Play-by-Post Gaming: Player Advice

Green DragonI have made several posts on Play-by-Post (PbP) gaming over the past week or so. Each of these posts have had a heavy GM focus where we’ve focused on pacing, narrative and props for PbPs. Today I want to talk about things you can do as a player to help contribute to the success of a PbP. One cannot expect the GM to carry all of the weight!

Pacing was one of the first areas I talked about from the GM side and the importance of keeping the game moving along at a reasonable rate. A player can also contribute to keeping the pace moving in a PbP.

Do your best to make your posts in a timely manner to keep from holding a game up. If you are going to be gone for an extended period of time, give the GM a heads up. They often just appreciate knowing and are happy to NPC your character while you are away. If things are simply very busy in your real life – and lets face it, that’s why we’re playing a PbP – then even simple one liners can be better than massive, verbose posts to keep things moving forward.

Now with that said, when the time permits do focus on descriptive posts. Just as descriptive narrative is important for a GM in his or her posts, do the same as a player. Add those extra details to your posts! They help others get a better feel for your character as well. Describe your actions and mannerisms, give people a hint as to what is going on in your character’s head. Bring your character to life! Some of the most memorable folks I have played with have posted in a form that was quite enjoyable to read.

Another phenomenon I see happen occasionally in PbP is player’s talking past each other or acting in a vacuum. Try to interact with the other players in your party. And when they try to interact with you through conversation or actions be sure to respond! Building this interaction with party members can go far to keep people engaged with the game and go far to keeping the PbP successful.

And finally – help your GM out and make sure you actions are clearly posted. Often I find putting something behind a spoiler tag as out of character that clearly states your actions can help make things a little easier for the GM. A happy GM makes for a happy PbP group!

By doing these things as a player you can help make the PbP you are playing in successful and a good time for all.

It certainly takes a combination of player support and GM support to result in a long running PbP. Sometimes the game just doesn’t work out – but I think if GMs and players start with the advice covered in this series of posts that you are well on your way to a successful play-by-post game!

Play-by-Post Gaming: Props

Over the past week I have talked about the importance of keeping the players engaged with a Play-by-Post (PbP) game. We have covered the importance of pacing and offered a variety of ways to keep the pace of a PbP moving along at a reasonable rate. We have talked about making use of vivid descriptions and taking advantage of the PbP format to bring scenes alive that are sometimes more difficult to do in face to face game. This installment we will be talking about props!

PbP games are obviously quite text heavy as they are played out over message boards and email. For those using message boards there are a few things you can do however to help add some additional flavor to your post. Using even just a few of these suggestions will help you run a successful PbP.

First there is the ability to change the text color within your post on most message boards. This one can be hit or miss in my opinion and sometimes running it by your group to see which style they prefer is wise. But, if your group likes it, you can easily mark your words written in character with a different color than the bulk of your description text. Have each player do the same for when their character talks and the conversation readily stands out as one reads through it.

While words are great as we noted in covering descriptions a few days ago, sometimes a picture can go far to help get the picture across to your players. There are easy ways to show your players a picture of an particular NPC, a marking they have seen or even the entrance to a building. Message boards generally have a feature to allow you to embed an image within your post.

My preferred way for posting images in my posts is to use a Dropbox.com account which has a “Public” folder. Anything you place into that folder (images, word docs, text files, etc.) can be shared with someone by using the public link provided for it. So to share an image of a recurring NPC I can drop the image into the public portion of my Dropbox folder, right click and choose copy public link and then using [img] tags in most message boards that support BB Code embed that image in the post. Once you have done it a time or two it is quite easy.

Building from this, one can also apply the same method to posting combat maps. Having actual combat maps help players know where they are standing and can reduce confusion. I usually use Paint.Net to take a map image and then one can either use tokens or do as I do – use colored dots to represent the characters and the enemies they are facing. Once you have the map looking the way you want, copy it to the public Dropbox folder and embed the link in your message board post. Now your players can see the map and have a clearer idea of where they are on the map.

Just using a few of these suggestions you can easily give your players that little bit extra to keep them engaged with the game you are running. It only takes a little more time to include these things in your posts, but they can help keep your players interest which leads to the successful PbP in the long run.

My focus so far in these Play-by-Post articles has been from the GM’s side of the screen. My next Play-by-Post article will be from the perspective of a player and offer some suggestions on what you can do as a player to contribute to a long running PbP game!

Play-by-Post Gaming: Narrative

Earlier this week I talked about the importance of pacing in a Play-by-Post (PbP) game. The appropriate pace for your group of players helps keep them engaged which in turn helps lead to a long running PbP game. While pace is important there are other elements of a PbP that can help keep your players engaged. Today we take a look at the power of description and narration within posts.

When browsing other PbPs I frequently see posts from GMs that have fallen to cardboard, one dimensional NPCs or combats that have become “swing and hit” or “swing and miss” posts. The posts are brief and lack any significant descriptive elements. These posts miss out on one of the great advantages PbPs do bring to the table – a medium to really describe the NPCs, their mannerisms and environment.

As GM, take the time to describe that tavern the characters enter. The message board medium allows you the format to describe the smells, the sounds and appearance of that tap room. Take a moment to describe a few of the patrons. Make the place come alive for your players, use your posts to add depth that one might not normally be able to do during a face-to-face game.

You can also bring NPCs to life through descriptive posting as well. Take the extra time to describe an unusual mannerism or perhaps a certain smell associated with the person. Describe their clothing – is it rich and elegant or old and thread-bare? Keep track of these things for later in the game when the NPC reappears so you are consistent through the game with your NPC mannerisms.

This also carries through to combat posts as well. Don’t let your combat posts turn into simple, over mechanical “swing and miss” posts. Add some description to the combat posts. Liven up the combat. Describe the sword swings, describe the parries and describe the glancing blows off of armor. Make note of the sounds happening. Do this for both attacks that hit and the ones that miss. Building up a combat post with lively description can also help draw your players in and keep them engaged with the game.

As mentioned in my pacing post earlier in the week, keeping players engaged with the game will lead to a successful PbP. Making sure that your GM posts include enough description to build an immersive world and play experience will also contribute to keeping your players engaged with your game.

Play-by-Post Gaming: Pacing

Play-by-post (PbP) gaming is oftentimes a popular alternative for people to play their favorite roleplaying game if their real life schedule is too packed to reliably schedule a game. PbP games can be quite rewarding but they aren’t without their challenges to GM or play in. Let’s face it, PbP games can move slow, like molasses in January slow. Today we take a closer look at pacing in a PbP game from the gamemaster’s perspective.

Pacing is one of several keys to a successful PbP game. Pacing can go far to help keep players engaged in your game. While complete control of pacing is not always possible as gamemaster, you can help set the standard for your game.

Before the game even begins set the expectations for posting frequency up front. If you want players to post daily then make sure those expectations are stated up front. Keep in mind that people playing PbP games tend to do so because their schedule is busy, so a more realistic four to five times per week posting rate might be a better start. By setting these expectations up front you can help get a mix of players that plan to post at a pace fitting for your game.

Once a frequency is established it will be up to you as gamemaster to help keep this pace and keep things moving. Do this by quick replies to in and out of character questions that come up. This helps shows you are watching the game and engaged and tends to carry over to your players. In addition make sure your GM posts for the game come at a regular pace as well that falls in line with the frequency the group agreed to.

Handling combat in a PbP can be a tricky beast. I find having all of the players roll initiative and post their actions for the round. Using this method the GM will occasionally have to make slight modifications on a player’s actions if someone’s actions higher in the initiative count did something to change the scene slightly. This does take some player trust of the GM but it pays off by helping combat move in a timely manner. This has shown to be a worthwhile trade-off in my opinion.

Another hazard of combat in a PbP is if a player is slow to post during combat. This can take a lot of steam out of a game. In these situations it is imperative for the GM to keep the combat rounds rolling forward. There are a couple of different ways to do this and still be fair to the player that is away.

If it is early in the game and you don’t quite know the play style of the player, keeping them out of danger the best you can is a good option. Have them take a full defensive position or keep them towards the back away from harm.

If the player is already engaged in combat then go ahead and roll their attacks for them. When the time is appropriate you can have them withdraw for fall back to a safer position.

In longer running PbPs where you have a good idea of how the player runs their character then you can often NPC the character but have them do their normal actions. A GM often knows if a character tends to engage in melee, ranged attacks or use spells and such.

The key is to not let a player going afk slow the game down too much. Don’t punish the player for not posting during combat, but don’t hold up the game for them either.

Pacing in a PbP game is one of the keys to keeping your players engaged. Engaged players will go far in making for a more successful PbP experience.

What tricks have you found to help keep the pace up for a PbP game?