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PostPosted: Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:45 am 
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So I'm about to run a play by post game. Hopefully by the end of the year.

It runs in parallel with a real life game I'm currently running. As a result, I'm trying to think of ways to do it. I think the problem many people have when they try to run play by post games is they try to exactly mimic what they do on tabletop.

I'm pretty sure this is a mistake.

So I want to know:
1) What elements of a tabletop game, am I keeping in my PBP game, just out of habit, when they don't really need to be there?
2) What elements can be added, that are specific to PBP game?

There's probably also a little bit of dependency on what sort of game you want to run, so lets keep it general for now.

Here, so far, are my ideas regarding the biggest problem.

Problem #1: Pacing
One major setback of PBP vs Tabletop is pacing. Needing to wait for responses from people. Lets say the average person takes 1 minute to check the forum, and respond when it is their turn. It takes another minute to decide what to do. It takes another minute to write it up. 3 minutes here is being exceptionally generous.

With 4 players and a DM, that's 15 minutes per round. Assuming clockwork people are playing.

Now lets bump up the "time it takes to check the forums" to 2 hours if you can access them at work. 10 hours if you can't. Your round now takes longer, whilst in game only 6 seconds of time have passed. An Orc has been stabbed, a crossbow loaded, a sword unsheathed, and a goblin missed someone.

2 days have passed. It's hard to maintain excitement at that pace. (So maybe suspense games work better? I'm not sure.)

Solution #1: Initiative order.
I'm removing initiative order all together. Players may act in any order they post. This stops people needing to wait for someone to post before they can. This helps alleviate some of the problems with pacing problems noted above.

    As an aside, I am however keeping initiative as a stat to determine flat-footedness. Players will be flat footed the first round if they fail an initiative save. This keeps the stat useful if they've spent points on say, improved initiative.

    "How can they act and be flat footed?"

    Well I'm glad you asked. I essentially am saying "You haven't got your bearings, you're just acting recklessly in your first round of action". You don't need your bearings (as much) to attack someone. You do need your bearings to determine if you're surrounded, enemy count, weapon reach, ambushers, nearby cover, etc. Your defense suffers more than your attack when surprised.

This creates its own problem though. Players can now act in a more complex fashion. Some people will get to go twice (or more times) instead of someone who couldn't post that day. Initiative order is there to ensure a fairness of action which has now been removed in favour of timing.

There is also the element of needing the DM to comment on your action if it impacts the world. This should level the playing field here. Players can talk among themselves freely, or even attack a goblin, but the goblin doesn't get hit until I say he does. So a player naturally falls into a one world-impacting action, per DM intervention round.

Solution #2: Narrative play.
I'm instituting narrative play. "I attack goblin #2" is fine as your post. Once you attack Goblin #2 though, you stop acting, until you post again.

If you post narratively on the other hand: "I attack the goblins, trying to cleave my way through to the leader, in an attempt to make them scatter", I now have something to work with. It's now the DM's job to describe that action, (and its success or failure), over the course of however many rounds this takes. This allows someone to make a single post, and remain "in the game" acting every round, for many rounds, without needing to repost.

"What about failure?"
Oh my, you're asking all the right questions today. This does pose a problem. If the player has included it ("... and if I fail, I'll retreat to defend the other players") then great. If he hasn't the DM will just have to make a call as to whether the character would try again, or not.

Solution #3: DM Control.
I plan to roll the dice, on my player's behalf more often than usual. I dislike this. This takes away a little bit of the player's sense of control over their character, but in order to fix the pacing problems, I'm running the game more narratively from a DM's perspective too.

If I'm rolling, I can take my players "statements of intent" and go from there, narrating a few rounds at a time in one post, rather than waiting for 4 players to make a post per round.

The players don't need to be there, for me to write up a story. On the other hand, I don't want to limit my player's control over the story either. I'm still trying to come up with further solutions to hand back more control.

So, what other ideas do people have for PBP games? What other problems have you faced that need solutions? Do you like my ideas? Do you think they are bum-gravy derived from inexperience and naivete?

TL;DR: PBP is slow. Need make go fast. Help.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 26, 2013 10:28 am 
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I am agog that anyone would run a PBM that required rounds. PBMs originated, wait for it, with snail mail. They had a turnaround of a week or a month. I played four of them in my teens. And I loved them. I used to make myself sick as I waited for the mail man.
PBMs were sat in two extremes. The first being a computer generated response to typed in data. The second being a handwritten (and I do mean written) response to your hand written response.
None of them used D&D style rounds. You basically gave the DM (and he likewise) broad-brush goals. Then padded it with fluff. The more like a novel chapter you could make your round the better results you got. The more everyone enjoyed reading your posts the more the DM rewarded you.
I guess PBMs (unless playing live on chat), are best relegated to detective style games or any form of investigation. Your PCs want to know how the diplomatic mission is going in Town X? Then PBM it. Present them with a page of background, their resources and get them to pick from archetype PCs. Then get their initial responses and actions and progress.
I think that PBMs are utterly unsuited for anything faster.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 26, 2013 10:53 pm 
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See, this is why I made this post, I assumed I'd be going over old ground for those more experienced in PBP than myself.

Two caveats:
1) Having done a little forum based PBP, I've mainly seen it done as a rounds-based system.
2) I'm mainly using this as a way to get my old players back together from a previous campaign. Players who are currently separated by seas and oceans, and in one case, the entire planet's core. It's using the same system we used to play in, because we're playing the end of the same campaign.

Having said those two caveats, this post is meant to be more general than my personal problems with PBP. :)


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 10:41 pm 
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I never played a snail mail (PBM) game, but I did play in a couple of e-mail (PBEM) games, one of which ran for nearyl two years. Both were RPGs.

Neither were particularly combat intensive; roleplaying was the primary mode. We had character stats and the like, but rarely did anything that required a roll (and if we did, used an online diceroller that email the results to both player and GM).

We found a turnaround of a couple of mails a week worked well. Post length varied, depending on how much we had to do or say.

In the long-running game, we happened to be online at the same time for a notable combat (not easy since the GM was in Hawaii, several players strewn around the continental USA, me in the UK and one player in New Zealand). This we ran through a chat interface, with the GM sending files showing the tactical situation, etc. We did use full tactical rules for this one.

But on the whole I found the experience much slower paced, far less gamey - more like writing a group novel than anything else. Mood, setting, interaction between PCs and between PCs and NPCs all seemed much more prominent than checking the door for traps, if you see what I mean.

I enjoyed both games a great deal; the long-running one, a Harn game called Peoni's Tear, I rate among the best games I've played in.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 01, 2013 5:07 pm 
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i didnt actually read the above, so im sorry if i repeat some points, but here is what i found best to work in my game i ran post by post for the past few weeks.

if every single player doesn't respond, then i simply write one post at the and of the day.
i they do indeed all post, then i post a reply right after.

as for initiative, the order they post in determines their initiative for every round, its the simplest and also reflects on the players initiative to post on forum


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:51 pm 
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I agree with what you said about suspense. I've done a fair amount of PBP before the GRC and I've enjoyed two types the most.

The first is free-form narrative RPG. The threads read more like novels than a typical RPG session. The players were writing a novel together with the GM arbitrating to make it seems interesting. The GM replied whenever it was appropriate, and sometimes we went on for days before needing the GM to arbitrate or move the plot forward. It was quite fun, but the hands-off approach of GMs in this case created tension between some players frequently, and from that, drama.

The second is rigid by-the-book dungeon crawling, encounter-based, and arena pvp types. These ones took a very dedicated GM to pull off, with maps and constant updates. In dungeon crawlers and encounter-based games, the rounds were updated at a constant frequency set by the GM. So say it was daily, then the players can get in one post per day, and then the GM would describe the results at the end of the day.

For example, in one GURPS game I was in with over 16 players, about 6 were "good guys", knights and elven rangers, hot on the tail of orcs/hobgoblin (the other 8 players), who had kidnapped our lord's princess. We would all post in secret, unless a teammate was nearby in the map, and by the end of the day the GM describes what happens and updates the tactical map. I thoroughly enjoyed the game and waited anxiously every day to know the results of my action. It built suspense, especially knowing that my adversaries are thinking humans as well. First scenario was the orcs launching a raid on the keep with the princess, and the knights mounting a desperate, yet futile defense. A couple of knights were felled by Toofmasher's maul before he was felled by a couple of well-placed crossbow bolts to the vitals. The second scenario was a heated chase through the elven forests as the orcs made away with the lord's daughter. I thought this style of consistent updates was the way to go for these kind of games.

In case a player didn't post in that day, the player either gave rough "AI" for his PC "If the enemy advances at me, I will brace for a charge" or "If I see anyone coming through, I will shoot them.", otherwise the GM used his own judgement, taking into consideration the PC's personality, situation, and drawbacks (GURPS term).

Overall, I enjoyed a good percentage of the PBP games I had played as long as they were active.


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