I’m a gamer. More precisely, I am a role-playing gamer. If you don’t know what that means, feel free to use a search engine to learn about it. Go ahead… I’ll wait until you come back…
OK, so you know what an RPG is. I’ve been the GM of my group for nearly three years now. I’ve been a member of the same group, with slight changes in player composition, for thirteen years. The problem, throughout the entire run, but especially for the last three years, is the frequency with which we are able to meet to play. The reasons are numerous, such as family events, sickness, work, life in general. The most recent game with this group happened way back in January. (Dear Lord, it’s really been half a year since we last gamed!)
So, with this dearth of gaming, I have really been itching to game. Circumstances haven’t changed, so I don’t foresee us gaming for a while. So, what does one do when one is jonesing for a game, but one’s group cannot meet regularly? Well, one could find new players and start a new game. Unfortunately, one would also have to be able to meet regularly with said new group, and this one can’t really commit to that.
Alright, then, what does one do in that case? Well, in my case, I’ve found a new gaming outlet: Play-by-Post (PbP) gaming!
PbP is a style of RPG that occurs entirely online. The game itself is played out on an online forum, where the GM posts about a situation, and the players post their characters’ response to the situation. The GM then posts how the situation changes due to their actions, and so on.
Here’s the conundrum: I’ve never participated in a PbP before, as a player or a GM. I’ve read many PbP game forums, so I have an idea what PbP games are like, but I still have no first-hand experience with them. Nevertheless, I wanted to forge ahead, and learn as I go. I was fortunate – I was able to find three players who have never been involved in a PbP either. I call myself fortunate in this regard because we are all learning together, and I feel a little more confident because of it. It is parallel to my initial foray into tabletop pen-and-paper (PnP) RPGs… but that’s a topic for another post.
Another difference for me is the game, Gamma World. I’ve only ever played and GMed Dungeons and Dragons, in all of its editions. Well, once I did GM a Toon RPG game, but that was all, and I considered it a disaster – not a fault of the game either, but of the person running it. But I digress. So, this is my first time GMing Gamma World, my first time being involved with PbP, leading a group of first-time PbP players. Whew! For those who may be interested, the campaign, But Not A Drop To Drink, can be found on the ENnie Award-nominated site Obsidian Portal.
So, what have I learned about this new (to me) style of RPG so far?
- The pace is slow, even glacial, compared to the traditional, face-to-face PnP game. We’ve been running this game since July 7 – ten days ago. I’ve made three “in-character” posts, each of my players have made two. Fifteen minutes of in-game time has elapsed so far. I anticipate that to slow even more once combat breaks out. This pace has its advantage – each of us has ample time to consider our actions and reactions, to read earlier posts for information (just in case we missed something previously, or, perish the thought! – forgot something), or to ask for more information or clarification. It has disadvantages – for example, every time I post, as GM, I find myself waiting eagerly for my players to respond.
- Your words are paramount. In a text-only communication medium, your writing must be clear, precise, understandable, and informative. This is more important for the GM, it seems, because the GM is responsible for the world, the NPCs, the events, and, basically, everything the players are not responsible for. Still, the players must make sure they are clearly describing their characters’ thoughts, emotions and actions.
- PbPs are more akin to collaborative fiction than to traditional RPGs. Depending on the protocols agreed to (or set in place by the GM), the players have more narrative control over the scene than in PnP games. Is there a rock on the ground that the character can use to smash a lock? Well, there is if the player says so, and as long as it doesn’t contradict how the GM has set the scene.
Honestly, I’m very happy with how this PbP game is unfolding. I find myself eagerly anticipating the players’ next posts, as well as the opportunity to post my own replies. The next “deadline” for the players’ in-character posts is tomorrow evening, Monday, 18 July at 11:59 PM. I plan to post a follow-up report here at Elf Steaks in a few months, once we all get into a grove and our game and style has more time to develop.
Do any of you have experience with PbP games? What were the protocols you followed? Please comment below.