Real, Live MUD! Hat

Real, live MUD!

Essex University has opened its protcullis to adventure games addicts
in the form of MUD, running on its DEC-10 mainframe. The equivalent
of 'CB radio in fantasyland', undergraduate Susan Thomas
(alias Endor the Witch) guarantees an infinite number of surprises.

In these days of computer enlightenment, mention the word 'Adventure' and most people will know what you are talking about. Ask them for the name of the best and most exciting adventure, and many will talk of the Crowther-Woods oriqinal, while others will hold their breath in awe and whisper of the infamous Zork. Thousands of micro useni have played these on various machines, but the best adventure game this side of the milky way is played by very few people, is not advertised in the computer press and is not available in any form on any micro-computer - it is called, simply, MUD.

MUD stands for Multi-User Dunqeon, which is just what it is. Imagine you are playing an adventure. Let's say you're in a room of a house, you have found some treasure, and are now a bit stumped as to how to get it past the oookcase, which you can't shift but which you're certain conceals a secret passage. You have tried all sorts of commands to no avail, and are about to give up when up on your screen comes the message: 'Tom has just arrived.'

Real-time interaction

This is where MUD leaves other adventures for dead because 'Tom' starts talking to you! Tom is not part of the program, but a real, live person sitting possibly hundreds of miles away and exploring the same land as you are. You can chat with him, ask him questions, follow him - he may even decide to steal some of your hard-earned treasure! You try to talk him into helping you move the bookcase...

MUD is similar to most adventures in that you have to explore, find and collect treasure, and fight monsters. Indeed, if you are the only player in the game then it's like a giant 'Colossal Cave', only with far better descriptions and more fiendish puzzles.

Locations range from a gravedigger's cottage, a pine forest, a wrecked off-shore galleon and the time-forgotten island, to the dark and dangerous mines, halls and citadel of the feared Dwarfen Realm.

Puzzles are many, varied and often humorous, like the Pythonesque 'Kick the beggar' (which results in 'The beggar moans as your foot smashes into his face'), or the cat which you must kill nine times ('The cat tries to get out of your way but you graunch its head in').

When you play for the first time, you select a name and sex for your 'persona', then enter the game as a 'Novice' with average stamina, strength and dexterity. Experience points are gained by collecting treasure and dropping it in the swamp - a swamp, because the treasure then sinks into oblivion and this stops other players finding it again. Initial treasures are relatively easy to find as they are mainly above ground; it is these treasures which you use to build up your experience so that you have sufficient magical power to go for the big stuff!

Sounds easy so far, doesn't it? The fun and challenge really begin when you realise that there are others after the same booty, and they may not be as inexperiencod as you!

There are 10 levels in all, from Novice through Warrior, Hero, Champion, Superhero, Enchanter, Sorcerer, Necromancer and Legend until you reach the ultimate level and goal, the all-powerful and immortal Wizard (or Witch).

Anyone can attempt to use magical spells in MUD, but the higher the level, the more potent are your magical powers and the greater your chance of success - failure often sends you to sleep, not a tenable position to be in if you are attacked.

More experience also gives you a better chance of winning a fight. Fighting, be it with another player, a horrifying Zombie or whatever, drains your stamina and you then need to find a quiet place to sleep to build it up again. Some denizens of the land are pretty nasty: for example, the draqon which roams the arcane forest has a stamina of 800 while the most you can have is 100! This calls for a bit of teamwork - the intrepid adventurer rounds up a gang of players and they set off to duff the dragon up a treat using their combined strength and stamina; then it's time to reward your fellow conquerers...

It is a fact of MUD that you will die many times. Eventually though, you will know the game well enough and have enough points and maqical power to sweep throuqh the land zapping friend and foe, collecting treasure and avoiding the many pitfalls. In other words you could say the adventure is 'solved'.


At this point, an average adventure would be over. MUD, however, is not an average adventure. While you play, your points slowly accrue until, one day, wearily dropping your last piece of treasure into the swamp you get the message: 'Your level of experience is now Wizard.' And here begins the real fun.

Basically, Wizards are go-anywhere, do-anything-to-anybody, immortal beings. They 'rule' the game and to become one is the player's ultimate goal. They have additional powers to those available to other players. Any object can be pickod up by them, wherever it is, without their having to move from their location. Even monsters which roam the land are under their control.

Some of the commands available to Wizards (you'll have to find them out for yourself!) include the opportunity to look at a copy of any player's screen - in other words, a Wizard can see exactly what you are doing without your knowledge.

A Wizard can force you to do anything he desires: try the same to them and you are curtly informed: 'Not to a Wizard you don't!' If you make a nuisance of yourself and generally annoy other players with inane remarks then you may find yourself transported to a room with no exits, where you are left to cool off - if you are lucky. Go too far and you will be informed that a Finger Of Death by a wizard has terminated you, and your character is dead - permanently.

How to play

All you need to play MUD is a micro with an RS232 port, a modem and communication software (if you already subscribe to Micronet then you just need the software), then simply apply to British Telecom for a PSS (Packet Switch Stream') dial-up account. The cost is £25 for a network user identity plus around £25 per year in addition to telephone charges - most PSS calls are local though; otherwise, thanks to the generosity of Essex University's directors, playing MUD is free.

MUD runs on a DEC-10 mainframe (too big for your Christmas stocking) in Essex University, and is such a large and complex program that it can only run after about 2am or at weekends - otherwise the university students wouldn't be able to run their projects!

There is an advantage to playing at these unsociable hours (apart from cheaper telephone bills): the computer department at Essex has its doors locked at midnight so students (called 'internals') can only play at weekends.

This may sound like a disadvantage, as MUD is at its best with many players, but when you consider that internals play at the DEC's own terminals running at 9600 baud while anyone playing over the telephone network ('externals') are at 1200/75 baud, then an external vs an internal is an ill-matched contest.

There are quite a few externals playing the game already, some as far afield as South Wales, Scotlsnd and even one player from Japan! So, if you're looking for something a little bit different from run-of-the-mill adventure games, MUD might be just the thing.

Details on connecting up to the DEC-10 and more information on MUD can be obtained from: Richard Bartle, Department of Computer Science, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, Essex C04 3SQ.

Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: pcwaug84.htm