Introduction to Play-by-Post
Like many of us, my introduction to RPG’s was through a friend, being told about this wonderful game of imagination, where characters one created got to take part in amazing adventures. With pen, paper, and dice, we could live (and sometimes die) the stuff of our favorite fantasy novels. It’s a hobby that, if you’re lucky, lasts a lifetime. As we grow older though, the time we spend sitting around the table is often less and less, game sessions further and further apart as real-life claims our attention.
Enter message boards and Play-by-Post gaming or PBP. As opportunities to find a few hours to sit around a table with friends dwindle, the wide world of the online RPG community welcomes us with open arms. Now exciting as it is, it can also be a little daunting, especially if, like me, you had your friends there to teach you the ropes when you were first being introduced to roleplaying.
Over the course of this series we’ll explore the intricacies of PBP in general, and some specific applications with Pathfinder RPG, with guidelines on navigating the medium, tips on how to take advantage of the unique benefits and opportunities of PBP, and ways to enrich the experience for yourself, fellow players and GM’s.
So without further ado, let’s get started with the basics.
What is PBP and how does it work?
Played on a message board or posting forum, Play by Post games give players the opportunity to participate by creating a character and posting their actions in an all text format, essentially creating a group storytelling experience. A GM sets up a recruitment post or forum, where prospective players apply to join the game, then creates the game forum for posting the story and all character and NPC actions. (Don’t worry, I’ll be devoting an entire blog about joining a game.)
Players post their character’s actions, feelings or thoughts, and interactions with the game world, usually giving everyone a chance to post at least once before the next GM post to move the story along. In some specific instances, such as combat, players usually post in initiative order.
But a major part of RPG’s is dice rolling, are we just trusting what people said they rolled?
Most PBP boards include built-in game tools like a dice roller, as well as post previewing, allowing your character’s actions and reactions to make sense with the outcome of the dice. (We’ll touch on that more in Posting Habits)
So I play my character by typing what they do?
As a storytelling medium, PBP is essentially an interactive novel of the campaign, with players and GM combining to tell a complete tale. Like a novel, PBP posts allow the opportunity to explore characters in a degree of depth that regular tabletop play rarely has an opportunity to do. One of the biggest benefits of PBP is the level of character development that comes from it. The night watch at the campfire, that gets glossed over because nothing happens, is a great opportunity for a chat between two characters that might otherwise not have much of an opportunity to interact.
Posts are usually made using a Third Person Limited point of view, with each player writing from the point of knowing the thoughts and feelings of their character. This allows the players as a group to string together a cohesive narrative with the players and GM all contributing to the story.
In many ways, having a text-based interaction rather than sitting around a table, is a much more immersive environment. Rather than seeing your buddy the GM across the table, you see the hated spider queen laughing at your helplessness, the dazzling bard charming the pants off the party mage or the fearsome dragon about to incinerate you and all you hold dear. In PBP, the mind’s eye is given free rein.
But what if I don’t have time to be at the computer the same time every day?
The biggest draw to PBP is the convenience. Players can post at their own convenience, from anywhere they can get online. In fact, many PBP games include players from across the globe, existing in different time zones in real life. With PBP comes the unique circumstance of a virtually perpetual game, where players can take their turn at almost any time. With most people having access to multiple devices capable of connecting to the internet, players get to post whenever they can, from anywhere, check in on the game wherever they want to, allowing a completely different type of immersion.
Okay, but how do you separate talking about the game, from playing?
In most cases, games have a separate Gameplay thread and Out Of Character (OOC) thread, where players can interact, talk about the game, and the GM can go over house rules or any other out of character interactions.
This thread is also ideal for players notifying the group if they’ll be unable to post for a few days due to real life issues (work deadline, out of town, family stuff etc.), or even discuss things like putting the game on hiatus if needed. More often than not, the OOC thread ends up becoming a sort of hangout for the players, a space shared with people who often become genuine friends through their common enjoyment of the story they share.
A different way of storytelling.
As a storytelling medium, RPG’s can rival the finest of novels or top-notch video games, in their ability to create an immersive and engaging experience, allowing the players and GM to build and interact with a world that responds to their decisions in a truly organic manner. Play By Post takes the best elements of these modes of storytelling, allowing for a cooperative experience that not only evolves as the play progresses but can be viewed and re-read to provide exceptional entertainment for both the participants and its audience.