"From the outset, DartMud was designed to be a MUD for hard core mud players. It is complex and brutal."
- Dartmud administration.
DartMUD: The Lands of Ferdarchi
I should start by saying that I have been playing DartMUD for about 6 years now. Too often, multiplayer games of all sorts are assessed, reviewed, and described by folks who log in for an hour and then write about what little surface things they were able to find in that time. This tends toward a very shallow understanding of the game and a sadly lacking text as a result. A visit to MUD Connector (for MUD reviews) or any game site (for MMORPG reviews) will quickly confirm my assessment. I mention my experience because this will not be one of those texts.
Let me continue by stating that DartMUD is not for everyone. It is intended for long-time MUDders who seek a new level of challenge. It seeks to find a balance between difficulty and fun and comes fairly close to the mark, never falling so far into difficulty that the game ceases to be entertaining. Death is permanent, magic is dangerous, and a player-run feudal system provides intrigue and thereby shortens the lifespans of the population.
This is a MUD heavily geared toward the Bartle "Explorer" archetype, although there is plenty of room for the other three. The game mechanics are complex, there are still vast areas of the world left unexplored (which is itself an indicator of what a difficult game it is), and the world is immersive and rich.
DartMUD does not have levels, in the traditional sense of the word. It does have hundreds of skills each of which is trained solely by use. Unlike some MUDs, skills are not bought from some vaguely defined "trainer." They are taught to you by players or learned on your own, depending on the type of skill. There are three primary "class" skill groups: fighter, mage, and thief. All of which can be intermixed to your liking, but with training penalties for mixing classes. There are also hundreds of crafts. Want to make an apple pie? Well, find a field (travel, hiking, maybe even swimming skills), grow the wheat and apples (farming skill), mill the wheat into flour (milling skill), and bake away (cooking skill). Similarly, want some armor? Find a mine (travel and hiking skills) with appropriate metals and mine the ore (mining skill), smelt the ore into ingots (metallurgy skill), and craft your armor (smithing skill). Depending on the piece you're making, you may also need some leather (tanning skill). This really only scratches the bare surface of an incredibly complex skill system, but this is a writeup--not a book--and this should give you a basic idea of the level of complexity of the crafting system.
This is not to say that you're going to get all the skills you want. Some skills (spells, thieving skills, etc) may be very hard to come by. Spells must be learned from spellbooks, which can be written by players or found in quests, and as such some are very common and some are so rare as to be almost mythical. Asking about thieving skills will likely get you killed by the self-policing playerbase, so don't do it. Learn the game well before worrying about being a thief, since the novice ones tend to have terribly short lives. There are a couple of more restricted fighter skills, as well, but they tend to be taught to most fighters once they reach a certain level of ability so it would be silly to call them rare. All crafting skills, on the other hand, are self-taught, so if you can figure out the various progressions of difficulty on your own (good luck!), you can learn any crafting skill.
- Movement and Mechanics
Like most LPMUD based games, movement is not tracked by movement points or some other arbitrary limitation. Normal areas (towns, plains, woods and so forth) can be moved through with no restrictions. Abnormal areas (hills, mountains, rivers, water, many caverns) require skill checks to travel and like all skill checks are based on concentration.
Concentration is a major part of the game, and it is essentially a measure of how distracted you are. The more distracted you are, the more difficult it is to perform tasks properly. Nearly every action that is skill based will hit your concentration when you perform it (to greater or lesser degrees), and in a short time your concentration will again be fine, allowing you to again attempt to perform a skill-based action. You can perform actions while you're not at full concentration, of course, but with increased difficulty depending on how bad your concentration is. If you blow your concentration too far (depends on a number of factors, the primary one being your character's "Will" statistic), you will fall unconscious. Knocking yourself unconscious is not recommended.
- The World and Adventuring
The world of DartMUD is vast. Large oceans make up the majority of the planet with some continents and many islands sprinkled throughout. Travel is deadly, and adventuring is deadlier. Most creatures and monsters cease to be very dangerous to the proficient fighter or thief relatively quickly and to the adept mage not long after that. It's not generally the monsters that kill you, it's the insidious traps. Adventuring is something that typically requires research and brains and lots of time, and as such, a relatively small percentage of people actually adventure. There's plenty to do outside of that, though, as the player driven intrigue can keep one busy most of the time.
The reason most people adventure is for the rewards. Since there are no experience points to be gained, adventure is for, well, the adventurous. Often a quest will give up spellbooks (sometimes rare, most times mundane), trinkets, money, and/or items of great worth. Among these items are amulets, which can (possibly) mitigate the permanence of death.
Death is very... ah... deadly in DartMUD. This is not a world for the careless. Also, there are no global channels to call for rescue, and those who use ICQ, AIM or such to call for assistance are generally discovered and sitebanned relatively quickly. If you die without an amulet, your corpse begins to rot. Along with your corpse, your skills will also rot. If you are found quickly, you may be resurrected by a player with the right spells and your losses will be minimized. If you're not found quickly, you will lose a massive amount of skills as your brain rots away. If you fully rot away or are butchered, that's it. Game over. Next character.
Amulets are the Catch-22 of death. Essentially, they capture your soul upon death and prevent skill loss. If you die accidentally and you're found by friendlies, that can make life a long and prosperous thing. If you happen to be found by enemies (or executed by them, more to the point) your amulet can be hidden away somewhere in the vast world where it may be extremely difficult--to the point of impossible--for your allies (if you have any) to find. Hiding of amulets is rarely done arbitrarily, though. If someone kills you and hides your amulet in the ocean or deep in a mine or cavern, chances are good you did something to deserve it.
If you've played on actual role-playing MUDs, you will likely find DartMUD's classification as such fairly laughable. That's not to say that people run around talking about the latest baseball games or whatnot, but they do have a tendency to speak in-character about game mechanics and the like. Even so, the world is immersive enough that this will probably not jar you out of your experience much. Most players do a fair job of staying in-character most of the time and those that don't are often ignored or killed.
Using OOC (out-of-character) information in-game is prohibited. Generally this refers to the transfer of undiscoverable information by surreptitious means, like hidden amulet locations or tactical information in wartime via a chat client or somesuch. Some OOC information is nearly impossible not to use. If you've played for a while, you've likely had many characters and learned things from each of them. Are you going to go ahead and boldly walk your new character into the swamp where your last character was eaten by crocodiles? Probably not. Are you going to use less efficient methods of practicing skills because your new character doesn't know any better? Maybe, but also probably not.
DartMUD is a hard game played by die-hard MUD players and if you feel that you fit that category, it may be worth checking out. The atmosphere is oppressive, the history and background is rich, the world enormous and well fleshed out, and the game mechanics are unique and interesting.
Mudlib: LPMud 3.1.2 base
Location: dartmud.com port 2525
Note: I have made every effort to be as clear as possible in all circumstances, but given my large knowledge of the game, there may be areas where I was too specific or glossed over something that would not be intuitive to people unfamiliar with the game. If anything seems confusing, please let me know and I'll fix it.