Those are all well and good, but... y'know... couldn't rulesets be used to create fascinating variations on these games? It turns out that yes, yes they can.
While the vanilla rulesets are the vast majority, there does exist a group of fringe rulesets that dared to walk the different patch, er, path and made versions of MMOs that are a bold and refreshing flavor. Like blue! Sometimes these new rulesets were whipped up to inject new life into an aging title, giving players a valid reason to come back and see the game from a different perspective.
In this week's Perfect Ten, we're going to check out just how wild 'n' wacky server rulesets can get!
Permadeath remains one of the most hotly debated topics in MMOs, with very few studios willing to alienate players by introducing the feature to their games. Even so, a small handful of MMOs have done so, with mixed results.
Dofus introduced a "Heroic" server type in 2008 that sped up the game's progression considerably while raising the stakes by permanently killing off characters if they died a single time. Likewise, EverQuest (you'll be seeing this game a lot on this list) experimented with a permadeath PvP server in 2003 called Discord. Discord didn't last long, as the novelty wore off -- and players gave up after seeing their progress go up in smoke.
Is PvP not hardcore enough for you? Are you still lacking a game mode that'll put hair on your chest? Then buckle up and log into a FFA server, and you'll be found whimpering in a fetal position by the end of the week.
Unlike traditional PvP servers, where opposing sides are segregated by race or faction, FFA servers throw the door wide open: Anyone is fair game, at (almost) any time, and your loot and gear is forfeit upon your defeat. Have fun!
This may be one of the more popular alternative rulesets on this list, as several games have FFA enabled by default (Darkfall, EVE Online, sections of Fallen Earth), and plenty more have added FFA servers due to player demand. Asheron's Call's Darktide FFA server has been a long-running favorite of PvPers. Recently, Age of Conan announced that it will be the latest MMO to adopt such a ruleset with its Blood and Glory servers.
These rulesets are so uniquely EverQuest that I may as well lump them together. EQMac (the Al'Kabor server) is a version of EQ frozen in development as the game was in 2002. So in other words, if you want to play an officially old version of EQ -- original zones, no minimap, no expansions past Planes of Power -- this is the way to go.
EverQuest experienced a jolt of popularity in 2009 when it launched a totally new server ruleset known as "51/50." Any player who rolled on this server would find herself automatically at level 51 with 50 alternative advancement (AA) points to spend, giving her a major leg-up in experiencing the higher-level content.
Both rulesets demonstrated that SOE could think outside the box in trying to give its players what they craved, and I'm not even going into some of the other interesting experimental server types the company brainstormed (such as one where you paid more to get, seriously, better customer service).
Whereas many rulesets involve variations on adding types of PvP to the game, Dark Age of Camelot's cooperative ruleset sought to do the exact opposite: to strip PvP away from a PvP-centric game. The result was a server where players of any realm could group and guild together without any fear of PvP (which was disabled). So... it basically became a PvE server, just in a completely unexpected setting.
This may be so minor as to not warrant a spot on the list, but I personally find it interesting enough to mention, so here goes! So back when Lord of the Rings Online was operated by two different companies -- Turbine in the States and Codemasters in Europe -- Turbine didn't designate any roleplaying servers, while Codemasters did. Because players will find a way, they decided that Landroval would be the "unofficial" RP server of North America, and so it was for a long time.
But when Turbine took over operations from Codemasters and put everything under one roof, it had a dilemma. Because European RP servers were now under Turbine's control, it made sense to have a North American RP server as well, but at the same time, Turbine couldn't force an unofficial RP server to adapt to the slightly stricter rules that an official one contained. And so it created an RPE -- Roleplaying Encouraged -- server that was no different than a PvE server in any way other than the name and unofficial-turned-semi-official status.
"Loreplay" may sound like a deviant sexual practice, but it was simply Shadowbane's attempt to provide a more thematic setting for roleplay-minded individuals. On other Shadowbane servers, players could join a guild regardless of their race, class or gender. However, the Loreplay ruleset strictly segregated players into guilds by these factors, adding an interesting dynamic through restrictions.
Because that's what MMOs are all about: racial discrimination! Just kidding, Shadowbane!
When SOE created its official RMT service -- Station Exchange -- it promoted the creation of two special servers in EverQuest II that allowed players to use the Exchange to buy and sell gear from others. So, in a sense, these became very real "pay to win" servers. SOE also adopted this ruleset for Vanguard's single server, so if you're not a fan of the Exchange's practices, there's nowhere to escape it in that game.
With the advent of established MMOs converting into free-to-play models, concern has arisen from long-term players about the influx of -- what some have seen as -- undesirable freeloaders. Hence, a handful of these games like City of Heroes have acquiesced to those looking for a free-player-free experience by creating subscriber-only (or VIP-only) servers, where only the most dedicated payers are to be found.
Dirty freeloaders. How dare they enjoy our games!
Aging MMOs have one thing on their side that modern titles don't: a huge breadth of expansion and content updates. This affords just a handful of MMOs a special opportunity to allow new and established players the chance to "travel back in time" and experience the game's growth in a simulated fashion.
EverQuest has experimented with these so-called "progression" servers on a couple of occasions. Players who roll on these servers initially only have access to the core game, with expansions being unlocked either at a set pace or after the community achieves certain goals. In this way, players who were never there "way back when" have a way to see how the game grew.
Ultima Online's Siege Perilous ruleset is its own strange beast that came on the scene in 1999. The idea behind it was to create a shard that was more difficult than the already-challenging standard shards, in an effort to appeal to the hardcore players.
Siege Perilous not only kicks off with FFA PvP across the board but denies players item insurance, slows the rate of skill progression, and makes commerce with NPCs exceedingly harder. Because of the cutthroat atmosphere, guilds and caution are at a premium, creating a unique feel that doesn't extend to the regular servers.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.