A Beginner's Guide to MUDs

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What's a MUD?

If you've played games before, then you know what an RPG is. You run around killing monsters, completing quests, and plundering dungeons as your character. They can be pretty fun, and there are plenty of variations out there to cater to different playstyles. There's a good reason the genre is so popular.

MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) borrow a lot from roleplaying games. You usually run around killing monsters, completing quests, and plundering dungeons. You have a character, and they get stronger as you do things. Despite this, there's a major difference between MUDs and your average roleplaying video game: MUDs are entirely text-based. You don't get pictures of anything. There's no arrow keys, no WASD, not even a cursor used to interact with in-game objects. Instead, everything is done by reading and typing text. This is what makes them amazing.

Aside from the fact that you could play MUDs on a potato, many of them have become storytelling hubs where people come together to weave an epic tale. What that shared story looks like depends on the setting, but no matter what the setting is, everyone's character matters. Unlike most RPGs, your actions can leave a lasting impact on an ever-changing world. It's not even limited to four dialogue options. Anything can happen. You could change the course of an entire kingdom if you play your cards right. If that's too much pressure, don't worry. Plenty of people stick to one-on-one roleplaying and tell small stories together rather than joining in on the overarching story.

Even outside of storytelling, MUDs can be a great place to meet people who share your interests. After all, the people you'll meet there were drawn to the same MUD you were, meaning that the setting is interesting to all of you. A surprisingly large number of people have met lifelong friends and partners while playing on a MUD.

Combat is also a major draw for MUD players. Turn-based battles against various enemies can be remarkably exciting when all you have in front of you is text. It encourages careful strategy and teamwork, and you're free to imagine all sorts of wild moves that your character's pulling.

There's really no wrong way to play on a MUD, and because people have different focuses, there are even offshoot game types that cater to different playstyles. You might see MUSHes, MUCKs, and any number of things starting with MU. For the most part, these are the same as MUDs, but with a slightly different focus.

  • MUDs tend to emphasize the RPG parts of the game: they're about dungeon-crawling, killing monsters, and building a character in tandem with other people. If you like standard RPGs, MUDs are probably right up your alley.
  • MUCKs tend to put more of a focus on roleplay, particularly multiplayer politics and civilization. RPG elements still remain important, but it's in a way that's often closely paired with player storytelling. Have you ever wanted to be part of a kingdom and fight wars that leave a lasting impact on the world? Now you can!
  • MUSHes take this one step further and focus on collaborative roleplay and teamwork without paying much mind to RPG elements at all. More than anything else, MUSHs are about telling a story. MUXes are much the same.

So that I'm not constantly saying "MUD/MUCK/MUSH/MUX/etc., the rest of this article will use "MUD" to refer to all of these games. MUDs came first, after all (they date back to 1980)!

How do I play?

There's really only two things you need to play on a MUD. You need a MUD to play on (hopefully obvious!) and a client program to access it with. You've got a lot of options for both depending on what you like!

Finding MUDs

Your best bet is finding a listing site for MUDs. There's quite a few out there- MUD Portal has a large list and should be a good place to get started. Mudverse is another sizeable list. Most MUDs also have their own websites that can be found through a search engine, so another way to find MUDs is through your search engine of choice. Want a MUD that takes inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons? "D&D MUD game" turns up some good options.

When it comes to choosing a MUD, consider what you want to get out of it. Do you want to roleplay? Dungeon crawl? What sort of setting are you interested in? Do you want everything you do to be in-character (referred to as "roleplay-enforced")? Are you okay with player killing? Does the MUD have a wiki or other means of getting more information about it? Questions like that help quite a bit with narrowing down your options. You've got a lot of MUDS that you can look through, so anything to shrink that list is good.

Client programs

There's a lot out there, and I can't possibly list every single client program here. What I can do is recommend a few that I know about. Ultimately, the choice is up to you! If you don't like anything you see here, then you can find more options through your search engine of choice. Some MUDs even have their own web clients, meaning that you don't have to download anything to play them.

  • Mudlet: This is the client I see recommended most often for beginners, and it's easy to see why. It has a graphical interface with a built-in mapping system, plenty of customization options, an excellent manual, and even a few suggested MUDs to try. It makes connecting to MUDs a breeze. It's also cross-platform, so it'll work no matter what operating system you're using.
  • TinTin++: TinTin++ is my own client of choice. It's terminal-based, so this isn't a good choice if you're not comfortable on the command line. If you do know what you're doing in the terminal, then TinTin++ is wonderful. It can be run while passing a file as an argument, and it'll run whatever commands you chuck in that file- in other words, if you want your client to do all the work of connecting for you and/or want to automate some commands you run all the time, and you want to be able to easily port these settings between computers, TinTin++ is fantastic. Here's the contents of the file I pass TinTin++ to save myself some effort.
  • MUDslinger: MUDslinger is a fully-functional browser-based client. No downloads needed; just chuck your URL and port number in there, then play. It's an easy client to use if you don't want to download anything.
  • KlidClient: Another cross-platform client that comes highly recommended. It's simpler than Mudlet, but plenty capable of doing what it needs to, and it may be better if you're easily overwhelmed.
  • MUDRammer: An IOS client that's simple, fast, and effective. You can even customize the color scheme, which is a small miracle for an IOS app.
  • BlowTorch: An Android client; I haven't had the chance to try this, but it comes well-recommended.
  • MUD Portal: MUD Portal is both a browser-based client and a good place to find MUDs to play on. It's an all-in-one deal! I haven't tried the web client myself, but it seems decent enough.


So you've chosen a client and found a MUD that seems interesting. What now?

While the exact details of how you connect to a MUD vary from client to client, you're going to need the same information for all of them: a URL and a port number. Most MUDs will have this prominently displayed somewhere on their website- go digging if it's not immediately visible, and don't expect the URL to be the same as the website's URL. Once you've found that information, chuck it into your client, do any other customizing you'd like (such as giving this new connection a name- I'd suggest using the MUD's name unless you like being confused), and connect! Congrats, you're now online.

Doing things

You might notice that you can't do much of anything yet. You don't have a character! First things first, take care of that and create your first character. The exact procedure for this varies from MUD to MUD, but most of them will walk you through the process. If the MUD itself doesn't tell you what to type, check the website and see if there are any instructions there.

Wait, how do I do that?

At their core, MUDs are text-based games. The vast majority of them aren't going to have pictures, buttons, or most of what you're likely used to seeing in a game. WASD won't get you anywhere. Instead, you're going to need to type and send commands. These commands are usually pretty simple and clear- use object, go west, talk person, and so on. If you're not sure what you need to type, most MUDs have a help command that might be able to point you in the right direction.

While commands vary from MUD to MUD, most of them have a few common commands.

  • go [direction]: These commands allow you to move from room to room in the MUD. For example, go north makes your character move into the room directly north of where you're currently located. Some MUDs allow you to skip the word go and just type north. You might even be able to get away with nothing more than n. Try out different options and see what works in your MUD of choice.
  • look [object]: This gives you a text description of an object as though your character looked at it.
  • talk [NPC]: This allows your character to engage with an NPC. For the more RPG-inclined MUDs, this is one way to pick up quests.
  • say [text]: Say something in-character. For example, if your character is named Bob, say Hello world! outputs a message that's something like "Bob says 'Hello world!'". These messages can be seen by other players and are useful for roleplaying.
  • whisper [user] [text]: Send a private message to a user. Depending on the MUD, this might be in-character or out of character.

Other commands vary from MUD to MUD. One server's equip might be another's wear. Luckily, MUDs tend to be pretty good about documenting their commands. A list of commands and what they do can usually be found either on the MUD's website or inside the MUD itself. Poke around or try sending help to see what you can do.

Most MUDs also have some sort of chat system between players. If there's a public chat system, then this can be a good place to ask for help.

What now?

I don't know! Go talk to people, roleplay, kill some monsters, and do whatever got you reading this article in the first place. Have fun. Or don't- it's not my job to tell you what to do. If you'd like to join me on my MUCK of choice and roleplay, shoot me an email about it.

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