Adventurers Club Ltd. Member's Dossier, March, 1989 Hat

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Combat in Multi-User Adventures

Multi-User Adventures are intended to promote interaction between their players. The primary means of doing this is by including good channels of communication, however that alone isn't good enough: players need to be able to DO things to one another, otherwise they may as well run a CB-type program. Most of what players do to other players is indirect, such as finding and picking up some useful object before everyone else. By altering the environment of the game, other players may be forced into positions they might prefer not to be in.

However, there are some ways of interacting directly with other players. By giving objects to them or stealing objects from them, you change not only the status of the environment, but also that of another player. Furthermore, it is clear that what you have done was intentional. Apart from giving and stealing, there are a few "fun" commands which may do little more than print a message and transfer points (eg. kiss, hug, thank, congratulate), but these are largely innocuous.

There are two other main forms of direct interaction which are certainly NOT innocuous: spells and fighting. With these, it is possible to cause an individual severe problems, although you can use them benignly sometimes. Spells can range from the merely inconvenient (blind, cripple, deafen, dumb, sleep) to the potentially deadly (summon, force, finger of death - FOD). The more damaging their effects, the harder they are to cast, and the more devastating the results of their failure.

Spells, though, when used offensively, are almost always either in preparation for, or during the course of, hand-to-hand combat. It is fighting which causes some of the most bitter comments from players in MUD.

Fighting varies between MUAs, but usually a fight is considered to be between two individuals. Usually, at least one of these will be a player, but some MUAs (eg. MUD) allow mobile vs mobile fights. Some games allow an individual to be in several fights at the same time, others don't. The combatants will have attributes that are used in combat, normally something like dexterity (how often you hit), strength (how much damage you do when you hit) and stamina (how much damage you take before collapsing). Weapons and armour are common, but more sophisticated D&D-style combat (such as hit Location, fatal blows, wounding) is rare indeed.

This is because fights are carried out automatically once initiated - they continue until one of the fighters either dies or flees, although in some MUAs they can stop prematurely if both parties agree to pull out. Fights proceed automatically rather than being a succession of single-blow commands because otherwise people who were slow typists or were using slower modems would be at a disadvantage.

The outcome of a fight varies across MUAs. If the attacker dies, they will invariably lose all points and have to start again from scratch. If the defender dies, some games will kill them off for good in the same way (eg. MUD), others will just lose them half points (eg. SHADES). The winner usually gets points depending on the score of the loser. Fewer points are awarded if the fight ends with a flee, and neither party is killed for good. Now since it causes so much strife, the question to ask about fighting is whether it is necessary at all. MUA players fall into four general categories:

  • Treasure hunters
  • Explorers
  • Socialisers
  • Killers

Most of the time, players are TREASURE HUNTERS. They go through tried-and-trusted means of accumulating points, not varying often in their approach, and getting annoyed when anything happens to disrupt their plans.

EXPLORERS wander around trying out all the puzzles, reading all the descriptions, and finding all the subtleties of the game, such as whether there is a message saying the room is too small if you try to SWING CAT in a wardrobe.

SOClALISERS sit around chatting, normally in a place where it is safe to do so. They occasionally venture out into the game proper, in order to find something to talk about to other players.

KILLERS prepare themselves for combat, select a victim, can spend half an hour preparing themselves, and attack. Some do it for revenge, some do it for the points, most do it because they like the idea of wreaking havoc on some unsuspecting innocent.

What effect does fighting have on these types? Well fighting sets up conflict, and conflict is what makes the games tick. The less conflict you have, the less interesting it is. However, too much conflict and it degenerates into chaos. In novels, the storyline comes from clashes between the goals of the main protagonists, and how these clashes are resolved. The same applies to MUAs. You could get it from the indirect interaction between players that I mentioned earlier, but with combat the impact is far greater, since there is little chance that it happened by accident...

Players who spend most of their time collecting points, either by gathering treasure or by killing off easy mobiles, don't need to use their brains much. All they have to do is follow the same old routines, and so long as they have enough time and money they will eventually reach the top, i.e. wiz. Such unimaginative people can make very bad wizzes, since all they can do is accumulate points, and that's something wizzes have no need to do. Without fighting, or with a watered-down version, such people will make wiz after a while and you end up with a bunch of useless wizzes. Who wants to be a wiz when "anyone" can be one?

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: aclmar89.htm