The portals to your adventure

When you journey to the Realms of Despair what portal transports you? Do you use the web based client at Do you log in through a piece of software like CMud, TinTin, or Mushclient? Maybe you’re using a mobile device and BlowTorch is more to your liking.

In 2014 I wrote a draft article called SMAUG HTTP. I never published it because I knew that the tremendous effort needed to convert the game engine that runs the Realms of Despair from a Telnet server to a HTTP based engine was unlikely to gain support. I speak only as an outside observer but I imagine that any of the handful of coders active on Realms would rather put their time into changes that will add more fun and adventure. Not at all an unreasonable point of view!

I abandoned that idea and looked at the Realms Web Client, which I think has been a phenomenal tool for allowing new players to experience Realms without undertaking the burden of installing and configuring a new client. It just doesn’t fit with today’s model of how software is delivered, does it?

When I started on Realms the idea of downloading software and spending an hour getting it set up before I played for 1 minute was absolutely standard. Now you log into a web portal and if you can’t have an account inside a few minutes, pfffft, next!

The problem we have in our community is that we are past the peak era when lots of people were actively contributing to projects. Not just SMAUG itself, but also the clients that are available. Zuggsoft hasn’t issued a new version of CMud since 2011 and seems very unlikely to do so. Mushclient was more recently updated in 2019 and is well supported on the forums. TinTin is in active development with the hopes of converting it to a commercial project.

The problem becomes that each has strengths and weaknesses and none of them hit it out of the park. CMud has a mapper that is hard to beat, and a relatively friendly window system, along with robust scripting capabilities. On the down side it is Windows only and full of very irritating memory/file corruption bugs. If you’re like me and able to work around those issues, it’s hard to beat. I may be biased, I started with Zmud more than 20 years ago, and the old dog likes to make maps.

Mushclient is, in my opinion, the most stable piece of Windows mud client software available with top notch scripting capabilities. Written by Nick Gammon the client makes it very easy to create a structure to share scripts between characters and suffers from no corruption issues I’ve ever encountered. I’ve used it for my bots and been very happy with it. Unlike CMud it’s much harder to see the active state of memory if your variables are involved, but like anything that is a trade off that can be worked around.

Most of its files are text based making for easy sharing and easy backups. The menus are not bad, once you get used to where everything is. I made a serious attempt to move to Mushclient full time but I just couldn’t live without the interactive automapper. Nick … if you’re listening, let’s talk about it ūüôā

TinTin is an older product that has had new life breathed into it. Myrr reached out to me about getting involved with using it, and introduced me to it’s mapper. Like Mushclient its mapper is of limited interactivity. It records things that CMud’s does not, like terrain type, and attempts to auto generate a graphical map, which is very fun, but is ultimately more difficult to extract information out of than either of CMud or Mushclient. I think this is because this one is available on multiple operating systems and has a distinct linux feel to it. If you’ve been living in that command line world with no windows available then this one might be up your alley. It lacks new user friendliness, even setting it up for the first time is non-obvious. The names of files you need to edit aren’t documented and you find yourself on the Discord channel feeling like a fool trying to get the thing running at times, but I applaud the author’s determination to revive the software and make it not only useful, but progressive.

All of these products are computer based. I’ve used a couple of different mobile technologies which I’ve blogged about before. The biggest thing to say about playing Realms on mobile is that you better set up buttons for things. Where you can argue that fast typing can get you away from macros or triggers on a PC, even the finest Bluetooth keyboard is going to be a pain for mudding on a phone. Not introductory level, but absolutely cool once you’re ready for it.

Which brings us back to the Realms client. I’ve used it many times and though it suffers from some of the critiques I mentioned on the other clients it has the distinct advantage of being web based. Fire up a browser and go. It is developed and supported by the people who are working on Realms and so feature wise it can be tailored exactly to our game. I genuinely believe that it has the potential to be the client of choice for our player base.

To create an experimental development environment I asked some of my students to create a HTML5 Websocket client that could connect to Realms to try to play around with it and they did in just a couple of months time. Another project team chose to work on a web based mapping software for Realms that could read and render CMud’s map files. Another success. Bringing these ideas together and then expanding on them further could make the Realms client top notch.

I think that there are questions about this though, for example I have no idea how much server overhead administering the client creates. The client itself runs on your device, but it has to be back ended by a Realms server. Not only that but the original point I made about developer’s time … any time spent on reinventing the wheel with a client is time away from expanding the game itself.

I saw a recent TS vote pass that suggested multiple characters connected through the web client. This was part of my student’s project as well. We know that players need multi-character support. Whether it should be added to the Realms client comes down to the intention of that client: is it a vehicle to get people to try the game and then they will be vested to install a stand alone client, or is it an opportunity to demonstrate the full capabilities of a custom SMAUG installation on a 25+ year old adventure game?

Maybe there is a possibility of custom web clients in the same way people used to make stand alone executables. This one is problematic because you’d have to trust the person running the client not to steal your passwords or you’d have to have your own online database that you configure a connection to … we’ve done some stuff like this using DropBox or Google shared drives to sync our CMud profiles across computers, so it might not be that far fetched. Update (2020-08-05): One possible work around to the trusting someone with your passwords problem raised here has already been solved in industry. If the Realms server were willing to provide a third party login authentication service in a similar way that you can log in “using your Facebook account” to other sites, this could keep the control of your password between you and the Realms site while allowing a custom browser client to be built by third parties.

I still think the Realms client has great potential. If only the escape key would clear my input bar ala Z/CMud and not disconnect me routinely.

Have fun, stay safe!

Migrating from Zmud/Cmud to MushClient … a rambling adventure

So here we go, at long last, I will make the jump into the MushClient world. ¬†This started out as a project for the guild bot characters so that they could access my databases but it’s grown. It has taken so long because I’ve been inordinately busy with life and school and also because I could not get the server configuration I wanted working (I still cannot but I will!!). Instead I’m forging ahead with my current setup but I’ll add all my functionality and transfer it at a later date.

For those who are not interested in installing and configuring MushClient very little of interest will appear in the next few blog posts. ¬†My initial post was far too long to keep in one piece and so I’ve split it up into several steps. ¬†You may find the discussion of triggers interesting when we get there or may wish to read for ideas on how to refresh your own client of choice’s setup. ¬†Either way, once I’ve accomplished this it’s well past time to go back and reflect on all the guild turmoil of the last few months.

For background’s sake, I have been a long time Zmud user and recent Cmud convert. I loved Zmud back in the day, it did all I wanted it to. The mapping system draws me back time and again. I just cannot keep it stable on my Windows 7/8 systems. I purchased Cmud since it was pretty stable … until I started pushing it. Now I can crash it by rearranging the windows. There is no doubt in my mind that it has a few memory leaks or fails to do some sort of garbage collection. The problem grows the longer you use it or the more windows you open and close. I’m not even touching how often my character setting files corrupt or the fact that I can’t open character A without disconnecting character B. I’m ready for a reinstall … but I know I’ll be back to this point in a couple months. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is that Zugg is no longer developing the software. If he were then I might hang in there in optimistic faith that the bugs and glitches would get sorted out but the fact is that it’s a business and he’s not making any money at it anymore. I say that without judgement, it’s got to either be something you love or something that pays … when it’s neither it becomes a burden. I wanted to add database support to my bots and discovered I would have to pay more for Cmud pro … to do something that is available in a free Lua library that is not provided by Zugg at all. ¬†Next I want to play with MDSP and a graphical interface similar to what KaVir or Sepharoth worked on some time ago.

I guess these things contribute to my breaking point. I read a rant about Zmud users not wanting to buy Cmud even though it was an overhaul … I am not in that category, I paid for both. I’ve used both. I’ll keep using them both for specialty tasks for the time being… but bring on MushClient by Nick Gammon.

My first experience installing Mush under Windows 7 wasn’t pretty. It turned me off Mush enough that it took an ordermate extolling it’s virtues to convince me to try again. The new 4.84 installer is MUCH better. Ignore most of the instructions on the Mushclient website, grab that installer, change your paths to point to somewhere you can find them, install that old winhelp if you like and bang, you’re up and running. ¬†I stopped at the global preferences, rearranged a few directories, tick off the reconnect on disconnect button and I’m up and running.

Next is to set up a world. ¬†This bit of terminology tripped me up since I think of world=mud. ¬†Here we’re using world=character. ¬†You can use world=mud but then you will lose the ability to enjoy the autoconnect features. ¬†The one character, one world setup works for me and how I do my triggers. ¬†The world file will have all the variables about the particular character and I will bring in my (for example) THIEF trigger set as a plug-in and let the triggers use the variables. ¬†This way I can share my triggers without my variables messing anyone else up and of course all my (example) thieves will have uniform triggers but don’t have to have uniform equipment or setups, etc. ¬†More on triggers later.

For now, how to organize things. ¬†I only play one mud, so I don’t need a separate folder for Realms of Despair characters but do I want to lump all my characters in one folder or split them up? ¬†My instinct is to split them up. ¬†In Cmud I could rename the icons to things like “Tharius – Ranger” and “Lareawan – Thief” … or in time I just used seperate icons for each class so lumping them in one window was fine, I could glance about and find what I wanted but here in MushClient I’m only presented with a Windows open file dialogue. ¬†I loathe it ūüôā ¬†Things like this go on my “it’s open source, if you hate it that much then write some code” list. ¬†Anyway, I dislike this because I cannot dynamically rearrange my listing to suit whatever piece of information I’m trying to extract. ¬†Usually I want them sorted by class then by name … I can accomplish that by filename but if they’re in folders I won’t be able to re-sort them quickly by last connect date … or whatever … ¬†So at the end of the day I won’t bother with folders, and I’ll use file names like Thief – Lareawan so that I can use the Windows file explorer to sort by name or date or whatever I want … I need to go back and check off “Save world on exit” so that it will properly save the time stamps but other than that, we’re off to the races, as long as that doesn’t show up in the window title bar, we’re good.


(Next time, configuring the world … default setup and getting ready for a mass character import)

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! ūüôā

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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā ¬†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 ūüôā ¬†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 ūüôā

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! ūüôā