Island of Kesmai was one of the first successful MUDs in the USA.
In the summer of 1980 University of Virginia classmates John Taylor and Dr. Kelton Flinn wrote Dungeons of Kesmai, a six player game inspired by Dungeons & Dragons which used Roguelike ASCII graphics. They founded the Kesmai company in 1982 and in 1985 an enhanced version of Dungeons of Kesmai, Island of Kesmai, was launched on CompuServe. Later, its 2-D graphical descendant Legends of Kesmai was launched on AOL in 1996. The games were retired commercially in 2000.  
Price to Play
The game was available on CompuServe for no additional charge. However, CompuServe cost $4 per hour for 300 baud or $12 per hour for 1200 baud access rates. The game processed one command every 10 seconds, which equates to 1 2/3 cents per command.
After logging into Compuserve and selecting to play Island of Kesmai, the user was allowed to create a character. After creating a character, the next step was to enter the chat room. From the chat room, the user could enter the virtual world.
The game interface was two dimensional and scrolled unless you downloaded and installed a GUI. The interface has often been called roguelike in that it borrowed features of game-play from a game called Rogue. The game used a Dungeons & Dragons-like turn-based play. Players moved in tiles on a grid utilizing short commands or key presses. Items could be found on the floor of the dungeon as symbols - as could mobs to fight.
There were two levels of the world. First was above ground and included a town and a wilderness. New characters (with the exception of thieves) start out at the dock, walk down main street past a bank, and lockers and end up at a temple. Inside the temple is a priest and a staircase going down into the dungeon where fights occur. There was one massive mob, a dragon to fight called a Drake. Killing the drake gave players a potion that would boost a stat permanently.
Features of the Game and Lessons Learned
- Three alignments existed: lawful (the equivalent of "good"), neutral, and evil.
- An additional alignment - chaotic - existed for computer generated creatures that were to be hunted.
- Players other than thieves start out as lawful, but can change alignment by killing other players. If you were the attacker, you would get negative alignment if your attack succeeded. If you were the victim of an attack, you did not change alignment if you killed your attacker.
- This led to a series of griefers who named themselves "Orc" and enticed new players into attacking them. The new player would become negatively aligned.
- Thieves were neutrally aligned unless they killed players. However they had the innate ability to "mask" their alignment, and appeared "lawful" to anyone except members of the "knight" class and certain town NPC's given a policing role.
- Evil characters could not play in town without being attacked by town NPC's, but there were secret passages available for neutral and evil players to access the dungeon.
- Players could purchase a ring in the marketplace, east of the temple, which, when placed on a finger, returned the character to the point on the game map at which the ring had been equipped, recall.
- No cap on experience; to proceed to the next level you had to double your experience from the previous level.
- Characters aged as they were played. You could become "very old" and lose stats. Drinking a potions could only return you to "middle-aged."
- In Legends of Kesmai (the 2-D graphical version of IOK), players were able to regain most of the loss by completing an underworld quest.
- You could die by being eaten. Being eaten by a dragon or other high-level mob meant you lost your character and had to re-roll
- Die in combat by fire - instant rez at the priest - loss of 25% experience and 2 constitution points
- Die in combat - players can drag you to priest for rez or thaumaturge can rez you.
- Death by poison, falling, or area effects (you don't lose experience this way)
Character classes: When you created your character, you were taken to a character "roll" screen where the different RPG statistics (strength, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, constitution and charisma) were randomly generated. The trick was to continue rolling until you got optimum statistics for the class you wanted to play. The different classes were:
- Fighter - this class emphasized brute strength and sheer staying power, but did not have any special abilities. However upon attaining level 8 (after perhaps 6 hours or so of constant play), the fighter could be come a Knight.
- Martial artist - in the initial versions of the game the martial artist didn't have any significant advantages over the fighter class, plus a martial artist could not become a knight. Version 3N and the "new" skill system increased the martial artist's stamina statistic, allowing him to jump-kick more often. Martial artists also benefited from initially higher hand to hand skill, and could use special gauntlets as efficient weapons.
- Knight - this class was attainable by any Fighter at the 8th level who managed to complete a short quest, and who did not have any karma burden (ie, had not killed other players). The knight gained a special ring, and with it the ability to cast certain spells, such as STRENGTH, LIGHT, CURE, ENCHANT and LOCATE.
- Thief - this class was born with a neutral alignment, and could never truly be "lawful". However most players perceived them as lawful unless they were knights - being the only class capable of seeing the true identity of a thief. This allowed certain players to kill their fellow players and turn evil, without the disadvantage of everyone noticing the evil alignment. The risks by running through town were the same, since a sheriff would attack a neutral thief just as quickly as an evil one. Many players tried to run thieves "in character" and stole from other players. This led to so much complaining (and so much payback by powerful knights!) that the STEAL ability of thieves was eventually nerfed to the point of being almost useless against players. Dextrous thieves could steal from critters, but again they were victims of their own success. Many high level thieves would steal unique items from powerful creatures with little risk, and the poor knights who would later duke it out with this dragon or giant to within inches of their lives would discover that the item this creature was supposed to be carrying was no longer there. This let to yet another nerf which rendered the thief class virtually useless. Towards the end of the IoK era, thieves were played essentially as martial artists with the ability to HIDE. Thieves also had magic that enabled them to manipulate doors from a distance, to create "Recall" rings, a to cast darkness. Version 3N brought NIGHTVISION and POISON to the thieves' arsenal, and many other spells.
- Thaumaturge - this class, also shortened to "thaum" by players, was essentially a priest or "healer" class. They were magic users, but since the gods of Kesmai were fickle gods, sometimes their spells failed no matter how high their level. They had many protective and healing spells, and also had the unique ability to create creatures such as phantoms, djinni and efreeti. These "pets", as they came to be known, were useful as cannon fodder to distract the mobs, or they could even obey simple commands to carry additional loot for the thaum. And no thaum would be complete without powerful offensive spells such as LIGHTNINGSTORM, POISONCLOUD and DEATH.
- Wizard - the weakest class by far in terms of Hit Points, high level wizards gained incredible offensive power once they learned the area spells such as FIREBALL, ICESTORM and CONCUSSION. Wizards were known to solo the toughest levels of Kesmai on their own, laying waste to the masses of critters swarming in these areas with a few well timed spells. Then all that remained was to collect the loot. Many new players made their fortunes following wizards around, and taking what they left behind. Until the advent of ICESPEAR and DRAGONBREATH in the "new" skill system, Wizards had a hard time soloing the tougher lair creatures.
- Sorcerer - there was only ever ONE sorcerer (or sorceress!) in the Kesmai public game, and it was a very brief test. This class was designed to have the ability to CHARM other creatures (and players!) and force them to do the sorcerer's wishes. The sorcerer was born of EVIL alignment, and unlike the thief this player could not mask the alignment. The sorcerer was supposed to be trained outside of town by demons who were summoned and given gold on specially designated altars. A replay existed of the test of this class and was made available to the public. It was determined, through the sheer havoc that was wrought by Lynn De'Leslie (a famous IoKer) in a short period of time, that the class was far too powerful and would unbalance the game.
- Trainers allowed players to gain new skills
The Island of Kesmai was eventually divided into several different areas representing the different countries of the Kesmai universe. These were called Segments. Initially the new area of Leng was created. One could reach this area via a teleporter (called a "portal") located in the dungeon, and by saying a special incantation "ashtug ninda anghizidda arrflug". Eventually Leng was removed and replaced with Axe Glacier, and two new segments were added as an "advanced game". These segments were called Annwn and Torii. The advanced game was also reached by a portal, but this portal was ONE WAY however. There was no way back to the basic game once you teleported to the advanced game. Eventually Leng was returned to the Basic Game, a new Basic Game segment was added called Oakvael, and a new Advanced Game segment was added called Rift Glacier. Version 3N also added Preatoseba - the "underworld", as an alternative to having your character permanently erased upon being eaten, and Shukumei, an advanced game segment.
- Kesmai - this segment, in its final form, consisted of a surface level with the town in the eastern third, and forested islands on the western two thirds. These forests were inhabited by many wild creatures, and occasionally needed to be visited for certain quests (specifically the Knight's quest). Most of the creatures of these forests were not too dangerous for a low level characters (under level 12) with the exception of the bears and griffins. Beneath Kesmai were the "dungeons" which consisted of 4 levels of chaotic creatures whose toughness increased as you descended. In the bottom level, called -4, there lived a fire dragon - initially called Ms. Wyrm, or Katie, and later "Daisy". Behind her lair one could occasionally find a fabled "returning hammer" which was a convenient, hard hitting distance weapon.
- Leng - this segment was a desert country surrounded by mountains, and populated with nasty critters. It boasted its very own fire dragon called Kosh, a drake (essentially a dragon that cast lightning bolts), a sand-serpent, and a Vampire among its powerful creatures. Apart from the critters that inhabited the plains, and the forests in the mountain - Leng also had plenty of dungeons. Death could come very suddenly in Leng.
- Axe Galcier - this segment was a rustic, northern community set at the foot of a glacier. It had some quite remarkable creatures, like rockworms that could only be damaged by pointy weapons such as rapiers. The main attractions of this segment were a giant who lived in a castle. This giant initially carried ice dragon scales (very tough and tough after armor) and ate unlucky assailants, erasing their character. With the removal of permanent death, his armor was changed to regular dragon scales. Axe Glacier in its original version also boasted two dragons - a "small" ice dragon called Daisy, and a "large" ice dragon called "Mama". Now you must understand that this "small" ice dragon was very very difficult to kill. Mama was impossible to kill, as she was invulnerable to all weapons and magic. Eventually Axe Glacier went through a series of changes adding and removing a "wandering" drake, until finally the segment ended up with the permanent removal of "Daisy". She was replaced by a drake fixed in her lair. Above her lived "Mama" and she was made killable only by the ICESPEAR spell or by a giant silver axe (a special quest item). And above Mama yet another lair creature was added - the yeti. This creature was also phenomenal to fight, and was often done "solo". The trick was to run past "Mama" (who was definitely NOT soloable - not for the faint hearted at least) and climb up to the yeti lair before being attacked by her, and then facing the yeti alone. There was always the risk that "Mama" would fly up to the Yeti lair in mid-combat and join in the fun.
- Oakvael - This segment had the town located up in the trees, with most of the levels centered around a "Pit". Oakvael was notorious for being a segment that provided fantastic loot for far less risk than Leng or Axe Glacier. It contained a sea serpent, several dragons and a lich.
The Advanced Game: This section of the game existed towards the end of "The Island of Kesmai", however it was removed for Legends of Kesmai, which eventually became the sequel to IoK. The advanced game upped the rewards for the player greatly, however the risk also increased dramatically. A character with 100 hit points would be considered almost a God in the Basic Game. In the advanced game, he was a "snack". Even the simplest creatures could hit for 20 points or so at a time, and in the advanced game critters usually attacked in groups. Therefore this was countered with new, harder hitting weapons, and the ability for the player to "Buy" hitpoints at a special trainer called the Hit Doc. These hitpoints increased geometrically in value, however - and the estimate was that to "Max Out" a character it would cost almost 3 or 4 million gold pieces. Different character classes were assigned different hit point maximums, with 400 being given to the Knights, down to 300 for the Wizards. The ability to so unbalance your character, as well as the special hard hitting weapons that could do 200 hit points of damage in one swing, were the reason that the trip to the advanced game was one way only. Such characters and weapons would unbalance the basic game completely.
- Annwn - this is the segment based on a mythical celtic land where the player would arrive in the advanced game. After using the portal one was unceremoniously dumped somewhere in the forest on the surface level, and left to discover the town (the entrance of which was hidden in a cave). Of course the usual way to get to town for the new player was to be killed by an overzealous attempt to attack some surface creatures, and be resurrected in town. Annwn boasted an underground dungeon with 2 levels. Through special teleports one could also access areas where a very fierce fire dragon resided; or conversely a lair where a (originally a djinn) phoenix resided. Both creatures were quite tough to fight solo, and had to be taken care of to complete a quest for a Sword of Light. Annwn also boasted a tower, where the evil wizard Ydmos resided. Ydmos was in possession of a scythe, and this evil weapon was perhaps the best blocking item in the game. This made Ydmos quite tough to hit - it took quite a while to kill this critter, who would hit you for 300 hit points easily.
- Torii - The realm of Torii, based on a Japanese style, was beautifully and symmetrically laid out. At least on the surface. It contained a castle, originally haunted by a ghost but later by giants and a rather large rat called "Willard". It also contained the infamous Torii mines. These mines contained hard hitting skeletons and oni, as well as invisible ninja that would launch surprise attacks out of the shadows. The lair critter here was a serpent called "Thisson". This serpent carried an amulet that granted protection from half the damage of death spells. Ironically, the critter could attack with death spells tough enough to kill even a knight in a single spell. Many, many high level players were eaten by this serpent, until the discovery of new techniques by the Wind guild to defeat it. The scales of this serpent were the best armor until the arrival of Rift Glacier.
- Rift Glacier - similar to Axe Glacier, only with exponentially larger critters, this ice and snow covered forest land contained some of the most fearsome creatures in the game. A titan inhabited this realm. This titan had the ability to chase people indefinitely, as well as attack in the same round, meaning that if you spotted him, you had better be ready to solo or recall home. It was also populated by a fearsome drake who wandered the glacier and was not killable by regular weapons. Several large ice dragons were also wandering creatures. There was also a haunted castle populated by very nasty undead, and a crypt which remained locked to players for many years, but eventually its secret was revealed. This crypt contained a large returning hammer called "Mjolnir", after Thor's hammer. But the most dreadful of all creatures was Lucy, an ancient cloud dragon. Initially this dragon would "fly" over the land, and could attack anyone at any time. There was even a case where the dragon landed in town (usually a safe area) and began attacking players and NPC's alike. Eventually Lucy was tamed, and confined to one of her several lairs. She yielded cloud dragon scales, the best armor in the game, which is why she was so sought after.
Shukumei - I have no information of this segment as I did not play there. I am led to understand that it was a jungle segment, populated by many varieties of sabre-toothed tiger as well as the usual critters, and it was a very difficult segment.
- Players were allowed to create guilds. Some of the better-known guilds:
- TAG "The Arcane Guild" The first guild
- NAG "Not Arcane Guild" Second guild
- WULF third
- ALF fourth
- BOUNTY HUNTERS
- SKY Only allowed 12 players to join.
- TREE Mostly Wizards from British Legends another Compuserve game.
- ROSE Thieves only.
- Mobs had lootable corpses upon death. Anything the mob had equipped was lootable.
- Mobs would loot player corpses upon player death. This made gear recovery very difficult, especially when a player was killed by a crowd of mobs.
- Mobs could equip player gear and would do so automatically if the gear was better than the gear the mob had.
The Island of Kesmai
The story of Kesmai, as I remember it told by the mighty Toshin
Kesmai is a wee island located in the far western part of the Archipelago of Mu. Many eons ago the island was used as the last sanctuary of the persecuted Brotherhood of Yasnac. The Yasnaki were once highly respected among magicians all over the lands, but when their leaders yielded to the temptation to experiment with foul and blasphemous sorceries, they were banished from Mu by the Grand Order of Thaumaturges. The Brotherhood fled from imminent destruction and took refuge on the isolated, mysterious Island of Kesmai, where only pirates and other fugitives dared go.
The Brotherhood bargained with the pirates who were using the island as a base and port. In return for sorcerous aid, the pirates yielded the center of the island to the Brotherhood, where they built a small settlement. The Brotherhood excavated a shelter deep beneath the city, partly to hide and protect the Brothers from attack, and partly to provide the unending darkness required for their worst experiments. The underground shelter was slowly enlarged into a series of catacombs. Driven both by pressure from the outside world and by their own increasing craving for the Dark, the Brotherhood, after a time, moved completely below ground. A small fishing village was maintained to provide cover for the comings and goings of the underground city.
Evildoers came eagerly to the hidden headquarters, where opportunities for advancement in the Black Arts abounded. As the power and wealth of the Brotherhood grew, they were able to concentrate a great deal of time and energy on bizarre experiments in genetics, often using unwitting visitors to the Island as starting material. This dark magic combined with the putrid mists emanating from the swamps to produce a myriad of peculiar species. Many of the higher life forms created in this manner developed extraordinarily assertive survival traits. The Brotherhood had a brazen arrogance, and occasionally entertained emissaries from other evil organizations, giving tours, and sometimes making gifts of the horrific creatures they had created. At the peak of their power, the Sorcerers of the Brotherhood were known and feared all over the civilized world. Eventually the Inner Circle of the Brotherhood launched several especially ambitious and perilous experiments.
The Brotherhood hotly desired revenge on the Grand Order of Thaumaturges for masterminding the expulsion from Mu, but for many years none of the suggested plans were dire enough to win general approval. Finally the Lord Emperor of Kesmai perfected the means to obtain the vengeance they longed for. The Emperor, strongest of all the Brotherhood in the Black Arts, devised a way to combine his power with the Brothers of the Inner Circle, and summon one of the dreaded Dragons of Droon. Timing would be critical since the Dragon would appear in the temple with the Brothers for an instant before it was teleported into the gardens of the Imperial palace of Mu. The plan was accepted by the Brotherhood and the horrible ritual begun. When the Dragon appeared right on cue just before the last incantation, the power unleashed burst the coronary arteries of the weakest member of the Inner Circle. Without the missing Brother, the last incantation could not be completed, leaving the Yasnaki with an unwelcome guest.
The Dragon showed little gratitude for the release from its imprisoning sleep. Breaking free of what feeble control the Brotherhood exercised, it crushed the Lord Emperor with one unanticipated sweep of its claw. The Dragon then flew into the laboratories, where the latest bizarre mutants were kept, and ate most of the ongoing experiments, apparently finding the mutants tastier than members of the Brotherhood. A few fell creatures escaped, rampaging through the halls in search of their previous masters. Much bloodshed ensued, and many unfortunate Brothers were most cruelly slain (although not as cruelly as they deserved).
After gorging itself on mutants and Brothers, the Dragon returned to the temple in the depths of the dungeon and took up what appeared to be permanent residence. It was a Dark-Dragon, and thus much attracted to the smell of evil that filled the temple. The presence of a Dragon in the highest sanctuary prevented the Brotherhood from performing their most solemn rites so they undertook to dislodge the creature and regain access to their most powerful talismans and charms, upon which the Dragon was now resting. This they were unable to do, since the Dragon slew all those who dared disturb its rest, including several mighty Demons conjured up for the occasion. During its occasional foraging, the Dragon eventually cleared the region around the temple, and destroyed everything entering its diminutive domain.
The strange mutants freed by the Dragon's rampage continued to roam the dark corridors, most of which had to be abandoned by the Brothers. In the ruins of the dungeon, the dark forces and ghastly chemistry went unchecked, producing vast numbers of creatures. As the population of monsters grew in the deeper recesses, the Brotherhood was forced to move ever closer to the surface. In time, the creatures from the depths overwhelmed the meager remnants of the Yasnaki, with the exception of a few who developed an uneasy truce with the monsters, and lived among them. After the downfall of the Brotherhood, no visitors came to the Island. The inhabitants of the town eventually migrated to greener pastures, leaving the town to be overgrown by the forest, and overrun by various wild things.
Voyagers rediscovered Kesmai during the early years of the Age of Exploration. The first few colonizing expeditions to the island of Kesmai were decimated by the exotic indigenous life, but in time the surface was cleared, and the village was rebuilt. When Zod the Mighty collected a number of scrolls (and quite a bit of treasure) from monsters he slaughtered, the story of the Dragon's coming was pieced together and the great quest begun. Zod's sister, AseLaind the Conqueror has come to Kesmai in fairly recent times to explore and map out the system of portals set up by the Ancients. Her brief messages give hint of many lands forested, frigid and fiery. One is the frozen land of Axe Glacier, named for its dominant landmark. She discovered a dangerous country of desert plains and cliffs known to the inhabitants as Leng. Her travels then led her to Oakvael a land of Forests and pits with a treetop town. Her latest message tells of her journey to cold Praetoseba, known as the Underworld where she is quested for a return to the surface lands and life.
Many brave and powerful warriors have followed AseLaind and Zod into deep dungeons and distant lands, only to be brutally slain by the monsters living there. In the dungeons of Kesmai, the Dragon's hoard, already large from the appropriated wealth of the Yasnaki, is said to contain enchanted items and rumors hint of a special gem the Dragon carries on her body that is required for Knighthood.
The commercialization of Kesmai in recent years (including the recent formation of a Chamber of Commerce in the town of Kesmai) has greatly increased the number of would-be heroes coming to the island. Although life is dangerous everywhere, the Island of Kesmai provides an unusual number of opportunities for advancement, hence adventurers flock to Kesmai and the other unexplored lands, from all over the civilized world, to visit strange places, to challenge exotic beings, and to kill them.
Legends of Kesmai
Legends of Kesmai (LOK) was among the first successful graphical multi-player online role-playing games. It was based on a slightly stripped down version of Island of Kesmai and was available for play at America Online and a now defunct site called GameStorm. Prior to that, Kesmai corporation ran a long open beta for the game, as well as hosting the game for a short period of time in the mid 90's. In 1999 Electronic Arts bought Kesmai and in 2001 closed the business. The rights to the game were sold to Electronic Arts sometime in 1999, and the game was subsequently shelved by them.
Dragon's Spine is an IOK emulator that puts you back on Kesmai the way it was on CompuServe. You can even use the old game clients like IoKTerm, TheGuide, and KPlus if you have COM/IP redirector software installed. There are minor additions in Dragon's Spine that were not available in the old game. For example, if a fighter opts to not become a knight then there are new abilities available beginning at level 9 such as weapon specialization and the bash skill that does damages and always fizzles a spell upon a successful hit.
- Gallear, Mark. The Games Production Process and an Economic History of the Games Industry. geocities.com. 2009-01-16. URL:http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Arena/8461/gprodfrm.html. Accessed: 2009-01-16. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5dsOXJLBL)
- Kennelly, Adrian. Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. articlesbase.com. 2009-01-16. URL:http://www.articlesbase.com/art-and-entertainment-articles/massive-multiplayer-online-roleplaying-games-53791.html. Accessed: 2009-01-16. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5dsKzGar5)
- Koster, Ralph. Online World Timeline. RaphKoster.Com. 2009-01-16. URL:http://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/mudtimeline.shtml. Accessed: 2009-01-16. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5dsLPMG6P)
- Adrian Kennelly (2006). "Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games". "The first mainstream product was sold to the public in 1984. The game, Islands of Kesmai, was extremely expensive, and the graphics were anything but impressive."
- Raph Koster (2000). "Online World Timeline". ""My memory says that Island of Kesmai went live on CompuServe on December 15, 1985, after a very long internal test. The price was actually $6 an hour for 300 baud, $12 for 1200 baud. Serious players paid the bucks." - Kelton Flinn In (2000) May, Electronics Arts announces the shutdown of most of the Kesmai games, including Legends of Kesmai and Air Warrior Classic."
- Mark Gallear (1998). "An Economic History of the Game Industry". Archived from the original on 2000-01-30. "The company continued to develop massively multiplayer games such as Air Warrior 2 (1997) and Legends of Kesmai (1996), distributing their games through AOL and eventually their own gaming service, GameStorm."
- ARS Technica - A look at the studios EA has bought and shuttered
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