by Ephera April 15, 2006
Disclaimer: The opinions herein belong solely to Ephera. Some games look for different things when building, but overall any zone made by these rules should be good for most muds. A lot of the building philosophy within is somewhat personal and in some cases very picky. Not everyone will agree with all points, but if one follows the rules laid out here, they will make an excellent zone, albeit of a particular style.
This building document is old – years old. It was first drafted sometime around 2000 and submitted it to a few MUDs I was building on after I left Lensmoor. Eventually, The Builder Academy took me in and I gave it to them. It has been submitted under several names and different guises: Vox, Elaseth, Ephera, Oriana, and so forth, and I’ve given people permission to use the document elsewhere, but I am the original author (and I have no idea who uses it today or if old places I’ve given it to still do, beyond the Builder Academy). This particular version has a few updates solely for Mudconnector because of how general the audience is.
The Beginning of a Zone:
The first thing to do when sitting down to build a zone is just that – sit down and think about it. Every zone starts with an idea or a spark. From there, develop it. Pay attention to what kind of zone you want to create. Is it to be an exp zone? Gold/money? Equipment? Quest? A combination of each or something else entirely? Evaluate the idea. Would you want to play in this zone?
After you have this part worked out you’re ready for the second step, mapping it. Some really neat people prefer to map with graph paper, but that’s not necessary. Any paper will do. The reasons behind mapping are simple. It solidifies what you’re planning to build into mud terms. Also, though final products rarely are an exact copy of the map, they provide a concrete reference for you to look at when the builder’s block question rears its ugly head “Hmm, what do I build next?” Lastly, not all players have nifty clients especially made for mudding with auto-mappers, etc. We wouldn’t want those poor unfortunate souls to be at more of a disadvantage than they have to be… and maps are highly important to knowing a mud, even if you keep them all in your head as a few players do. When creating your basic map, it’s also a good idea to number the rooms on your map so you can keep track of vnums by the last two or three digits as well as know exactly which room is where if you need to go back and change something. It saves you having to dig through several vnums trying to find that one place where you have to reconnect an exit. Just create each vnum with the corresponding map digits and it’s smooth sailing.
Now that you have an idea and a map, it’s time to actually start building. And this is where the term stylistics comes into play. These are the do’s and don’ts of building that surpass simple knowledge of OLC. Some of these rules depend on the kind of mud you play, but most are tried and true for a nice, all around, every-mud-can-use-it zone.
Most of us know that many players do not read descriptions, but that the mud environment would be ever better if people did. As builders, we want them to read because we’re not only putting a lot of work into what we do, but because these descriptions and the areas they represent intrinsically represent the virtual world of our game.
All descriptions should encourage players to read – first, by being well-written and simply bearing artistic merit. Second, by ensuring that they are absolutely necessary to achieve the goals of the game! If your game is made for experience and equipment gathering, and failure to read descriptions directly impedes this goal, then players will learn to read everything. If your game is made for exploring or role-play, most of your players probably already read them – because knowing their environment is a basic requirement of play. In any case, builders exist to ensure that the goals of play are supported by game descriptions.
Game environments benefit from complexity, especially complexity that comes in a palatable form (such as simplicity). There exists a certain pleasure in discovering hidden depth anywhere, especially if its truly a discovery. Hiding meaning behind descriptions, areas to find, special items, unique nooks and crannies to spend time socializing, and hints that point to these things elsewhere outside of your own zone, are an excellent idea. In fact, if you don’t wish to be building descriptions no one will read, you should employ special secrets – most especially on games where knowing one’s environment does deeply affect a character’s development. No matter what kind of zone you are building, keep it interesting throughout!
Most rooms or things that belong to a zone should play an actual part in the world. If building a residence does nothing but add rooms, don’t bother adding it. It is entirely possible that small parts of the zone are there entirely for flavor, or to provide a place of a specific atmosphere to the game for certain types of play. This is fine, but make certain that your zone fulfills the game’s basic design. Plain and simple, if these elements do not exist, the zone isn’t interesting and is not worth building.
I suggest having something special every three or so rooms, even if it’s only a minor addition that doesn’t even connect to the zone itself (Such as finding a sigil of office on a door, or old burned bones in a ditch on the side of the road).
Elements of Style – Rules and Explanations
Write complexity into your zone. If you don’t write well, you probably shouldn’t be the sole builder of your zone. Instead, seek the assistance of someone who adds creative merit to your descriptions. You can do practically everything from plot to secrets to minutiae, even write the zone in full and just ask someone you know who writes well to ‘say it better’ and rewrite what you intended to have there all along. Novels have editors, and so should any zone.
Add secrets! Reward players for participating in game that the zone represents. Always include at least one interesting thing per five or so rooms. For example, have a bench in the garden or a table loaded to the room. Many objects don’t have to do anything, just break up the sparse rooms. A good amount of these things should do something to enhance a player’s gaming goals, however, for the sake of forcing the player to read what you’re taking the trouble to write. Don’t forget to add difficulty levels as well. Not all secrets should be highly difficult to discover. In fact, most zone-defining secrets should be the easiest for a player to discern and puzzle out, harder enigmas become the reward for replay or truly deep thought, unnecessary for those of lesser time/intellect/interest to simply relax and enjoy the game.
Note: Remember that gaming goals define a game, so H&S zones will want to reward with good equipment or experience while RP games may wish to add something social such as access to a special area their guild can take over with relative privacy, etc.
Recommendation: document these somewhere for easy admin look-up. On TI, we use ximm to add comments to rooms and objects that only immortals can see.
Never, ever repeat yourself. Do not clone rooms without a specific reason. Saving time or energy is not an excuse. Players who play in zones with multiple copies of a description stop reading the descriptions. The zone becomes monotonous, and hence the mud based upon it shares that failure. If a zone bores people, why play it? Much more importantly, why build it? We’re talking about a great deal of work here. Changing a description by one or two words counts as copying as well. If you feel that a teacher at school would even consider calling your two descriptions plagiarism when compared to each other, change them. Repetition is redundancy. Who wants something they’re working on for several weeks to be seen as redundant?
If a builder uses fantasy, they must make the relations necessary for players to suspend disbelief. Builders, of course, attempt to circumvent reality and shape it to their will. Properly suspending a player’s disbelief requires acceptable explanations for it to work, ones that allow them to draw on their own experience and understanding of their environment. For example, let’s say a player walks north and returns to find themselves in a different place than where they left. Why did that happen? If this isn’t something a player expects as a result of their actions, or a reason hasn’t been offered to explain away the situation, the builder fails in suspending disbelief. Instead, players think it’s broken, or it’s an OOC attempt to screw them over, etc. So, if the physics of your world do not match the physics in our world, inform your players through your descriptions as to why their assumptions fail.
If a zone is overly complicated, simplify it. Creating something that has nothing to do with promoting zone’s purpose in which a player must solve to gain anything from the experience only frustrates players. This does not mean don’t make the zone complicated or difficult, but use good judgment as to what is overly provoking to a player in a useless manner. A good rule to follow is that if it’s complicated and has nothing to do with a zone’s quest or purpose, don’t make it necessary to achieve that purpose. My favorite example for this “abuse” is adding secrets and failing to leave hints in descriptions about how to solve or find them, such as a maze without even telling the player why they’re in one or leaving any clue on how to solve it. If they cannot achieve their goal without solving a puzzle, that puzzle must be directly related to that goal.
Rely on words to keep it interesting. Don’t feel the need to extend a zone simply for the sake of scale. If you’re pressured to write bigger descs or make more rooms, relax. The best zones are usually very small and a description’s not limited to the number of times someone has to enter ‘w’ to go down the road – you can say something’s any size you feel like making it with words alone. Remember, words are the main tool of describing things, not special code effects, number of rooms, or colors. These things alone never convey the feeling of a complete zone.
Rules of Practicality
Make sure the zone has a main goal. Every zone should have one before it’s built. If it’s defeating the necromancer in the tower, setting the prices of the local stables, giving someone a realistic role-play environment, or just killing everything in sight, make sure you know what it’s supposed to be before you start building.
Anything a player can see, he or she should be able to refer to. Be certain that your keywords are intuitive.
If a mob’s not humanoid they probably don’t have money, and don’t go around wearing all that much by the way of clothing. It’s unrealistic for them to have it, so don’t give it to them. If you want to reward the player for killing them, give them a pelt, teeth, claws or something to be sold. See rule #14 for more info.
There should have between three and eight lines of text in a room desc. Proper grammar should be used at all times in said text. Going over 8 lines can be a bad idea because of the limit of player scrolling and how daunting that amount of information becomes in a single dose. If a description stretches too long, don’t hesitate to go back and cut points out to make into extra descriptions. Extra descriptions improve zones, use them a great deal! If a room does not have extra descriptions, it is not a worthwhile addition to a zone.
Do not use direction, movement, time or season bias unless the ability to recognize these things is built into the game. If you can write descriptions that will only be seen in winter, writing a winter description adds to the game. If this isn’t possible, writing a winter description detracts from the game, even if seasons aren’t coded. If they are recognized, and you’re just too lazy to write descriptions for every possibility, do not mention the possibility at all. For a simple reminder:
Direction Bias: This means that when writing a description, don’t indicate or insinuate that a player is going or looking in any one direction. An example of a violation of this rule is “The castle lies before you in all its glory…” The player may, after all, be leaving the castle, in which case it would not be before them, but behind, making the description unreal.
Movement Bias: when writing a description, don’t say “You are walking on a path” because you never know, the player could be flying, levitating, slithering, crawling, stomping, or anything in between.
Time and Season Bias: when writing a description, don’t say “The sun shines powerfully through the window” unless you can swap day descs for night ones. At night, that desc is still the same, so the sun shouldn’t be shining. Seasonally, the leaves on a tree should not appear autumn reds, browns, and yellows unless you can make that description only show during that season.
About the Author
Ephera is the owner of The Inquisition, a Role-Play Enforced MUD. The articles submitted to MudConnector are available on her MUD forums at www.theinquisition.org/forums, but expanded for general MUD consumption.
Stylistics – copyright © 2005 by Ephera – All rights reserved.