Fun in a Dungeon Hat

Fun in a Dungeon

Adventure games usually pit the player against the imagination of the writer, who determines certain actions that must be performed to complete the game. With MUD, the Multi-User Dungeon, many players, at their home computer terminals, can log into a mainframe machine to play an adventure game against each other

MUD is a real-time adventure where you meet other players, have conversations with them, ask their advice, join with them against a common enemy or fight them. They are not part of the program, they are playing the game at the same time as you, and so their actions affect yours.

MUD runs on a giant DEC10 computer at Essex University, and all you need to play it on your own microcomputer is a terminal emulator program, a telephone, a modem, and a Packet Switching System (PSS) account. A terminal emulator program allows your micro to communicate with the mainframe via a telephone link. You may choose to write your own emulator or to buy one. It should ideally allow the screen to scroll, and give an 80-character line length. Micronet software is not suitable since it does not permit this. It is possible to use micros with less than 80-column displays, but this is awkward. There are some excellent packages available; for example, Termi and Communicator are ROM chips for the BBC Micro.

The modem needs to be able to communicate with British Telecom's PSS, and can be 300/300, 1200/75, or 1200/1200 baud. A Micronet acoustic coupler is quite satisfactory. PSS is a networking service that enables you to contact distant host computers, often for the cost of a local phone call. There is also a charge for data sent over the PSS. For details contact British Telecom.

[Side panel]

Wrestling With MUD

Mainframe adventures allow the involvement of many players - in Multi-User Dungeon, up to 43 Novices, Warriors, Enchantresses, and so on, compete or co-operate to gather treasure and become omnipotent Wizards or Witches. Mainframe adventures also support large detailed scenarios: MUD locations include The Land, various caverns, a forest, a dragon island, The Sea and The Swamp, all of which may contain treasure, goblins and zombies. Six telephone lines permit connection to home micro players

The procedure for gaining access to the mainframe is straightforward. With the terminal software running, you dial the PSS exchange at which you are registered, connect your modem and key in your identity. Then you enter the PSS address of Essex University's DEC10. A special account has been set up at Essex to permit free access to MUD from midnight to 7am on weekdays, and 1Opm to 7am at weekends, when the mainframe is under less pressure. Log in to this special account, and then enter RUN MUD.

The program is continually updated, so the first thing you will see is the date of the latest version. You choose a character name to play under, known as your 'Persona', and you tell MUD what this is. If you are playing the game for the first time then a new persona will be created for you, and you will be classified as a Novice. Levels of experience are:

Level Points Male Female
1 0 Novice Novice
2 400 Warrior Warrior
3 800 Hero Heroine
4 1600 Champion Champion
5 3200 Superhero Superheroine
6 6400 Enchanter Enchantress
7 12800 Sorcerer Sorceress
8 25600 Necromancer Necromancess
9 51200 Legend Legend
10 102400 Wizard Witch

If you end your session without being killed the points that you have accrued will be noted by the program, and you can continue next time from that score. You get points and increase your level of experience by dropping items of treasure in the swamp, by overcommg the odd problem, by destroying various nasties like rats and zombies, and by winning a fight against another player. If you get killed in a fight with another player your persona is removed from the game, and you must begin again as a novice, with no points. Therefore, it is always wise to consider alternatives to combat especially as your opponent may have a stronger weapon or more stamina than you.

You start the game on a 'Narrow road between lands'. Typing 'WHO' will provide a list on the screen of all the others who are playing at that time. You may choose to say hello to one of them. For example, typing 'Jez, hi there - I'm new and could use some advice' would convey that message to the terminal of the player called Jez. You could talk to all the players at the same time by typing 'Shout, OK you terminal junkies, watch out cos here I come', but it is not advisable to start your first game in this way.

Typing 'HELP' will give you some information about how to move and will give a brief explanation of many of the commands. Movement choices are explained in this way: Most simple movement commands are allowed, e.g. n, sw, west, up, jump, plus others you'll have to find out!

The commands available may be listed by typing 'COMMANDS'. There is quite a lot of information available, and scribbling a copy on paper while the words scroll down the screen is not a realistic option. Some terminal software will allow you to copy everything that appears on your screen onto disk for you to look at later. This will also enable you to construct a proper map of the land, which can be amended after each game. These are the commands that were available on one day:

COMMANDS (abbreviation in upper case)
AutoWho <seconds> BRIEF CONVERSE
EMPTY <bag> FOLLOW <name> GIve <item> TO <name>
Help HouRS Inventory
KISS <name> <level>, <message> Look <direction>
NoPassWord ProNouns "<message>
RETaliate <item> SHout,<message> STeal <item> From <name>
tell <name>,<message> VERBOSE WHO
HELP >name> HUG <name> KEEP <item>
LEVEL Look around LOSE <name>
PassWord QuickWho REFUSE <name>
BUG DRop <item> EXITS
Get <item> BERSERK BYE
DRop ALL Flee <direction> Get ALL
go <direction> HINTS INFO
Kill <name> LOG Look <bag>
WEIGH <item> WHEN WRITE <object>, <message>

MUD is a large text-based adventure, with lengthy and detailed descriptions of the locations. When you are familiar with the scenario you can type 'BRIEF' and not have to read the descriptions each time. Prestel subscribers will be aware of the slowness and inadequacy of teletext graphics, and whilst graphic-based adventures are an interesting novelty, dedicated adventure games players will always choose a text-based game. A text-only adventure allows a greater imaginative involvement than a graphic one, in the same way that a radio play can be more enjoyable than one on the television. Another disadvantage of a graphic adventure is that each make of home micro will need a different version of the game, because of the different graphic capabilities of home computers. MUD players are likely to be using a BBC micro, an Apple or a Spectrum, but others will have second-hand terminals from junk shops, and therefore the range of machines using the program is extensive.

MUD is expected to be marketed soon. The program's original authors, Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, are writing a version to run on a VAX Computer, which will be marketed by Century Communications. (A VAX plus software and disk drives costs around £50,000.) The game will still be played via telephone links, like PSS and Prestel, although with enough demand it could well be available on cable, as well. MUD players will then pay a fee to join the game, perhaps £10 or £15 per quarter, plus a small charge for each hour they play.

[Side Panel]

Dungeon Master

For further details about the Multi-User Dungeon contact:

Richard Bartle
Department of Computer Science
University of Essex

Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: hcac20.htm