If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the folks over at Jagex should be blushing: a group of young modders is working on rebuilding the entirety of Runescape using the Neverwinter Nights 2 mod engine. It's a bizarre project, taking a still operating MMORPG and replicating it inside of a game as old as Neverwinter Nights 2—even if private servers and mods still remain popular today. But for Aaron Hobbs, the creator of Molior RS, this six-year labor is as much a love letter to Runescape as it is a chance to take the world Jagex built to new places.
"I really enjoyed playing private servers on Neverwinter Nights," Aaron explains. "I also loved building my own maps—it was never anything serious, I was just a kid at the time. But at one point, it came into my head that I should rebuild an area of Runescape in Neverwinter Nights." Aaron showed his clan in Runescape his creation, and their positive response spurred him to keep building more and more areas for them to play around in. Six years later and that little hobby has turned into Molior RS, an ambitious recreation of Runescape built by Aaron and a team of four amateur modders.
Right now, Molior RS is incredibly early in development, a fact that Aaron couldn't stress enough as he ran me through the steps needed to log into their server. For one, Neverwinter Nights 2 hasn't aged nearly as gracefully as one might hope, so having to wrestle with its clunky user interface for the first time in years didn't make for a fond reunion. It's also worth mentioning that Molior RS isn't an MMORPG in the traditional sense. Unlike Runescape servers, which can support up to thousands of players at once time, Molior RS will likely only ever support a hundred or so. But I have to say, after spending a few hours poking around the swamps of Lumbridge, harvesting wood and killing goblins, I found Molior RS a charming experience. It's at once painfully rough but also endearing in how earnest it all is. It's also evident that, in many ways, the Neverwinter Nights 2 engine is straining from the ways Aaron and his team have had to contort it to mimic Runescape.
Molior RS starts players on its version of Runescape's Tutorial Island, a place where they can learn the basics of interacting with NPCs, combat, gathering, and harvesting. Even though it's been many years since I last logged into Runescape, everything felt quite familiar to me. Objects in the environment, like tree stumps, can be clicked on to harvest resources, and many of the skills present in Runescape are in Molior RS. But there are moments when you begin to see how Molior RS struggles to reconcile the different designs between Runescape and Neverwinter Nights 2. When making my character, for example, I still had to choose a class and an alignment—old Dungeons and Dragons concepts that Molior RS is forced to contend with even though they have no place in Runescape.
Runescape's skill system is probably where Molior RS wrestles with Neverwinter Nights 2 the most, as the games feature drastically different mechanics and character progression. In Neverwinter Nights 2, which uses Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 edition rules, your character is the product of abilities like strength, wisdom, and dexterity, which further impact various skills, spells, and special feats. Runescape, however, features a much simpler system without class restrictions where players can level up every skill independently just by partaking in specific activities. Right now, Molior RS is on its fourth rendition of the skill system. It's been a massive undertaking only made possible thanks to Triston Barker, the lead programmer for Molior RS, and his ability to dive deeper into the Neverwinter Nights 2 toolkit and reprogram it from the inside out.
"The way we had skills first set out is that Aaron wrote conversations with all the objects, so you'd basically be talking to a tree stump if you wanted to chop it up," Colton laughs. "That didn't work out well." Phase two was just as shaky, but it wasn't until Triston joined the team that the skill system started making real progress. He's since rewritten it twice. His knowledge of the C# programming language allows him to tinker with entire blocks of Neverwinter Nights 2's source code, something that Colton believes "they were never intended to do" by developer Obsidian Entertainment.
It's easy to look at Molior RS and criticize the way it tries to force Runescape's round blocks into Neverwinter Night's square holes, but Aaron and Colton embrace those differences as what makes their game unique. "We tell people when they first join Molior RS not to play it like they would Runescape. We want them to enjoy it for what it is rather than what they think it should be," Aaron says. Part of that is a bigger emphasis on exploration, a concept that Aaron suggests has been missing from Runescape as players focus more on "min-maxing their characters."
The massive amount of time needed to get Molior RS this far is evident, yet I still couldn't shake the big question of why anyone would want to play what is easily perceived as a rickety imitation of a professionally developed MMORPG. While private servers for MMORPGs often preserve snapshots of MMOs as they existed during certain points in their history, allowing players the opportunity to relive those nostalgic early years, Molior RS is something else entirely.
"We never want to take Runescape's place," says Colton. "We want to create something that takes Runescape somewhere new. Molior RS takes place about 160 years before Runescape, so there's a lot of lore that we can play with, quests we can change, and locations that are entirely different." Simply put, Molior RS aims to be one of the first living pieces of MMORPG fanfiction.
My big mistake was assuming that Runescape didn't have any lore worth digging into. After hearing Aaron and Colton chatter excitedly about the gods and history that Molior RS gets to flesh out from Runescape's backstory, I'm beginning to see why Molior RS might appeal to hardcore Runescape fans. Aaron, who describes himself as a Runescape "completionist," has seen and done just about everything there is to see and do in Runescape. Molior RS allows him to enhance his love of Runescape without waiting for Jagex to push out more content. "We've probably spent hundreds of hours just reading up on Runescape's lore and redesigning locations so it fits that lore better," he explains. "But we want to stay as loyal as possible to what Runescape is."
In the wake of Nostalrius, a private server for vanilla World of Warcraft, , I wanted to know how Aaron and Colton felt about Molior RS falling to the same fate. "We get questions and comments all the time about it," Colton says. "It's something we're thinking about a lot."
In the genre of MMOs, protecting intellectual copyright is a contentious issue caught between the zealous passion of fans who invest thousands of dollars and hours and the ever-changing nature of MMOs. Blizzard shut down Nostalrius because , but some fans have criticized the closure because they believe vanilla World of Warcraft is superior to where the game is now. Not every company takes such an aggressive approach, however. In 2015, an Everquest private server called Project 1999 (formerly Sony Online Entertainment) as an official fan group, allowing them to continue running their server without threat of being shut down.
Aaron and Colton hope that Jagex will give them a similar blessing, but so far they have been ignored. "It's going to make Jagex look bad but it's the truth," Colton says before detailing all of his attempts at starting a dialogue with Jagex. Each of them started with a positive conversation with a member of Jagex's mod team before being ignored entirely for months on end. Colton has also approached Obsidian Entertainment about the possibility of letting Molior RS go standalone so that players won't need to purchase Neverwinter Nights 2. While Obsidian "seemed positive," Atari, who actually owns the rights to Neverwinter Nights 2, hasn't responded to their emails. Because Molior RS only borrows Runescape's intellectual property rather than the source code used by so many private server projects, Aaron and Colton hope that they can continue to work in peace.
I contacted Jagex myself on the issue and received an email proclaiming the value of before adding that "Jagex assesses intellectually [sic] property issues on a case by case basis, and does not comment on specific fan-made projects."
Molior RS is currently in closed beta, which you can access by donating one dollar via Patreon. Aaron tells me that this is used to control how many people are trying out the game while it's in such a vulnerable and early state. Eventually, Molior RS will be free to play for everyone that is interested. After what I've seen, I'd recommend waiting until it's in a more playable state, as bugs and glitches are everywhere. But if you want to judge that for yourself, all you'll need is a copy of Neverwinter Nights 2 and a to circumvent the now defunct GameSpy multiplayer portal. And a dollar. Whether you're a fan of Neverwinter Nights 2 or Runescape, Molior RS represents a fascinating—if flawed—intersection between the two, as Aaron and his team pulls the organs from one game and shove them into another. It's a Frankenstein-esque monster haphazardly stitched together purely by Aaron's desire to expand on the universe that Jagex built, but it's also a kind of beautiful testament to the passion that only these online worlds can inspire.