In his own words, listen up for words from Haus!

Haus got a hold of me on Facebook after seeing some of the 20th anniversary posts I made and decided to write up a post for the site.  I’ve had it for a little while now, life gets busy and things get overlooked, I hope you enjoy it … here it is, Haus!

In the summer of 1994, I’d just finished my first year in grad school and a tiring 6-week research project. I was looking forward to going back to Alander’s Rivers of Mud (RoM) for some mindless hack-n-slash, but he had done a massive overhaul which included a complete player-file wipe, which I’m still bitter about. I went on Usenet to look for a new mud and saw Thoric’s post. The vampire class sounded fun, so I rolled a character. One thing I learned during my brief tenure as an immortal at RoM was that short names made life a lot easier, so I shortened my handle from “Hausdorff” to “Haus.” As far as I know there were two other mortal players at that time – Pandora and Akasha. They were both affiliated with Compulink. I went on a power-levelling jag for two or three days, and, was the first mortal to reach avatar. I had a few chats with Thoric, and he was interested in having another set of eyes on the code. Memory leaks were a big problem in the early days, so over the summer we spent a lot of time analyzing the core dumps when the mud crashed, repairing problems, and repeating.

Realms became much more popular that fall, but I was focusing mostly on my classwork. By Winter Break, there were probably twenty active immortals. The day-to-day administration was handled by a fellow that Thoric appointed who was, well, a dick of the first order. He was a hell of an area builder, but a complete failure as an administrator. For a long time, folks who wanted to contribute to growing and improving the game had to do it in spite of the tirades and follies of this dickish guy. Morale was all over the place, but, we mostly managed to make it work. In this period, we set up the test server, a lot of people were building areas, and we got more aggressive when it came to adding features.

More than a couple of high school kids wrote their first lines of computer code to do something cool in SMAUG, caught the programming bug, and went on to become software professionals. In these early days we did a lot of the things that made SMAUG SMAUG to me – programmable objects/mobs/rooms, expanded classes, unique spells/skills, expanded player and mob races, improvements to the area building system, and so forth.

So things went on, we made the game richer, the player-base continued to expand. My course work and research had me in a computer lab 12+ hours per day, so I was able to spend a lot more time with one eye on the mud. A group of highish-level immortals started discussing how the main thing holding back the game’s progress was random attacks from the aforementioned dick, and began to kick around alternatives. After a lot of debate and discussion amongst ourselves, we approached Thoric with the idea of a council of senior immortals replacing the dick in overseeing day-to-day operations. After a lot more debate and discussion, we formed the Council of Elders (CoE) and were suddenly running the joint. The CoE’s prime directive was to continually improve the game, but the challenging part was to make being an immortal/area builder/coder a rewarding way for a person to spend their time. A big key to this was an unwritten rule that senior immortals coached and protected juniors, and, in return, juniors acted respectfully to seniors. Another was working out how we could delegate interesting tasks that were originally in the purview of the CoE. The delegation was wildly successful, and we soon had councils doing things like recruiting new immortals, overseeing area building, proposing and managing new projects, handling promotions of lower-level immortals, smoothing the learning curve for newbies and so forth.

For me, this was the Golden Age. Immortals were doing interesting work and having a lot of fun. The CoE had an amazing blend of strengths and personae. The job demanded that we each make a lot of unilateral decisions, but also that we could recognize potentially controversial issues, and refer those to a full vote. Many governments could learn a lot from the mutual respect, calm debate, and compromise we had in the CoE. As the immortal community grew, it started pumping out talented and experienced administrators (and coders, and builders) who started bubbling to the top. Plenty found a spot somewhere in the middle that they liked and stayed there. Others wanted to work their way up the ladder to the “big league.” With the exception of “pure-coders,” those that made it to 55/56 were very experienced in general immortaling, very good at at least one of the trinity (admin/coding/building), and were trusted in any given situation to either (a) make a good decision, or (b) kick the problem up the ladder for consideration. Those that made it to 57 were serious contenders for a future position on the CoE. So, the 51s-55s were overseeing the mortals, the 55s-57s were overseeing the lower immortals, and the CoE was focusing on big-picture ideas and “Supreme Court” cases.

I spent most of my online time invisible except to the 56+s because (a) I could, (b) it kept me from getting in the way of the mid-level imms, and (c) it made the wall of multicolored spam that I had to read every tick a bit more managable. At some point, an engineer who has built a solid machine gets tired of watching it work, and gets the itch to go and build new machines. For a long time, I hung out, tweaking this and that, enjoying watching the high immortals and future CoE members do their jobs. Then, a “real-life” relationship exploded, necessitating that I move to another country, and so I did what any reasonable person would do: I went over to Darrek’s house, lost to him repeatedly at Nintendo Hockey, and drank many, many Molsons.

The combination of boredom and being irritated at RoD had ended a lot of people’s tenure there. By this time, it was crystal clear to me that I’d finally landed in that pile. I didn’t want to be the guy that leaves and comes back and leaves and comes back – that rarely ends well. So, between zigarauts of empty beers at Darrek’s computer I logged in, announced I was “outie,” and deleted my player file. The sudden departure caused some weirdness, but I was really glad to see some of my all-star proteges names replacing mine on the CoE roster.

I think what I like best about the whole experience is how folks took skills and experiences from Realms and transferred them into their real lives. Among my closest friends from RoD: this guy owns a computer services company, that guy’s a computer science professor, this gal’s a hot shot in the gaming industry, that gal’s a successful fantasy writer. A lot of us really spent more time on RoD than we probably should have, but it’s really nice to see that the time spent payed off for people in a lot of interesting ways.

Starting points …

One conversation that I seem to have regularly enough to be noteworthy is summed up in the question “how do we attract people to the Realms of Despair?”, and to be fair, it’s a good question to be asking.

Certainly doing things like voting on TopMuds for the Realms helps to promote the game to people who are already interested in muds.  It strikes me though, that many of these users already have their favorite game and may shop around a little but barring some falling out, probably won’t switch.  I justify this by saying that I have tried maybe 2 other muds over the years and never stuck around long, I always come back to Realms.

I think that the java client on the website is a great way to open the door for more users to join.  I would like to work at expanding the capabilities of this client, I saw a web based client last week that strongly resembled some of the Mushclient GUI plugins that are officially supported by Realms and was really impressed by how well it worked.  There’s obviously a lot missing too, triggers and automapping most notably, but it was a good thought.

Ultimately though I think back to how I started.  I am a technically oriented person who enjoys role playing adventure games.  I was weaned on the Commodore 64 SSI Dungeons and Dragons games like Pool of Radiance or Champions of Krynn before exploding into things like the Might and Magic games and spin offs or into things like Diablo.  I did not find the Realms of Despair, they were introduced to me by Daltorak who had been playing for some time.  In turn I found Darrek playing, having migrated from BBSing (both Darrek and I ran systems in Hamilton, Ontario … Weasel’s Domain and Aces High respectively).

So plain, simple, word of mouth advertising.

When I arrived in the Realms I was impressed with the amount of helpful players around, willing to help me out.  Newbie Councillors, Immortals and many others helped me through the first few levels until I joined up with the  Guild of Rangers where I stayed and learned a lot about the game.  Since the guild was tuned to my class I never felt I had to have a second character (right away) to continue learning the game.  Eventually I did level more characters to be more efficient or to reach even further, but it was the guild runs that got me hooked and made me want to level more characters.

I hope the new guild reformation will help a new generation of Realms players have the same experience.

Given the success of the Lord of the Rings movies I would suggest that this genre has a wide ranging appeal.  Technological savvy has never been higher, in general, so long as the approach is straight forward.  I don’t even think that the text based nature is unappealing if we can make use of the technology at our disposal to present it in an appealing manner like the HUD style web interface I mentioned.

These things fail if we don’t continue to work on making the Realms a friendly space for all.  Join Newbie Council, answer questions on chat, trans a recall scroll … sure these are obvious.  Less obvious things like writing an article for the Cry, setting up a Realms fan page and posting some run notes or sharing your thoughts also go a long way towards showing a vibrant, active community worth joining.


It *is* a journey, not a destination! :)

I have said this once prior in this blog but my experiences this time around with the Realms of Despair is very much about the journey.  I’m not sure I’m setting out to keep this in mind but it has been floating to the surface of my thoughts regularly of late.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading of reviews and other user sites about the Realms, trying to get a feel for what’s been going on over the last few years, to understand with more depth about where we are.

Some themes appear over and over and I’ve been trying to give them some thought.  I don’t expect to wave a wand and fix anything but I’d like to be part of the solution, not the problem.  Some of these beefs pre-date the Shattering and I’m certain there are no simple, satisfactory fixes that will respect the near 20 years of Realms history and open a new future.

Text-Based Game

I come from the world of BBSing, so my own migration from text based games to text based MUDs was seamless.  I know that this is a hurdle for some, however.  With that said, familiarity with technology, texting, Facebook, email, etc, has never been higher.  I don’t think that the game necessarily needs to be graphical to succeed, but there certainly needs to be an improvement in what is available client wise.

Returning to Realms one of the biggest challenges, after using the Java client was just getting Zmud or Cmud to keep me online reliably.  It turns out that this is mostly the fault of changes to Windows over the years but if this is the new reality then the client should just deal with this aggravation free… New users won’t have tolerance to this.

Especially when it turns out turning on the tick timer does the job of a keep alive just fine.  This is a lot better than setting up an alarm to save every 60 seconds for the simple reason that it doesn’t force the server to save your character to the hard drive over and over… less wear and tear on server hardware = good since we don’t have to pay to replace it.  It’s also less spammy than using look or glance or whatever.

I didn’t talk about MUSHclient or Gmud but I think I’ll talk about clients another time in more detail but I think this makes clear the case that there’s issues that can be addressed.

So even back in the day I was actively playing things like Heroes of Might and Magic, Diablo, Warcraft…  I have always thought that Realms would be incredible graphically based.  I think that there is tremendous potential for people to participate in using MSDP to improve the interface to the game even without eliminating the text based nature, without straining the server and without having to recruit a literal army of artists.

Baby steps! 🙂

Pre-Avatar Play (Levelling)

In every game I play levelling is a challenge.  In the games where you need to have multiple characters the word tedious usually floats up eventually.  If you don’t think so go check out the QQ on the Blizzard Diablo 3 forums where there are only 5 character classes.  Levelling the character to max level (60) means running through the full game 3-4 times (by the end of Hell Act 3 you’re probably done, but you can’t hit anything big until you get at least that far in Inferno).  I can do it in about 12-18 hours per character depending on the character class because I took on playing hardcore mode for fun (1 death, death is permanent) but there are wide zones of levels that are just boring grinding because there is no new content.  This doesn’t include the 100 levels of post level 60 grinding (more later).

So what does this have to do with Realms?  I remember my first time levelling, it was Tharius the half-elf ranger, sort of based on Tanis from the Dragonlance series.  I did have a bit of an advantage, I could use my friend’s avatar ranger Daltorak to follow me around invis and cast cure on me.  No levelling spell bots, no major cleric army but still it was ahead of the curve 🙂

I enjoyed the experience because everything was new and exciting.  I learned how to use my character, how to fight, how to die, how to CR by myself and so much more.

I think I applied to the Newbie Council around level 15 and got pointed instead to the Guild of Rangers.  Some of the items on my induction quest were above my level so I had to get to know other guild members to help keep them, another lesson quickly learned!  There were lots of helpful people around, people like Lopuis, Apollonia, Linda and many others.

I let myself get caught up in the idea that there were “levelling areas” and that I should get to avatar as quickly as I can so I can go on the big runs.

This discouraged me from exploring and instead I really stuck to the list of areas that people told me were the best for experience, unless I needed to side track to get a new piece of equipment.  Many of those areas are still used today … Shattered Refuge, Tull Manor, Treetops, Coral Depths, Ocean Keep, Spectrum … I would encourage new players not to buy into this idea of hitting avatar as quick as you can.  Loosing experience and having to eat and drink are all regular bothers, but the odds are, once you hit avatar you won’t ever put the same level of interest into levelling another character again.  So explore a little … there are many new areas that are tailored to lower level players, especially below level 20.

Levelling secondary characters (alts) is part of this game.  I agree that you cannot defeat all the different mobs of the game with a single character.  I have never seen Seth run with a group of rangers, for example, rangers just don’t dish out enough damage quickly enough.  They make superb tanks on other runs however.  Everyone is allowed to have many characters and to play with their advantages and disadvantages accordingly.

As a new player I’d say it’s nearly impossible to make a good choice about class and stats right out of the gate.  Tharius’ base stats still plague me to this day 🙂  I think that the help that’s available is better than it was in the past, but I’m sure that people still roll mediocre bases.  Here’s something I believe to be true: a mediocre base will not stop you from running anything and may even improve your ability as a player.  There is no doubt I’d rather play a 18 str/18 dex/18 luck thief on most runs but there is no chance that I’m not going to use whatever thieves I have in my stables regardless of their base.  I’ll make it work, even if it takes levelling spells or whatnot.  Yes, 100 extra hit points on your base helps.  14 strength on a warrior class is sometimes tough to work with.  Don’t let it stop you from doing anything you want to.  Pre-shattering I had added 2 strength to a Dragonhide Breastplate just to get over the problem for once and all.  There’s always solutions.  Maybe that glory would have been better spent adding hit points for a character that didn’t have a stat problem, but in my view I was doing the best I can with my character and I wasn’t worrying about your character having more hit points than I do.

Sit back and make the most of whatever you create.  If you’re lucky enough to find advice before you get very far into the game or if you’re lucky enough to roll good bases right off the bat, fantastic.  Reroll is there to be used.  If not, accept it as a challenge and deal with it 🙂  If you only compete against yourself I believe you will be much happier in the long run on or off Realms.  You can certainly look at your first character as a throw-away if you choose, a waste of time even if you really want to be callous about it … or you can acknowledge how much you learned in 50 levels and apply that to your future endeavors.

Post-Avatar Play (End Game)

So this is all pretty well advice I didn’t pay any attention to.  It didn’t take long before I was trying to accumulate gold to buy big items I couldn’t run for.  I’ll note that this is years before many of the helpful web sites were up to teach the soloable mobs, maps, directions and so on. Doing a run like Cern was an accomplishment, torques were not bad equipment.  Working your way up to devout scales of the alpha and omega  was an accomplishment (if you didn’t just outright buy them) … Buy them you say?  Yes, because not only was levelling a “pain” but now there were runs that were “just a pain in the ass” … you know because you might have to do them a bunch of times to get the pop item…

For a new avatar the odds are this encounter is happening in a guild, which was my experience.  Experienced players, why would you want to discourage anyone from running anything?  Where does the next generation of good runners come from?  This, if for no other reason, is why you should help out in a guild and lead runs to mobs instead of teaching how to use auction and traffic.

Yes of course, if you’re an active player after you’ve av’d the odds are pretty good you’ll have run many of the lower avatar mobs many times but … really?  You can’t go whack Bahamut or Justice for a while?

I enjoyed running with the Guild of Rangers as a newbie and probably even moreso as an experienced player with the Guild of Druids.

New players … my advice is to enjoy the growth curve.  As you get further into the game amount of effort required for each improvement certainly goes way up.  Maybe too much … but it’s a very fine line balancing a game like this and I won’t disparage the efforts of those who have worked hard to tune the game.  They’ve dealt with all the challenges that mortals have thrown at them for years and many of the changes are to respond to particular problems.

Eventually you get to a state where you really need to rely on others.  When the game is active that’s not so bad but right now it takes careful planning to get groups together.  Hopefully things rebound and it gets easier again.  Right now there’s the challenge of getting groups together so the “big mobs” aren’t being run much, so people want to have the mobs downed so that they can run them again.  Then they’ll get spammed and need to be upped again … instead let’s work on getting anyone who wants to run some better skills 🙂

So now what if you’re one of those experienced players?  What is your end game?  For most, it’s chatting and trying to hoard gold or glory or Seth sets or something.  Here’s the devil … the end game is whatever goal you set for yourself.  An open ended game like this always faces a problem with the top tier players, how do we fix it?  It used to be that the top players moved from PVM to PVP … ie: pkill.  With pkill at least you are always facing an evolving opponent, but it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea … which is why you set your own goals.  For me, I like to go out and try to beat every area, create maps, stuff like that.  Try your hand at building?  It’s never been easier.  Submit a quest?  It’s up to you.  I would LOVE to hear some opinions on more ongoing activities that could be added into RoD.  I hear a lot of “quest for base increase” type ideas … but we sort of had this, it was stat-training, it went away for reasons that could probably use repeating.  I hear about more levels … well that hasn’t worked so well in Diablo 3 (100 new levels) … it becomes a grind.  I think there’s great potential using mptagging to create some longer term story lines and huge ongoing quests to help fill the game with more adventure but it shouldn’t feel mandatory yet it has to have a reward of some sort.  I hope to have more opportunity to discuss this with people interested in making it happen.

The Economy

First off let me say that I tend to ignore the economy as much as I possibly can.  I do this by trying to run for things that I want.  Yet, I acknowledge that this isn’t always going to work out.  Gold is worthless.  It’s been the chanted creed since before the Shattering, you can always farm more gold… always…  Yes, you can accumulate a mountain of it but the best use of it is for buying flasks for brewing so you can go adventure.  This comes back to the idea that buying your equipment instead of running for it removes hours of content from the game … Ok well, yes, the reality is that buy, sell and trade are perfectly legitimate ways of gaining equipment … but if it’s your primary mode, haven’t you missed something?

Ok well, rant mode off, this is something that could be improved nonetheless.  Outlets need to exist for lower level players to make more incremental gains.  I like the idea of craftable objects a lot.  In Diablo 2 this was a major end game outlet for a lot of players.  As a mid-level Hammerdin I was able to trade with elite players because perfect gems were a currency.  I had to adventure to get them (as did they) and they needed lots to create new items for their various elite builds.  I think this is something that can be brought into realms wholesale.  Ravenhill proved it works with Seth sets, I think it can be done at differing levels to provide a lot of stimulus.  Why run Bahamut once you’ve got a bunch of Justices?  Break his equipment down at the blacksmith for components.  Of course the rate of return shouldn’t be 1:1 or what’s the point …. again an idea that I’d love to help develop.


Well this has gone far longer than I intended to, I think there are a lot of ways to stimulate the the game without losing the challenge.  Let’s work together! 🙂

There and back again …

After many years away I decided to check out what’s been going on with the Realms of Despair.  I was active in the game from about 1998-2003 or so and returning after so much time has been quite the experience.

I logged in on Thursday April 4, 2013 and created a new character, hoping to find either someone I knew or perhaps even the keeper of my old characters.  It wasn’t long before I found Zistrosk, the Guildmaster of the Guild of Druids, who has been a friend of many years.  With a loaner avatar from him I was freed from the constant need for food and drink, a simple but annoying part of pre-avatar life!

Even logging in and sitting at Guild of Druids recall brought back a flood of memories.  When I regularly played in 2002 I was engaged to a lady who also played the Realms, known as Aurale.  When we broke off our engagement I simply left the realms and didn’t find a way to play the game on my own again.  It seems odd after all this time that I would have to face that, but that’s exactly what came to the surface … mourning an old relationship that we both have moved far past as if it was still fresh.  I also had memories surface of the time I spent with the immortal Julie off the MUD and my grief when she died but I did mourn her back then and so while sad, the hurt was an old one and perhaps better healed.  I have to admit, it was the hardest part of rejoining the Realms.

There are many, many friends who are no longer in the realms; people from the Guilds of Druids and Rangers, from the Order of Dragonslayers, from the Symposium or the Newbie Council, the immortals I was acquainted with, heck even people who were just characters everyone knew.  So here’s a little shout out to some of them, drop me a line if you ever visit: Alisia, Illiana, Shingo, Pheayre, Hoerkin, Xopus, Forgrim, Dirca, Hawpch, Linda, Edmond … The list grows all the time as I wander the Realms, wherever you are, I hope you are all doing well.