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12:27pm on Thursday, 14th February, 2013:

Wizards and Heroes


A journalist asked me about one of the games I designed in my youth that had an influence on MUD. I've just sent him a long reply, so thought I may as well share it with the rest of the world.

So, the game is called Wizards & Heroes. It's a board game. Here's the map:

As you can see, it's hand-made. The hex sheets were bought mail-order from Rostherne Games, which made them for its own game series Railway Rivals. The colours are felt tip, the lettering is Letraset (city names having been chosen from the assorted capital letters I had left over from two packets of Old English font). It's covered in vinyl, which would appear to last a lot better than the sticky tape I used to hold together the hex sheets (and which perished into those dark spotches ages ago).

Here's a close-up of the island in the top-left corner so you can get a better view:

So, Wizards & Heroes was inspired by a make-your-own game article I'd read in the magazine Games and Puzzles. The basic idea was that you were a wizard or hero (or, later under D&D influence, priest) who was out seeking treasure. Treasure was either chests or casks, with three casks to the chest; you needed six chests to win. You would get treasure mainly from killing monsters, but sometimes you could get it for going somewhere or for defeating a ravaging dragon; there were a few other ways, too. Players took it in turns to move: wizards could move 4 hexes (5 on roads); heroes could move 5 always. Heroes could swim across rivers, wizards had to use bridges. There were other terrain effects, eg. you lost 5% of your health for every turn you ended in a desert, it cost 2 hexes to enter a mountain or forest — that kind of thing. Simply killing a monster didn't get you treasure: you had to have an advice card telling you that the monster had the treasure. Advice cards were acquired by ending your turn in a village (red circles on a road) or in a city (red hexes). You couldn't sit in a village to get more advice but you could in a city; however, in a city there was a risk of plague, so you wouldn't want to stay there long.

Advice cards were wide and varied in their nature. Some were spell cards that wizards could use; some were magical artefacts that heroes could use; some were plague cures or fast travel or "other person's advice is false"; some broke or repaired bridges; there were many, many more. In later versions, you could cash in 4 to get a "super advice card"; these were far more powerful. You could hold six of these each (priests could hold eight). In later versions, the cards had different advice on them for wizards and for heroes; it may be that the advice for you was useless but that another player really wanted what it said for them (you could trade these cards).

At the end of every round, a separate event card was drawn. These covered things such as plagues, dragon movement (dragons were the only monsters that moved), dragon ravages (which could kill other monsters as well as players), weather changes, everyone drawing/discarding advice cards, random rewards ("nearest to Whest, 1 cask") and changes to the celestial scale (about which more shortly).

Combat used two six-sided dice. If you rolled over 7 your opponent lost health; less than 7, you did. Normally it was 5% per roll but on 11/3 it was 10% and on a natural 12/2 it was death. Magic swords would add a point to the roll. Magic armour would turn 12/2 death into 20% damage. Wizards subtracted 1 (later 2) from the roll. There were spell cards for healing up points and for doing damage. Some monsters could regenerate (gain 5% on a roll of 7), some were immune to magic, some had a +1 modifier to their roll. If you won, you got the reward specified on the advice card (assuming it wasn't declared false and you didn't have a card that said the card that said your card was false was false). If you lost a fight, you died. At any time, you could pull out of a fight against a weaker opponent (heroes were stronger than wizards, for example).

If you died fighting a good monster or a player you'd attacked, you went to hell. If you died fighting an evil monster or a player who'd attacked you, you went to heaven. This was the "celestial scale" (the red bit on the right of the map). When it was your turn, you could advance 1 step towards the land of the living (heaven was 7 away, hell was 13 away). You couldn't cast spells from the celestial scale but you could use advice still. It was the same principle as corpse runs in today's MMOs, although I didn't use it in MUD. Monsters also went to the celestial scale, except the phoenix (which came back immediately the turn after it died).

The orange hexes with the red dots in them are fairy rings. You enter one, you roll a die, you wind up in the one with the same number you rolled. They were a form of fast travel (essential for wizards to get to the bigger island, because only heroes could swim the sea — one hex at a time).

Hmm, other map features... The triangles of orange dots are cairns, where there was sometimes free treasure if you got the right card. The small red squares were hermits, where priest characters could get advice like in a village.

There were two interesting things about the use of spell/advice cards. Firstly, if you made an agreement then you had to keep it. If I gave you a card on condition you wouldn't use it on me, you were not allowed to use it on me — there was no "can I trust you?" aspect to it. If I as a wizard said I would kill a monster that only you as a hero could get the treasure for, and we agreed to split it a certain way, then I would have to kill the monster when you attacked it and you would have to split the treasure as agreed. This all-agreements-are-binding idea isn't common in games, but I put it in because our characters were supposed to be of noble virtue (like in Arthurian times) so they should have to keep their word.

The second interesting concept was that of rewinding time, well, sort of. Say I had a card that said there was a cask at a cairn, and that this cask was enough to make we win. I go to the cairn, I play my card, I get my cask, I win — right? Well, not quite. Someone else could play a card that nullified the advice, or "just as you get to the cairn, I teleport you to the Place of the Skulls", or they would throw in four cards to get a super-advice card in the hope it would let them cause a landslide and kill me "before" I picked up the treasure. It sounds weird, but it was actually one of the best things about the game because of the many types of card and the ways they could be combined creatively. "Just before you get the treasure, I'll teleport the priest to Bequen then he can pick up a card which will give him 4, so he can cash them in for an advice card and see what it says".

The version of the map you see here is the, hmm, fourth version. It dates from around 1977. The first version predated our knowledge of D&D and was made using offset squares as we didn't have hex sheets; I constructed it with help from my gamer schoolfriends Stephen Hatfield and Greg Donkin. The second version had hex sheets. These two versions used entirely UK mythology. The third version had D&Dised monsters, mainly because I had some little Letraset-like rub-on pictures I could use. That's when I added priests into the mix, too. We didn't like the change, though, because it meant too much of a hotch-potch of monsters and didn't fit the atmosphere, so in the fourth version I reverted to English folklore with a smattering of ancient Greek and gothic horror creatures. I also got rid of supply trains, which were mobile "good" monsters that no-one ever remembered to move. This fourth version is the definitive W&H. It's a real mess of feature-creep rules, but once you know them it's a lot of fun to play; the last time I played it was with some game designer friends around 3 years ago.

The influence of W&H on MUD was in the setting. For MUD, I eschewed almost all the Greek and gothic monsters; I wanted a solid folklore feeling, of a world with which everyone was familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. The Land of MUD had a very distinctive armosphere to it as a result. I used time as a metaphor for danger, so the older something was then the more dangerous it was likely to be.

Much has been written about the influence of D&D on the development of MMOs, but in MUD's case at least there wasn't a lot. I drew far more on games I'd made myself. I understood games because my dad was (and remains) a gamer, so along with my brother we'd play a game every afternoon at weekends. I understood storytelling because my mother was (and remains) a storyteller. I'd previously used games to tell myself stories. MUD let me use games to tell other people stories.

Oh, one last thing: when we made the prototype Wizards & Heroes, embarrassingly we called it Wizzards & Heros. We hadn't yet read enough about either to know how to spell them. Only for the second version did we actually look the words up before proudly writing them on the map...

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).