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Alter Aeon
BAT Mud

Articles Section
Wren's Guide to Effective Newbie Helping in MUDs

INTRODUCTION

You're convinced your world is one of countless wonders and hidden treasures. Sure, it may be difficult for someone just starting out, but you know if they just stick around a little longer, then they'll be hooked. After all, who could disagree that your MUD of choice is the best MUD out there?

So - obviously - all that a newbie needs to find your world a welcoming place is heaps of levels and the greatest gear - everything that no one bothered to give to you when YOU were a newbie. After all, why should any newbie have to slog through feeling weak and powerless when you could help them attain level 1000+++ in half an hour?

Whoa... hold up a minute there.

Imagine you were given THE most powerful weapon, and the best armor, complete with a million shiny gold pieces when you first started. They just fell from the sky and buried you (the best weapon clunking your noggin in the process) in beneficence.

Would that truly have made your experience as a newbie more enjoyable? Or would it have made it more like turning on the God-Mode in D.O.O.M. - wonderful, definitely, for all of 10 minutes - before boredom set in and you went off to do something else?

Don't be surprised if the newbie recipient of all your generosity reacts in the same way (churning content, then leaving for good)... or stays and becomes one of those high-level know-nothings who constantly spam people with 'Can u get me this,' and 'Can u take me there...'

Such generosity, though well-meaning, tends to be self-defeating. It often both deprives the newbie of the joy of accomplishment and exploration, of being able to set a value on achievements of its very own, and makes your world poorer whether the newbie stays or leaves. If the newbie leaves, the world is poorer for having lost a player. If it stays, but becomes a 'twink' (high-level know-nothing), the world is poorer for having gained a twink.

So what's a genuinely good-intentioned newbie-helper to do? Here's a brief guideline as follows:

Don't Play the Game for the Newbie - Teach It, Then Let IT Play
Baby's First Steps or I'm Not a Cyber-Stalker, Honest!
Help! My Newbie Hates Help Files or Why Won't It RTFM???
Newbie Taxi Services
Feed the Newbie Eggos, Not Ego
Baby... er... Newbie-Sitter Extraordinaires
Newbies with Special Needs

DON'T PLAY THE GAME FOR THE NEWBIE - TEACH IT, THEN LET IT PLAY

This is one of the most basic, and most often overlooked points in newbie helping.

Try, whenever possible, to let the newbie explore and find things out for itself. This doesn't mean dropping it in a high level aggressive zone and going, 'Ahahahahahaaaa FIGURE IT OUT DWEEB!!!' - far from it.

What it DOES mean is providing the newbie with WAYS to find out things for itself. For example, giving help with basic command structures, explaining how to navigate, the very most basic interface aspects of your MUD, etc. This includes features such as 'renting' or simply 'quitting' - which many MUDs handle differently - and even things like 'tells' or 'pages'. The very things which often seem so simple to you as to be self-evident are often the LEAST self-evident to an outsider.

It also helps to determine if the newbie is new to YOUR MUD or new to MUDs in general. If the newbie is an experienced MUDder, it will generally not require as much help with the basic mechanics unless your code is customised beyond recognition. Even then, it should be easier to decide what to explain, and what not.

In such cases, experience with playing other MUDs can be beneficial. Such experience tends to make you more familiar with your own and better able to respond to players from other systems.

Should your newbie be new to all MUDs, then your best bet is to explain EVERYTHING - including how to move from room to room!

If your world has a MUDschool area, such things may already be covered in it, or such things may be covered in the help files. However, nothing beats a friendly explanation from another PERSON. This holds true even if your MUDschool area and help files are both superb - which in itself is a rarity.

BABY'S FIRST STEPS or I'M NOT A CYBER-STALKER, HONEST!

Once the newbie feels confident that it can manipulate the interface competently, indicate that you are available for contact via pages/tells/chats etc. Ask the newbie if it needs more help or if it understands and is ready to set off on its own.

This has a two-fold effect. Firstly, you've made the newbie confident in its own abilities to navigate the world - ready to see new things and kill them! Ahem. Secondly, the newbie has a safety net to fall back on (you).

Do NOT follow it around like a stalker. Following your newbie around like a stalker may scare it away. No one likes to be watched by a rabid shop-assistant and it makes some people nervous.

If the newbie indicates that beyond the basic mechanisms of 'how to eat' and 'how to move' etc, it does not wish to have things handed to it on a platter, don't take it as an insult to your newbie helping skills. Accept that and respect it. Such newbies are pure gold and hard to come by.

HELP! MY NEWBIE HATES HELP FILES or WHY WON'T IT RTFM???

Newbie: 'How do I this, how do I that. How do I... How... HOW????'

There will always be newbies who ask questions already answered in your help files - but this is not always a sign of laziness on their part.

Before replying with, 'read HELP TOPIC', consider the following:

o Not all MUDs have good, clearly written help files; what is obvious to you in a help file may not be obvious to the newbie

o The newbie may not be able to find the said help file

o Documentation for the topic may not exist

o Few things are as frustrating as being pointed at bad documentation which you are then magically supposed to understand

Nothing beats a friendly personalised explanation. I prefer to answer the question directly, THEN refer the newbie to the help file - so it has both the verbal interpretation (from me) and the help file itself to fall back on when I'm not there.

NEWBIE TAXI SERVICES

If you must perform your role as a taxi-driver and move the newbie away from its starting point, be sure to bring it back to exactly the same point after you are done. If this is not possible, teach the newbie how to get back by itself.

One method that I've found to be particularly effective is not to move the newbie at all. Instead, if the newbie needs to get somewhere and wants to learn the route, FOLLOW the newbie - then give it the directions, *slowly* - and make IT walk you to the destination.

I.e. don't 'follow newbie' then 'say go s e e e e e s n w u w e s s e e n' - just imagine the poor thing's eyes crossing! Try to keep directions as simple as possible - don't give them all in a long string. I find I try to keep it to three to five directions in a row, or things like, 'go all the way north' etc.

Do not impose your play-style on the newbie. Try as far as possible to offer options to suit their play-style.

For example, instead of having the newbie follow you, then zooming off to your destination, offer options such as: Do you want to a) go slowly so you can learn the route, b) go very fast because you just want to get there, c) go slowly and log it so you can learn later, or d) something else altoghther?

The last option (d) is particularly important since it allows for input from the newbie.

DO NOT GET THE NEWBIE KILLED. This may seem to be a mind-bogglingly obvious statement, but I had a rather memorable experience where a well-meaning helper in a MUD I shall not name dragged me into a high-level aggressive area after telling me to get rid of all my gear because 'it sucked'. He then proceeded to get me killed by a dragon, before turning right around and berating me because he had trouble getting my pet (a powerful horse) to go with him.

FEED NEWBIES EGGOS, NOT EGO

Don't belittle the newbie, share in its wonder. Yes, you've been there, you've done that. You, as the 'all-powerful' player have slain the fearsome phlegm dragon of phlegmminess, found the serrated dagger of backstab +666, explored the treacherous pits of almost-no-return and come back (relatively) unscathed! And boy, wasn't it fun?

Just so.

Don't deprive the newbie of the joys (and terrors) that lie ahead of them.

To this end, try not to give TOO much help. The newbie should be able to realise later on that the greatest 'debt' that they owe you is one of kindness - and not some amazingly hard to get piece of gear that they will never be able to get on their own even AFTER they have acquired some degree of mastery.

Feelings of over-indebtedness may actually increase the depth of the new/old player rift as it leaves the recipient of the favour with no way to repay it. Bread bought with charity leaves a bitter taste.

Remember that the benefits of newbie helping do not essentially lie in having an opportunities to show-off your rippling sixpack, or to be worshipped by adoring fans.

Whenever possible, help because you like making people feel good about themselves. Don't help for the sake of self-aggrandisement.

But wait! Help is help, right? How will they know the difference? Trust me, people know. Even across thousands of miles, with no body language to 'read'... they know. Sincerity is obvious even across the coldness of a digital medium, so is its reverse.

The real, long-term benefits of newbie helping lie in the acquisition of a larger and stronger playerbase on your MUD. A larger community that in the long run means a more enjoyable playing experience for yourself, as well as others. Not to mention that helping a newbie toddle around with its first steps can be just plain fun!

Should you be interested in expanding your playerbase via newbie helping in order to have more people to Player-Kill (also known as PvP) with, please do not blow your cover by challenging the newbie to a totally unbalanced duel on your first, second or third meeting.

Wait until the newbie is an experienced player - or at least one that feels able to hold its own. Otherwise, you are probably going to drive the newbie away even if it does enjoy playerkill. No-one likes being squashed like a bug.

BABY...ERR...NEWBIE-SITTER EXTRAODINAIRES

Try whenever possible to be WELCOMING. A happy, smiley, friendly exterior is welcoming, and it is a great aid in setting the newbie at its ease. Everything - from explanations and directions to advice - goes easier that way.

If you do not feel like smiling or enjoying it (or cannot hide your lack of warmth or enjoyment superbly), then don't help. Long-suffering attitudes are a bore both for the newbie and yourself.

Try as far as possible not to use an intimidating character when helping. The Dark Lord of the Library Demons who communicates solely by rasping sepulchrally is not the best type to have introduce a newbie to the tastiest jelly donuts.

Should you encounter a newbie who seems interested in Role-Playing (RP), explain the RP options available on your MUD. These can be as simple as 'posing' and 'titles' and your basic 'look descriptions', or as complex as sets of toggleable look descriptions, custom long and short descriptions, customisable items and speech mannerism-changing devices. Do not force RP on a newbie if it is not interested. Not everyone likes or wants to RP.

Conversely, should the newbie come across as an utterly obnoxious tyke, take the time to make sure that the things annoying you are really the player and not just the fact that said newbie comes from a heavily RP based background and is RPing its head off.

One of the things almost universally appreciated by newbies is being given a better weapon than the one they started out with. However, this (cynically) works best if the newbie has already seen how crappy its starting weapon is by trying it out!

This is not to suggest that you should give your newbie a Dagger of +666 Backstab Anything - instead try as far as possible to give a weapon that is decent for its level, will give it a warm happy glow inside at its accomplishment ("Maaaan, I'm buff now!!!") without actually letting it do far beyond what its level is supposed to do. And yes - that means that you have to know your world well.

Do not refer the newbie to a cheat page. Doing this is akin to telling a toddler that 'apples grow on trees' but now how to get to the apples, or even where the trees are. Be assured that the newbie is more than capable of finding a (or any number of) cheat page(s) by itself in the future if it wants to. Big Googley eyes, you know.

If your MUD supports non-consensual PK at all levels, make the newbie aware of this and teach it basic tricks to run away if it so desires. This can make or break the newbie experience. True, running away may not seem like the most heroic thing to do at first glance - but on the other hand discretion is the better part of valour. Once the newbie grows bigger and less newbie-ish, then it might decide to fight instead. Whatever the case, at least it will be an active choice on the newbie's part, and it will not be stuck with a 'victim' role.

If PK is 'opt in' at later levels, save the lecture, it will probably find out on its own eventually.

NEWBIES WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

Occasionally you may encounter a newbie who is VERY very very ... zzz ... where was I? Aha. A newbie who is very slow in responding. In such cases, the newbie may either be very badly lagged or using a screen reader. (Of course, 'very very slow' is also relative to how fast you yourself process text.)

In the latter case (screen readers), try to cut out the smilies and strange asterisks or other symbols that may pepper your conversation. Leet-speak is also probably a very bad idea.

In the former - just try as far as possible to be patient.

IN CONCLUSION - NEWBIE RETENTION AND FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT

Now for the depressing part. After all the effort you've put into making life good for a newbie without smothering it and all the care you've put into seeing that your newbie does well, there are a few things that you, as a newbie helper, will need to face.

The newbie retention rate is usually inversely proportional to how many MUDs the newbie has played before. Not all, probably not even two thirds of the newbies you help will stay even if you do a good job. This is particularly true if the newbie has played another MUD before.

It is very difficult to keep a newbie who has found one MUD that it can connect with even if it has left that mud. Such a newbie tends to want THAT MUD - only with all the 'bad things' gone. Don't go out of your way to try to convince such a newbie to stay. Just be nice to it and possibly it will stay on its own. If not, at least you've made somone's experience with your MUD an enjoyable one.

Do not bank on becoming friends with your newbie. It is quite difficult in this situation because you are filling the role of a mentor. Friendship is possible and indeed more likely later on when the newbie has become an experienced player. However, it is (sadly for you) probably more fun for the newbie to play with its level while having you as a backup source for help if needed. And by 'level' I don't mean just the hard-coded one, but also the level of mastery of your MUD in general.

If a newbie is being consistently rude and unappreciative, you should always feel free to get rid of it via a method of your choice. This keeps your blood pressure down and (perhaps surprisingly) actually makes you a better helper for newbies who are appreciative.

However, try to make sure that the newbie is being consistently rude ON PURPOSE instead of just being cluelessly so. This is especially important if you are newbie helping as a female character. Some newbies think that being obnoxious is being charmingly flirtatious.

Lastly, don't get too caught up in whether or not it's a 'real' newbie or just an older player a) pulling your leg, b) trying to get benefits out of you. Real newbies are also generally easy to spot, but if you can't tell, or if there's just something a little 'off' about the whole performance, don't take it too seriously. If you don't powerlevel and only teach, the most that the newbie will have gotten out of you is a better weapon. If that's what the newbie HAS gotten, don't grudge it that.

Should the newbie turn out to be an oldbie in disguise, try not to think of it as time wasted. Instead, try thinking of it as enjoying time spent socialising with another person.

Because that's really what all this is about - enjoying time spent socialising with another person. That's where the warmth and sincerity come from in newbie helping. And with any luck, that's what will keep newbies coming back to your MUD.