Ragnarök was intended to be set in a world and time similar to Medieval Europe, but contains many deviations from that base. A core inspiration for the MUD was The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp. One of the short stories in that book, The Roaring Trumpet, tells of the adventures of Harold Shea, who lands unexpectedly in the middle of the time of Ragnarök in old Norse mythology. One of the MUD implementors found the idea of Norse myth to be a fascinating fantasy game setting, and saw a striking parallel between the characters in the story using mathematics and symbolic logic to transport themselves from our modern-day world to these parallel realities, and modern MUD players utilizing computer technology to "transport" themselves to the alternate fictional reality of the game.
Ragnarök was created by four friends, known in the game as Klive, Rodolf, Skeezics, and Fizban. Klive had the original idea and put things in motion by borrowing the basic mudlib files from an older, then-defunct MUD hosted at Sequent, named SquintMUD. Even in 1992, that codebase was obsolete and required the LPMud driver to run in backwards-compatibility mode. This would prove to cause more problems than beginning with a more modern system would have.
This basic framework included a church (the entry point in the game and where the ghosts of dead characters can go for resurrection) and a little town. The church was recast as the House of Bonder Sverre, and the town's fixtures were renamed and made to align with Ragnarök's theme. The first two players, Galadriel and Wulfblat, helped to review the world before the doors opened to the public. They each contributed realms of their own, as have the four founders and numerous wizards since. Eventually all of the original founders left active participation in the game, except for Fizban. Galadriel remained and co-owns the MUD with Fizban; the real people behind these characters are now married.
Hiatus from 2007 to 2009
The MUD underwent a series of technical changes over the years of its operation. It began life running on a Sun SPARCServer 470 (Solaris). When that hosting situation became unavailable, Fizban took the game code and set up an Intel i386-based IBM PC running FreeBSD. A local ISP, Teleport, provided colocation services to host the system. Eventually it moved from there to a series of Intel Pentium and Pentium 4 PCs, and moved from FreeBSD to Ubuntu Linux.
As a result of these upgrades, the very old game driver, which by now had been very thoroughly customized and hacked, was so old and non-standards-compliant that it simply would no longer compile and run successfully on a modern OS. Eventually, by mid-2007, it broke fatally. Caught between the choice to run on an outdated OS (with potentially serious security bugs) or working to upgrade the game, the latter route was taken. This kept Ragnarök offline for a considerable time, with the game eventually returning to operation in November 2009.
Gameplay is mostly achieved via basic and often intuitive commands. For example, typing
n would cause a player character to go north,
s would cause the player to go south, and so on. Weapons, armor, and objects are also typically very easy to use, and when their use is not obvious, a player need only examine the object to gain insight into its use. The basic objective of the game is to kill monsters and complete quests to advance in levels, until level 20. Death carries a penalty of the loss of one level, unless a player is already at level 1, in which case, the player retains his or her current level.
At level 20, the player has technically won the game. It is at this point the player is known as an initiate, and must make a decision regarding his or her future. If the player decides to continue on the current path, he or she becomes a hero, and a new adventure begins (the player is automatically advanced to level 21 and achieves full hero status). If the player decides to become a wizard, he or she will participate in development of new areas, objects, and so on. The new wizard must develop an area, which must be approved by a sponsoring wizard in order for the new wizard to be promoted to full wizardship.
The introductory area of Ragnarök, the environment to which a new player is first exposed, begins with the House of Bonder Sverre. Proceeding from there, one is provided with directions to a post office, adventurer's guild, shop, pub, lockers, the Bank of Alphasia, and a store called Two Goats Antiques.
In addition to simply killing monsters, there are a number of quests that a player must complete in order to advance in level. The first quest, Newbie School, seeks to teach new players the fundamentals of play. Other quests test players' critical thinking skills and gameplay acuity. Each level has its own quest point requirements.
Emphasis on friendly atmosphere. Rag is intended to be a meeting place for friends, with an atmosphere of silliness and frivolity, and has developed a somewhat close-knit player community. Aggression between players ("player killing"), or other harassment of other players, is not allowed in this game.
Room descriptions are, by administrative mandate, required to be full and meet a certain standard of quality. The four founders were particularly against walking into a room and seeing, "You are in a room. There is a rock here.", with examining the rock yielding, "It's a rock." A style of prose reminiscent of the old Infocom games is the ideal.
The "magic map" provides a graphical map of all the realms a player has explored to date. The realm authors compose this map (it's not automatically generated), and can vary from simple schematic room diagrams up to detailed floor plans with illustrations.
Guilds in Ragnarök embody in one entity a rough combination of the concepts of "race", "class" and "clan" as other games might call them. Players all begin in the Adventurer's Guild but can choose freely to join other guilds. Some have special requirements for joining, some have penalties for leaving, but each give a particular added flavor to the way a character is played. Examples include Faeries, Elementalists, and Ninja.
NetGuide magazine said the following about Ragnarök: ""If you've been itchin' to kill evil Smurfs who hurl Monty Python-style witticisms, or explore a world filled with similarly bizarre creatures, then [...] Ragnarok [...] is for you."