I was pointed in the direction of rec.games.mud yesterday by a "student"
of mine who had been nominated for some nastiest player award. Having
read all sorts of fascinating insights into how players are considered
nasty simply because they victimise someone or how player killing is ever
so bad and evil, I thought I'd write you a little article to show you
how it really is, in the world of grown up games.
The article is a padded out summary of something I was considering writing
based on Machiavelli's "The Prince" giving all you lucky people my view on
how a good game should be run, this is how I ran MIST
which, after MUD was
the most popular and long running non-commercial Multi User Adventure
system there was.
No apologies for any grammatical errors, spelling mistakes or personal
pronoun switches. I will compromise and apologise for the misuse of
the Confessions of an Arch-Wizard.
Before I start, it would be helpful to describe some of the background
details of MIST, showing why it was run as it was and showing the
environment the people who ran the game grew from.
MIST was written in MUDDL, the language for creating and running Multi
User Adventure systems (written by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle). It
originally ran alongside MUD, but in 1986, when Richard left Essex and took
MUD along with him (to become MUD2), all that was left was MIST. In the
first few months of it running alone it had no administration at all and
ran as a complete anarchy. There were lots of bugs and it was easy to cheat
to wizard. During the anarchistic time, a few people rose to prominence
through various means; normally by being old MUD players, being bloody good
MIST players or being very quick with the shotgun. I fit into the last
category and eventually more or less took the game over by force, sheer
arrogance and good politics.
In 1987, the account MIST ran from was taken over legally by someone in
Essex (Simon Smith). He and I then took control of the game properly. We
fixed all the bugs, deleted all the files and started again from scratch.
MIST ran until about August 1990, when the DEC-10 at Essex was turned off.
It will be returning soon, but whether the atmosphere will remain the same I
don't know. During the 4 years I ran it, it had a lot of changes in the
map, the administration style and in the type of people who played it - I
learnt a lot, which is why I find it funny when people who have been
running MUA's for 6 months speak as experts and say that things like
"player killing will never work".
In Richard's article on MUA systems, he mentions an aspect of MIST that
some people these days would find odd. MIST had no real rules (except
ones we were forced to put on for political and diplomatic reasons). The
basic rule was if someone bigger than you told you to do something, you did
it. The quote I like to use to sum it up was:
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. I am the law!
Anyway, enough background, now you know the scenario I think you should
know a bit about how to abuse it.
The nice thing about running the only system of its kind, is that you can
abuse it to your heart's content and get away with it. People aren't
willing to believe that a big powerful arch-wizard can be such a complete
bastard and so with a bit of sweet talking, you can come out of most
situations looking squeeky clean - In these modern days of competition it's
not quite as easy but think about it, if you annoy 20 players in a night
and they never play again, you'll get 20 more the day after.
Being nasty is an art form. If you are continually nasty the players get
set into a learned helplessness mode where they don't have any survival
spirit any more - You must balance nastiness with generosity to a degree.
The rest of this article looks at various aspects of player abuse, and how
to get the most out of them.
A full purge is the simple task of wiping the persona file, the wizard
list and the player credit list (in MIST's case, the WHOSWHO notes). In
many cases this remains the ultimate way of killing a couple of thousand
players with the least effort on your part.
The main use of the full purge if to keep the wizards on their toes. I
don't like games where everyone and their dog is a wizard, this is silly
since there seems little point in people playing. If you make it known to
your wizards that you only want the best to make it and you remind them
that if there are too many wizards then you will do a full purge then this
has two effects. First the wizards are forced to be nasty and secondly
you keep them on their toes and stop them getting too complacent. If you
do do a full purge, remember to put some of your wizards back because if
you don't you may end up having to run the game yourself!
Full purges can be great fun if you are bored. If you have a player who
has been playing for ages and is nearly at wizard. A neatly timed 'full
purge' or accidental persona file deletion can really ruin their night,
week, month.... To save face amongst the other players it is always a good
idea to make a show of being sorry and giving the good player most of
their points back. Remember to kill them later though with a cheated
character or you'll have ruined the whole point.
One convenient use of a full purge is to get your own back on someone who
is continually whining about the number of wizards or high level players.
All you do here is do a full purge and advertise the fact that it was
requested by this person (if possible giving their real name and
university). It normally teaches them not to moan.
This is an old trick coined by those clever Roman chappies.... If anything
it works a lot better than the full purge because with a full purge
everyone starts off equal again. With Decimation all you do is wipe a
tenth of the persona file, randomly. This way everyone worries it may
be them. You use it in the same circumstances as a full purge.
An added bonus of decimation over a full purge is that instead of doing
it randomly you can go through the file wiping the people you don't like
out. This also gives you a happy few hours whilst you do it.
The singular purge on MIST was a lovely tool. It allowed you to delete a
player regardless of whether they were on the game at the time or not. If
you deleted a player who was logged on then when they quit or tried to
save, it would tell them that they didn't exist any more, so saving would
Obviously, any good student will by now be able to see the hours of
pleasure that this one command can bring, but for the less promising
amongst you a few examples may help.
Consider a player is on a game, alone. They have the whole day in front of
them and a nicely reset game with loads of treasures and mobiles to kill.
Due to the nature of MIST's closing times, this used to happen quite a
lot. What you now do is pop onto the game, and purge the player - They now
spend ages and ages clearing it up and scoring points and finally they
save, or more to the point.... Finally they know they are already dead.
This method has the advantage that you don't have to hang around to see
the finished result, since you know it'll be funny anyway.
Personally, I used to like going onto a game as a wizard and threatening
someone. They'd normally quit and come on as someone else, since arguing
with wizards is normally fatal. In this position all you do is purge their
real character and gradually make it clear to them. If you want to make
this more interesting, I would suggest starting playing as the character
you just deleted and being abusive to people.
Heirarchies and red tape
The British civil service invented this one I think and if you use it
as half as well as they do, you are well on your way to becoming a
master. The point is that you should build heirarchies and once you have
built them you should invent a use for the various levels and make sure
people only channel requests or complaints properly. Luckily, games like
MIST are naturally designed this way so all you have to do is create a
new heirarchy at the top. At its best, MIST had:
maintainer-wizard lev 1
(existed in a list as being more important)
maintainer-wizard lev 2
(who had extra commands)
(who knew the admin password, note capital "M")
(I hate the level name 'God')
We had channels of complaint, so if a mortal wanted to complain about
being mistreated by a wizard (which of course wasn't really illegal), then
they had to complain to the wizards. The wizards could complain to the
levels above them and as a rule anyone a couple of levels above anyone
else would ignore people below them. To make it seem fair and because
forcing people to use the correct channels isn't easy, the arch-wizards
would often listen to little problems, but most of the time they ignored
Once you have created this heirarchy, the most important thing to do is to
keep changing it. Never keep it stable else people will get complacent,
also make sure you do make some pretence of enforcing the red-tape system
as it stands at the time - This has the disadvantage that you have to
remember what it currently is yourself.
Wizards are there for two reasons. Mainly they are there for the people
above them to abuse, but as a sideline, they are there to abuse the people
below them. It's a bad idea to push all the wizards too far; as an
arch-wizard you need someone to run the game for you so that you don't
have to do it yourself. If it comes to it, it's a good idea to weigh up
the fun you'd get in deleting all the wizards to the hassle you'd get from
the lower players with no-one to look after their petty moans.
Basically treat your wizards badly, but not too badly. One nice way of
really annoying them is to promote a subset of them to a new level. This
helps because if you have to delete all the lower wizards the upper ones
still side with you and can continue running the game.
My philosophy on game management has the arch-wizard as an honourary
position. Arch-wizards are all powerful people who I pick because they are
a varied set of people with differing ideals and they are not all socially
inadequete MUA players with warped views on the world. It is important for
you to build up a fairly close group of arch-wizards who you trust and who
are not scared to tell you what they think. Though it may pain you after
all the trouble you go to be nasty to people, I think it's a good idea to
make arch-wizards immune from everything, even purges so they are never
scared to tell you things. This all sounds very serious but think of
it this way, you need someone on your side! I find it helps to enlist a
few black belts in various martial arts as arch-wizards too, in case some
mad MUD-spod gang decides to beat you up at a meet. Enlisting arch-wizards
for their worldly skills rather than their game skills has the added
advantage that more often than not they don't know anything about the game
and how to play it. This really winds up the lower levels.
Game features can provide no end of amusement for folks who have to write
them; even the most unimaginative of people can think up some very
irritating features to add that will really drive people mad. The best way
to really annoy people is also a nice way of making the game harder, so the
more guilt ridden ones of you can feel justified. If you have a vital
object in the game, for example, in MIST the hammer was needed to open up
a large section of the game, then put it fairly near the start location.
This has the effect that the killers and the trouble makers run for the
hammer and then dispose of it, rendering most of the game unreachable. Now
what happens is either all the players are running round a couple of
hundred rooms making easy targets for the killers or, if you are lucky,
they decide to hassle the wizards to give them objects back. If you play
this right you can have no end of fun, either chastising the wizards for
helping players cheat, flatly refusing to help them or going to such
levels as forcing one of the players to sacrifice themselves in order that
the rest get the hammer. I preferred the latter myself.
Not many games seem to have much in the way of irritating features that
totally destroy any concepts of fairness, MIST's pistol was probably
fairly unique in this. The theory was that when you got to legend (one
level below wizard) you could get the pistol and play Russian Roulette.
If the pistol went off, you got half the points needed to get to wizard
and if not you died... dead. The only problem was that it never quite got
round to giving you the points if you won and so basically it was left to
the discretion of wizards or arches. As the wizards lived in fear of
giving players too many points (they tended to just get wiped without
question) they weren't often willing to comply. As an added bonus, a
legend could be forced by a lower level character to shoot themselves.
Straying off the subject of MIST slightly, the only feature I have ever
seen in a game that comes close is AberMUD's runesword which attacks
players by itself and doesn't give its carrier any choice in the matter.
As an added barb, the person who picks it up isn't allowed to drop it.
Admittedly this is slightly spoiled in AberMUD's case by having the
runesword as a powerful weapon, if I'd have written it I think I would
have made it a wooden ruler or something.
Finally on the subject of game features, I'd suggest you give serious
consideration to making wizards killable and putting in the odd weapon
that can do this quite easily; this keeps them slightly more paranoid and
makes them behave better. The natural tendency of a wizard faced with this
situation is to hoarde all the weapons somewhere the mortals can't get
them - If someone does this, just give one of your cheated mortals some
suitable tools and go wizard hunting (with the help of your arch wizard of
I have mentioned cheating in a few places as something that naturally
happens. Cheating isn't the right word in MIST's case because one of the
basic premises of the game was that arch-wizards couldn't cheat. The
problem with running games is that most of the time all the players are
better at playing than you, they do, after all, have a lot more practice. I
find it handy to have a few arch-wizard powered characters who are
disguised as mortals who can go and do your dirty work for you and get
rid of people you don't like much. Doing it this way rather than using a
high level character you created can reap all sorts of extra benefits;
especially when all the players gang up on you. Not only do they all die
because you are immortal but you get a nice warm feeling inside you that
for once all the players are co-operating in a common cause and that if it
hadn't been for you, they would never have been such close allies.
Cheating by players is difficult to deal with. If they know a bug that is
hard to fix, then you may have problems. I think player cheating is a
perfectly valid part of the game, so I don't react that badly. If it gets
annoying, I may do something like ban them from the site but that's very
infrequent and it was hard to enforce on Essex. I often find that giving
people who know too much about the game for your liking a bit of power
takes away their need to abuse the system and so everyone is happy. Later
you can fix the bug and wipe them out when you are in need of a bit of
Wizard cheating is fairly easy to spot if you log well and have reasonable
informers. The easiest way to deal with this is just not to tolerate it
and wipe them and all of their friends out in one fell swoop. Make a
point of doing it loudly if you want people to take note of it.
Slightly off the subject of cheating, it's often fun to accidentally let a
wizard or an arch-wizard password be known generally and see what happens.
This also gives you a good excuse for a full purge. If it's an arch and you
are really lucky, they may dispose of some of the more annoying wizards for
you. Of course, if you don't feel too safe letting a password be known you
could just do it yourself and tell everyone a little lie.
To keep a game running for a long time, you need good relations with the
people who are above you, like the systems managers of the machines you
run on. This was actually the reason I started running games in the way I
do, because a game running as an anarchy with no control doesn't do any
site's reputation any good at all. Good diplomacy is vital, as is good
communications and good relations. If you are a spoddy computer person who
thinks politics are something that happens on BBC2 at dinner time then I
suggest you enlist the help of someone good to do the job for you. This
incidentally is the reason I became powerful on most of the other Muds
outside Essex a few years ago, that and my sincere modesty, of course.
Diplomacy on the game is, of course, less vital. Players will expect you,
as their all powerful arch-wizard to play middle man in little disputes
from time to time. The best thing to do is to put your most tactless
wizard on the job and leave them to it. If you are forced to do it
yourself, try and be serious and look at both sides of the argument. After
a while, toss a coin, decide who wins and say goodbye.
This may look out of place, but by being nice you can really irritate
people. The odd act of kindness, like say, making a novice with a cute
name a wizard, can really annoy people who have been playing for months.
One of the nice things I used to do was take fighting out of the game on
St Valentine's day and put lots of roses around the game. This has an
increasingly annoying effect with every day you forget to change it back.
Turning fighting off can be used to good effect all the time, but only do
it when by far the vast majority of players are fighting types and always
do it for some low level person - This almost guarantees that the low
level character will be taken revenge on when you next turn fighting on,
especially if you make a big thing of doing it because people were being
nasty to them.
You need to treat rules in two different ways. Every game, no matter how
anarchistic must have a couple of firm rules. For example if you let folks
shout hacking hints, you can get in trouble yourself. It also helps if you
always follow a brief set of rules yourself. If you are firm in sticking
to them it acts as a buffer to stop you going too far. I have one about
winding people up - Basically you can wind someone up as much as you want
but always make sure you leave a big hole in it so you can pull yourself
out of it if you need to.
On a happier note the other rules are much more fun. These are the game
rules and they govern things like, who can do what, what they can and
can't do to each other and generally govern "fair play". As should be
obvious by now, those rules don't apply to you, nor anyone else who you let
get away with breaking them. The phrase "Do as I say, not as I do" is very
relevant to an arch-wizard. Making silly petty rules and making people
stick to them can cause no end of amusement. It's also a good idea to
change the rules often, and occasionally have contradictory ones.
Players take this sort of thing ever so seriously and they try as best as
they can to govern by peer pressure - For you this is good and you should
encourage it. Having a new set of rules for wizards is a good idea, it
makes them feel they have got somewhere to be told they can't use their
powers to do various things. It is of course up to your mood at the time
whether you actually do anything about people breaking rules and more to
the point, what you actually end up doing.
Off Game Contact
I always discourage off game contact. The address I gave on MIST went to a
mailbox I regularly deleted, just picking out the ones from people I knew.
If you are really bored and in an evil mood it's often fun to reply to a
random set of them. Normally, if they whinge or moan, I'd delete their
persona - If you don't tell them why you deleted them they will soon be
annoyed enough to send another whingey moany message and then you simply
delete them all over again.
If you take the trouble to reply, I often find a reply about the current
state of the Dutch Tulip Industry confuses them enough to stop them
sending you silly mail you didn't want in the first place. If they think
this is amusing and insist on replying them just delete their persona or
victimise them if you can be bothered to remember their name.
Bribery, Corruption, Creeps and Threats
Being in a position of power, you'll get all of these. I have had the most
wonderful threats in the past, including a fair number of death threats.
The most inventive was from someone who claimed to be in the Italian Air
Force and threatened to bomb my house; He asked for the grid references,
but I didn't take this one too seriously. A MIST wizard a couple of years
ago was a much respected thing - An arch-wizard many fold more. It was
different from modern games in that it was the only one, it was something
of a true indication of status rather than this modern idea that if a spod
can't play someone else's game, they write their own. Bribes used to flow
quite thick and fast and how serious they were was sometimes quite funny.
Whether you take bribes or not is up to you, I never really did except for
the odd pint of guinness - If you don't take bribes, make sure people
think you do otherwise you'll miss the fun of people trying to bribe you.
The wizards should be watched. Let them have some leeway, but don't let
them start to get above themselves or corruption will start to creep in.
Corruption is very difficult to get rid of once you let it start.
Creeps are fun. I am not the sort of person who lets people get anywhere
by creeping but I enjoy watching people try - It's odd the level to which
people will lower themselves at times! If you get a person who does
continue doing it (or doing it to the wizards and arches), the best way of
dealing with them is to force them to creep more and more by slowly giving
in to the demands. Build up some lovely log files of all this excitement
and then, when you are bored, dump the player back down to the lowest of
the low and stick the logs as text files readable from the game.
Incidentally, if someone had ever offered me a villa in the south of
France in exchange for an arch-wizard (and I'd known they were serious),
I'd have been pretty quick editing that arch-wizard list.
Arrogance and Ego
To be successful at being a "big" arch-wizard you need to be extremely
arrogant. Take every opportunity to practice, whether it's arguing with the
muddies or going onto other peoples' games and telling them how crap they
are. The latter gives you good battle training if someone should ever dare
to do it to you.
Even if you are the most modest person there is, you need to appear to
have a massive ego. If you get upset and take things personally then you
just won't be any good at running MUA systems. It's useful that the best
way of building a big ego is by squashing other peoples' and as an
arch-wizard you should be in a good position to do this - If it sounds
nasty to you, then you really don't have the right stuff in you for the
With a little practice you can turn all this 'training' into a fairly
relaxing pasttime. If you are in a bad mood, for example, then going onto
your system and putting everyone else in a foul mood should cheer you up
no end. Rather like yoga but without all the stretching.
The arrogance and ego of the wizards should be watched. If one of the
wizards starts to get too arrogant for their own good, then dispose of
them. If you let them carry on the other wizards will start to resent it
and too much in-fighting means they aren't looking after the game. If you
want to be more subtle, simply promote everyone else above them, thus
giving you the advantage of complicating the heirarchy even more!
Running a popular game is hard work and if you are dedicated to keeping it
going, it'll take a lot out of you. Most of the players will never
begin to realise this, so there is little point wasting the effort of
trying to tell them. Think of it this way, the players are having fun,
otherwise they wouldn't be there, so why should you feel guilty about
messing them around? The day you stop having fun and become a martyr to
the game is the day you should either give up or have a holiday for a
Those were summaries and ideas from my way of running a MUA system. I
imagine my MIST players will be rather surprised to read some of this
because to them it just looked like it ran fairly smoothly most of the
time. In actual fact it does, once you have built your regime it looks
after itself pretty much, all you need to do is tweak it now and then to
stop it becoming stale. I was pretty brutally honest and I tried to
refrain from making it funny or exaggerating. I expect some of you will
argue with me but it's ok, I don't imagine many of you will be speaking from
any degree of experience. If any of you decide to take up my ideas then I
guess you will at least have fun - Maybe you should wait till the proper
textbook comes out though.
(Or, to keep the spods happy)
Copyright (C) 1991 Michael Lawrie.
This article may be freely re-distributed in full as long as you gain
nothing by doing so. No part of it can be quoted in any other text without
the permission of the author and a suitable acknowledgement.