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Mud Schools

by Michael "Talien" Tresca

You've heard about a great new mud. You're very excited about adventuring in this new fantasy universe where heroes are born, epic battles are fought, and legends are made. You rush through the character creation process and enter the game, only to discover:

Some old people going to school

They look pretty happy about school? Maybe not.

"Welcome to Dumbmud's Newbie School! Please look at your newbie guidebook, and follow the Newbie Teacher 2 s, 1 e of here!"

Distraught that you are not engaging in anything having to do with a sword or sorcery, walk a few paces south, then east. And what do you find?

"A series of desks are here. A teacher at the front desk looks at you expectantly."

Look at teacher.

This is your typical teacher. She looks sternly down at you. You may want to ask her about "killing". Weapons wielded: ruler.

At this point, it's starting to sound like a bizarre chapter from Harry Potter. You ask her about killing.

"So you want to learn how to kill, huh? Okay fine, go 2 e, and kill the butterfly by typing 'kill butterfly.'"

At this point, I log off.

Why? Because, 1) you've just treated me like I'm a child, 2) I've come to play a new and exciting game and you SENT ME BACK TO SCHOOL.

To beat the proverbial mud horse into permadeath: you promised me heroics, adventure, and derring-do, and instead I'm having flashbacks to high school!

Mud Schools are an oxymoron. Even though games have a learning curve, that learning curve should be fun. Mud = fun. Schools = no fun.

Want to create an introductory system to your mud that allows players to learn your game AND have fun? It's going to take more work. Or, you could just be lazy and continue to lose new players and stick with your boring old mud school.

So how DO you introduce new players to your game without traumatizing them on the one hand or insulting them on the other? Microsoft had it right:

Have a damned good help system. If you don't have a good help system, a mud school won't help you either. If you don't know your game well enough to write an extensive series of help files on everything a player could possibly want to know, your players are certainly not going to have that information.

Having problems writing the help files? First, make sure that you have a means of logging help file queries. Then check over those logs when someone looks for a help file they don't find, and be SURE to have that help file. Second, lay your help files out like a book, into categories and sections so it's easily sorted. And finally, ask your players to write help files for you.

Do everything you can to get new players to read that help system. On Retromud we use a similar concept to Clippit, who is just an interface to the help files. We have chatty little guides, who travel with the newbie. They tell the newbie about areas appropriate to them, provide them with means to overcome the game's challenges, etc. By asking the guide a question, the guide merely repeats the help files that are an appropriate answer. But the newbie is IN the game. The players are still playing the game everyone else is playing.

Code into the game parameters to deal with new players. Introduce concepts slowly, but they should be playing in the same universe as everyone else. Otherwise they're playing the "Newbie School" as a game within the game, and it's probably not a particularly good representation of the game either.

Your players are your most powerful resource. You should have a channel for new players to ask questions, you should have other players designated as newbie helpers, and you should ensure that new players are not regularly ostracized or attacked on your game just because they're new. If you don't care about new players, you probably don't care about introducing them to your shared universe either.

There's a prevailing attitude that newbies are children. They're slow, they're stupid, they whine, and they get lost without direction. While this may well be true of the new character born to your mud, it is by no means an accurate depiction of the person behind the character. You'll note role-playing games do not have new players killing butterflies and bunnies, because if they did nobody would want to play the game. Newbiedom should not be an unpleasant ritual that everyone must go through.

The best mud Schools are not mud schools at all, but part of the game experience that help new players get assimilated into the game, both socially to the player base and personally accustomed to the game's rules and regulations. The worst mud schools are patches to game systems with poor documentation that really exist to reinforce why you don't want to be a new player—which turns off casual players at a critical time when they're deciding whether or not they want to play your game.

Michael is an administrator of RetroMUD, reviewer for All Game Guide and reviewer for