How to design an area for JoranMUD
November 19 1998
This document describes how to go about making a design for JoranMUD, from the very first conception to the final document that needs to be delivered for final approval. It is not a manual on the actual building itself, although many aspects in this document obviously prepare for that work.
This document has been written by Benedict (aka Henri Achten irl): Last known url that worked: http://www.ds.arch.tue.nl/General/staff/henri/.
Every once in a while a MUD player can't help thinking: "Wouldn't it be nice if there were such and such an area?"
In this manual, I'll use my own design process for the area "Laputa" as illustration material, and quote regularly from JoranMUD so you can see for yourself how some things work out.
An area is a collection of rooms that together defines what might be called a territory within JoranMUD. Midgaard for example is an area, Old Thalos, New Thalos, and Forestol are also areas. Areas do not need to be cities. The Plains of the North is a wilderness north of Midgaard, as is the Holy Grove, and the Swamp. An area need not have a uniform size: there are small areas and large areas.
A room is a space in an area. Contrary to its name, a room can be a field, open to every direction. It can even be completely air! (Just fly over Midgaard to see it). A room is where you get when you do a move commando: when you go east, you come into the 'room' east.
-------- | ----
Rooms    are a road. Room  connects to a house that has rooms   . The size of the house is much smaller than the road. Where the distance travelled from  >  could be half a mile (if that were your choice), the distance between  >  can be three yards (three meters). So it does not necessarily follow that when you could leave  in the north, you would end up in room . Rather, you would have to make an additional room between  and .
Anything you can kill, anything you can sell something to, buy something from, etc. are mobs. Mobs are the living creatures -except for players- provided for by the MUD through which you gain experience points. Examples are beastly fido, the healer, Grum, mudschool monster, cityguard, the major, etc. Mobs need to be designed when you want to have new mobs (the fun part of course is to add new mobs to the MUD rather than reloading existing ones) in your area.
Anything you can hold, wear, wield, eat, drink, burn, use, etc. is an object in JoranMUD. Examples are standard issue dagger, city guard signet ring, fountain, Grum's scimitar, sleeping bag, etc. If you want to have new objects in your area (and what other point is there to make an area for?) then you have to design these objects as well.
The design for Laputa started with the idea that it would be very nice if the floating island Laputa from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift would be incorporated in the MUD. Laputa fits very well in the overall theme of JoranMUD which focuses on fantasy, magic, wizardry, medieval and ancient times.
Getting started on an area design is a two step process.
STEP 1: The very first germ of the idea for an area should be written down in a couple of sentences, giving the gist of it.
STEP 2. When you have written down this idea, send it to the Head Builder immortal who's job it is to coordinate building. This is to note the Head Builder you have an idea, and to get a first reaction: good idea, bad idea, fit or no fit, yes-but, etc. When you are not sure how well an idea will be received, wait until you have the reaction! Do not waste time on an idea that might be rejected: just think up of a new one.
Here is my description of the very first idea. I simply started with a quote from the book.
The head builder likes the idea and has given an OK to proceed with the work. Congratulations. Now the real work starts, as well as section II.
The most important part of the area is the collection of rooms that make it up. This is where a player will always pass through when he, she, or it is in your area. The area must be interesting without mobs. How to go about this?
A map is a set of numbered rooms connected with each other by lines. It can be drawn by hand or done in ASCII on your computer. It is easiest to start by hand, as in the beginning you'll be adding, removing, and shifting rooms regularly before you get it right.
---------- | /| |  |/  ___|  |___ | | |  |  | ------ | | | | | / | / | ---------------- /| /| /| | | | | ------ |  |  |____ |/ ___| |  |  |  | | | |______________| /
Each [x] is a room, the x standing for the number. The --- and | between the [x] are the connections between the rooms. Up is north, down is south, left is west, and right is east. When there is a / under a [x], this means down, and a / above a [x], this means you can go up from that room. In particular the up and down are tricky to draw in a plan. The rest is quite obvious I suppose.
Obviously, the area map is intricately linked with the descriptions of the rooms. The room descriptions are the pieces of text you always see when you enter a room, whether there are monsters, objects, or other players or not. The room description not only shows what is there, it also is intended to convey atmosphere. Also, from the text it must become obvious which directions you can go to.
Let's give an example:
 Entry to Laputa.
OK, here is how it works. The  corresponds with the map shown above. Each room has a name, which is shown in the MUD (just look at any room you are in). The next text, from "You enter Laputa..." to "To the east another magnificent road stretches ahead." is the room description.
The [north east south] I have included as a note from which directions you can go from this room. It helps to check whether the text of the description is complete, and also the other descriptions in section II.4.
Nothing is so annoying than when you read in the room description "You enter Laputa, the flying city, by a seat hanging from a steel cable. The cable disappears in an ingenious looking structure overhead..." and you type "look seat", the system responds with "You do not see a seat". This is the point of extra descriptions, and they really enhance the experience of an area. Take care to note the keywords that curious players will examine in your descriptions, even the most unimportant ones. In the room of the example, the following extra descriptions are given:
Rooms often are open to each other (for example in a road), yet you cannot see beyond the room you are in. Is it not amazing that when you type "look east" you usually get the response by the system "Nothing special there."??? Why bother to go in that direction anyway then?
Here are the direction descriptions for room :
Well, not only the rooms make up an area, but also the opponents you'll find there, the so-called mobs. Often a mob is linked with a room, such as for example Grum in the temple, the shop owners in their shops, and the beholder in Old Thalos. Other mobs are mobile such as the cityguards, vagabonds, and fido's in Midgaard.
Here are a few examples from the Laputa design:
(5) The King's son.
Notice that in this example, there is a "You" sentence. This sentence is true, whether the prince will attack you or not, and it also holds when a player is fighting the prince. Furthermore, the sentence gives a clue about the equipment of the prince.
(7) (White aura) Queen of Balnibardi.
The (White aura) bit indicates that the Queen has a sanctuary spell on her. Sanctuary means that she'll take 50% of the normal damage the attack of a player could deal. Use this aspect only when such a feature can be adequately explained from the mob. In this case the Queen can be safely assumed to know this art.
(8) Person of Quality.
The previous examples all were sentinel, which means they will stay in their rooms. This mob occurs on several places in the Laputa design (rooms     ) and can also move about. Notice that the description does not give much personal features since it would be strange to see the same particular features of a person everywhere around.
The mobs have a particular role in your area and should fit into it. Make sure that mobs that belong to a room make sense there.
Here is an example of the room of the Queen:
 Laputa Queen's quarters.
Why is the room described the way it is? The men of Laputa are so much engaged in deep thought that they hardly give any attention to their wives and daughters. These on the other hand, are bored to death on the floating island in the air and yearn for the main land. The Queen is no exception, and therefore she has ordered to have her room painted with the best murals there are. That is also the reason why the description of the directions contain other extra descriptions such as the treasury/collection in the west wall: it looks so real that you look with more detail at it.
What fun is there in a mob that just stands, sits, or sleeps around waiting for you to come by and kill it? Some basic actions by mobs are defined quite easily such as the mobility question, but also such things as aggressiveness, scavenger (does it pick up trash), defend other mobs, and their races, skills and classes pretty much define what mobs do and are. If you are comfortable with some low level programming, or know a person who is willing to do so, you can come up with special behavior of the mobs: random sentence speaking, or triggering on special words by players, or checking for items in players, etc. Those last things are called mob programs. Read the file "mobprog.doc" which you can find at the JoranMUD site for more detailed information of mob programs.
Here is an example from the Laputa design:
The King of Balnibardi is a Laputean, which means he is engaged in deep thought. The random sentences noted above are chosen from once in a while so that the King appears to be thinking and solving problems. Since he is a Laputean, he is also unable to distinguish true from foolish problems, which explains the selection of phrases.
Equipment is anything you can wear or use as player that helps you in your travels or battles in JoranMUD. The fun part of the design is to think of these pieces of equipment. Equipment can belong to a mob (such as the standard issue stuff of the Midgaard cityguards), can lie around in the MUD (such as the herbs in the Planes of the North), or can be for sale (such as in any of the shops). Make sure a mob carries equipment that belongs to the mob (don't give a good priest an evil vampiric sword), and that the levels of the equipment compare fairly well with the mob (a level 90 mob with level 10 equipment is very frustrating for a player, and vice versa does not make much sense).
In the Laputa design, special care has been taken to supply non-standard equipment: therefore it is low on swords (in fact only 1!), but there are plenty of different levels daggers (6), flails (3), maces (2), clubs (2), axes (2), polearms (2), spears (2), whips (2), wands (1), and staves (2). There are also magical items such as rings and equipment that are scarce in high levels (gloves (2), boots (1), belts (2), rings (2), staffs (2+), wands (1), leggings (3), robes (6), cloaks (6), gauntlets (1), helms (5), shields (2), belts (2), and potions (4)). There is also one key, and a number of locks to pick.
Here are some examples from the King's personal collection. Notice that since they belong to the same mob, there are many commonalties between the descriptions and stats:
[bc] Laputa Farewell
The stats on level and such are not really necessary in the first phase of designing your area. A basic level indication can be quite adequate. Just remember that the level of equipment and mob are close.
[bd] Laputa Sidesweap
[be] Laputa Basher
Not everything in the design needs to be equipment. You can think of objects that are just there for fun or for giving your design extra depth. The most notable non-equipment item in JoranMUD is jewelry: objects that have some value. There is no limit to what you can imagine on jewelry, and there are plenty of examples in JoranMUD.
V.1. Level range
An area has a level range, and although opinion differs in this respect, the range can be quite large (for example 30-90) AS LONG AS it is clear where the low - medium - high level mobs are so that a level 30 player does not tumble into an aggressive level 80 mob that makes meatloaf of him. An often used trick is the neutral 'guard-mob' that blocks the rooms with the higher level mobs. Defeating the guard-mob proves you are worthy to enter the rooms with the more difficult mobs (no guarantees of course). Of course it does not always need to be a guard mob. Another trick is that the further you enter the area, the more difficult the mobs become. Plus, the room descriptions before the really tough mobs can give hints about the nearing danger (it could also be bluff though). Make logical groups of mobs whose levels are close to each other, so that when you can basically take them on, you can roam that part of the area until you have leveled enough to visit another part later. By the way, adding a mobile higher level aggressive mob amidst lower level mobs can add some spice to a level: will it show up when a player is fighting something, or will it, she, or he bump into it when taking the all-too-familiar route to the easy to defeat mob?
One particular flavor that is really nice in JoranMUD is the balancing and use of alignment in mobs. Alignment is a number that shows whether a mob (or player) tends to the satanic (-1000) or angelic (+1000). The -200 <-> +200 range is termed neutral. If a good player kills an evil mob, her, its, his alignment is reinforced. However, when a good mob is killed by a good player, the alignment will drop (and vice versa of course for evil players killing good and evil mobs). Why is this something of influence?
Be clear what general alignment the mobs and their equipment should have. Do not overdo the extreme good or extreme bad in an area unless you have a very good reason (all mobs in hell are satanic, and all mobs in the Holy Grove are angelic). Rather use more neutral mobs than any of the plainly extreme sides. With equipment however, you can be more differentiated than with mobs. Also notice that at the moment, JoranMUD caters well for good players (much anti_evil equipment around) but rather poorly for evil players (not that much anti_good equipment).
Animals seldom have an alignment as they cannot consciously chose for evil or good. Only animals that are associated with good and evil could have alignment other than neutral, but this is rarely the case.
Just as a player will not hack and slack in every room it, she, or he travels through, a mob will not automatically attack a player. The tendency to attack a player or not is called is called aggressiveness. When a mob is aggressive, and a player enters its room of a lower or same level, then the mob will attack. Figure out in your design of the area what mobs should have a tendency to be aggressive and which do not.
JoranMUD does not boast many locks. Try to think of your everyday life and count the number of locks you encounter on a daily basis... the number will astound you. So, try to think whether places will be locked, and who carry the locks, and whether the locks are easy or hard to pick if you have no key.
Well, when you have done all this (I told you it would take some weeks) you compile your material in one document. A good set up can be the following:
Send it to the head builder and ALWAYS keep a copy (and a backup of your copy) for your self.
The document you now have really helps you to quickly start building once you have received permission to build and got the vnums for building. Even with such a preparation as this one you'll find there are still a lot of things to be decided during building, and you'll be glad to have taken care of the most basic issues right now in the design document.
Enjoy designing and building!
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