PbP Helpful Hints and Ideas

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PbP Helpful Hints and Ideas

PostPosted by verdilak » Sun Jul 27, 2008 5:29 am

Running a PbP game is a bit more challenging that a tabletop game, and at the same time, much easier. Things to consider:

1. Players.
For PbP a large group is much easier to manage than face to face so consider allowing more players to join that you normally would. Also unless you know for a fact that all the players will be committed to the game, expect to lose a few before the game even gets rolling. Also, be aware that you may loose players during the course of the game, so you may want to confirm a player’s commitment before making them an essential role in the storyline.

Don't get disheartened if you lose players. It happens. If someone doesn't post for a month, kill them off. It'll keep up the drama of the situation to have main characters dying like flies. Of course if there's a suitable reason and they let you know why they've been slow give them a break. For quitters show no mercy! At least, though, let your players know this before you play. Also, if you kill off a char due to inactivity, let the player make up a new one.

2. Storyline.
If it's your first time running a game PbP stick with something small and pre-published. Have a definite beginning and end. (The end of the module for example) Of course if at the end of the module the players want another you can do that but don't count on it, that way you don't waste too much time planning something epic that will only disappoint you.

Next review the material you've got, if it's something you've made or something you've purchased after you've read it/re-read it go ahead and put it away. Now write an outline of how the story goes, less linear modules are obviously harder but most modules are linear even if they have several possible branch points. If the module does have several branch points draw a plot map instead of an outline.

What an outline or plot map does for you is get your memory keen on the expected progression (you'll be able to run it much smoother and be prepared for any pitfalls that might arise) and make points really stand out that could pose problems be it due to PbP's limitations or the tendencies of your players. Save that outline and review it frequently throughout the game to keep you on track.

Getting a game started takes an enormous amount of time to write up the initial hook and get everyone into the story. It is recommended to have all the PCs start in the same opening scene, rather than separated and having to work themselves together. The classic bar/tavern is great, though overly used.

You need a structure which you can stick to and which is written down. That's the main thing.

The reason for this, as I see it, is that because PbP is such a long term process you yourself need to have a clear picture of what is happening next. It's relatively easy to come up with scenes, hooks, plots, and denouement but it's just as easy to forget it in the months, and yes, years that it will take to get to that point.

Having a solid outline will prevent this and keep the focus on your original ideas, which are what got you to set the game up in the first place.

Having said all this PbP is also an excellent medium in which to improvise. Your players throw you a curveball? That's fine as you have hours, if not days, to come up with something fun that'll engage them, reassure them they aren't on rails, and still keep to the main plot.

3. Hooks.
What you have in the introduction is a great hook, players that play those types of characters should come in droves as it is well written and descriptive. I see no reason why the game should not get off the ground successfully, after that is the problem.

Many people can write a good hook and often do, but a hook does not make a game. A hook starts the game. A one shot game is one where someone thinks up a wonderful hook or opening scene, writes it up and gets the game going, but then finds that the opening scene only lasts for that one scene and once it is over .... the game dies. I have been in several "one shots" and wish to not be in anymore. You should have written down someplace where it cannot be lost, the ultimate objective of the game, I am talking mission wise, not "to have a great PbP game".

Once you have the start and the finish you have to figure out what is to happen between the two. I know that players drive the story, but during down times the story steers the players.

Some of these could be done before others, but for the most part, the players could unknowingly select the order for you. Each one of the "side missions" could take some time to complete, some longer then others. If the game is going well, you can come up with more "side missions" for the players to complete, but make sure that they all have the "climactic scene" in mind.

When each mission is completed the players should be able to see that they are closer to the games conclusion then they were before.

4. Combat.
The GM should do all the dice rolling. The reason is, it makes it much easier for everyone involved, but you don't have to do it this way. I am just saying that it is easier to roll, describe what happens, and keep it within the storyline. Every GM fudges rolls, and PbP is definitely where you will want to do that. I have ran and played in games where they (the games) died because we ended up waiting for people to use a die roller.

I would think that a new GM should tell the players up front that he will be doing all the rolls, waiting for a player to post his actions. The whole waiting for that same player to post his rolls takes too long and other players loss interest.

Also there are times in a story that things either must happen or must not happen. If you control the die this is not a problem.

Example: If the main bad guy in a modern game tries to step across the street to confront the PCs and gets hit by a drunk driver ... it would be best if he is not instantly killed, it would ruin the fun for the players (they wouldn't "defeat" him, the stray car would have).

For those of you that say "that's cheating", your right, cheating for the good of the story. I have told my players that there are times that I will alter the rolls to get the result that will serve the story. I don't do this often, and never to go "against" the players ... but at times it must be done.

Remember that all PbP's should have this rule, "No PC vs PC combat". Players should know that in combat the GM controls the dice. Combat between players is a "no win" situation as both will most likely end up very hurt at the very second that the bad guys show up. Another example of "cheating" that I do that keeps the fighting between players to a minimum. Sometimes, combat between players has to happen. If you game gets into one of these spots, go with the flow, but unless you are ready for their character's to die, it's a great idea to have some villain show up near the end of the fight. Besides which, unnecessary combat an bog down the game for no reason.

Keep combat swift and brutal. Combat can really grind down the speed of progress and in PbP momentum is all. When you enter combat tell your players: OK we're in combat. I need a post a day until it's over and then we can relax a bit again. You must get through it ASAP. Don't feel like you have to stick to the rules as written as they're designed for tabletop gaming. Feel free to knock off a few combatants quicker than you might normally and have the dregs of the bad guys run away to tidy up loose ends.

Momentum as I said is all. Keep it up. A slow game is a dying game unless you have really dedicated players.

5. OOC and IC.
Make an OOC (Out Of Character) thread for all OOC chatter, questions, ect. Be sure to quote what you are questioning so that the GM knows exactly what you are asking about. If you get irritated by the amount of OOC chatter that has nothing to do with the game, either create a new thread for that, or send them elsewhere. It is nice to have one thread that is just about the game in OOC terms.

A player/GM will often leave a short OOC comment at the bottom of a length IC (In Character) post in an attempt to clarify his action (a detailed description of the character's thoughts as he jumps onto a table and charges in a blood-frenzy towards a villain is excellent, adding a few words to explain game terms is even better). This isn't hard and need not be intrusive. A GM normally has a preference with the recording of these clarifications, such as :
[charge at half-orc leader, using power attack +3dam]


Some players like to take things a step further and include relevant details in their OOC clarification. This can make a GM's life easier, but make sure the GM wants you to.
[charge at half-orc leader, using power attack +3. +7 to hit, 1d6+9damage]


If OOC comments are included in an IC post, the much prefered way to use them is for them to be grouped together in one block at the bottom of the IC post.

This is acceptable:
Summoning his inner reserves of emotion, Barbzilla charges the orc leader, shifting to a two handed grip on his mighty battle axe. He launches a ferocious blow at the chieftan's ugly face with all of his strength.
[ooc: initiate rage, charge the leader, and power attack for +3.]

and this annoying:
Summoning his inner reserves of emotion [ooc: initiate rage], Barbzilla charges the orc leader [ooc: charge at +2 to strike ], shifting to a two handed grip on his mighty battle axe [ooc: for 2x strength bonus]. He launches a ferocious blow at the chieftan's ugly face with all of his strength [ooc: power attack at +3]


A direct question (to player or GM) is a good example of what belongs in the OOC thread. Let's assume the players have just entered a room which the GM lovingly and in great detail described, but he neglected to explain just how many orcs it contained! The player should here head to the OOC thread and ask, the GM will then reply (possibly editing his former IC post to include the missing details) and the world will be saved without sullying the IC thread.

Do not chat OOC while IC on the same thread. Move the OOC chat to another thread. Same goes for signatures. It's good standard practice to disable signatures while typing out IC. Makes what happens much easier to read. It's just common courtesy. Also, try not to quote while IC. If you miss an opportunity to respond to something pages back, either respond normally if it makes sense to where your characters are, or just let it go. One last thing, emoticons have no place IC. None.

6. Posting.
Nothing sucks more than reading a 600 word post that says nothing interesting. Description and creativity are great, but irrelevant information and boring text are not. If you plan on writing a novel of a post, please please please make it interesting to read. Be careful how you take this one: I’m not saying don’t make long posts, because I actually enjoy long descriptive passages. What I’m saying is that redundant (repetitive) information and information that has no purpose other than to exist (e.g. a 400 word digression on the history of your character's boots while describing a combat action) do not belong in the game thread. If you feel the need to generate this much detail, do so in your character's personal thread. Also, remember to proofread and make ample use of the spell checker.

7. Multiple Postings.
Perform more than one action per post. Just because you don’t necessarily know how one of your actions is going to turn out doesn’t mean you cant post the next one, ESPECIALLY in a non combat situation. When we enter combat, things work differently. When outside combat, however, feel free to post 2, 3 or even 4 actions at a time. If you have 5 trivial actions to perform, you don’t necessarily need GM approval for every one. We aren't here to make the GM’s life difficult. HELP the GM, don’t try to slip one by him. I hardly feel it's a problem with most groups, and I'm sure if it becomes one, your GM will be the first to step on it.

In combat, you can really only post 1 action at a time, so this is where you get to shine. Make your action descriptions elaborate and interesting to read. Don’t just "hit the skeleton", instead "Parry a weak blow that was little more than an attempt to throw you off balance then respond in turn with a fierce mace swing to the skeleton’s left femur, chipping bone and metal alike, sending sounds like crunching eggshells into the small room." Note that the above description need not be a "hit". Making contact with the skeleton doesn’t mean you "hit" the skeleton and did damage.

8. Last Thoughts.
Pacing is much slower, but once started, you need to keep it going. Beware of pending the continuation of the story on a single player’s next post it can prove not only a long wait, but the death of the game if they don’t post, don’t realize you are waiting for them, or drop out of the game without telling you.

Conversely, try to end every one of your posts with some sort of direct stimulus or obvious options for your players. If they don’t know what to do next, they will simply wait for you to post something more and if you’re also waiting for them, then things go nowhere and the game dies.

Reward players and ask for constructive criticism. You'll probably feel like you're doing all the work and they're getting all the benefit but when you have dedicated players that's not strictly true. To keep them dedicated make sure you know they appreciate their efforts by telling them so. Praise good characterizations or good ideas, offer regular XP advances so they feel they're getting somewhere with their characters and feel a genuine attachment to them.

Make sure the game is the one they want to play. Ask them if they like or dislike the way the story is going or how you're doing things. They'll probably say every thing's great but if they do have points to make take them on board. You may of course disagree but at least you'll know.

Strike up a good OOC relationship with your players. They are not the actors to your director. You're friends. And friends don't let each other down. The more friendly you are (your OOC thread should be at least as long as the IC thread) the more likely they are to stay and follow you on your flights of fancy. I have a strong inkling that the longest running games are ones where the players and GMs get on well, when they enjoy just chitchatting on the forum too.

Remember, when in doubt ask for help.
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"I'm imagining Kiera Knightly, Katherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina and Meg Fox sitting around your map wearing bandanas vigorously shaking fists full of d20s." - Aval Penworth, in regards to a map I made
"We're talking about the GM that made us fight giant Fruit, Verd is totally unpredictable." - Nikurasu (one of my players)
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