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An Introduction to MUSHes

by Ervin Hearn III

Section I: What is a MUSH?

MUSH stands for Multi-User Shared Hallucination, and is derived from the mud family of online games. They are text based programs which allow multiple people to simultaneously interact within an artificial environment. This article will be focused on role playing MUSHes using the PennMUSH code base, although the TinyMUSH and TinyMUX code bases bear enough resemblance for this to be applicable. In general these MUSHes focus more on character role playing, though building and coding are also important parts of a MUSH. Building and role playing will be discussed in sections below, however role playing is the focus of this article and will receive the greater attention.
A goat pen

Watching the sun go down over some mush in a pen (with goats).

Often MUSHes settings include a vast amount of detail, recreating entire worlds from literature, movies, or the creators' imaginations. Many MUSHes select a literary work to base their theme upon, for example Tolkien's Middle Earth, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Dragonlance. Several other MUSH Administrators (commonly referred to as Wizards) choose to create their own worlds for their players to role play in. Not all MUSHes, however, restrict themselves to a specified theme, they offer character interaction in a free form environment which has its details chosen by the players. Having a free form environment allows them to select the situation and setting that best suits their mood and role playing (often referred to as role playing).

Section II: Role playing

The art of role playing is the lifeblood of numerous MUSHes on the Internet. Large numbers of people connect to role play on MUSHes of various themes every day, quite a few have a range of 20 to 100 people connected simultaneously, the majority of which are looking for role playing. As this is such an important part of the MUSH experience, we will detail what role playing is and common definitions of how to 'properly' role play a MUSH character.

Role playing on a MUSH is similar to what an actor or actress does, becoming a different character. The player attempts to assume the mentality of their character, and portray their actions accurately within the situations which arise in the role playing session. Skilled role players are capable of capturing the essence of their alter-egos and their environment to such a degree that logs of the role playing read like a well written novel. While playing the role of their chosen character, the player uses only the knowledge they believe their character would possess about a given situation, ignoring Out Of Character (OOC) chatter and information. Any action taken by the role players character is considered In Character (IC), and is reacted to as such by the other characters taking part in the role playing scenario. It is considered bad form to mix OOC and IC matters while role playing. Many MUSHes provide a means of communicating in an OOC manner even while IC, with any information transmitted by such ways being totally ignored by the player's character. Often the most trying experience for a new MUSHer is learning to distinguish OOC and IC, as well as separating the 'Player' from the 'Character'.

There is much debate about what 'proper' role play is, with no definite answer. However, there are many factors which are agreed upon as being required for quality role playing. The first has already been discussed, the separation of IC and OOC. If a player cannot keep OOC matters out of their character's IC actions they are often regarded as poor role players and may eventually be shunned if they do not learn to distinguish between the two. The second mark of quality role playing is detail. If a player's poses, the actions their character takes within the role playing session, involve vivid detail that make visualization and understanding of both the setting and the character's actions easily possible. This sort of posing is considered to add to the role playing experience and therefor be a quality pose. One point of debate is pose length, it is held by some 'authorities' on role playing that lengthy, detailed, and well written poses are the pinnacle of excellent role playing. However, others argue that writing short, concise poses which convey the same meaning as a more lengthy pose is the best indication of a high quality role player. It has been the experience of the author, that there are situations where lengthy detail rich poses are the best choice, while in others smaller yet still descriptive poses are wise. The final point that must be made about role playing is an important one: Never pose the actions of another character. Do not include a character's reaction to the actions your character performs. Doing so will lead to arguments and on most role play oriented MUSHes disciplinary action.

Section III: Building

One of the more useful skills for a MUSH player to possess, after skill at role playing, is Building. Each MUSH requires a large amount of building before it even opens to the public for role play. The rooms and objects which make up the world of the MUSH must all be created by its Administrators before they can welcome players onto it for role playing. However, a large number of MUSHes continue to grow even after opening, expanding the world which they offer. Building is accomplished by using a set of commands which enable a player to create rooms, exits, and objects as well as add descriptions and other details to them. On some MUSHes any player may build while on others it is restricted to those with the Building Power, the decision is made by the Wizards which create the MUSH. Another possible limitation on player building are quotas, where each player is allowed to own only a specified number of rooms, objects, and exits. Building can often be beyond the interest or capabilities of many MUSHers, and should generally be approached by new players only after they are familiar with the commands and procedures of the MUSH on which they play. Though not directly tied to MUSHcode it can be used to its fullest by combining the two skills.

Section IV: MUSHCoding

The majority of players on a MUSH have no interest in MUSHcode, and as such it will only be briefly discussed within this article. The MUSH environment makes it possible for players to use commands and functions of the embedded programming 'language' known as MUSHcode or soft code. The complexity allowed by these tools nearly match that of the hard code, the actual source code written in C or C++. Many MUSH Wizards choose to use soft code to write the global commands which are unique to their MUSH, or which are not included within the hard code of the code base. Normal players may also take advantage of MUSHcode and create personal commands that make various tasks on the MUSH easier for them. Those interested in learning more about MUSHcode may read Amberyl's MUSH Manual which is available on Internet. They can also read the help files pertaining to commands and functions on a MUSH, or to find a skilled MUSHcoder willing to teach them. The author is planning a future article about learning to use MUSHcode where the initial steps of coding will be outlined as well as including various hints and tips for coding successfully.

Section V: Conclusion

MUSHing can be an entertaining and rewarding pastime. It allows players to express their creativity and literary skills while also enjoying the company of other players in a role playing environment. Role playing, building, and coding are important parts of a successful MUSH. The most important keys to quality role playing are detail and distinction between IC and OOC matters. Building is used to make the world in the MUSH take on a virtual existence, while coding enables players to have access to useful commands which make interaction easier and more enjoyable.

Ervin Hearn III (Noltar) is the Theme and Code Wizard of KorongilMUSH and the creator of the original fantasy world in which it is set. He has been MUSHing for just over one and a half years and been coding/building for most of that. He has held several Administrative positions on MUSHes, MUXes, and mud during his short time as a mud player.