[RPG] How to run a successful play-by-post/play-by-e-mail game


I've played in a couple of play-by-post games over the last couple of years, and they've all ended more-or-less unsatisfactorily. Usually posting would slowly wind down until we hit a bottleneck of some kind and it stopped entirely. If you have ever run or played in a PBP or PBEM of this kind that survived more than a couple of months: What techniques and measures in the area of system, style, social contract, or otherwise work to make a game like this maintain player engagement and game momentum?

Best Answer

I've run several successful PBPs and several unsuccessful ones. (It's been a very long time since I did PBEM.) This is based on my own experiences only.

Have good infrastructure

I usually set up a phpBB-based forum solely for use with the PBP, rather than using an area of someone else's forum. It makes it much easier for me to administer and tweak.

I set up custom ranks for each player to indicate which character he or she is playing, which makes it easier for the players and myself to keep things straight. I encourage avatar use as well.

Another advantage of having your own forum is that you can easily set up "private" forums, each of which only a given player can see. This is useful for "note passing," keeping track of xp and private conversations, and so on without having to go through a backlog of PMs.

I usually have an out-of-character forum for intros, general discussion, and metagame stuff, and an in-character forum for actual play. I devote a separate thread to each "delve," as I'm currently running an OD&D campaign.

Be active, have active players, and communicate interruptions

The paramount concern in PBP, in my experience, is having active players. I ask for some kind of substantive post at least once a day. Stagnation is doom in the PBP realm — once things slow down, heat death follows. If I can't post for a few days — which happens — I let everyone know, and expect the same.

Start the game with clear direction

One thing I discovered running a City State of the Invincible Overlord PBP a couple years back is that too many options at the beginning of play can lead to decision paralysis as the players try to decide what to do. In a dungeon-type game, I'd recommended starting at the adventure site, getting stuck in, then getting to the roleplaying after the players have the swing of things. In a story-type game, I'd consider starting in media res, like with a chase scene or something that gets the players thinking in-character quickly.

Pace your background exposition

Finally, I'd avoid excessive infodump. It's great for you, as the referee, to know lots about your setting, but I'd keep the early background to just enough to give the players a sense of things and parcel the rest out through play.