Multi-User Dungeons (MUDS) – The Long Look Back
Most of the time, when I mention a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) I get blank stares of confusion. That is unless I’m talking to someone I played them with. Before there were MMOs, and after the BBS (Bulletin-Board System) craze, there were MUDs. They were biggest in the late 90s I’d say, but there are still MUDs going strong to this day, including one I’m proud to say I worked on. Some of my closest friends were met there, many of whom I still talk to this day. When World of Warcraft was just starting, I was still logging into my favorite MUDs on a daily basis. I preferred these text-based games over EverQuest, over WoW, not quite over Final Fantasy XI. It was just easier to play UOSSMUD rather than find a party in Final Fantasy XI. These were virtually all free-to-play, and I feel should at least receive some of the credit for paving the way towards F2P online MMOs. The difference in these and a free-to-play MMO was there was almost never a cash shop. Most servers were cheap, and so staff paid for them, and occasionally received donations from the players. Players had to log in via Telnet, or through a MUD client. There are many options for these. I used to use ZMUD/GMUD, but now I use MUDlet.
What is a MUD?
A MUD is a multi-user dungeon. Think D&D or an MMO, but text-based. There were no graphics outside of the occasional ASCII art. Everything was described, each room having a (mostly) detailed description of where you were, and where you could go from there. There were as many codebases as there are nations of people, so I’m not going to go into all of them, because that would be absolute folly. The two styles of MUD that were most common to me were ones based off of White Wolf’s tabletop series (Vampire: the Masquerade, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, et cetera), and ones based off of some kind of D&D setting. These were all real-time games, and for the most part, the faster you could string together commands, the better you were. There were, of course, cooldowns and things like that, but in the more PVP-oriented MUDs, the faster you typed (or the better you put together aliases/macros/triggers), the more skilled you were at the game.
GodWars was the real big PVP/White Wolf code, but there were derivatives of it, where someone modified the original GodWars code to make it their own. However, though KaVir created GodWars, it itself was a derivative of Merc, which was based on DikuMUD. ROM, GodWars, and Envy are probably the biggest MUD styles to come out of DikuMUD. This particular style of MUD, you train your stats and skills, pick a class, and typically enter PVP pretty quick (10 hours of newbie time on average). Though I know little-to-nothing about coding, I’ve worked on several MUDs and even ran my own (Genesis MUD, which was a derivative of Ethereal Mists MUD – a GodWars codebase). Conversely, the ROM/ROT style MUDS are more level-based, having a more RPG/D&D feel. I spent a great deal of time on these kinds of MUDs too, since it was easier to get that D&D fix without having to properly set up a game. I could just message my friends on AIM/YIM/ICQ, and ask them to come run some adventures with me.
MUDs felt like the next big evolution of books and RPGs to me. I got to do plenty of reading, see how these people put together their worlds, and then I got to be a part of them. Then in Ethereal Mists, I got to be a terror that people ran from/logged out to get away from, but that’s another story for another day. I could log in a few times a day, not be assaulted with “daily quests”, play games with my friends, and also work on my own creative tasks – making new characters, giving them bios/descriptions, and when I worked on a game, building new areas for people to explore and level-up in. As far as level-based MUDs go, the ideal MUD is UOSSMUD – The Unofficial Squaresoft MUD. The styles and designs vary wildly, despite common ground on codebases. I’ve seen everything from Final Fantasy MUDs to Dragon Ball Z MUDs, down to insane “Raw Dawgs” codes where you could select three classes, put them together, and just PK til your brain went numb. Each game has its own commands to use, but there are typically a set of generic commands that you can use across games – score (character sheet), inventory (your personal inventory), who (who is logged on that you can see), wizlist (staff of the game).
Ethereal Mist and UOSSMUD:
Those two MUDs to me were the epitome of what a MUD could and should be. Ethereal Mist, a GodWars derivative was run by Xentoth when I got there originally, though ownership passed a few times. This was a PK/RP MUD, though it was pretty light on the RP. I found Ethereal Mist through my first MUD, Shattered Realms, ran by some people local in my state (NC). Some of my best friends at the time were met there, and through Shattered Realms, I also moved out of NC and headed up to CT. But that’s a weird story about younger, edgelord Jason that wanted to escape. So, Ethereal Mist was based loosely on White Wolf, as I alluded to earlier. But it also had Ninjas, Angels, and Demons (that were not based on WW). Mages half were, half were not. They had Spheres like the Mage: the Ascension design but also had a fascinating feature where they basically coded their own spells. You had a spellbook, where you could insert pages, and write content on them. It was low-level coding, where damage spells had to have a certain min/max damage, you could connect effects to them (burning, web, faerie fire, et al), and this was where all the creativity went. I made it so my effects/teleport messages were based on the global messages for time, staff restores, people logging in, anything to throw people off the scent of what I was really up to. You could remove effects tied to people’s gear, so they had to remove/re-wear to get the ability back, all sorts of tricky stuff. Mage was my wheel-house and I was proud to be skilled at it. I still have a Mage Newbie guide (that only had one or two minor errors in it) on a website or to, to this day. I’m not going to link them though because good lord that’s embarrassing. I really wrote like that? Lord help me. This was a game all about how well you knew the classes, and how fast you could type.
GodWars was very much command-based, and each class had its own abilities to know – strengths and weaknesses. Instead of leveling up, you trained HP/Mana/Movement and had a set of Immunities to train. These really didn’t help all that much, but you did it because it was a hold-over from previous codes. It also had something hidden, that the “Newbie School” didn’t teach – Willpower. Vampires and Werewolves could dominate people’s minds, and if you didn’t have Willpowers turned on, people could really take advantage of you. One of the things about Ethereal Mist is that things weren’t hidden because they “had” to be. People kept secrets because it was a PK MUD, and any edge you could get on other players, the better. It had a terrible Newbie School, which basically consisted of killing five monsters, training avatar (the character states: Mortal, Avatar, Classed Character), and throwing you into the world. Looking back, I would have redone the Newbie School, if I weren’t so obsessed with PKing everyone. I did hold the record for Most Status (which I abused a dumb system to do), Most Quests completed, and Most Kills until I stopped, and let Kreshk take my spot.
However, Ethereal Mist died out, with no one to take over. My MUD, GenesisMUD was very much in remembrance of EM, and without Phil, Carandir, and a few other people, it would have gone nowhere.
I’ve spoken about UOSSMUD here before, so I’ll be as brief as I can be. My highs and lows were much greater on UOSSMUD, but it was a place that I still log in to, even as recent as today. Think of it as Final Fantasy Tactics, but in text form. You could equip two classes, set a passive trait, and a counter trait from classes you’ve unlocked/earned. You level up as a character, and gain a set of 5 stats to choose from, and also gain AP for the Primary Class you have equipped. Each Job has requirements, whether it be level, a quest/mission, et cetera. This was a game where you had to know the command line for each and every ability, which feels daunting to say. You also could not name a character after a Squaresoft character, until you hit level 100. This also unlocks most of the alternate races/playstyles. The “worlds” were set in Final Fantasy V, VI, VII, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. In my time as staff, I mostly built areas in Final Fantasy VII.
However, you could make an alias for all of them, and call up the list if you needed/wanted. It’s a complicated MUD, but the Newbie School really goes over the important stuff. It’s also important to note that you can’t just spam these aliases. There’s a global timer between them, about one tick/second. Another fun thing is that the area maps are fairly close to identical to the ones in the actual Squaresoft games. So you can think pretty logically and map areas out (or you can go to the UOSS wiki). There are lots of builds and potential class combos, and back in its heyday, people were grouped doing content together, battling the forces of evil in the Militia, even PKing. It was a wild time. Though the population has dwindled, new content still comes out regularly for UOSSMUD, and ultimately, without UOSSMUD I would not have found my way into this job. So in a way, I have to thank Mecha, Dana, Velius, Johan, and all the other Wizards that made it possible for me to play at that time in my life.
UOSSMUD was different at the time, because of QINFO. Certain quests, optional bosses and secret items were considered QINFO. That means it was against the rules to share it with anyone. You didn’t whisper about it, you didn’t email it, you didn’t message people on mIRC about it. Some of those rules have relaxed now, likely considering how easy it is to share info securely now, but you definitely did not ever share QINFO. You had to explore and find out certain things for yourself. Whether it was how to find the Quells Shop, the location of the Black Rabite, or what Job Level/Monster Requirements you needed for Blue Mage Lores, you just Did Not Talk About Them. It had a kind of mystique and made the learning process more enjoyable. There are still things I’m not good at and don’t know in UOSS, in the Year of our Lord 2019. I found UOSS in a very bad time in my life, and I was not the best person or player during those years. I did grow, as the game did, and became more mentally healthy as time progressed. But no matter what, UOSSMUD has always been there and continues to be a part of my life. No matter who is in charge, I have a great many fond memories of exploring and growing – both as a person and as a player. I would love to see MUDs come back, where people are logging in daily, hanging out and exploring this free-to-play option. They aren’t all that hard to get into, any PC (hell, Cell Phones can run them) can run one, and again -free. Interested parties can find UOSS in the link below. You can find me on as Ishamael, Gamma, Ragachak or Josif.
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