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Multi-User Dungeons, or MUDs for short, are essentially the forerunners to modern MMORPGs. Their primary distinguishing feature is that they utilize a text-based interface similar to Interactive Fiction games, but still allow dozens or even thousands of users to play at the same time. Interestingly, the first MUD was so named because it was designed as a multiplayer version of Dungeon (an early version of Zork) making it Exactly What It Says on the Tin twice over.

Despite the current popularity of MMORPGs with flashy extra features like graphics, MUDs are still popular amongst certain groups, since they are relatively easy to maintain, require little to nothing in the way of installed programs, and are almost always free to play.

A MUD is controlled by inputting typed commands, and is divided into undefined areas called rooms. You move by inputting a directional command ('north', 'west', 'southeast', or 'n', 'w' 'se'); attack by ordering yourself to kill ('kill bear' or 'k bea'); sleep by entering 'sleep' (or 'sl') etc., with most commands allowing some degree of abbreviation.

Since the designers don't have to worry about rendering images or sounds for their content (most objects, creatures, and effects are described by a few lines of text and/or code), MUDs can get extremely in-depth, and extremely complicated. Expect different effects for eating, drinking, sleeping, resting, hiding, having a wound on a certain body part, being blinded, stunned, underwater, in the vacuum of space, in the faerie dimension, flying, or just tired. The ability to forge your own weapons, speak different languages, buy or build your own house, marry another player, declare another player attack-on-sight, worship different gods, and start your own guild are all fairly standard. The emotes list can often get into the hundreds, and if none of them suits, you can even improvise with custom emotes. And that is not even getting into the combat skills, spells, proficiencies and other statistics you can learn and improve upon.

Variants include the more free-form MUSH, often called a Multi User Shared Hallucination, which is a kind of MUD that is mostly used as a roleplaying environment or sometimes, a set of chat rooms; along with the traditional roleplaying-oriented MUCK and the MOO. These are descended from TinyMUD and forego the extensive, automated combat systems of most MUDs in favour of either free-form roleplay, system-supported/Pen & Paper style roleplay, or some other specific format. The term MUD has itself been backronymed into "Multi-User Dimension", "Multi-User Domain", and several other meanings, possibly as a way to distinguish the variants that are not intended as games, or that have a Science Fiction theme instead of a Fantasy theme.

Compare Interactive Fiction, aka Text Adventure, which are script-oriented games. Contrast Point And Click Adventure Games, more graphical scripted games which may also use a fixed-room format or Text Parser.

Tropes common to MUDs:

  • You Can't Get Ye Flask/Guess the Verb
  • Guide Dang It: New players can find MUDs very frustrating at first, particularly when the "help" entry for what you are trying to do does not seem to exist. Asking other players is often the best solution, though this is sometimes discouraged or outright forbidden.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: Most characters will need to eat (and drink) regularly to keep their Hit Points and/or Mana at maximum, though procuring them is not usually difficult.
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: See above. There will always be a few exceptions, but they generally don't have an excuse.
  • Loads and Loads of Races: Since you don't have to render what a Yithian looks like while wearing a Mithril hauberk and wielding an energy rifle, there is no reason why you can't let people play as one.
  • An enormous range of Character Levels, often several hundred, if there even is a level cap. Can make finding a worthwhile-but-beatable foe difficult.
  • A concomitant amount of Level Grinding to go with those levels.
Tropes used in Multi User Dungeon include: