A MUD for the Ages.
A million years ago it was 1995.
I was... very young and had recently begun exploring this thing called the internet, like most inexperienced people at the time I was using AOL, which did actually have some interesting features at the time like the AOL Game Room which offered games like chess, checkers and Gemstone... wait wait? wtf is a Gemstone. "A text-based Fantasy Mud"? At the time I couldn't possibly know less about what that meant but I knew that I liked games and wanted to try.
After finding a credit card and signing up for Game Room (which had a time based fee on top of ISP fee) I dove into the world of MUDs ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD ) and have had a hard time looking back ever since.
Granted MUDs have a larger barrier of entry than most games as there are no graphics, but think of the original Zork games in a persistent world (don't expect screenshots in this review). If reading is something that you find really stimulates your imagination I highly recommend going out and trying a MUD asap.
While playing Gemstone for a short time I noticed that a new product from the same company was being released (I think, give me a break it was a long time ago) called Dragonrealms. I'll never remember what about it drew me in over Gemstone but something did and I was instantly hooked.
Dragonrealms obviously is a MUD, with over 15,000 rooms (probably a lot more as this stat is several years old already) ranging from full towns to forested wilderness, from ice capped mountains to volcanos, tropical islands to barren deserts and everything in between.
11 Races, Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Gor'Tog, Elothean, S'kra Mur, Gnome, Kaldar, Prydaen, Rakash
11 Guilds Barbarian, Trader, Bard, Thief, Paladin, Ranger, Cleric, Empath, Warrior Mage, Moon Mage, Necromancer
Fill out the world, with no Race/Class restrictions, making a lot of combinations for adventurers to try, a race may determine how easyily you can train a stat or attribute like Strength or Intelligence. Where as a guild will decide what abilities you have available to you (which spells or Backstabbing or Scouting) and how fast your learn certain skills (more on this next).
Probably my favorite part of Dragonrealms is that you gain experience and skills and levels (circles) in a much more complicated way than today's traditional MMORPGs where you just kill something near your level and get xp.
In Dragonrealms there is about 60 skills covering really everything you do, swimming rivers, attacking with large blunt weapons, shooting a crossbow, casting magic spells, picking pockets of other players and so on. You only gain Experience in a skill by doing that skill (at an appropriate difficulty). So if you're attacking a rat with a dagger you'd learn small edged weapons, as the rat is attacking back you'd learn skills in evasion or parrying or shield and any armor you might be wearing.
As you gain this experience its not immediately a realized gain this is called "field experience" most commonly thought of as a bucket that has filled up with drops of Exp, the size of the bucket is based off your characters Intelligence and Circle and Ranks (levels) you have in that particular skill. The bucket then has a hole in the bottom from which field experience drips or pulses into a more permanent realized state or Ranks (0 - 1750) for your character (what you actually need to level up), the size of the hole is based on your characters Intelligence and Wisdom as well as again ranks in that skill. If you happen to die, all field experience is lost, which can be a significant amount of play giving death a worthwhile penalty, but not making it totally crippling.
This coupled with the amount of weapons and spells and armors and actions you can do in combat make it a wonderful experience once you get the swing of things. You'll quickly go from hunting rats with a pathetic weapon or spells to taking out giant trolls or ogres with a true instrument of destruction.
As you join a guild (you actually don't ever have to) you'll need to meet rank requirements (actual EXP , not the field experience) in specific skills to advance (level up) within that guild, but many of the choices are yours to pick, as you may need to learn 2 weapons, but there's 10 to choose from. This applies to Armor, Magic, Survivals, and Lore skills as well. Once you meet these Requirements you can travel to your local Guildmaster and and ask for a promotion which increases your circle (level)
Also as you gain ranks in a skill and circles 0-200 (yes there is 200 levels) you also gain Time Development Points or TDPs that you then use to increase your Stats in Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Agility, Reflex, Charisma, Discipline. The dicotomy of Ranks and Circles creates a world where you'll never really know (unless they tell you) what another persons real skills are, adding a large layer to PvP and even just interacting with others. That guy you just spit on might have 1000 more ranks than you and he's not super happy with you.
A lot of skills are also non-combat, requiring you to not be in combat 24/7 and do things like interact with other players. You can PvP (never required to advance) with other players or listen to classes on a specific skill or just Role Play and enjoy the world and its people.
A large double edge aspect to Dragonrealms is that its time commitment is significantly larger than most online persistent games. A World of Warcraft character might hit max level in 200 hours. In Dragonrealms (despite being sped up in recent years a lot) there is no one at the maximums in all skills. The game takes literally several thousands of hours before you are "high level". Some people will find this a huge plus and others a huge negative, but there is defiantly never going to be any complaints about leveling up too fast, compared to just about any other game on the market.
RP is enforced in Dragonrealms, and while you certainly don't have to participate in it, you cannot be out of character talking about other games, or computers or movies etc.
Just like modern games have dozens of /emote options Dragonrealms has thousands of verbs like slap, spit, dance, that you can use to interact with the world and other players, hundreds of which have multiple options like dance silly, dance happy. Also you might be surprised to find that in a text world you have a lot more ways to customize your character to make them truly yours making every character in the game a truly unique being.
You can also use macros or scripting language to set up commands to alleviate some of the repetitive keystrokes, but doing so AFK is against the terms of the game, and anyone caught by the staff doing so will be punished, potentially setting the character back many times more than they would of gained by going AFK.
While the game did stagnate a bit between 2000-2005 in more recent years it has seen a of a resurgence in players and development. Currently at any time of the day several hundred adventurers can be found across the realms. Yes its not huge, but it is the definition of community, and you are welcome to become a part of it. The staff is currently working on the final touches of Dragonrealms 3.0 which has a rewritten combat system, magic system, armor system, new crafting systems, new guild abilities and many other changes.
A massive portion of Dragonrealms comes down of course to you and your imagination since there are no graphics, but hey people seem to enjoy books and have so for thousands of years.
Dragonrealms is the ultimate in interactive books, and you don't have to be alone.