I got an email a little while back from Mark Katakowski, in which he asked me to discuss roleplaying blogs (or “RPBs”). Another TT reader, Kreik, made a similar request in a comment here, and I’ve decided to combine the two in this post.

I’ve never run a RPB, but blog games have a lot in common with play-by-post games (PbPs), and based on my PbP experience I’d like to offer 5 tips for making your online game a success.

In case you’re completely unfamiliar with play-by-post and play-by-blog games (as I was when I set out to run mine), here’s a quick primer.

The main difference between these two types of online game and a traditional tabletop game is that all of the action gets described in posts (including die rolls). This tends to lead to a very different pace — which can sometimes be pretty glacial! — but it opens up some neat roleplaying opportunities, since you can think everything through before you post.

A couple of examples might also be useful. Mark’s blog, Descent into Depths!, is a good example of a RPB, and on the PbP side of things you can find a host of games in progress on EN World’s Playing the Game forum.

There are some differences between PbP and RPB games, as well — but not that many. Since they’re functionally the same, these tips apply to both types of game. (I’ll look at some of the advantages of RPBs at the end of this post.)

Here are the tips:

  1. Require daily posts from your players.
  2. Provide some sample posts.
  3. Consider having fewer combats.
  4. Set up an out of character (OOC) area.
  5. Let everyone make their own rolls.

Require daily posts from your players

The fact that my group didn’t do this was the single largest factor that contributed to the downfall of my PbP game. Because of their schedules, some of my players couldn’t commit to daily posts, so we made our minimum every other day. Bad idea.

Without daily posts, at least on weekdays, it’s very difficult to maintain the flow of the game — and to keep energy levels high. In a tabletop game, it’s easy for the GM to see when everyone is into the game, and when they’re not, and adjust accordingly. That’s not the case in online games, and requiring daily posts is a good way to address that issue.

Provide some sample posts

If your group has lots of RPB or PbP experience, you can skip this one — but if not, it can be very handy to give your players a couple of sample posts so they have an idea of how this style of game can work.

At a minimum, I’d provide one combat post and one non-combat post, so everyone has an idea of what to do when you start playing.

Consider having fewer combats

My PbP game was a D&D campaign, and we had one combat that took three weeks to play out — not the ideal situation! This was due in part to our schedule, as we used a 48 hour “timer” for all combat posts: After I posted for the party’s foes, the players got 48 hours to respond; if they didn’t post, they took the full defense action (essentially, did nothing).

Even with daily posts, though, combat will tend to take longer than you might expect — sometimes a lot longer. I think our three week combat killed a lot of the momentum in my PbP game, so it’s something I would avoid in the future.

Set up an out of character (OOC) area

PbP and RPB games will include two types of “speech” (text): in character (IC) and out of character (OOC). I found that keeping OOC chatter in the main thread — the game itself — to a minimum was very useful, since it let everyone stay focused on the action.

But you don’t want to give up the social aspect of gaming, even though you’re playing online — and that’s where the OOC area comes in. In a messageboard game (most PbPs), you can usually start a separate thread just for chitchat, questions about the game, awarding XP, etc. In a blog game, I’d suggest making an OOC page and using the comments for OOC posts (or going Mark’s route, and setting up a separate blog just for OOC posts).

Let everyone make their own rolls

Unless you want to create a lot of headaches for yourself as the GM, everyone should be trusted to make their own rolls. One good online option for doing this is Kevin Savage’s online dice roller. (If you’d prefer to be able to make sure no one is cheating, try the Vacuum Elemental dice roller instead, as it allows you to record rolls in their database.)

Other Info

If I was going to run an online game again, I would run a RPB instead of a PbP.

The only real downside to RPBs is that the barrier to entry is slightly higher than it is for PbP games: For a PbP, you just start a couple of threads on someone else’s messageboard; for a RPB, you need to start your own blog. That said, starting a blog is pretty simple — check out Blogging Your Game Sessions for some useful tips.

The main reason that I would go with a RPB is the level of control this would give me over the gaming environment. I’d be able to upload maps, PC portraits and anything else that might be useful for the group, and I could fine-tune everything from the color scheme to the font to evoke the mood of the game.

I wrote a lengthy intro to PbP gaming for my Selgaunt group, and there’s some useful info in there (with the notable exception of the “Checking In” section, which should read “Everyone must post daily”).

Have you run a blog game or PbP? What was your experience like? What other tips would you give someone who’s thinking about starting up one of these types of game?