Play-by-post Guidelines

Play-by-post games are pretty infamous for sizzling out, for a variety of reasons. I've run a PbP campaign for roughly two years now, over a variety of formats. Here's some tips for DMs and players alike:

DO NOT wait until everyone is on board with a specific action. If a player says "I go north", then the team goes north. Don't vote. Don't consult. Make bold decisions that you think are justified, and figure the details out later.

DO make allowances if the above causes the group to go somewhere a particular player didn't want to go. "Before we left that room I wanted to check behind the mirror", then that player checks behind the mirror. If this is going to result in the party being split, then split it. PbP games don't have the kind of time constraints that make party splitting challenging in-person.

DO NOT post as much as possible. DO post as regularly as possible. Posting as much as possible results in burn-out and irregular posting. In larger groups, I split players up between slower and faster (but still regular!) posting schedules.

DO preempt, as much and as often as possible. If you think you know what question the players are going to ask next, answer it. As a player, lots of "If X, then Y" is useful, particularly if you already have a chain of plans in mind. Nothing provokes boredom like an interminable back-and-forth about mundane exploration.

DO give more information than normal. No, more information. More. The cues and clues that in-person games provide are gone. Even if you think you are tipping your hand, you really aren't. I'm serious, just tell your players what is happening. They will still be confused and uncertain. This is fine.

DO NOT just disappear. DO take breaks or step away when needed. Life is complicated, and can get in the way of things, but all players must make every possible effort to tell the DM if they can't post. PbP collapse is most often caused by everyone waiting up for a particular player to post. They get stressed, and post slower, and the whole thing dies. Life gets in the way of things, and if circumstances change, I always invite players to return. Obviously, if the DM can no longer run the game, they should let everyone know.

DO invent useful "meta" time milestones. In-person games are neatly chopped into sessions, which makes it easier for players to keep track of events. Movies have scenes, sprawling fantasy novels have chapters, but a PbP game can stretch out into a blur without a structure in place. For my own campaign, each return to base camp marks the end of a particular delve, and the start of a new thread.

DO NOT use strict turns and rounds in combat. Just don't. Whatever you use instead will probably be fine, if you even need to use anything different in-combat than out-of-combat! For my campaign, every time a player takes an action, an enemy also takes an action, most likely against them. If a player can't post a lot during a combat scene, then they are assumed to be hanging back and avoiding trouble. It's not perfect, but PbP doesn't gel with combat very well. This is fine, and to be expected.

DO keep a tight rein on the campaign. As a rule, PbP adds a whole lot more sprawl and detail to each individual post. Players can also engage in detailed characterisation, and spend as much time as they want crafting their own prose, just as the descriptions from the DM can be rather expansive. As such, trying to do a massive sprawling campaign multiplies everything out to ridiculous and unmanageable lengths. My campaign is a single (rather large) dungeon. It will end when the players escape the dungeon. That is all.*

DO tell me if you find a good mechanical system that works with PbP games, especially in terms of combat. Because I certainly haven't found one. I'm running Finders Keepers at the moment, which is fantastic for character generation, but is just alright when it comes to the actual dice. I've moved to a much more free-form style lately, which has it's pros and cons as well.

If you want to try out or take a look at a successful (?) long-form PbP game, come and see the Endless Dungeon.

*A thought - there are multiple "dimensions" that a campaign can be bound in. It might be bound in physical space (like a dungeon), it might be bound in conceptual space (the type of campaign), and it can be bound by a real-world (or in-game?) time period. These boundaries can be more or less strict as required, and often feed into each other. My campaign is bounded conceptually, and physically. Most one-shot games are bounded in all three directions, and campaigns have none. Are there other boundaries? Might more boundaries make for a "better" game?

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