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The world of online role-playing games is populated largely by fantasy characters. But within a few months, it will welcome a broader range of beings and bank accounts.

Massive online role-playing games have been hugely popular in recent years, with millions of people playing such games as “World of Warcraft” and “Lord of the Rings Online.” Most players assume the roles of wizards or sword-wielding knights and pay about $15 per month to wage magical combat with fantasy creatures and each other in relatively safe T-rated games.

However, a few upcoming titles will test the boundaries of genre, price or taste.

Wizards won’t be welcome in “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa.” Gamers will play as human survivors seeking to fend off an alien race known as the Bane. The game is now in the closed-beta-testing stage.

The game by NCsoft also will break convention by incorporating the kind of fast-paced action that’s more common in shooters and also cutting back on the mind-boggling array of hot keys for special attacks, potions and spells that are common in fantasy games. However, it maintains its role-playing credibility by keeping the need for twitchy trigger fingers and lightning-fast reflexes to a minimum.

In addition, “Tabula Rasa” will incorporate a richer story line than is typical in massive online games. It also will confront the player with numerous ethical dilemmas that will need to be resolved.

In the demo, these elements appeared to combine for virtually nonstop action and lots of fun.

Sony Online Entertainment offers yet another world to explore with “Pirates of the Burning Seas.” It’s a swashbuckling adventure where you get to command your own pirate ship.

Another NCsoft game is designed for cheap thrills. “Dungeon Runners” is available now for free download — and requires no monthly fee to play. Well … there’s a $4.99 monthly fee that permits access to special content, such as the two-handed battle sitar. And, yes, this is a game with a big sense of humor.

The game looks like a basic fantasy game with all of the trappings. However, it’s another title designed for those who like fast and fun action with little fuss — making it a good introduction to online gaming.

Finally, for those who find all this a little tame, Eidos has created “Age of Conan: The Hyborian Adventures.” It’s a medieval adventure for those looking for buckets of blood and bare breasts — probably not a good introduction to online gaming for most folks.


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