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Many players are turned off by dull and lifeless one-line descriptions or ones that inject a little to many assumptions about the activities of the character experiencing them. Fortunately, it is possible to write and read the dreaded description from a shared perspective that allows the creator to tell a story and the player to experience it as they choose.
An implied part of the description.
Playing a mud is a bit like reading a story that is writing itself largely on the fly in response to your actions. Room descriptions provide the background while players and mobiles act out the plot as the protagonists, antagonists and all the extras. However, the action is not set and the author (the mud and builders as a whole) does not take the part of all roles defining everything they do or do not know or can do. It can however set the perspective.
In a mud, it is commonly assumed that you are playing from a first person perspective. The mud reads your input as what you are doing as the character and responds with what stimuli you receive in return as if it was all exactly what your character sees and knows. But this is not necessarily true; in fact, one could as easily experience it all from the third person perspective. In this perspective, the mud reads your input as what the player wants the character to do and responds by telling the story of what actually happens.
This allows for all sorts of informative possibilities. If you treat the "storyteller" as some sort of highly trained bard or traveler replete in the legends and tales of the land as well as place names and the like. It is possible for the player to be regaled with all sorts of information that is completely out of context to the current conditions and what the actual character knows.
By way of example, I'm going to show how a fairly hideous room description by normal standards can be transformed into something that doesn't step on too many toes. Please note that the following description was taken from November's Article "Use Your GDI!" by Aaron "Ajax" Berkowitz (how convenient right?).
You've come across a wide, wind swept path that is covered with dead leaves from the overhanging oak and maple trees high above you. A sudden gust of wind sends a chill down your spine, and you shiver slightly and peer ahead, suddenly alarmed at how quiet it is around here. The path continues to the east and west; to the east you spy the dark and gloomy Forest of Fear, and westward lies a grim and forbidding castle, awesome in size and sinister in appearance.
As was said previously, this whole description assumes several things about you that just won't hold water all the time. The author of that article solved the problems of those assumptions by removing all offending information. However, that is not entirely necessary. Indeed, by the intermediary of your guide (human? maybe not), you might still learn much of the information contained above and a fair bit more (if desired). Indeed let us render it thusly:
A wide path, sometimes swept by the prevailing westerly winds of the region, runs out of the depths of the notorious Forest of Fear to the East. The branches of oak and maple trees hang over the path entombing it in a silence found to be alarming by many who come here. The path is known to be covered in dying leaves, knee deep in snow or bare dirt depending on the season and can become a dangerous mire after strong rain. To the west stands Doom Castle, awesome in size, sinister in aspect and the western terminus of the path.
As you can see, this description sounds like someone talking to you (a knowledgeable and talkative someone even), rather than you actually experiencing it yourself. You can then take the choice as a role player to either have your character understand everything perfectly about the place or to be left wondering what those tall brown and green things that stick in the ground are.
Of course, all this requires that builders may need to change their writing styles and that players may need to adjust their perspective, but such is the eminently bearable burden of a world in which everyone's information requirements can be met simply.
December 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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