The 5 basic MUD styles and you

ko-fi Written by Andruid
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A compass and the text: 5 Basic MUD styles.

An introduction to the 5 basic MUD styles, including what you can expect and how to find a suitable game.


Table of Contents

    Which of the 5 basic MUD styles is right for you?

    Multi-user dungeons (MUDs) come in a wide variety of flavors. If you’re new to text-based gaming, you might find the sheer number of options overwhelming. How do you know what kind of game is right for you, and where should you start?

    Today’s post is designed to introduce you to 5 major MUD styles. The goal is to help you figure out which MUD style is likely to be a better fit so that you can find a game you’ll enjoy.

    The 5 MUD styles covered in this guide include:

    • Player vs Environment (PvE)
    • Player vs Player (PvP)
    • Roleplaying
    • Social
    • Graphical

    I’ll also teach you how to find games that fit into these categories.

    However, it’s important to note that these categories aren’t mutually exclusive. You can and almost certainly will come across games that include multiple styles. More on this below.

    If you read my intro to multi-user dungeons, you might remember the discussion on the 3 main ways that MUDs differ: codebase, genre, and culture.

    Notice how I didn’t list style? That’s because style is typically a function of all 3 of these aspects, and MUDs can include elements from multiple styles.

    Introduction to the 5 basic MUD styles

    So, you’ve decided to give text-based gaming a try. Awesome! MUDing is a wonderful hobby – I’ve made many friends over the years playing a variety of multi-user games, and I hope you do, too.

    Let’s look at 5 broad, generally-accepted MUD styles:

    Player versus Environment (PvE)

    PvE games are those that emphasize solving puzzles, completing quests, and killing non-player characters (NPCs) in order to gain experience, levels, and loot.

    If this sounds familiar from your WoW days, it’s because many modern MMORPG ideas came from multiplayer text RPGs. 🙂

    The silhouette of a woman holding a sword.
    PvE MUDs are often called hack-and-slash games because the main way to progress is by dispatching NPCs, often with a sharp weapon!

    In general, PvE games feature things like classes, levels, skills, spells, and the ability to revive after dying. They may also feature clans, achievements, titles, and numerous channels for communicating with one’s fellow players from anywhere in the game.

    PvE MUDs might be your jam if…

    • You enjoy exploring areas, solving puzzles, and completing quests, either alone or with a buddy.
    • You like collecting in-game currency, training up your character, and outfitting them with new and better gear.
    • You want a relatively low-stakes experience where you don’t have to worry about losing your character but can achieve great things if you put in the effort.

    Player versus Player (PvP)

    PvP games are those that emphasize player vs. player combat or player-killing (PKing). In addition to levels and classes, these games will often feature things like clans or factions, achievements, leaderboards, kill counts, and PK announcements.

    Players primarily play PvP games for the thrill of competing and winning against other players. Combat is often faction-based, with players going to war for their particular faction.

    A line of medieval soldiers ready for battle.
    Clan or faction wars are a common feature in games where PvP is important.

    Can PvE games include PvP?

    Absolutely! Many modern hack-and-slash games include PvP mechanics that allow players to pit themselves against each other for fun and glory.

    PvP systems can be implemented in numerous ways. For example, PvP combat might be restricted to certain zones, such as arenas, or to certain days of the week. PvP might also require opting-in or may only be initiated with special commands.

    PvP MUDs might be your jam if…

    • You enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with attacking or ambushing other players.
    • You prefer a fast-paced game where the stakes are higher or where your ranking or reputation is on the line.
    • You like to win, but the idea of fighting NPCs all the time sounds dull and repetitive.

    Roleplaying

    Roleplaying (RP) games are those that emphasize an immersive storytelling environment. They typically require that players stay in character in order to maintain roleplay immersion.

    Among roleplay-heavy games, there’s generally an expectation that players will use emotes (also sometimes called “poses”). Emotes are a freeform way of writing out your character’s actions rather than executing them one at a time with single commands (socials).

    Because it takes time to write out these custom actions, interactions between players can take longer and may feel slower-paced than with the PvE and PvP MUD styles.

    Roleplay-heavy games often feature political intrigue, and players’ choices can make a difference in how the story unfolds.

    In addition to having higher expectations around writing and roleplaying, RP games may de-emphasize game systems such as levels, classes, achievements, and leaderboards. They might also have rules in place to enforce the separation of IC and OOC knowledge and discourage metagaming.

    Roleplaying MUDs might be your jam if…

    • You want to experience the game’s setting from the perspective (e.g. thoughts, feelings, and limitations) of your character.
    • You enjoy writing out your character’s actions, and you wouldn’t mind waiting a little longer for your fellow players to do the same.
    • You want to be a unique part of an evolving story.

    Roleplaying games can differ pretty dramatically by theme, codebase, and RP culture. For a discussion of MUDs, MUSHes, and RPI MUDs, see the Frequently Asked Questions at the end of this post.

    Social

    Social games are those that emphasize socializing and making friends. Combat and other systems may be de-emphasized or not present at all. Roleplaying may be encouraged in certain areas and unnecessary in others.

    Even more pared down are Talkers, which are essentially chatrooms hosted on private servers.

    Talkers were popular in the ’90s, but integrations with IRC (and more recently Discord) have enabled players to chat across games – or even with people who aren’t playing a game at all.

    Additionally, most MUDs tend to have multiple channels of their own that allow players to chat with each other while playing. Thus, many modern games include “talker” elements without being dedicated Talkers, themselves.

    Social MUDs might be your jam if…

    • You enjoy hanging out and making new friends in a virtual world.
    • You want a fluid game where you can create new rooms, channels, or objects in a low-pressure way, whether as a solo project or to share with others.
    • You want to make up your own rules or run your own game within a game.

    Graphical

    Last but not least, graphical games are those that offer an enhanced experience through a graphical user interface (GUI).

    Graphics can include maps and clickable elements (such as buttons for moving N, S, E, and W), as well as artwork of areas, equipment, or foes. There might even be images for items being held or wielded, for example.

    Simple graphical interface used by a MUD with a health bar at the bottom and a map in the upper right.
    Popular games often have MUD client packages that provide useful add-ons, such as maps and chat windows.

    For most games with a graphical component, the GUI is an optional layer available through a specific MUD client or downloadable configuration.

    Graphical MUDs might be your jam if…

    • You’re a player with sight who prefers games with artwork, visuals, and clickable UI elements.
    • You prefer to find your way around with a visual map (or find it easier to do so).

    Which MUD styles are right for you?

    As you’ve probably guessed by now, most modern games are designed to appeal to more than one type of player. Thus, MUDs will often include a variety of systems meant to fulfill different needs, thereby crossing into multiple MUD styles.

    RP games can include both PvE and PvP combat, for example.

    Most games, regardless of type, include various channels for socializing.

    Many popular hack-and-slash games provide some form of graphical user interface, which can include ready-made maps, buttons, and health gauges.

    There are even games that don’t quite fit into the 5 basic types, yet include typical elements of each.

    For example, EmpireMUD is a map-based MUD that revolves around building your own cities. Yet it also includes a social element, PvE, and even PvP.

    The sometimes challenging part of MUDing is figuring out which MUD styles suit you best, then locating a game that ticks most or all of the right boxes.

    How to determine your preferred MUD style

    If you’ve never played multiplayer games before, one of the best ways to figure out which MUD styles will work best for you is to simply give some MUDs a try.

    Grapevine is a great way to get started because you can try a popular game (or even a game at random) without having to download a MUD client. You might also try joining a MUD of the Month event, in which players try out a new game each month.

    Games will typically identify themselves as hack and slash, roleplaying, PvP-oriented, and so on in their descriptions. You can also search for games with these tags on listing sites like GameScry.

    MUD Scry, a listing site for games. There are columns for title, ranking, logo, and description.
    MUD Scry allows you to filter the list by various tags in the left side panel. The brighter the tag, the more available games there are that fit that label.

    If you’re still not sure where to start, a good old-fashioned hack-and-slash game is probably going to be your best introduction to the MUD genre. Especially one that’s well-populated and has a lot of friendly players willing to show you the ropes or lend you a hand if you get stuck.

    For example, Aardwolf is a long-running game that ticks the PvE, PvP, social, and graphical boxes, but it’s not an RP-focused game. The benefit of this is that you can explore, ask questions, and learn from other players without being told to “find out in character” (FOIC).

    Accessibility

    Apart from the basic MUD styles, accessibility is something else to consider.

    Most MUDs will let you know early on if they offer accessibility options, such as a screen reader-friendly mode. Games will typically advertise their accessibility features in their listing, on their homepage, and right when you log in to create your first character.

    Screen reader-friendly games tend to limit the presence of decorative ASCII, replace color codes with meaningful labels, and reduce the number of lines that need to be read by the screen reader so that the player won’t be spammed.

    For example, Alter Aeon is a popular fantasy MUD among blind players. It also comes recommended by one of my interviewees, Aaron, a gamer with low vision.

    Additional help

    If, after trying out various games, you have trouble finding one that quite fits the bill, you can always browse or ask around on r/MUD. You’re likely to receive at least a few good recommendations if you take the time to post.

    Tip: If you decide to ask for help, be sure to use the Which MUD? flair and describe what kind of MUD styles you prefer. Try to include at least 3-5 specifics to make it easier for readers to make recommendations.

    As you explore, keep in mind that most MUDs are hobbyist projects run by volunteers. Wherever you go, remember to be polite and follow Bill & Ted wisdom (be excellent to each other).

    Bartle’s taxonomy of player types

    So we’ve looked at MUD styles, but what about player types?

    If you enjoy personality tests and quizzes, you might find the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology to be a fun and illuminating exercise.

    About the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology

    Back in the ’90s, Richard Bartle argued that players tend to fall into one or more categories, which he labeled as achievers, explorers, socialisers, and killers.

    In Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs, Bartle wrote, “An easy way to remember these is to consider suits in a conventional pack of cards: achievers are Diamonds (they’re always seeking treasure); explorers are Spades (they dig around for information); socialisers are Hearts (they empathise with other players); killers are Clubs (they hit people with them).”

    Importantly, Bartle noted that “players will often drift between all four [types], depending on their mood or current playing style.”

    However, he added that most players do have a main style toward which they gravitate.

    By taking the test, you can see where you fall in the Bartle Taxonomy of Player Types.

    Bartle later introduced a more nuanced test that also looks at whether player behavior is implicit or explicit. This divided the original four types into a total of eight. A version of this test is available on Mudhalla.net.

    By understanding what motivates different types of players, game admins and developers can design their games accordingly.

    Which type are you, Andruid?

    Many years ago, when I initially took the Bartle test, I scored as an Explorer-Killer. At the time, I primarily played roleplay-heavy games and tended to channel my energy into politically strategic or mischievous characters backed up by serious combat stats.

    But people and playstyles can and do change.

    Most recently, I scored as a Socializer-Explorer, which is probably pretty accurate for where I’m at right now. These days, I tend to focus more on storytelling (tabletop style, except in text) and bringing players together for fun in-character events.

    Andruid's Bartle test result showing 67% Socialiser and 60% Explorer.

    If you happen to take the test and Tweet your results, feel free to @ mention me (@the_andruid) – I’d love to know what your gamer type is and whether you think it hits the mark!

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Answers to common questions about MUD styles:

    What is a MUSH?

    MUSH stands for “multi-user shared hallucination.” It’s a form of multi-user (MU*) game that tends to focus on consensual roleplay enacted through collaborative writing.

    Often, the codebase in a MUSH will be built around giving players tools to tell stories together (similar to a tabletop RPG) rather than providing elaborate coded systems for automated PvE or PvP combat.

    How do MUDs and MUSHes differ?

    MUDs often focus on PvE or PvP combat as the main driver for gaining XP, leveling up, and progressing through the game. XP is gained automatically through activities such as questing and combat, and roleplaying may be non-existent or optional.

    In a MUSH, however, the primary purpose is to roleplay, so the systems to accumulate and spend XP may be minimal.

    What is an RPI MUD?

    An RPI is a type of roleplaying MUD that typically features nonconsensual elements (like permanent death), as well as elaborate systems to decide the outcomes of PvE and PvP combat.

    Unlike in a usual hack-and-slash game, however, the players in an RPI are required to stay in character (IC) at all times.

    While some games still continue to self-identify as RPI, the label these days tends to have a negative connotation within the broader MUD community and is often associated with toxic communities.

    What makes an RPI toxic?

    Not all roleplay-intensive games are necessarily toxic, but those that are usually place players in high-stakes situations where they lack control over what happens to their character.

    With social ostracization and permanent death being possible outcomes, and out-of-character communication minimized or discouraged, tensions can run high.

    RPIs are often home to claims of cheating, metagaming, favoritism, and other such issues between players and staff.


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    Smiling blonde woman wearing glasses.
    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. “Be excellent to each other.”