Ok, another post from my 2007 past self. For the record, I haven’t played that many online RPGs, I understand that they have got better. In case you don’t realise it, my 2007 self is trying to come across as ‘journalistically balanced’ whilst really disliking MMORPGs. I don’t have this problem any more: I don’t play MMORPGs, and if I dislike something, I say so.
Superficially, MMORPG’s and other roleplaying games are quite similar. If you play a combat heavy role play game than the differences become smaller still. I would say that the main difference between to, is that pen and paper role play games are limited only by the imagination of the person writing the adventure. Online role play games, are limited by the technology, and the need to create something for millions of different people. The opportunities for roleplaying somewhat limited, most online role play games have some form of quest system, but sees, with very few exceptions, revolve around doing certain actions in a certain order. There lacks any real challenge to you, beyond slaughtering monsters.
Pen and paper role play games have the flexibility to perform any action, or be in any situation. The only way you are limited is by what you can convince GM to allow you to do. As you can probably guess, I am more in favour of traditional role play games, than online ones. Having said this, I have played Runescape and have quite a high-level warrior.
Another major difference between these two styles of game, is the way that characters advance. Online, character advancement is very precise based on numbers of creatures killed, crafting levels, fishing, and experienced points gained from quests. In a paper role play game, advancement is based on all kinds of things, including how will you role-play situations, and other subjective of the things which makes roleplaying worthwhile.