A new entry to 1UP's RPG blog takes a closer look at the evolution of player vs. player mechanics by examining the way PvP has been handled in multiplayer RPGs like the classic BBS door Legend of the Red Dragon, Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, EVE Online, Warhammer Online, and World of Warcraft. A snip about those first two titles:
The game is pretty simple. The goal is to reach level 12, at which point you're powerful enough to take on the Red Dragon terrorizing the town. Getting to that point means traveling into the forest to battle monsters, leveling up and using the gold to buy new weapons and armor. The early days of Ultima Online were truly exciting and dangerous, thanks to the possibility that a group of Dread Lords could show up while you were exploring the world or hitting up a dungeon. Eventually I decided my Grandmaster Magery was better used for ill, so I took the Dread Lord route too. An Ex Por, Corp Por, loot. Rinse and repeat :).
Along the way, it's possible to battle other players who are also questing to defeat the Red Dragon and take their money. The death penalty is having to get up and do something else, since the turns don't reset until the following day. What's really funny is that it's also possible to die while you're offline -- adventurers who decided to sleep in the great outdoors will probably logon to discover that they were robbed and murdered in the night.
That sort of mentality carried over to Ultima Online, which is generally regarded as the granddaddy of the modern MMORPG. Pretty anything goes in that world, and if you end up getting killed and losing everything, well tough luck. Hilariously, players took to running around naked to avoid losing their hard-earned loot.