In this part of the MUSH 101 tutorial, we’ll go over rooms and time, two features that make MUSHes unique compared to other types of online roleplaying.
In a video game RPG, you have a continuous virtual world at your disposal, and can “see” yourself moving through city blocks, across wide-open prairies, or through a planet’s atmosphere.
In a forum-based RPG, you just say “we’re the Battlestar’s docking bay” or “we’re in the Gold Star Saloon” and poof - you’re there.
MUSHes are somewhere between those two. There is a virtual world, called the grid, but it’s broken up into discrete locations, called rooms. Each room is given a description to tell you what that location represents.
Contrary to the name, a “room” on a MUSH can represent any size area - from a closet to a planet. For example: the grid of a western town might include:
Rooms on a MUSH represent only a part of the virtual world - the highlights, if you will. A Hollywood set designer doesn’t build the entire starship Enterprise - only the sections they need for the scenes they intend to film. Similarly, a MUSH designer doesn’t attempt to build every conceivable location in the world. They focus on the areas that are likely to be used for scenes.
For example, this map from the now-closed Sweetwater Crossing MUSH illustrates the locations represented by MUSH rooms (in black) compared to the entire town of Sweetwater.
Just because there’s not a MUSH room for the undertaker’s or the back room of the train station doesn’t mean you can’t hold a scene there. You can use a temporary room to represent areas not on the grid.
Some locations might even have multiple rooms. The Boarding House, for example, could be represented as a single room (as shown above), but it could also be created with three rooms (lobby, dining room, upstairs) or even more (adding a kitchen and some bedrooms).
You usually establish your character’s location within the room when you make your first pose in a scene. “Cate takes a seat at the bar…” or “Cate heads for a table in the back…” Keep relative locations in mind when posing. Somoene at the bar would be hard-pressed to carry on a casual conversation with someone in the back storeroom.
Another unique feature of MUSHes is the way they handle time. In a video game, time only passes while you’re playing. In a forum game, time passes when you say it passes.
In a MUSH, the clock is always running, 24/7/365.
Most MUSHes generally run on a 1:1 time ratio. For every day that passes in the real world, one day passes in the game world as well. Things can and do happen in your absence.
Here a TV analogy might help. We see the characters doing cool things on-camera, but we don’t see their entire lives. We know that they are doing other (usually mundane) things off-camera as well.
Nobody can play your character when you’re offline, and should leave the door open for you to come up with reasons why your character wasn’t around for a scene.
Although days generally run on 1:1 time, time within the day is more flexible. Characters can talk a lot faster than their players can type, and a 1-hour trip across town could be glossed over with a single sentence.
Players will usually establish a time-of-day at the beginning of a scene. Within the scene, time will pass organically, no matter what the RL wall clock says.
Most scenes take place in whatever day the MUSH time command says it is. But like flashbacks in a book or TV show, MUSH players can do a flashback scene (called a backscene) to flesh out something that happened in the past. Backscenes are commonly used to fill in gaps when players couldn’t be online together. Forward scenes (ones that take place in the game’s future) are also possible, but far less common.
Both backscenes and forward scenes require you to tread carefully to avoid giant continuity glitches. You can’t die in a backscene last week if you’ve already done other things this week. Players need to work together to ensure the story stays consistent (within reason).