Nights of Online Role Playing on the Horizon?


In my last column, I explained why Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) do not involve very much real role playing. The genre of online role playing has a lot of potential, but it lies dormant, waiting for the right circumstances to awaken it's full potential. What MMORPGs need is to...

In my last column, I explained why Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) do not involve very much real role playing. The genre of online role playing has a lot of potential, but it lies dormant, waiting for the right circumstances to awaken it's full potential. What MMORPGs need, is to bring the focus back to role playing, and away from the repetitive goals and huge, generic game worlds that we currently see.

Any GM who's tried to run an adventure with a dozen or more players, knows that it is nearly impossible to keep that many people engaged in role playing. At best, a few main characters dominate the action, and everyone else tends to fill a single role: healer, warrior, thief, or caster, based on their character's primary skill. There is simply not enough individual attention, or a compelling reason for all the players to develop complex personalities for their characters.

The same holds true in MMORPGs. With large groups of players all trying to achieve the same broad goals, there is little need for role playing, problem solving, or character development. Each character simply attacks the designated monster, heals the other players, or fills whichever role their class or skills make them best suited for.

In order to foster real role playing, there need to be smaller groups of characters with a common goal. This can be accomplished by adding quests that will only be available to small groups, giving characters a strong motivation to play in-character, or by adding human GMs with power to change the game on the fly. These methods will insure new goals and challenges that force players to think, and to work together in ways besides just filling their class or skill based role in the group.

Fortunately for role players, there are two games in production which have the potential to give us more of the role playing that we want. "Horizons: Empires of Istaria" and "Neverwinter Nights" both show promise in giving players more true character driven role playing.

Horizons, currently in production by Artifact Entertainment, will be a standard MMORPG, but will include race warfare and a dynamic quest system. These two features, if they work as promised, have the potential to add more levels of competition and complexity to the game, and will give players a greater challenge and more opportunity and reason to role play their characters.

With race warfare, some races such as elves and dryads will be allies, and will be at war with enemy races such as the goblins and demons. Instead of simply fighting computer controlled monsters, players will also battle one another, and will have a strong, story driven reason to do so. This creates a great opportunity to add personality and motivations to a character, and will ensure that players who group together will do so with allied races, encouraging people to stay in character.

The dynamic quest system will create individual quests that will only be completed by a single character or adventuring party. This serves to keep groups small. Groups of 6-8 characters will be trying to slay a particular monster or find a particular magic item, instead of hundreds of characters all sitting around in the forest waiting for the Orc Lord to respawn. Smaller groups encourage more role playing, so dynamic quests should be a great addition to Horizons.

Neverwinter Nights, which is being designed by Black Isle, is not a true MMORPG. It is a single player RPG similar to Baldur's Gate, but with multi-player online play, and most importantly, with the option to have a GM who can control non-player characters and change the game on the fly!

Neverwinter Nights may just what role players are looking for in an online game. A GM will be able to design her own world and characters, set up dungeons, place traps and treasure, develop a story, and then lead a group of friends through the game. The GM will be able to speak to the players through non-player characters, control monsters who are fighting the party, and change the game world as the game progresses. This is as close as you can come to playing a pen and paper role playing game with friends online.

Neverwinter Nights is a definite move in the right direction for multi-player computer role playing games. Perhaps as the genera continues to develop, there will be more games that allow player designed and controlled worlds that a GM can control.

So there is hope my friends. Already at least two companies are moving in the right direction, giving us more of the interaction, plot depth, and encouraging team work and role playing by their game design. While most of the MMORPGs on the market are still lacking in role playing elements, new games are making progress and addressing the concerns of gamers who want more real role playing. If we, as players and consumers, buy and support the good quality games that give us the role playing we want, the companies will listen and continue to improve that area of the market. So vote with your wallet, and look for me online once these games hit the shelves.

I dunno. Last I heard, the company developing Horizons had major difficulties actually building the damn thing and even more trouble getting a publisher, and now rumors're flying over at about how their lead designer's apparently no longer working on the project.
That said, if Neverwinter Nights lives up to even a tiny speck of it's hype, I'll run to the store and buy it the day it comes out.

A developer at Artifact Entertainment (the company making Horizons) gave a statement on their developer's message board, which you can see here:

According to that, things are still progressing, even though some staff have left. You can take that for whatever you believe it's worth.

I'm interested in both of those games, though NWN much more than HZ...and then there's Atriarch. It may be "too alien" for the mainstream, but that's fine by me.

"Above all else, understand that most people you will meet in MMOGs, if born as a different species, would have been eaten by their own parents."
--anonymous poster on

Looking forward to NWN, but I would much rather be able to play pen&paper D&D again. Here in Bournemouth UK I played D&D with a couple of friends recently (bought the 3rd Ed rulebooks and everything) but I discovered I was a pretty poor DM. They would play more games, but for the problm of looming exams (they're a few years younger than me) Looks like there aren't any clubs or groups down here that do p&p D&D, so I'll have to make do with the MMORPG. It's not the same as meeting real people, though...

Contrary to popular belief, you can be a "paper & pen"
DM in this world...Playing a great game with good
players! At least for five or six sessions ;)

I have a solo game running, with a great player:
She is awesome. Yes, I said she! And would you
believe that she was *seeking* a game! Here's her

P.S. Save your jealousy for your feeble, static MMORPGS.


Well that wonderful, shining jewel on the horizon called Neverwinter Nights looks to tantalise us for a while longer. The release date is now September 2001. So much for that pre-Christmas promise, eh? (Groans)

Hey there

I live in Bournemouth and am having a mare finding a group to rp with. Are you in a group looking for new players?

If so please drop me a line


i like the new one, because i played it never hopla dood maar i f°vind wel that i am niet deze site nee


You have a great review and I have to agree with you Online Role Playing Games haven't reached their maximum potential yet, I don't understand why, for me they are very exciting. Right now I am involved in a backgammon championship and I am telling you, it really caught me, it's hard to let go.