GSA: Play by Post

A few years ago I wrote some articles for the Gamer Security Agency, a website devoted to all things gaming.  Sadly the website lost their editor and was unable to replace him and eventually succumbed to blog fade. But, as luck would have it, I made copies of all of my articles. So, over the next year I’ll be reposting them here every Sunday. We’ll start with my very first post…


Play by Post


Few people would argue with the statement that the best RPG is the one played around a table with friends. In person RPG’s provide great fun and camaraderie that even poorly run games can be fun. In fact, the game itself is often secondary to gathering.

Sometimes, however, you just can’t get everyone together around the same table. Maybe your RPG buddies have moved on to jobs in other cities. Maybe your schedule is tight enough that you can play or you can drive out to a friend’s house, but don’t have time for both. In those cases, there’s the old fallback of the “Skype” game.

Not as personal as an in person game, Skype games nonetheless can be a lot of fun. You can talk to each other and make jokes. There are lots of tools available for the GM to use to provide a very involved game map, sometimes even nicer than a regular map. It can even be easier to keep track of hitpoints and other things using some of these programs than it is with traditional pen and paper. You just have to provide your own snacks.

Unfortunately, in this life, sometimes devoted gamers can’t even find the time to set aside for a Skype game. Having a few hours of free time can be difficult for the gamer with family and work responsibilities. Getting those few hours to occur at the same time as 4-6 other people can be nearly impossible. In those cases, in stead of putting RPG’s aside, there is one more option to consider: Play-by-Post.

Anyone familiar with playing an RPG can do a play-by-post, as the process is very similar. Get a GM and some players. Pick a gaming system. Create characters. Only instead of sitting around a table, or a Skype call, each player writes their actions as a reply to a forum post

There are many advantages to playing a game this way, especially for the busy gamer. The game proceeds at your schedule and each post does not take up a lot of time. There’s no need to get everyone online at the same time.

The nature of a play-by-post also allows for actions that can be more details and cinematic than those conducted during a live game. Because all your actions are written out, you can take the time to decide what you’ll do and then write it out as a detailed description. This can be a great boon for those gamers who are good with words, but so much with speaking, or those who have great ideas, but need a little time to consider their options.

It can also be a boon for a GM. It is much easier to keep track of details in a game when everything is written down. You have an entire record of everything that has transpired. You’ll never have to worry about forgetting the name of some random NPC, and neither will your players. It also affords you the time to look up an obscure rule or carefully consider what your NPC’s will say and do. And for those long winded GM’s, here’s your chance to write out a detailed scenery setting without boring your players.

One side benefit of this is the ability to play in multiple games at once. There are lots of different stories to tell and systems to play. If you play around a table with a group of friends, you really can only do one at a time. When you play-by-post, you can run in as many different games as you have time to post too. And since each post usually only takes a few minutes, you can easily manage to keep up on 2-3 games in a 30min lunch break.

Many forums, such as those based on Simple Machines engine, have options available to install die rollers. Then players just need to write in a command (ex: [roll]{Perception} 1d20+5[/roll]) and the forum will create the result (Perception: 1d20+5 : 6 + 5, total 11) for the whole game group to see, no cheating.

Of course, no method of game play is made entirely of puppy dogs and unicorns. Play-by-post games move at a much slower pace. While a normal tabletop game may run for four hours and cover three complete encounters, that same event may take weeks to accomplish in a play-by-post. This is, of course, off set by the fact that the game is running continuously for those weeks, instead of taking a month hiatus between sessions.

One slow poster can bring the game to a halt and allow people to lose interest. This can get frustrating during certain encounters, especially combat. Combat can already take a long time in many game systems. Require each player to post each turns actions and an hour long combat just became a three week combat.

There is also far less interaction with your fellow gamers. The fun now derives almost entirely from the story being told.  This can be good but since much of the fun of RPG’s is interacting with your friends and fellow gamers, it can put a lot of pressure on the GM.

In my next post, I’ll outline some tips and tricks you can use to keep a play-by-post game running smoothly and be a lot of fun for those involved. For now, just keep the adventure going.

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