Building Tips And Suggestions

This section is one of the most requested sections of our Builders' Guide. It is composed of building tips for novice builders. Most of this is extremely subjective, and based on the past experiences of the builders at C.A.W. Not all of these techniques will be of use to the average builder, but you are welcome to read through them all the same.

Areas should be well-fleshed out stories that catch the visitor's attention and bring out their curiosity, making them want to stay for more. The descriptions should be well fleshed out, bringing images into the players' minds, and there should be challenges and tricks that the player will not expect, after all, even the best descriptions can only go so far.

Not all of the tips in this document are solely from C.A.W., Slash of MZF fame, Lok (author of many Merc and ROM areas), and Narien have also contributed a number of tips, as has Locke of CthulhuMud. Other contributions to this section are always welcome, and will be added with proper credits.

General Tips

The first tip is to learn how to build without an Diku editor first. Editors are wonderful tools that definitely make life easy in the long run, but if you know how the files are put together, and why they are how they are, it becomes a lot easier to troubleshoot.

Before starting work on an area, talk it over with the person in charge of the theme and world on the mud you are building it for. Make sure that your idea of the theme is very similar to theirs. Otherwise, you may end up building something that doesn't fit the world at all. Also, suggestions from the other person may allow you to incorporate plot elements from the rest of the world, which would further integrate your area with the rest of the world.

Once you have your idea refined and compatible with the rest of the mud's world, draw your area on paper. Do it big. The reason for this is that during the building process, aggravation and editing always make the area shrink, sometime rapidly. Also, having a visual map to work from helps immensely with exits, and provides a visual impetus for putting together the last (and often most tedious) bits.

Plots are extremely important in areas. Your area should have a strong plot which is well incorporated into it. Some ways of incorporating plots are in descriptions of mobiles when you look at them. Extra descriptions in rooms are always useful for trails, scrapings on the wall, or whatnot. Trash objects can be created that are notes, maps, or whatever. One excellent idea from Lok is to create a no-take container without a long description, with the short description the ground, and inside this container, put a 'buried' treasure. When players get the treasure from the container, it will appear like You get the treasure from the ground. This kind of trick catches the interest of most players, and power mudders will more than likely miss this kind of trick the first few times through.

When designing your area and the plots within, you should always consider what kind of player you want playing in your area. Keep the levels and types in mind (ie role-playing, power-mudder, etc). In doing so, try to have fun building the area. Make it well-rounded and something that you enjoy looking through afterwards. If you find something you don't like, edit it and change it until you like it. It is always best to build when you are not bored of the area, since building when you are bored almost always turns out uninspired and boring areas.

Most builders do not take the possible ecology or economic effects of an area into account. By this, I don't mean having a mini-model of an actual ecological enviroment, but rather having things that make the area sem more plausible. The best things to put in to make an area more plausible are useless objects that actually add atmosphere to the area. Food sources for the mobiles in your area are always neccessary to fleshing things out, as are creating import and export goods for cities, complete with customs houses.

When building your area, start with the very first number of the zone (QQ00, where QQ is the zone number, for example, 2200 would be the number of the first mobile, object, and room if your zone number was 22). If at all possible, do not leave empty spaces in the zone, try to keep the numbers in sequential order.

Finally, when writing the numerous descriptions of the area, MAKE THEM INTERESTING TO READ! Nobody likes to read room after room of stupid one line descriptions. Vary each description as much as possible. One of the greatest joys of most players is finding new and interesting rooms, items, treasures, and monsters. For those of you familiar with role-playing games, this creative use of descriptions and atmosphere should be quite well-known to you. Consider looking over other areas you enjoy before building your own, to use ideas from that area.

Remember: You don't want to bore your players

Some final notes on spelling are in order here. Make sure you spell things correctly in your area. I have found that a good principle to make is to avoid the use of all contractions. For example, if you mean to say "it is", do not use "it's", spell it out. This will help differentiate between "its" (which means 'belonging to it') and "it is". Another set of problem words to take note of is the "they're", "there", and "their". The first can be avoided because it is a contraction, the second is not here, but there, and the final one means that it belongs to them. One final instance to take note of are "to", "too", and "two". The first is used when you want to say something like 'the passage leads to there', the second is an adjective, which means that it should be used in situations where there is an excess of something, such as 'too much red paint was used to cover the walls here'. The final one is the number that follows 1 (one) and precedes 3 (three).

The apostrophe is something else that is incorrectly used quite often, and this can ruin someone's enjoyment of an area. The apostrophe is generally used to show that something belongs to someone. A couple of quick examples to show its use:

Fred's sister is Doris.
Correct. This states that Fred has a sister named Doris.
Freds' sister is Doris.
Doris' brother is Fred.
Correct. Note the lack of a trailing 's' when an 's' ends the noun?
Doris's brother is Fred.
Incorrect. Actually, strictly speaking, this is a correct use, but tends to be avoided if possible.
Fred's sisters' dog is named Rover.
Correct. This states that Rover is the dog that belongs to the numerous sisters of Fred.
Fred's sister's dog is named Rover.
Correct. This states that Rover is the dog that belongs to the *single* sister of Fred.

With all of these spelling tips in mind, you should be well equiped to start working on your area.

Room Tips

The first thing to suggest here is to start your area with the .wld file. This is the file that usually takes the longest. Once this file is completed, the other files will come much easier. In fact, often after I finish the world file, I have come up with numerous other ideas for new objects and mobiles to populate it.

Beginning with the title of a room, it is best to capitalize the name of a room, for example The Golden Tomb. Also, try to avoid punctuation in a title, unless you feel that it is absolutely neccessary. The title of a room should be a fairly coherant noun if at all possible.

In the room description itself, you should include the obvious exits and important things in the room. Do not put mobs or objects or otherwise into the room description. The obvious exclusion to this rule is no-take objects which often work quite well without a long description as they can be 'hidden' in the room description. Try to line up the right hand column as much as possible without going over 75 characters per line. Also, as a final note, try not to describe a player's emotions in the room, leave that up to your descriptive text to evoke the emotions in the player, since that will make things much more exciting to the player.

Some people believe that it is best to describe locations in the third person all the time (ie, never reference the player), but I am personally of the school that you should describe the room as needed to get the point across. Taking into account the suggestions above of course.

'Spatial Order' is important to take into account when building and designing areas. Spatial Order is the art of making everything fit into a realistic plain. Making it geometrically correct. That kind of thing. To achieve this, the use of directional words ('north', 'southeast', etc) is highly recommended. Having an area geometrically correct makes it much easier for a player to visualize it, and thus increases their enjoyment of it.

For doors, exits, and so forth, try to include an extra description of the door (for example, one for 'door wooden'), as well as a short description when looking in the direction of the door. Remember that for working two-way doors, the rooms on each side should have matching doorflags and doors.

Renaming doors is sometimes a good idea to create 'secret' doors. For example, having a doorway behind a tapestry on a wall if you want to have a concealed passageway. This can often be used together with extra direction descriptions. Since a mud defaults to looking in a direction before looking at an extra description, you can set up an exit to 'nowhere' by using -1 as the destination room number, and then use the description section of the door to describe what can be seen when looking that way.

Death Traps should be used to encourage intelligent exploration rather than just being used to slaughter players. A Death Trap room should always be set indoors, and never dark. This way the room name will show up with the exits command. If a room has an exit to a death trap, ensure that there is an exit from the trap to the room, otherwise the death cry will not be heard in the entry room by other players. It can also be an idea to put exits into other rooms in your area so that if someone hits a death trap, it gets heard in other rooms, and can potentially frighten other players in the area. When putting Death Traps into an area, be careful with them since too many will discourage people from wanting to visit the region. Also, the rooms leading up to the death traps should have fairly obvious warnings as to what is coming.

When describing a Death Trap, never use mobs in it unless they are supposed to be all-powerful gods or something of the sort. The best kind of description is the one which describes some complete and utterly stupid action by the player such as walking off of the edge of a cliff, walking into what is obviously a falling ceiling trap, and so forth.

For extra descriptions, try to make one for each thing that you would think to look at the the room description or in other extra descriptions. If there is one word that could mean two or more things, include them all in if you like, or direct the player to another description for such.

For mazes and paths, try to avoid the two exit moron maze if at all possible. Try to have it so that players can move off the path if they so choose. One possible suggestion for this is to have one pathway through part of your area, using exit, extra, and room descriptions to show where the path lies. This way, observant players will be able to find the path easily, whereas those players that are not quite as observant will get lost much more easily. Such hints can be hidden two or three extras deep and be as small as a scrape on the side of a tree, a thread on a bush, or whatever.

For random mob distribution in an area, you can make a mob chute. A mob chute is a room with six one-way exits leading out to places you want the mobs to go. Load all the mobiles into this room without sentinel flags and they will distribute themselves. For larger areas, several of these chutes can be interconnected for a bubble-sort effect.

You should always define the areas where any mob can wander to. This can be done through the use of no_mob rooms. These rooms allow you to define ranges of mobiles. For example, all the lower level mobiles can be set so that only they can wander on the first level of a dungeon by making the stairwells no_mob.

Finally, the first room in the .wld file should be the entry room to your area. If you have more than one exit or entrance, make sure that you list them somewhere so that the person connecting your area will have a much easier time attaching it to the world, and will know where to look for exits back to the world.

Mobile Tips

Positions of Mobiles are quite useful at times. For example, mobs wander around by default. Remember to include the 'Sentinel' Action flag for stationary mobs. Also, 'angry' mobs can be simulated by loading them sitting and agressive, with a default position of standing. After being attacked, they will wander around instead of sitting back down!

You should always try to match your mobiles to the area and the players you want to play there. For example, you should make the mobs in the area a similar level to the players you want to play there since a level X warrior should be able to kill a level X mobile if the warrior is fully healthy. Also, the quality of objects on mobiles should be matched with their level.

For the keywords of a mobile, there is no need to capitalize any of them, try to keep them all small letters for format cohesion. The order of the keywords does not matter at all, and try to have as many keywords to describe the mobile as possible from both the short description and the long description. For example:

mayor neftlewitz man tall
would be good for the following long description:
A tall man is walking about here. It appears to be Mayor Neftlewitz.

For short descriptions, always use 'the' unless the mobile has a proper name. Above all, never put punctuation at the end of a short description. Also, try not to capitalize the first letter of the short description unless it is a proper name. For example:

the green troll
Mayor Neftlewitz

For long descriptions, end with proper punctuation, and make sure that the description is a complete sentence with proper grammar. Remember that the long description will follow the room description.

For the description, try to tell the player what the mobile looks like, how it is acting, etc... Do not include items in the description if possible, since if the mobile is given them, they will appear twice and it will look rather silly.

Object Tips

For the keywords of an object, ALWAYS put the most general or the most descriptive name of the object keywords first. Do not capitalize the keywords, unless the object is named and that keyword is the first in the list. Also, use as many keywords as possible, and above all, make sure that at least one of the keywords is found in the extra description. Another important point, try to describe the object in the keywords, so that a key has more keywords than simply 'key', for example 'key brass large' would be good. For example:

Blackrazor sword broad
barrel metal water
bracelet emerald jewelled

For Liquid containers, always make the first keyword the liquid name. In the short description, use only the name of the object and do not include the liquid (ie 'a glass' instead of 'a glass of milk')

For short descriptions, always use 'the', 'a', 'an', etc unless the item has a proper name. Above all, never put punctuation at the end of a short description. Also, try not to capitalize the first letter of the short description unless it is a proper name. For example:

the wooden barrel
(the system will make it 'the wooden barrel of water' if it contains water)
an emerald bracelet

Just like for mobiles, long descriptions should end with proper punctuation, and make sure that the description is a complete sentence with proper grammar.

For extra descriptions, try to flesh out your object with a description or three which tell the player what it looks like, etc... Ensure that all the keywords are covered by the description. Extra descriptions can add small interesting details to your area and are often remembered by players.

Be fair with the items -- Good items should be very rare on most muds, and hard to get. Lousy items should require much less effort. Give the most powerful items actually to a mob; thieves and mages can often steal stuff on the ground without even bothering with the mob.

Also, take note that a lot of small items make an area more interesting than a few incredibly powerful items, for the most part. Don't feel limited to items players consider 'useful', such as weapons and armour. A giant (untakeable) monolith, and other strange and odd items can add a lot of atmosphere to an area. They can also be used to distract players. Most of the useless items are often best as trash, but can be worn, and don't feel that items shouldn't get strange wear flags. After all, who says that boat you juts created can't actually be a ring of water walking? All that would be needed for that is to have a boat with a finger wear position set.

Remember to put take wear-flags on almost everything. It is easier to put a take wear-flag on everything, and take off the ones you don't need (like fountains and such).

If you plan to have an object that is not to be taken, you can either set a no-take flag on it, or give it an enormous weight (30,000 or more). This way, players won't be able to take it very easily. Another idea to use with this kind of object is to describe it in the room's description and then remove the long description of the object. This, in theory, will encourage players to look at the room descriptions a little harder.

Containers have many uses as well. You can disguise containers as trees, chests, or even a shower robe with huge pockets (like in the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy game from Infocom). You can also create streams of water with drink containers that have no long description, but are in the room's description. That way people can actually drink from the stream they see.

Here is a suggested guideline table for armour cost and weight. This table can easily be expanded so that you can decide how much other items cost and weigh and so forth.

Material            Armour Apply     Weight        Cost
~~~~~~~~            ~~~~~~~~~~~~     ~~~~~~        ~~~~
Leather             Very Low         Very Light    Cheapest
Studded Lether
Splint Mail
Chain Mail          Average          Average       Average
Bronze Plate
Iron Plate
Black Metal/Steel   Very High        Heavy         Extremely Expensive

Zone Tips

Your .zon file will always be wrong on the first try -- Get used to it.

Comment your zone files as much as possible. Doing this makes it much easier to debug your zone file when you find an error in it. See the appendicies for examples.

The 'P' command sometimes gets confused if you try to load multiple objects into multiple containers IF the containers are all the same object. The solution is to copy the container over into the .obj file with a different vnum however many different containers you need.

Remember, a functioning door is a door from both sides, and needs to be closed from both sides. Thus, two door commands for each door.

Try to avoid mobile pileups. This happens when you have two or more mobs resetting into different locations. Remember that they will always load the first lines first until the limit of mobiles is reached. One solution to this is to mix up the order of rooms to which they reset. Another solution is to create numerous copies of the mobile, one per room.

Shop Tips

Any stationary mob can be a shopkeeper... this can advance the plot of a particular area to no end if used cleverly.

Shopkeepers don't _have_ to buy anything. Or sell anything...

On another note, you can have two mobiles that look the same, but one is a shopkeeper and the other isn't.

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Alex Fletcher
Last modified: March 20, 1997