Rise and Shiny: DragonRealms

DragonRealms website artwork

As a part of MUD May, I just had to play at least one MUD for Rise and Shiny. I have a handful of favorite MUDs, like GemStone IV, BatMUD, and Achaea, but I have never really given DragonRealms a chance. Until now. I've poked into it here and there, but every time I found myself on the Simutronics website, I always logged into GemStone IV. I heard that DragonRealms was a lot different, more hardcore, and filled with PvP, and after spending an initial week with the game and the killer community, I can say that it is different, but mainly in a few outstanding ways. Of course I might find much more that sets the game apart if I played it for several years like some of the people I met in game, but for now I'll settle with telling you what I've learned so far.

The usual embedded video in this article serves two purposes. First, it's an interview piece I did with Eric Latham, Producer at Simutronics. Next, it's a glance at DragonRealms, from character creation to a bit of gameplay. It's not as in-depth as my other videos, but it keeps in the greater theme of MUD May.

DragonRealms screenshot

DragonRealms' character creation is as you expect it be if you have experienced creating a character in a MUD before. You pick from a number of different races and customization options and move on into the game. The customization in DragonRealms, as in its sister game GemStone IV, is amazing. As I show in the video, some players can have large paragraphs just as a description! It can be a little much at times, but it's such a marvelous way to express yourself that I cannot wait to be able to customize my character more. Players can fully customize bits of armor, for example, by using an "Alterer," who is basically a GM in game who interacts in real-time with players. You'll approach the Alterer's tent or stall and talk to her about what you need to have done. There are a few rules attached that concern how long descriptions can be and a few different types of alterations. There's a longer alter for the description someone reads when he looks at your character and a shorter one used to indicate the item.

This all sounds simple, and really is at its core, but as with all things MUD, it's the details that make it lovely. Imagine being able to come up with almost any type of description for an item or personality and writing it down. In a good MUD like DragonRealms, you can actually "write" that character over time and use it to interact with other players. You can eventually have a glowing sword that does extra fire damage, but all of it does need to fit within the rules and "feel" of the game. One of the brilliant things about MUDs is that decisions like alterations are made by real individuals, so the entire game has a unique, semi-random appeal to it. You never know what you're going to get. If you have played a great game of tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, then you will know the feeling I am talking about.

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DragonRealms' combat is different from what I am used in other MUDs. It's strange to describe the feeling I get now as I unlock the systems inside a new MUD, but when I describe it, the appropriate response will normally be, "Wait, that's too complicated. Where's the fun in that?" The fun comes in when you consider that a MUD is not at all a rushed gaming experience. There are no fireballs shooting at you as soon as you log into the game (well, not usually), and players are in the game for the long haul. Taking your time and learning how to become a better player is more important than hitting max level in a few months. That just doesn't happen in a MUD like DragonRealms.

DragonRealms artwork

Combat is all about positioning and skill, and there are three ranges: missile weapon range, pole weapon range and melee. It's a lot to take in at first, so I spent some time reading on the website and asking friendly players in OOC chat and out of game. I'll give you an example: When I approached an area of the game that was described as a series of boatdocks, I suddenly read that a basic wharf rat was attacking me. No biggie, I thought, without considering that I had to close in on him and would not be able to leave until I killed him or was able to put some space in between us. I could type "retreat" to back off, but he kept advancing.

It sounds pretty self-explanatory, but it can be complex and very challenging to keep up with during combat. Combat in DragonRealms can be somewhat frustrating, as well, because you'll find yourself forgetting which words you need to type in order to maneuver. I've already started to grow more used to it. You can even type "hangback" to attempt to stay at missile range, or you can grapple with your opponents! There are a lot of factors to combat including fatigue, balance, magical effects, and which move you previously made, so fighting in DragonRealms truly becomes an art and skill. This isn't a button-masher.

I would go on and on about the combat, but I want to emphasize that during my week I spent most of my time exploring and roleplaying. Roleplay is enforced or at least strongly encouraged in most of the MUDs I have played, but it's not as hard as people might think. I have met some of the most colorful characters and each player played them all differently, but none broke the flavor of the game. That's the advantage of playing a game with community members who have built up a story over 16 years! I was so excited when another player awarded me PIRP points, a useful buff that can be received for good roleplay!

DragonRealms screenshot

If you are playing a MUD like DragonRealms for the first time, you will be confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed, and you'll probably wonder why the game is so complicated. Once things start to click, however, it becomes so much more. I will be using MUD May to clear up some of the questions about MUDs -- like why they are so needlessly complicated at times -- but I can also recommend that a new player find in-game Mentors or helpers when stuck.

The community help in all of the Simutronics games is amazing. I used "dir list" to show me a directory of all of the unique places while in a town, and the game showed me the way to the special Mentor's home. Inside there are areas where you can speak out-of-character, and the Mentors are masters at answering questions. On my last night with the game before I had to start writing this article, a very helpful Mentor got my equipment figured out, helped me switch out clothes and items, and gave me a few pointers. He was patient and kind, something that you just don't find in MMOs much anymore. There are plenty of games that offer customer service, but I challenge you to name the last time you had a CS rep come to you after you literally rang a bell inside a lovely house. It's a magical experience.

I barely touched all of DragonRealms offers, like the special RP events, guided quests, weddings, and in-depth magic systems. Will I continue to play it? If it comes down to having to pick whether I want to subscribe to DragonRealms or GemStone IV, I will probably go with GemStone IV because I have played it longer. But both games offer a 30-day trial, plenty of time to allow that special MUD magic work its way into your imagination.

Next week I am looking at Anno Online, a new browser-based city-builder by Ubisoft, the same people who brought us The Settlers Online. I will be livestreaming the title on Monday, the 20th of May, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our livestream channel!

Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!