Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Playing by Post-It Note

Now that I covered at a high level the PBEM campaign that I am running I wanted to get into a few of the gritty details about how it is being run...

I'm using the Yahoo forums for my newest game which allows for play by post, or response via group email. It also allows me to post up my sketches, pictures, dungeon maps, and has a nice integrated table feature that I populated with combat and treasure and exp and anything else that needs to be referenced by the GM and the players frequently. After I started this game, I found another very similar game based on a dark age barbaric home-brewed world similar to the Conan books. For that game the GM is using the LL ruleset with some changes like: class based weapon damage and other mods that allow demihumans to pick a class (instead of Race = Class).

It's not as much immediate fun as playing on the tabletop. You don't get the fast pace, the dice rolls, and the bs'ing with buddies time that is always associated with tabletop RPG'ing. However, playing by email does have a few advantages:

1. The game never stops. Each of my players tends to post ~2-4 times/week, so I usually have ~3-4 posts per day. That is almost 1000 posts a year.

2. Playing by email gives the GM tons of time to "think on his feet" and make rulings. If a player does something that forces me to make a ruling, I have plenty of time to look up important rulebooks, think about the consequences of a ruling, and then type in my response. This avoids 90% of the take-back rulings where you may say something in "the heat of battle" that then leads to player abuse in the future and then you have to erase that one from the home-brew ruleset annals.

3. I'm running a sandbox style campaign and I haven't had to do any pre-work at all! There is always plenty of time for me to allow my ideas about an area stew in my brain for days/weeks before the players will stumble into an area. If the players say, lets head to that Haunted Graveyard to the west of the village, I probably have 2-3 real days of time to construct what they will find, while they... finish up roleplaying their flirting with the tavern wenches, gather the important gear, discuss the order, travel the distance, possibly encounter some randomly rolled creatures along the trip, and then finally show up at the rusty gates at the edge of the graveyard. In a tabletop game, the same GM may only have 30 minutes to think about the same encounter and finish all the above tasks.

4. If characters want to do something "in-secret" that they don't want to let the other players know, they can email what they want to directly to my email address. I've tried many ways of doing this in table-top games, but if the other players at the table know that your character has a shady past and suddenly you leave the room with the GM to discuss something in private, or hand the GM a tiny scrap of paper with something written on it - they know something is up. Even though they are supposed to keep Player Knowledge separate from Character Knowledge - suddenly I have players asking me, "why didn't I get a perception check or a saving throw or something to notice what he is up to".

5. Descriptions. While most of the time I keep my posts short and to-the-point, at times I can really go for it and write an epic description of a place that would be hard for me as a DM to roll off the cuff. I can describe the sights, smells, sounds of an area, go back through it, proof it, think about it again and completely re-write it, etc... This is fun when the players enter a new city for the first time and I want to give it a feel. I get to be as descriptive and creative as I can be and get it all down to the best of my writing ability.

6. Player to player roleplaying. While this is something that my oldest group of players (now disbanded) were really good at - for some folks it is hard for them to develop their characters personality and think of how she/he would respond to different situations and other characters. With this gaming format I have been blown away by the creativity and writing ability of some of my characters. One of my characters was an editor for an un-disclosed magazine in Scotland. He was so good at writing posts for his character that at times I felt I was reading a novel of the highest grade. He eventually left the game - since he was more interested in focusing on story-based freeform roleplaying without having the "game" aspects intrude - whereas the rest of our group wanted a balance between roleplaying banter and exploration, and dungeon crawling, and even a little hack-n-slash now and again.

Well, I can't think of anything else at the moment, if there are any readers of this blog out there, comment if you have any other ideas/suggestions/etc...

I think this is all I am going to post about PBEM gaming for now. Future posts will involve a couple of features about the games I am running and playing in that I am a little conflicted about and need to think more about before I post in depth on the subjects. Just to tickle the interests of my zero readers/followers :)... the topics will be: combat in PBEM, dice rolling (how to do this in a PBEM setting), player control/influence over how the game progresses, party consensus (or lack of it) and posters who don't seem to understand how to put action verbs into a post and how these problems seem to be the greatest entropic time-sucks on a PBEM campaign.

1 comment:

  1. I can't thank you enough for posting this. I've been playing in a weekly chat game for about a year now, and that rocks, but my main experience with PBP has been two games that both crashed and burned within a couple of weeks. I know that a lot of people really like PBP, and I love the text aspect of chat gaming enough that its sister-style intrigues me, so I've been looking around and thinking and trying to figure out what went wrong with those games and what the strengths of the format are.

    So, basically, keep posting about it. Please!