Muddled Times
Issue:Issue 29, March 2005
Section:Game Information

Pick up the Treasure

I adore newbies. It's purely for selfish reasons: I get a lovely, sentimental glow when I talk to them that helps me recapture my own first few games of MUD2 when I thought that elves lived in the cottage and I couldn't get the lantern to go out. Ah, those carefree days of yore! But even if I didn't get a buzz from helping people, I'd still feel duty-bound to try, because newbies are MUD2's future.

It's a cliché, yes, I know. But over time, players will leave for whatever reasons and unless there is a constant supply of newbies to replace them then the game will eventually empty. Only a rump of a few, grizzled old wizzes will remain to reminisce about the good old days, until eventually even they will drift away. MUD2 really needs newbies.

It doesn't just need them to keep the population constant, either. Newbies are people, not automatons; they come with fresh ideas and energy, invigorating the community and helping it to develop instead of degenerating into sterility. Without them and the ideas they bring with them, the game would just stagnate. Where's the fun in that?

The problem is, MUD2 isn't exactly newbie-friendly. Players coming across the game for the first time will most likely have not seen anything like it before. They can't figure the controls, there's all this stuff with letters and words that they have to read, it just doesn't make sense. Under these circumstances, only those who really make the effort will stay more than a few minutes. We lose a lot of newbies.

But we don't have to! Many of those players would have stayed if only they'd had help in those crucial first few minutes. Consider: until recently there were two types of newbie. One type was the passer-by, the Wireplay user who saw that there was this game at the top of the rapid play popularity lists and decided to give it a whirl. We used to get a steady stream of these, but we didnt't hold on to many of them, and now those newbies will become more and more infrequent until MUD2 is completely forgotten about at Wireplay. The other type is the player who is being introduced by someone who already plays. We don't get so many of these, but the ones we do get tend to stay on and become regular players. Why? Because they have a friend to show them the ropes when they're just starting off. That's what the first type of newbie lacks: a friend. If you take time out to be that friend, the chances that the newbie will eventually become an oldbie are vastly increased.

This article is intended to give advice to players who wish to befriend newbies - utter newbies, complete first-timers. I know a lot of players already do make some attempt at this (and not simply because the wizzes like people who help newbies!), but it's not always effective. Telling people to sip dj in the tearoom, for example, is not going to help someone who doesn't even know that the aim of the game is to score points..! You have to take it one step at a time ...

A word of warning: we've all been newbies once, but some people have been newbies more than once... They like to pretend to be newbies, either to wind up those of us who try to help real ones or to attempt to give their newly-designed secret character a believable background. These people are very irritating, but if you do want to help real newbies you just have to treat each one as genuine until they're proven otherwise. There are one or two ways you can tell a fake if you've dealt with them often enough, but I'm reluctant to explain them here because it'll tip off the time-wasters as to what they're doing wrong and they'll change their tactics. As an example, though, one of the things they will often do is try to give you hints as to what you should tell them. You've explained they should use say, they normally use ", so they "innocently" ask if there's a shorthand that they can use instead. Nice try, guys ... :-)


Spotting probable newbies is relatively easy. Most non-newbies will do sip dj in the tearoom, so anyone wandering around with no level after their name is either a newbie or someone pretending to be one. You do sometimes find newbies who are protectors, having been told to sip dj by someone in the tearoom who figured that was all they needed to know, but this is infrequent. The tearoom is, of course, a great place to find newbies - and the walls they insist on walking into are a handy alarm system :-) .

As soon as you spot someone who you suspect is a newbie, your priority must be to get them to communicate. This is for practical reasons, not pedagogical ones: if they can't talk to you, they can't ask questions or even acknowledge that they understand what you're saying. Never mind whether it's important for forming a bond or not at this stage (although in the long term it is).

The first thing I usually say to a suspected newbie is simply, "Hi! Are you a newbie?", followed (if they don't answer) a few seconds later by something like, "Type NOD if you are.". Players who aren't newbies get a fair chance to tell me to go away :-) and players who are newbies have something easy to type if they want help.

I always put instructions in capital letters when I talk to newbies. Remember that many newbies have never seen a game anything like MUD2 before and if you are at all ambiguous then they won't understand. They won't necessarily even realise that the word nod is a command at all unless you can identify it somehow, but if you use quotation marks then they'll dutifully include them in what they type ... Trust me, capital letters work.

If they don't answer the initial nod question, it could be for many reasons but the main ones are either that they are real newbies but don't want help, or they're real newbies who need help even more! As with all dealings with newbies, you have to assume they're genuine and that they need help, so I do follow up if they don't answer: "type SAY then a message to speak, e.g. SAY HELLO" and then "don't forget to hit the enter key when you've typed your command". By this stage they usually either manage to speak or they wander off or quit. If I really feel someone is struggling I might try something else, but frankly if they can't even figure out how to type the most basic of commands then MUD 2 is probably not going to be their game ...

Most newbies do manage that first nod, though, which is always encouraging. I'll usually clap when they do this so they know that their command worked, then tell them "to send a message, type SAY then the message, like this: SAY HELLO LEXLEY". They don't usually have a lot of trouble with this, either. Once you can communicate with a newbie and the newbie can communicate back, you can advance to stage 2 ...


In order not to get in anyone's face unnecessarily, as soon as you can get a spoken reply from a player it's best to ask outright whether he or she wants (that's wants, not needs help or not. If they say they don't, tell them "OK, well if you change your mind just SHOUT for me. You might want to look at the FAQ and TUTORIAL commands next time you're in the tearoom, too" and then wave goodbye. You can check with them later whether they're still OK if you "happen" to bump into them, but don't go over the top.

If the newbie does want help, the way to proceed depends a lot on how you encountered them in the first place. You need to find a topic of conversation to gain their confidence, so you can introduce some of the concepts they need to know in as natural a way as possible. Newbies you come across wandering around looking lost are easier to deal with than ones in the tearoom, because they have some experience (and independence) already, but they're rarer, too. Ascertain how much they know and what problems they are having. At this stage, there's no need to be coy about giving "solutions": it's not meant to be a game puzzle to figure out what to do with treasure ...

Your main aim here is to make the newbie aware of a few basic concepts that don't show up as icons in F1 mode. You can do this conversationally without having to demonstrate anything. I'll usually tell them:

  • what the goal of the game is - scoring points and going up levels
  • what treasure is - stuff you can score points for in the swamp
  • that t is short for treasure, thus introducing the notion of abbreviations
  • to use " instead of say
  • that the game's built-in help isn't too bad, especially tutorial, info, faq and tour.
  • that they will probably be killed many times but not to worry about it :-)
In conveying this to them, you can sometimes get a feel for what kind of a player they are. Even if it seems clear that they're not really impressed and just want to go away, it's still worth persisting; they can often still be won over.

Having told them what the idea of the game is, your next job is to show them how to achieve it in practice. This means demonstrating commands, which in turn means moving. This is a real pain if they're in the tearoom because they can't follow you. You have to tell them to leave the tearoom and stay still until you arrive. A good many are barely capable of doing the first of these, let alone the second, so try to be patient... It doesn't take long to zoom along the road, but to a newbie reared on fast-moving action games it can seem like an eternity. I usually let the newbie go first, ask them if they made it OK, then find them while they're typing a response. In order to be able to do this, though, they need to be reassured that they can communicate over distance. I therefore tell them how to use the shout command and how to communicate by name; I also make sure they can do the latter before we set off anywhere... If we get separated, it's imperative that we can join up quickly before they start to panic!

It can be useful to retain a protected persona for showing around newbies. PKs have no insight into how important newbies are and will gladly slaughter anyone they see wandering around unarmed and unkitted, even if they have an obvious newbie in tow. So long as you tell the newbie that you'll be coming on under a different name, it's normally not a problem.

It doesn't matter if you hook up with a newbie that someone else has already primed, by the way; the more friends newbies have, the better. You may still be able to help them, especially if they other person did a bad job (like telling the newbie how to pick things up but not what to do with them afterwards). Always remember to give newbies permission to ask you for help if they need it, even if they don't want any at that precise time. Some people use the opening line of "have you played here for long?" when they encounter a loose newbie, so as to give the fake ones chance to own up. You might want to try that approach if you're less gullible than I am :-) .


Third-stage newbies get the practical lessons :-) . This is where you show them exactly what to do, gradually making them more self-reliant as they proceed so that eventually you can wave them goodbye and they'll be able to make a stab at actually playing. I find the acc command invaluable here.

The first thing I'll normally do is get a trinket for them and give them it. This gets them used to the idea that they can carry things. I'll then tell them to get any other trinkets or treasure in the room. I always start off by telling them what the full command is, but I encourage abbreviations: "type G T (for GET TREASURE)". I'll tell them to use val t to find out how much it is worth and to drop anything which is negative (which it never is if they're novice level, but it will be later).

Trinkets aren't always easy to find, because people do take them. I will look in the cottage first, then the inn, then the villa. Once the newbie has a couple, I'll lead the way to the swamp and get them to dr t.

A word of warning: no matter how much you tell them not to speak in the swamp, you can almost guarantee that they'll choose to do so when the banshee is around. I have found no successful way round this while the banshee is alive; I tell them before we go in not to speak, and I always talk by name when I'm there, but it's not really effective. The banshee appears, they speak, the banshee screams, they go deaf, you've lost them. A programming fix would be nice, to make newbies resistant to the banshee's voice ...

Having successfully swamped some treasure, get the newbie to use the score command, whether from the icon on their screen or by typing it. Tell them they can use level to see how many points they need to score to advance. Make sure that the first trip to the swamp doesn't get them to protector, though, because there's still a lot for them to learn.

The trip to the inn is where you begin showing them some independence. This is because they can't get to the upper floors by accompanying you: they have to type some commands of their own. I will usually stop on the road outside and tell my newbie that I'm going south twice and that they should do the same because they can't follow. I go first rather than the newbie because I'll have arranged a light source (even if it's just a lit stick). Once the newbie finds me, they can acc again and I can take them to the children's room on the second floor where there's usually a nice stash of undisturbed newbie booty. If the newbie is looking particularly keen and there's no undead about, I'll show them the circle, too.

Once the newbie has picked up the treasure, I ask if they want me to lead the way to the swamp or if they can make it alone. I tell them to keep hitting the swamp button until they get there and to ignore the darkness (if they have no light, that is!). Usually they'll agree to this, but sometimes they can still lack confidence so it takes a trip to Il Castellare as well to get them to believe they know what to do. The only fly in the ointment is if it's raining and zw gets them stuck at the river. I always use zw too, though, so will get stuck at the same point and they can acc me to somewhere where zw works again.

If this final batch of trinkets doesn't put them up a level, I'll take them somewhere safe nearby such as the hut and ask them to wait while I get them some more. I'll give them it and tell them I'll meet them at the swamp and want to see they've gone up a level! I'm usually stern at this point so they are eager to go off on their own :-) .

Once they have gone up a level and feel confident enough, I ask them if they want to play on their own for a while. They almost always do. All that remains is to tell them what to do if they need help. This means:

  • they can contact me by name, any time, any place
  • if they don't see me, shout for me, or for help from anyone
  • the wizzes will usually help if a genuine wish
  • they shouldn't get disheartened if they die, it will happen
  • when it does happen, they can type sip dj for sip darjeeling in the tearoom.
And that's it! I deliberately don't teach them about fighting unless they ask, in which case I'll get them to take on a firefly. If they start trying to kill anything serious they'll just die repeatedly and not come back. I don't normally cover getting a light unless I have to because none of the ways to see in the dark are really very satisfactory for low level players. I don't teach any of the other useful concepts like containers or weapons, because these are things that players can find out on their own. My aim is to get them up and running and independent, but with someone as back-up (me) who they can ask questions off of without fear of being mocked for ignorance. I certainly do not give them the directions to the spring - not knowing anything at 1,000 points is even worse than not knowing anything at 0!

Showing newbies around is fun - I really enjoy it. They have that wonderful sense of awe, they come out with some great lines and there's a real sense of achievement when one of them stays on as a permanent player.

Except when four months later they pk you, of course..!


Further Reading

Cat the wizard has some useful information for first-timers on his website especially in the Info section. From the point of view of teaching newbies, rather than of actually being a newbie, the new player help FAQ is probably the most useful document.

Other MUDs have newbies and although these players need to be taught different things for different environments, there are some fundamentals which cut right across all games. Some MUDs have formal organisations for helping newbies. If you can stand the alien jargon, a look at the New Player Helpers page for Legend MUD gives some idea of what can be done; some of Farnsworth's tips are eerily applicable to MUD2 in places.

Acknowledgement: I learned much of how to handle newbies from a long email correspondence with Richard the arch-wizard, who has (after all) been doing this for longer than any of us :-) . A lot of the ideas expressed here are therefore his originally.

This article first appeared in the April 1999 edition of Witch?

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