MUDQuest: Search for Textual Nirvana

As a roleplayer, I enjoy a good backstory, and plenty of character creating feats, skills and tweaking. Now for years I’ve been attempting to fulfill these needs by striding through an ever thickening forest of MMORPG’s, beginning with the original EverQuest and wading through every newly released effort to Aion. I’ve been in almost every one. I’ve dabbled in almost every theme or genre you can get. And yet the more graphical layers they add to these worlds, the more distant it becomes, the less I feel involved.

Peeling away the superficial “glamour” of MMORPG’s I was hoping to find a place I could go, where my imagination was stimulated by heady descriptive text, but was allowed to add its own interpretation upon things, like reading a book, but being able to mentally explore the environment presented to you. The vast untapped worlds of Multi-User-Dungeons (MUD) sounded like an ideal place to start my quest, or indeed my epic MUDQuest.

In the mid nineties I’d dabbled with MUD’s a little, settling on a rather action orientated one simply because it was the first I stumbled upon. Over the years, I’ve tentatively looked back towards MUD’s and have taken steps into them again, but have always come away feeling dissatisfied. My main gripe centered around the fact that although there are a lot of MUD’s to choose from, the features I look for to enhance the game are indiscriminately spread out amongst the vast population of MUD. Meaning you can find a MUD that caters for your roleplaying tastes, and even setting, but then it lets you down on the ability to map as you go along, or it lacks a large enough playerbase so your interactions are limited, or it doesn’t allow user configuration etc. You can see my dilemma.

I drew up a list of requirments that I find desirable in a MUD, and I began sifting through the MUD’s out there to see which ones I could match up:

  • Free to play
  • Coherent Fantasy or SciFi theme
  • Newbie friendly – gentle introduction
  • ANSI Colour – clear display
  • MAPS at location, city and world level
  • Flexible Configuration and Customisation
  • Large enough playerbase
  • Information steeped inventory and equipped
  • Extensive help system
  • Clean but informative combat
  • Formations/Groups allowed
  • Logical and attainable Questing
  • Persistant World with solid Roleplay

There are so many MUD’s out there, that you have to have a directory of some sort to search through and luckily there is an extensive one at Mudconnect.com. I posted my requirements to a number of community forums to get peoples opinions, and I also used the ranked system available at Mudconnect to choose my starting realms.

You’ll find whilst on a MUD hunt, that you can easily become “MUDweary”. Where MUD’s start to bleed into one another, the commands whilst very similar are also just syntactically different enough to begin to confuse you. You start to mix worlds and rules up, and any sense of belonging or understanding of the worlds all fades into this confusing brown mess in your mind. Its in this half dazed neon-coloured textual quagmire that you have sift through the silt and find the shining nuggets. Its these treasures I’ve tried to highlight here, the ones that surfaced as worth looking at for all MUDquesting Adventurers.

Aardwolf

One of the more popular MUD’s out there has become so because it is so fully featured. It has a good mix of newbie friendly hand holding and plenty of complexity as you make progress.

Aardwolf eases you into their MUD by offering a download of a custom version of the freeware MUSHclient, specifically tailored to their specifics. In the multi-windowed display you have your textual information window, along with  a local representation of the map surrounding you, and a global ‘world map’ of your position, along with you characters main statistics and health status. All of this aids the player immensley because you’re not often lost amongst bland room descriptions and north, south, east and west mental mixups, but also you don’t have to keep entering commands to refer to your characters status or position in the world. Navigation is further aided by the game itself, bestowing certain ‘speedwalks’ from one area to the next upon players if they need it. The customisation of the MUD is very accessible, the combat and skillsets seem very involved and interesting, but simple to run, and generally it feels like a decent world to play in – if a little like World of Warcraft in its popularity and garish colours.

Medievia

Another popular MUD, and one which takes the ASCII graphical representation of the world to another level..

Medievia even has its own ASCII font you can install to make sure the maps look more than palatable to the eye. Whilst all this “eye candy” makes the MUD stand out from the crowd, there is still a solid descriptive world beneath it, and since my number one pet hate in MUD’s is getting lost, I value these overhead visuals to make sure I know where I’m going and I can explore the world knowing I’m not doing it under a mist of directional confusion.

I should also say that the maps here require exploration to lift the ‘fog of war’, its not like everything is detailed and laid at your feet, there can be a real sense of wonder as you uncover the layout of areas you adventure in. There is also a world map you can bring up, if you are moving between cities, areas and dungeons. It serves to keep my spatial reasoning in tact.

There is certainly a lot of complexity on offer with the game world, and its growing and evolving all the time, so study the backstory and see if it offers adventuring you will enjoy. Its worth noting that Medievia has quite a chequered history attached to it, and you may or may not be derided by certain MUD players for playing there.

My more recent pursuits have seen me looking into MUD’s that deliver a more cerebral mix of adventuring and puzzling, where you really have to think deeply about the places you find yourself, and life doesn’t revolve around endlessly grinding through enemies and labyrinthine rooms.

4Dimensions

4D is suited to those who like very descriptive text and thought provoking puzzle based quests. Its a MUD that seems to encompass a number of era’s so that you can choose to delve into the Prehistoric, the Medieval or Ancient world, the Wild West, or even the Sci Fi Future. 4D seems to be an ideal ‘sandpit’ where you can explore your character development spanning several different eras in time with their games ‘time tourist’ backstory.

The newbie friendly “MUDSchool” you can opt to go through, really is an exercise in enjoying lavish descriptions along with tutored exploration of the different mechanics adopted in the game. It has a number of roleplay facilities available,  if thats what you want, but key to its appeal is the quest based puzzling that you do, and I’ve just spent a day or so going through these mind bending old adventure game style puzzles, where you have to really think out of the box to sometimes come away with the prize. Very mentally stimulating.

Out of all the MUD’s I’ve tortured myself with recently, this one seems very amiable and open to a more cerebral experience, whereas the more popular ones seem to be set up for powergaming min/max’ers and loot collectors and status/rank whores! The only downside is that some players might find the expansive story and settings a little jarring, taking knights into the wild west, or even space. There also seems to be only a very small playing population, with numbers being well under 10 on most logins.

The Holy Grail?

The problem with MUD’s is primarily the fact that there are so many of them, and they are all generally mutations of one another. The MUD feature gene pool being scattered liberally, but erratically amongst all participants. So its equally likely you’ll find one you have an affinity with, but if you keep on browsing, you’ll find another that does something better, and you then have to decide which features and backstories you want to pursue. Its often a compromise, not helped by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a central directory of up-to-date reviews. Mudconnect.com is probably the most well known site, however it ranks by player votes.

Ultimately, your MUDquest will be very personal to you, and what floats your boat. Define whats important to you, and then look to compare what is on offer after you’ve tasted a couple. If you want grindy hack and slash progression climbs then try one of the popular MUD’s, if you want a more cerebral roleplay experience, you’ll have to search a bit deeper and expect lower population numbers.

I’ll stick with 4D and perhaps one other one, and see how I progress and settle in. It seems newbies are always a bit twitchy and too eager to charge off, and these places are communities in their own right, so it does take some time to get to know the players, and the game itself.

I doubt the MUDquest has ended though..

I should add some notable mentions:

BatMUD – A MUD trying way to hard to appeal to the World of Warcraft Community, comes with its own fancy graphical client for download.

Lensmoor – a tight and well established community, that sees the Lensmoor world split into two factions in conflict.

ThresholdRPG – a very strict roleplay MUD, requires a lot of input before your character can enter the world, which initially had me mezmerised. I really wanted to play in a world where the players take the lore seriously. However, the newbie introduction seems to hammer you over and over again with endless pages of rules and regulations, and then wants you to read the notice boards with endless posts of administration problems and rules and regulations being stated over and over again. I just couldn’t get a taste for the world, nor its deep roleplaying, because I’d lost the will to participate after that barrage. Sad really. I had such high hopes for the place.

Core – A Science Fiction mining colony with a very believable setup, interesting but seemed quite slow paced, and the informationless compass based map had me lost in a matter of seconds.

Shattered Kingdoms – Enjoyable traditional romp, but with little that makes it standout, I can barely remember why I liked it at the time.

3 thoughts on “MUDQuest: Search for Textual Nirvana

  1. It’s worth mentioning perhaps that Threshold is not entirely free to play, or at least was not back when I played it in college. There was a donation system where monetary contributions translated into in game rewards in such a fashion that past a certain point, everyone was basically expected to be paying (and if I recall, it was visible in-game who was and who wasn’t) if they were going to be respected and competitive. It may have changed since then.

    It did have a *very* strong roleplaying element that I appreciated at the time, though.

  2. As I mentioned elsewhere, don’t be too harsh on BatMUD just because of their client. They have been a top-notch solid mud since the early 90s and the client is just to help those that fear the text. It isn’t required in anyway to play or enjoy the game.

  3. Thanks for mentioning Core.

    Sorry the “compass” command confused you a bit. When you first create your character, you’ll find yourself in a City complex that consists of domes connected by mass-transit tubes. The compass command’s output shows a 2-D overhead view of the dome you’re in.

    As with any MUD, though, it is good to make your own map to help avoid getting lost. 🙂

    Happy mudding!

    – Grey, Administrator of Core

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