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Mutinies and You

by Scott Danzig

When it comes to a mud, a text based game almost always free on the Internet, few really worry much about sinister plots to overthrow its monarchy, democracy, or outright dictatorship (often a mix of all three). In fact, many muds are run by amateur programmers who do not worry about security much, and do not even know how to implement a security scheme properly. Often, these pathetic, insecure entities on the net are taken down with the flick of a hacker's wrist or the rm -r of a rambunctious neighbor at the keyboard. But let us say you manage to start up a mud safe from a twelve year old, what would be another threat to these wretches of servers open to the public?
Who will win and lose?

Waiting to be judged.

I have never seen a mud that made any progress without some political issues developing. Balance is often an issue which concerns players, and perhaps rightly so. Maybe as a mage, they take twice as long to advance than a fighter does. Mud users also get angry when their privacy is invaded through the infamous snoop command (shows a coder everything another user sees). With coders, volatile issues include approval standards for area code (rooms/items/critters), the process for making library code changes, and code ownership. You might think of people you allow to frolic within your creation as the little people, plebeians, etc, but the wise ruler keeps a watchful eye downwards ... there are ways to be overthrown.

First, there is the site lockout attack. Note that most mud owners do not have the resources to carry out a legal battle if they lose their muds, and can you imagine trying to explain what a mud is to some old fogey in a judge's robe? Many muds are run on sites not owned by the mud owners, so if you convince the one who owns a mud's site to hand over leadership of a mud to you, you have given the owner a nasty wake-up call. There are such things as full offline backups that any competent mud owner would be keeping somewhere safe, but assuming the site administrator's actions are supported by the staff of the mud (minus the owner) and the players, the owner would now have to not only find a new site, but also convince everyone to choose IT over the more stable and more established old site. On top of that, there is often good reason for a mud owner to be overthrown, so this only makes loyalty to the owner harder to find.

Next, the staff-stealing attack. Let us say you are a coder who has given plenty to a mud, and do not want to stay at a mud because of something the mud owner is doing that you really have a problem with. You can perhaps start your own mud. It is not that hard. Flip through a book on C++ and it is a breeze. Then you can find like-minded coders on the old mud to leave there and join you on your new mud, promising not to make the same mistakes. In fact, you can even tell them to bring whatever code they want from the old mud. It is a relatively quick way to overthrow a mud owner.

A slower attack is the boycott attack. A mud has a very productive staff, let us say, and the owner gets what he/she wants every time. The owner starts to get unreasonable, and one guy convinces another guy in the staff to stop coding until he gets his way. Then they convince someone else. Players can be convinced to stop playing. Plenty of other good muds are out there. This brings a mud to a complete standstill. The owner must change his/her ways to bring things back to how they were.

I am sure I am missing other possibilities, but the last attack offhand, and slowest, the petition attack, is to once again, convince everyone on a staff about your opinion, and just get everyone to whine and plead what your saying in a torrent of ASCII spam.

Now let us talk briefly about the psyche of a mud owner. There are all sorts of personalities, each with a thin line. Some run a mud as a dictator. What the owner says goes and nothing past that. Obviously, some might not agree. Those who have put a decent lot of work into a mud then see something decided that they could not live with would want to start a mutiny. Some run a mud as a monarchy. There might be some trusted advisors, or even equals or near equals that offers balance to a mud's owner, and thus provides safety in some respects to undesirable decisions being made, but there is a backlash. If undesirable decisions are made despite advisors' warnings, they would feel betrayed and be even more likely to leave. In a flat out democracy, all hell breaks loose when you make a false step in any direction. Often in a democratic mud, there is a large quantity of policies that have been systematically voted on and approved by all. If the owner steps in the wrong direction, all hell breaks loose. Yet if the owner conforms to all policies in place, a democracy has the added benefit of a stronger loyalty, with equals or near equals thinking of the mud as their own, helping develop and support it as much as the owner would, or even more so. The mud develops in a way that makes more people happy usually, not just to one person's ideas.

We covered why, how, and even who. We move on to preventative measures. Everyone, the owner, the coders, and the players, should realize a mud's value. It is a game, and a very low tech one at that. No matter how many hours you put into it, your life would be probably just as fulfilling without it, or even more so. The biggest value of a mud is the fact that it is a community. Next, understand the value of the deep breath. Everyone who connects is a real person, and people are stubborn. Reassess if your view is really worth throwing into the mix. Now, I am not recommending that an administrator be a push over. As a mud owner, you always have to be willing to call it quits if need be. This gives you the edge. Those mutinying care about the mud but usually preach fairness. They do not want to see the one who started the mud be forced to leave. They will compromise. Just tell them that you did not want things the way they propose, and if it is going to be that way, you will have to pack your bags. Worst comes to worst, if your whole coding staff disagrees with you and you will not like the resulting mud, ditch the mud and start a better life elsewhere. This only pertains to staff mutinies. Players causing an uprising have a much harder time. Players grow on trees, and can be grabbed from anywhere. If they do not, improve the mud. This strategy of leaving things behind may sound depressing, or even dumb. Fear not, there is another fall back that works well when dealing with rebellious coders. There is the "I can do everything myself" way of thinking, which probably hints at the truth. This helps you avoid the staff stealing, boycott, and petition attack, but not the site lock-out attack, which might actually become more likely if coders risk having to give up their hard work, leaving your mud. The best way in my opinion is by appealing with logic. Let the potential mutinists do the thinking for you. Do not even mention one of your possible counterattack. That will put them on the defensive, diminishing their sense of reason. Just tell them all the facts, how you wanted things, where things went wrong, what you want and why you do not want what they propose. Let them come up with a solution to YOUR dilemma. A few things can result from this. First, they might stop making their demands, seeing you are actually being reasonable. Next, you might actually be convinced to change your mind. Lastly, you might achieve at least a somewhat acceptable compromise for both.

All in all, muds are for fun, and you should stay mellow and enjoy them. Do not get too attached, do not spend so much time online, and try other muds out once in a while. You will end up keeping an open mind and also not instigating as many damn problems.

Scott Danzig is Vashkar@Split Infinity