Ask any PBP GM and they’ll happily relay tales of their one or two favorite players; players whose characters and gameplay helped to bring the game to life, adding an additional layer of character development and interaction to the narrative. A major component of a live and engaging game is quality posts from the players and GM alike. In this installment, we’ll investigate a few tips that can improve the quality and content of your posts, turning you into one of those treasured players.
Writing Style and Tense
In live tabletop games, we often respond to things as if speaking for our character. “I charge the goblins.” Or “I’m going to search for traps now”. This is referred to as the “First Person Narrative”, directly relaying one’s actions in a manner of direct first-person storytelling. A play by post thread, by contrast, reads as an ongoing story. Imagine a novel where the storyteller changes every few pages. Consider how disjointed the flow would be. Instead, the story should read much more like a novel, with each post relating events from a character’s point of view, while relating to the larger narrative. We call this the “Third Person Limited” point of view.
When framing your post, consider how you would rather read a paragraph in an engaging novel, putting yourself into the characters shoes, seeing things through their eyes. Consider which of these you’d rather read:
Gorman takes the first watch.
As the others settle into their bedrolls, Gorman sits by the fire, eyes focused away from the flame to preserve his vision in the darkness. Crossbow cradled in his lap, the warrior listens to the many sounds of the night, alert for any sign of something dangerous.
Even a simple task of taking watch can paint an engaging scene when well described. The second Example not only presents a solid post, but gives the GM something to play off, should something occur during Gorman’s watch, gives an idea of what anyone approaching the camp might be seeing, and in general does more to drive the story forward than the first example.
One of the benefits of PBP is the opportunity to make use of little individual moments to further develop your character without seeking the spotlight. A perfect example would be at the beginning of a new day. There are several events specific to different character classes that we often gloss over or take for granted. Posting the details of the party wizard studying and preparing spells for the day, the cleric communing with her deity, or the fighter’s morning ritual of sword forms and calisthenic exercises tells us more about the characters and brings the intricacies of the class to life.
Consider this. The party has spent the night in town at the mayor’s mansion, guests due to their rising acclaim as heroes. The GM makes a post indicating that the night has passed quietly and the morning has come. Which of these feels more dynamic as a post from the player of the group’s city bonded druid?
Amira awakens refreshed, getting dressed and joining her companions for breakfast.
Awakening just before dawn, Amira exits the elegantly appointed room through a window, climbing to the highest point on the mansion’s roof to greet the day as she always did if she was able to. Neatly arranging her clothing, she sits skyclad in meditation, the city air flowing through her hair, the emerging sunlight playing across her skin as she opens her senses to the teeming city, calling on the magic-infused within every structure and cobblestone to aid her in preparing for the coming day. After an hour she arises, donning her armor and other clothing before reentering her room and going down to join the others.
Both posts essentially describe the character waking up, preparing for the day and joining their companions, but the second option tells us far more about the character and the way they interact with the world around them, as well as gives the GM little hooks that can be used to further the story.
Inner Monologue/Internal Narration
Perhaps one of the greatest single storytelling advantages PBP has over traditional roleplaying is the opportunity to delve into a character’s thoughts. In live RP games, we describe what our character does and says but rarely is there an opportunity to detail their thoughts. Inner monologue, allows us to go beyond just our character’s actions, to see the motivation behind them. Laying bare a character’s thoughts, ideas, hopes and fears brings them to life, providing the framework to elevate them from a one-dimensional concept, into a living dynamic part of the game world.
Yngvild could feel the wizard’s vile magic skittering around in her mind, like spiders trying to capture her thoughts in their web. Growling to herself, the barbarian let her anger take hold, shaking her head violently as the seething rage burns away the cobwebs. Of all the magic she’d ever encountered, she hated mind magic the most. The idea that her strength, her power, the years spent mastering battle meant nothing when a scrawny finger-waggler could take control of a person’s mind and body was both terrifying and enraging. Shrugging of the last strands of the spell she locks eyes with the caster. This one would die first!
The basic mechanics of this example are the party barbarian succeeding at a Will save, most likely due to being in a rage. Rather than simply succeeding at resisting the spell being cast, the post tells us more about the character. She isn’t fond of magic, and in fact hates mind-controlling magic (enchantment, illusion). She takes pride in her physical ability, and deep down finds the idea that someone weaker than she is can take away her control with mere words and a gesture more than a little terrifying. It makes the simple exchange of a spell being cast and a save being rolled much more vivid, drawing the reader in with the visceral nature of what it feels like to make a Will save.