How to write a good Zone/Quest Aber-Style (by Og)
I. Choosing the Theme
The first and probably most important step of good zonewriting is
choosing an effective theme. The first consideration you should
make is the theme of the mud for which you are writing. Most aberMUDS
are set up in a fantasy/magical/medieval theme. This mudtheme is
very wide-ranging, and is defined differently on different MUDs;
it is a good idea to talk to your MUD's administrator to see how
your idea fits with their vision for the MUD before breaking ground
on writing the zone.
There are many useful sources for finding the theme to your zone:
books, movies, fairy tales, and mythologies. If you base your zone
on a source that is very recently written, you need to consider
whether you can write the zone without infringing the copyright of
the source; if not, choose another theme. If you do use an outside
source for information, try not to copy the source exactly. Remember,
a zone is best as your own creative invention, not just a translation
of a story into another format. It is fine to use characters,
locations, and events from a story, but the storyline is all yours
to invent. Also, when planning the zone, do not assume that the
runners of your zone have read the book/seen the movie/etc.
Finally, a good zone is puzzle-based. Therefore, I find it useful
to invent the puzzle first, then write the locations to fit the
puzzle, rather than the other way around.
II. The Puzzles
Good puzzles are the prime difference between a good zone and a
mediocre zone. A zone can have everything from very small puzzles
involving only one object, to a superpuzzle that involves use of
the whole zone (usually, the "quest"). It is good to have a variety
of both small and large puzzles in the zone, and the quest itself
should be a combination of smaller puzzles.
Most puzzles are implemented by "specials", which are special code
usually triggered by an action by the runner, for example a switch
which can be pushed to open a door. As a zonewriter, you are not
required to be able to write this code yourself: there is at
least one designated coder on the MUD who will do this for you.
However, you should provide as much information to the coder as
possible about your special, for example:
on command "push switch":
Door should open.
Message to the runner: "As you push the switch, the door creaks open."
Message to the room: " pushes the switch and the door opens."
Switch should not be able to be pushed again.
You can write this directly into your zone file, because the symbols
/* and */ cause the compiler to ignore everything between them.
When writing your puzzles, try to think of ideas that have not been
tried before in other zones you've run. Also, you may find it easier
to be original if you use commands in your specials other than the
ones most commonly used: "put", "give", "push", "kill", and "examine".
Statistic: A zone should have at least one special per every two or
three rooms, and every subdivision of your zone should have a
substantial puzzle related with it.
Writing locations is usually the most tedious part of zone writing,
but spending time on it will make a zone look "professional" rather
than "crudely home-made".
Naturally, proper spelling and grammar are important things to watch,
but many MUDs will do the grammar and spell checking for you. It
is very important to avoid making assumptions in your room
descriptions. This is a list of the most common fatal
"As you continue east...": Many zonewriters do not consider that
the runner may actually be going the opposite direction of the
way the zone was written. In fact, the runner may just decide
to stay in that room and not move at all.
"You feel happy as the snowflakes fall around you.": Don't tell
the runner how he feels. It is possible you have a runner who
hates snow. It is best to allow the player to decide for himself
how to react to a certain event or sight.
"You are standing...": The player may be sitting down.
- PRESENCE OF OBJECTS
"There is a sword under a rock.": If the sword can be taken, it
should not be in the room description. It is possible that the
runner will return and still see the sword under the rock, even
if it is no longer there.
- PRESENCE OF MOBILES
"A giant behemoth stands under the arch bellowing at you.":
If the mobile can be killed or removed in any way, or if it is a
moving mobile, it should not be in the room description. In fact,
everything that can be a mobile should be in mobile format instead
of room format. Why have a "meadow with deer in it", when you can
have real live deer to interact with the runner?
"The sun is shining...": Most AberMUDs have built-in weather and
time of day systems. The weather in your room description may
contradict the actual weather of the MUD.
A room description should adequately describe the room. A runner
should be able to picture everything there just from your description.
Therefore, 4 lines should probably be a minimum. Test every room you
write to see if you can picture the room in your mind just from your
words. Also, stick to pure description. Do not try to use your
room description to tell a story. Furthermore, remember to describe
the room the runner is currently in. Some zonewriters end up using
most of the room description to describe the exits from the room,
rather than the room itself; try to avoid this trap.
Finally, every location should have a specific purpose. It may be
nice to have a large castle in one corner of your zone, but if it
has no use to mortals, it shouldn't be there. Acceptable uses of
- Puzzle room
- a room that is critical to a puzzle, or to the quest
- Mud connection
- an intermediate room gradually to change the terrain
of the MUD to match your zone's. For example, if
your zone is in the mountains, there should be some
rooms leading up to that: You shouldn't connect
"mountaintop" directly to "the beach" for example.
You can make a series of connecting rooms leading
through low hills, high hills, and finally the
bottom of the mountain. If you can make these
connecting rooms double as puzzle rooms, that is
- Region connection
- These rooms are for making your zone coherent, for
example streets and roads between houses in a town.
Again, it is better if you can make these double as
If a zone would be just as good without a certain room or set of
rooms, it is best to omit those rooms.
Extra credit: See how many rooms you can write without starting with
the word 'you'. In fact, as far as possible avoid the word altogether
in room descriptions.
You should have a variety of mobiles in your zone that have no use
except for the runners to kill and get points. You can have a wide
variety of sizes, from very weak mobiles to rather tough ones. In
a small zone, you probably should keep all the mobiles relatively
easy to give new and underequipped players a chance to succeed.
In your zone, you will probably have mobiles involved in some aspect
of the puzzles. These are the critical mobiles. If your zone is
in an open location where the mobiles may be killed quickly and
randomly, you may consider putting a "NoHassle" flag on the critical
mobiles. In more enclosed zones, however, the nohassle flag can
tip off mortals that the mobile is critical, and should be used
The description line of the mobile is a quick "first-glance" view
of the mobile. In it should be the mobile's name, and a quick
description of their current activity, usually less than a line
long. The examine text is a more full description of the mobile.
It should be a complete physical description, so that the mobile can
be fully imagined by your description. Any nonphysical traits can
also be put in the examine text.
A zone is much more enjoyable if almost everything in the room
descriptions is examinable. This can be achieved by making objects
with the NoGet oflag, which are there only for adding more detail
to the room descriptions. Generally, make every noun/object in
the room descriptions into an examinable object if it is something
that would normally be examined.
For every object, you should have a full detailed description of that
object, usually 2 to 3 lines minimum. Avoid "giving attitude" to
the runners through examine texts, for example, "You see a door.
What did you expect to see?", or, "Yes, it's really a door."
Zonewriters may find it humorous, but runners generally find it rather
Statistic: A zone should ALWAYS have more objects than locations.
Although MUDs exist in a fantasy environment, most of them still
use the real-world laws of physics and science as a basis. In your
zone, read over everything several times to make sure everything makes
sense. For example, if a door is locked and the key must be created,
you must explain how the door became locked without a key, and why the
door was even built with a keyhole if there was at that time no key
to open it. Another example is the "lake of dough" from the brownies
zone: Since dough lakes are not a natural occurence, you must explain
how that lake got there. (The solution was to print on a sign that it
was the work of an evil wizard.) Another aspect of realism is
terrain. You must be sure that one room can naturally be connected
to another. (See previous example about connecting beach to
In the normal usage of the word on MUDs, balance means that you
should not create weapons/armor/mobiles that are out of proportion
with the rest of the mud. Generally your MUD's zone editor will
adjust your equipment and mobiles for you to match the mud; just
don't be surprised or upset when it happens. Another problem is
just having too many weapons and armor in the zone and cluttering
the Mud. For example, in a warcamp there could be ten mobiles
each with a sword and a shield; killing all these mobiles would
introduce a massive overflow of swords and shields into the game.
In this situation, it is best to make the swords and shields part
of the mobiles' descriptions, rather than giving them actual
objects. Also, if you do have a sword or a shield in your zone,
you can give it a special name like "greatsword" or "lionshield"
to prevent it from being confused with the hundreds of other
swords and shields in the game.
The purpose of writing zones, above all, is for the entertainment
of the runners. Therefore it is important to consider how the
runner will respond to certain aspects of your quests. The
following is a list of things to consider:
If you have any questions or comments on this essay, contact Og at
Northern Lights. Any specific questions
should be directed to the administration of your MUD.
- Mazes: Unless a maze is very small, it should have a "key"
of some kind. You can give a list of directions somehow,
or create an object to guide the player through the maze.
These keys should not be easy to find, and they should
involve a new twist that is not used in another maze on the
game. If you can build your zone without a maze, it is
- Allow an exit from the zone. Don't force the player to stay
with the zone until they complete it. Many times players
have to leave, or just need more time to consider a puzzle
while doing something else. Always provide a means of leaving
the zone to the main Mud.
- Don't allow the quest to be ruined too easily. Allow the
runner to explore and experiment. A quest that is ruined too
easily unfairly frustrates the runner, and detracts from their
enjoyment of the zone.
- Deathrooms: Keep deathrooms and deathtraps to a minimum, and
be sure there is more than ample warning for any trap. This
also refers to rooms with no exits, and exits that remove the
runner from the zone with no chance of return.
- Hints: Be sure that any puzzle can be figured out. If a
puzzle is rather difficult, plant hints in the area in the form
of object descriptions, room descriptions, or anything available
to the runner.
- Be careful not to offend runners. Remember, your runners may
come from a variety of different backgrounds. Never use any
vulgar language, or reference to drug use, sex, or too much
violence in your zone. Avoid scenes that include distasteful
elements. Do not require a player to participate in religious
actions, such as praying or sacrificing to a god. Also, do not
make the players perform actions that may make them uncomfortable,
such as using drugs, suicide, killing a child, etc. When
writing zones, try not to express personal opinions in the
descriptions; instead, try to make the descriptions as impartial
observations, and let the player make judgments on it.