Iâve been playing MUDs since I first had access to the internet (1994). This is not an impartial feature; there may be evangelical tendencies displayed. And I hope youâll forgive me for using examples from some of my own characters in a MUD I actively play.
And now: a (little) history.
A little history / background information
MUDs is a term that stands for âMulti-User Dungeonsâ. Essentially thatâs a description for any sort of online virtual world. When the first MUD was written (reasonably called âMUDâ) in the late 1970s, it was the beginning of a text-based revolution that led to games such as ZORK, Federation II, Gemstone III, and later, Ultima Online, EverQuest, Asheronâs Call, and World of Warcraft.
While MUDs can be either text-based or graphical, for the sake of ease Iâll use the term here to describe purely text-based MUDs, as opposed to the term that most people use now for graphical MUDs: Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG).
Why do people still play?
In a gaming world where graphics just keep getting better, and with really great MMORPG titles coming out every couple of years, why do people still play MUDs? (And more to the point: what does the MUD have to offer the person who has grown up on graphics-based games?)
For me, itâs like comparing a book to a movie. While movies are exciting, flashy, and usually have big names, books make use of your imagination, where far richer scenes can be played out in your head. So it is with MUDs. Sure, you have to type, but once you get past that (relatively small) hurdle youâll find that MUDs on the whole are likely to be far, far richer than any recent MMORPG youâve played.
Let me show you an example. Compare this character profile...
...with this one:
Looking at yourself again? What a narcissist!
You see Miss Jess the Rookie Forager.
She is a strapping young human lass.
She has flame red hair, dark blue eyes, and freckles dotted across her nose. Quick as a wink, she steals your wallet.
She is in good shape.
She is standing.
She is surrounded by a soft yellow glow.
She looks rather warm.
Holding : a tree frog stiletto (left hand).
Wearing : a pair of black soft-soled boots, a pair of leather vambraces, a pair of cabbage green tweed trousers, a black canvas apron, a chainmail shirt, an old battered sweater, a large backpack, a swag bag, a horned dwarfish helmet, a turquoise scarab ring, a pair of mirrored sunglasses, a yellow stone ring, an "I escaped from the Shades" badge, a wooden bracelet, a sphinx necklace, two stiletto scabbards, a set of jingly handmaiden's bangles, an antique silver brooch, an amethyst ring, a red and blue necklace, an alligator earring, a red leather wristwatch, a silver hummingbird pin, a gold hoop earring, a pin cushion and a lion's head ring.
Carrying: a yellow raincoat, a long trench coat, an alligator purse and a Thieves' Guild Licence (concealed).
Her purse is fit to burst!
Sure, you have to read (if you hate reading, MUDs really arenât for you, but then again, what are you doing reading this article?), but in the second example, everything is specific and customisable: the userâs title, the character description, clothing, weapons and accessories have all been hand-picked by the player. It would be impossible for a graphics-heavy game to include this degree of depth if everything had to be rendered graphically.
That level of detail can also be evident in just about every other aspect of a game. In the MUD I play, Discworld, you can visit different countries (with inhabitants that speak other languages), run your own shop, own your own house, and even write for the newspaper. It has over a million different rooms, many differing religions and gods you can pray to, and there are six different base guilds that are so detailed and extensive they really have to be played to be believed. (For a more detailed list of features, hop over to the feature page here)
Combat is also well thought-out, and is much more satisfying than developing OOS in your index finger. You can customise your tactics â everything from whether you will fight offensively or defensively, where you would focus your attacks (attacking a Troll will damage non-blunt weapons unless you focus on their neck), if youâd prefer to dodge or parry enemy attacks â and there are heaps of different commands you can learn as you develop your skills. Anyone is fair game - with the exception of other players. That said, if killing NPCs leaves you a little cold, you can always opt to become a playerkiller (PK), which makes things even more interesting.
Collaboration that really means something
For the social gamer, MUDs really fit the bill. In Discworld, players can communicate easily with each other in many different ways. You can speak to all the people in the same room as you, talk directly to another character, no matter how far apart you are, post on bulletin boards in your guild, mail âlettersâ to people at the post office, or use a âtalkerâ, which is a little like a CB radio, in that you tune in to different channels and can chat to anyone who also is tuned in at the same time.
People form clubs, special interest groups, and offer collective services, such as the Taxi group who will shuttle you around the world (the Disc, in this case) for a nominal fee, or healers if you find yourself in need of resurrecting. You can vote in guild elections, petition to the creators with new ideas you have, or even sign up to become a playtester or creator yourself, if youâd like to take a more hands-on approach.
And if you are one of those rarer breed of players â not a lover or a fighter, but the wonky role-player â the customisable quality of a MUD will really suit you. Using commands called âemotesâ, you can convey any action or emotion to others nearby. You can customise your character to the nth degree. Skill-wise, you can learn a huge range of different skills in order to fully develop your character, some of which include: smithing, mining, hunting, carpentry, pottery, animal grooming, cooking, medicine, calligraphy, sculpture and a range of instruments. And you can have pets too!
Still not convinced?
If youâre still not convinced that MUDs are worth investigating, consider these points:
â˘ For the console player who has given up on PC games, cause youâre sick of having to upgrade every year: You can play a MUD on any machine, on any sort of internet connection.
â˘ For the seasoned MMORPG player: MUDs have more stats than you can wave a stick at; they have no loading times â everything is seamless; there are no zones; you can play with friends of any alignment, from any guild; most MUDs have extensive websites with catalogues and lists of weapons, items, guild details, maps and more. You donât have to endure huge downloads and updates.
â˘ For the new gamer: most MUDs have newbie areas, or at least places where you can learn commands, ask questions, and not have everything stolen from you in the first five minutes. Veteran gamers are also pretty good about helping out new players in a pinch.
â˘ For the penny-pincher: most MUDs are free. Free! All you need to play is a (free) MUD client, and two hands, and youâre off.
â˘ For the gamer who cares about image: If WoW or EverQuest put you off cause they seem, well, too geeky, consider the coolness of playing via console. Passers-by will think youâre hardcore. Or retro. Either way, you look good.
â˘ For the gamer who canât type: Think of it this way: would you rather endure Mavis Beacon typing lessons, or would you rather learn to type while youâre playing? Me too.
How to play?
So now, hopefully, I have you convinced. All you need now is a MUD client, a small application that sits on your computer and portals you into your MUD of choice. MUD clients are available for any operating system, and have a range of features, from cut down, telnet-like consoles, to clients that create auto-maps as you move around, display events in different colours (which makes for easier reading), and lets you save your list of characters and MUDs so you can easily connect and log in to a new session.
The only other thing Iâd advise would be: take notes. And even: do research. The research partâs not so essential, but most MUDs are pretty complex beasties. Any good MUD worth its salt will have a ânew playersâ section either on its website, or in the game itself (preferably both). For Discworld, I have a notebook where I scribble commands I want to remember, information on stats, and lists of players who help me out so I can do them a good turn next time I see them.
What to play?
This partâs a little harder. There are so many MUDs out there, itâs almost ridiculous. If youâve never played one before, Iâd recommend you find one with a nice large player base, so you can be sure you get a lot of support, and meet lots of like-minded people. The next thing to consider is genre. The MUD Connector web site (http://www.mudconnect.com) lists the following categories of MUD:
â˘ Adult-Oriented Muds - Contains content not suitable for minors
â˘ Amber - Based on Roger Zelazny's Amber novels
â˘ Anime - Based on Japanese animation
â˘ Babylon 5 - Based on the popular television show
â˘ Christian-Based Muds - Themes based on Christianity
â˘ Comic Books - Based on comic book themes
â˘ Diablo - Based on Diablo
â˘ Dragonball - Based on Dragonball
â˘ Cyberpunk - Based on William Gibson's Cyberpunk Genre
â˘ Dark Fantasy/Horror - Muds with a dark fantasy and/or horror theme/genre
â˘ Default Telnet Port - Muds running on the default telnet port (port # 23)
â˘ Default WWW Port - Muds running on the default web port (port # 80)
â˘ DragonLance - Based on DragonLance
â˘ Dungeons and Dragons - Based on TSR's Dungeons and Dragons ÂŽ
â˘ Eddings - Based on the works of David Eddings
â˘ Educational - Muds used for educational purposes
â˘ Final Fantasy / Phantasy Star - Muds which are based on Final Fantasy or Phantasy Star
â˘ Forgotten Realms - Based on TSR's Forgotten Realms
â˘ Free Muds (Broad Category) - Muds which are free to play
â˘ Furry Muds - Muds based on anthropomorphics
â˘ Futuristic Muds - Muds which are set in the future
â˘ Harry Potter - Based on Harry Potter
â˘ Historical - Based on actual or fictional history
â˘ Level-based muds - Muds whose training and equipment systems are level-based
â˘ Leveless and Classless muds - Muds which are based around leveless and classless training systems
â˘ Medieval Fantasy - Based on a medieval fantasy environment
â˘ Gothic - Based on a Gothic genre
â˘ Magic: The Gathering - Muds based on Magic: The Gathering
â˘ Modern Day - Muds set in modern times
â˘ Newbie Friendly - Muds that are extra friendly for newbie players
â˘ Non-Player Killing Muds - Muds not allowing any form of player killing
â˘ Original World - Muds which claim to have a completely original world
â˘ Palladium - Muds based on Palladium's books (RIFTs, Robotech, Heroes Unlimited, etc)
â˘ Pay to play Muds - Muds requiring registration or other fees to play
â˘ Pern - Based on Anne McCaffrey's Pern Series
â˘ Player Killing Muds - Muds allowing unrestricted player killing
â˘ Pokemon - Muds based on Pokemon
â˘ Post Apocalyptic - Based on a post apocalypse scenario
â˘ Pure Player Killing Muds - Muds based strictly on player killing
â˘ Research Oriented - Muds used for research
â˘ Restricted Player Killing Muds - Muds allowing restricted player killing
â˘ Roleplaying Muds - Roleplaying is accepted within the game. (Also try these categories roleplay-encouraged and roleplay-enforced)
â˘ Science Fiction - Muds that deal with science fiction
â˘ Sexually-Oriented - (ADULT ONLY) Muds containing sexually oriented material (ADULT ONLY)
â˘ Shadowrun - Muds based on Shadowrunner
â˘ Skill-based muds - Muds whose training and equipment systems are skill-based
â˘ Social muds - Muds which primarily provide an outlet for social interaction
â˘ Star Trek Muds - Based on the Star Trek TV series or movies
â˘ Star Wars Muds - Based on the Star Wars movies
â˘ SuperHeroes - Based on superheros
â˘ Sword of Truth - Based on the Sword of Truth book series by Terry Goodkind
â˘ Talkers - List talkers and talker-style muds
â˘ Tolkien - Based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien
â˘ Transformers - Based on the 'Transformers' theme
â˘ Ultima - Based on the world of Ultima
â˘ Warhammer - Muds based on Warhammer
â˘ Wheel of Time - Based on Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series
â˘ Vampire: The Masquerade - Muds based on 'Vampire: The Masquerade'
â˘ World of Darkness - Based on White Wolf Studio's "World of Darkness"
â˘ X-Files - Based on the X-Files TV show and motion picture
...Only you will know which of the above will be of interest.
If, at the end of the day, it all seems like too much to decide upon, I recommend you check out the Discworld MUD. Itâs free, is based on the Terry Pratchett series of books (so it has a lot of humour), is incredibly detailed, has loads of players from around the world, and has a great âgetting startedâ section here.