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An excellent FAQ on MUDs is available at http://www.clock.org/muds/.
MUTT's MUD List provides a list of links to frequently available mud sites.
Additional MUD information is available at these links.
Wiley publishes a book called Playing MUDs on the Internet, written by Shah and Romine.
These users can be other people connected to the MUD, or they may be automated agents. In addition to participating in conversations, users can also seek/browse for objects and examine/read them.
The advantage of using a MUD over a chat protocol is that each MUD is contextually organized - typically using a room metaphor. Each user can browse from room to room, each room having a unique characteristic and containing different people/agents/objects within.
Most MUDs support navigation via commands such as "north", "south", "ne" (north-east), "up", "down", "enter room", etc. As the user enters a room, the MUD issues a text description of the room, a list of people/agents/objects in the room and a list of other places that you can go to from there.
Passing from room to room, the user "hears" all the conversations going on by the other people/agents in that room. Some people are whispering to each other - such conversations are not overheard by other people. The user also hears "shouts" from users in other parts of the MUD.
Users might find some rooms/objects locked or hidden; accessing them often requires either permission from the MUD adminstrators or acquired experience on the MUD.
You might recognize other users in the room and stop to chat with them. There might be a librarian (either a live one or an automated agent) that you could ask questions of. You might also find a series of cataog files that you could browse through.
After exploring the room a bit, you might decide to enter the news archives, which you notice is just east of you. Upon entering the archives, you receive a description of the room and a different list of users in the room. You might also notice a number of articles laying around, which you can pick up and read. You can take the article with you, drop it where you found it, or put it back on the shelves.
You notice some privacy booths lining one of the walls and enter one. You find that no other people/agents are in there, and you can no longer hear anyone else chatting - allowing you to read your article in peace. When you are done, you leave the booth and explore some more!
However, even without the pizzaz of VR, MUDs provide an excellent interface for accessing digital information, whether it is news, reference material, email, product info, odering forms and general entertainment.
Many MUDs are based on a world metaphor - the MUD contains cities, villages, buildings, forests, oceans, caves, which you can navigate through. Some MUDs allow you to catch trains or planes to navigate from one town to another, which is generally faster that "walking" from one site to another.
Some MUDS allow users to modify/enhance the world by creating new spaces, objects or agents. Sometimes this requires programming knowledge - in other cases, this may be as simple as typing "build house", "enter house", "add room", etc.
A majority of MUDs are set up as games - with Dungeons&Dragons-based themes. They require the players to gain experience on the MUD by exploring and completing certain tasks. Many such MUDs encourage inter-player cooperation to accomplish tasks. As the players gain in experience, they typically gain new "powers" that assist them in completing further tasks.
Some of these game MUDs focus on battle themes, others are more peaceable. The battle MUDs generally involve aquiring weapon/armour objects, seeking monster agents (or other playes) and battling them. If you succeed in conquering them, you gain skills/experience points and their weapons/armour/money. If you are defeated, you loose all the object you are carrying, and usually a significant number of points. The typical goal of these games is to gain enough points to become "immortal" and undefeatable.
Each MUD is organized differently, but some of the larger MUDs follow the following immortal hierachy:
Telnet is the cheapest way to connect to a MUD; just set the correct port number and open the right address and you are ready to go!
However, Telnet is not the optimal way of connecting to a MUD, as multiple conversations will get garbled as they intermix with your typed responses. A better method is to use a MUD "client". These are tuned to work with MUDs and typically have separate windows for sending and receiving conversations. Many also support scripting and triggers, which allow you to automate responses to events occuring on the MUD - which is very useful for battle MUDs.
A popular MUD client on unix is TinyFugue, or "tf". Several MUD clients are now available for MS Windows. One such client is MUTT(tm). Others are available for the MAC; the rec.games.mud.* newsgroup FAQs list several clients.
Once you have connected to the MUD, it will typically ask you for a name and password. If this is a game MUD, your login name will be a character name. The character name should conform to the theme of the MUD. Most MUDs let you login as GUEST to get a feel of the place before you actually create a permanent character.
Many game muds will allow you to define character attributes within the theme of the MUD. Typical character attributes for a MUD might be: sex (male, female, neutral), species (human, elf, wolf...), description, etc. Different characteristics may be associated with differing skills and abilities on the MUD. Some MUDs allow users to have multiple characters, each with different abilities.
After you've created a character, you'll be able to log onto the MUD again in future, typically taking up where you left before. The first thing you will probably want to do on the MUD is to enable text capturing on your client (if available) and type "help". This will generally give you a list of common commands that you can use on the MUD. You might also look for a map of the MUD, to give you an idea of the layout.
Behaviors define what happens when you interact with an object. For instance, when you enter a room, its behavior is to generally give you a list of descriptions for all the other objects in the room.
Each object has a behavior that defines what happens when you look at, attack or attempt to take an object.
The engine that makes all this work is generally called a MUD Operating System. Each operating has its own language that allows wizards to enhance the MUD and add new objects and rooms. It is this OS and language that defines whether a MUD is an MUSH, LP, MOO, etc.
One attempt to unify all these various engines is MudOS. It provides most of the features common to all MUDs, and several MUD engines, such as LP, have been re-implemented on top of MudOS. LPC, the language used on LP MUDs, has been re-implemented on top of MudOS.
Beyond the MUD engine and its language, the character of a MUD is also defined by libraries of objects, rooms and behaviors known as MudLibs.
Only after selecting a platform, then a MUD engine/language and MudLib can you really begin to create a new, unique MUD world.