increase your character's abilities. Last but not least, you have money which can be used to buy weapons or other useful items. Once your basic character has been developed you can begin your adventures in the Mud.

Starting off as a Mud newbie, you are a walking target for any enemy. Fortunately, player killing is usually not allowed on most Muds so you don't normally have to fear any other normal player. However, the online world is far from safe nor is it boring. You may encounter hostile creatures in your travels, stumble into booby traps, or be sent on quests to recover precious items or solve puzzles. If you complete your tasks successfully you are rewarded with experience points (xp) which may also raise your experience level until you finally achieve immortality. Accomplishing any of these tasks usually requires that you arm yourself with a good weapon and clothe yourself in proper armor. It still goes on: to gain armor and weapons you can either purchase them from shops or players, or take them from the corpses of the enemies that you have killed. It's a dog eat dog world.

For a first time player it can sometimes be tough to get started. If you choose to explore you may get lucky and armor, weapons, or other items of value just sitting around in a room or area, or you may have to resort to online handouts by becoming a beggar. Fortunately, high level players often take pity on newbies and donate weapons an armor. Once you have any kind of weapon, you might start looking for small, puny creatures to kill for XP. Slowly, you'll gain money and items and start progressing at a faster rate. You will probably die quite a few times as a newbie. Always make sure that, when you are resurrected you return to the spot where you died (if you can) and pick up your items from your corpse, lest someone else take them from you. Once you become a high level player, you have a better chance of surviving so you can roam across the lands of the Mud at will.

Donít Get Stuck In The Mud

Since Muds are programmable by Wizards, the complexity of the game is limited only by the imagination of its creators. Many Muds are so big these days that it takes quite a while just to move from one end to the other. With over 10,000 rooms and areas, you may spend quite some time just walking around. Muds can take up hundreds of Megabytes of disk space, using substantial amounts of memory (RAM), and chewing up precious processor time, often substantially slowing down the machines that they are run on (typically UNIX systems). Furthermore, Intemet connections can be bogged down from Mud use when the network connection becomes flooded with hundreds of commands to run cast or kill a guard. if the machine is used for any purpose other than the Mud, the other users may fume about Mud players. Fortunately, only the people who plan on running a Mud server have to worry about these facts. Most players only have to worry about playing games, not bothering other people with noise, and not becoming so absorbed in the game that they lose all sense of reality. If you play through a local school or university, you might want to check up on the rules and regulations of use of campus machines. System and Network Administrators often donít take too kindly to games players on their systems. Some enforce strict policies to expel people from classes or even school itself for Mud playing. Commercial Intemet Service Providers (ISPS) usually don't care about games players, just their money, so you might want to think about forking out the $10 or $20 a month to get a commercial account to do your game playing. Just remember - Mud playing can be as addictive as Web surfing and has even led to the educational or career downfalls of more than a few players. With that in mind, hopefully you are still ranng to join in the fun. So dive into these online worlds of imagination, because once you start mudding, the fun sure won't stop.

Rawn Shah and Jim Romine are the authors of Playing Muds On The Internet (John-Wiley, Apiil 1995), the first book to really examine Muds in depth. You can contact them at:

rawn@rtd.com
and
mud@neuromancer.hacks.arizona.edu

Diving In

Getting started with Muds is easy if you know where to look. Read over some Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) files for Muds available in USENET news groups, like these groups in the rec.games.mud hierarchy:


rec.games.mud@admi Pertaining to the administrative side of MUDs.
rec.games.mud@announce Announcements of MUDs opening, closing, etc.
rec.games.mud.diku Postings pertaining to DikuMUDs.
rec.games.mud.lp Group pertaining to LPMUDs.
rec.games.mud.misc Miscellaneous MUD postings.
rec.games.mud.tiny Postings pertaining to the Tiny MUDs.


Accessing FTP sites like caisr2.caisr.cwru.edu (pub/mud) or using Gopher to look at actlab.rtf.utexas.edu is a quick way to get underway. You may also want to arm yourself with a Mud client to make your online adventures more interesting. You can download Mud clients via anonymous FTP from ftp.math.okstate.edu (pub/muds/clients) and ftp.tcp.com (pub/mud/Client). Once armed with the basic tools, you need to find a Mud to play This can be difficult, as they move often.

Checking out the Mud lists which are available for FTP from caisr2.caisr.cwru.edu (pub/mud) or reading the USENET news group rec.games.mud.announce is a good way to start. If you are just too anxious to start you might want to try one of the more well traveled Muds or MOOs listed below. Just use your telnet program or Mud client to connect to the site - and make sure to specify the port number (e.g. anime.tcp.com 2035).


AnimeMuck Oapanese Animation Style Muck) Valhalla Mud (Fantasy style Lpmud) LambdaMOO (Very popular)
telnet anime.tcp.com telnet mud.stacken.kth.se telnet lambda.parc.xerox.com
port 2035 port 4242 port 8888

If you need even more information, books like The Internet Yellow Pages, 2nd Edition (McGraw Hill 1995), netgames (Random House, 1994), and Playing Muds On The Internet (John-Wiley, 1995) all contain addresses of Muds or information about Mudding in general. - TAP


Richard A. Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk)
27th August 1999: axcmar95.htm