I moved from Michigan to Utah in 2004, and my Michigan gaming group was mid-campaign — so we decided to try and keep it going as a play-by-post (PbP) game. None of us had ever played in a PbP before, and it was my first time running one, so I did a lot of homework (reading other PbPs, checking out their intro posts) to make sure it went smoothly.
For the first part of this case study, I’m going to post the outcome of my research: the PbP guidelines and info page I created for my players. If you’re putting together a PbP game of your own, these guidelines might be useful to you.
There are definitely things I’d change about them if I ran a PbP game again — and that’s what part two if this case study will be about: what went well, and what went poorly.
(Most of the links I used are dead, so I took them out for this post. The original page had links everywhere you’d expect them.)
The Selgaunt campaign started as a tabletop game in Michigan in September of 2003, but I moved to Utah in August of 2004. With a year under our belts and everyone enjoying the game, we decided to take it online as a play-by-post (PbP) game on EN World in September of 2004.
I erred on the side of providing details, so there’s a lot of information here. Don’t let that worry you — I just wanted to be complete, since none of us have ever done a PbP before!
Taking the Selgaunt campaign online means you now have three names to keep track of: real name, screen name on EN World, and PC name. Mwahahaha!
With this in mind, please use your PC’s name as the title for your first several posts. This should help eliminate any confusion.
[Character Name] – Played by [Player Name], whose screen name is [Screen Name]
(Repeated for the whole party.)
GM – [GM Name] runs the game, and posts as [Screen Name]
Where We Play
The Selgaunt PbP game takes place in a thread on EN World called “The Selgaunt Campaign,” which can be found in the Playing the Game forum. This thread is the game, and everything that happens in the campaign is narrated there by the DM and the players. It’s also referred to as the IC thread (IC stands for “in character”).
There’s also a second thread for out of character (OOC) commentary, called “The Selgaunt Campaign – OOC,” which can be found in EN World’s Talking the Talk forum. There’ll be some OOC comments in the IC thread, but the OOC thread is there for chatting about the game in general, laughing about stuff that happened, receiving XP awards, etc. Also, if you’re going to be unable to post for awhile, the OOC thread would be the spot to bring that up.
I recommend bookmarking these threads, or subscribing to them via EN World (which lets you access them from your subscription page).
To keep things moving, the goal is for everyone to check the IC thread once a day. This won’t usually take very long (no time at all, if nothing has changed), and you can fit it into your schedule however you like — this is one of the nice things about PbP gaming.
If you can’t drop in every day, that’s okay. At a minimum, you should check the thread every other day. Combat is a special case: there’s a 48 hour response window for each round’s actions (see Combat, below).
On weekdays, I’m usually on EN World for a few minutes in the morning, and once I get back from work I check in several times during the evening. I’m on frequently throughout the weekend.
I’ll get things going by describing where the party starts off, and what’s going on around you. Then everyone will post what they want to do, be it talking to the other PCs in character, narrating your actions, or asking OOC questions to narrow down your options.
Have fun with your posts, and try to make them as flavorful as possible. It’s an interesting challenge to roleplay your character without any visual cues — don’t be afraid to experiment, and see what works for you. You’ve also got plenty of time to think about what you’d like to do, so take advantage of it. (And on a similar note, always preview your posts before submitting them — I’m always amazed how many typos I make!)
In general, your posts will include one or more of these elements:
- Describing what your character does in narrative form. It doesn’t have to be prizewinning novel material — just have fun with it!
- Dialogue, which should be in “quotes.”
- Your PC’s thoughts, which should be in italics.
- Out of character comments and questions, which should be preceded with “OOC: ” (minus the quotes). For example: “OOC: Guys, I think if we go in there we’re all going to die — but Artemis would want to try it anyway.” As a general rule, try to put all of your OOC stuff at the bottom of your post — but if it needs to come first to make sense, go for it.
Make your posts as complete as you can — ask questions, plan for contingencies, and so forth. If you want to discuss options with the other players OOC (particularly in combat), feel free to do so — keeping our normal guidelines for metagaming in mind. It might take us a little while to find our rhythm, but things should go smoothly once we do.
To further help distinguish between IC and OOC text in our posts, IC text (narrative) should be in the default color, and OOC text should be in sandy brown. On EN World, putting [color=sandybrown] before and [/color] after your IC text will change its color accordingly.
“Guys, I see something up ahead,” Tuggle says. Keeping as far from the edge of the pit as possible, he inches slowly along the ledge. When he reaches the corner where the strange glow is coming from, he stops and gets ready to cast a spell. Boy, I sure hope this works — I’m too pretty to die! Putting a finger to his lips and theatrically shushing Tal, he peeks around the corner.
OOC: I’m readying a magic missile, and I want to cast as soon as I see anything threatening — and I’ll duck down at the same time, so Cupric can shoot his bow over my head. Since I’m in the lead, if there’s nothing around the corner I’ll just keep moving.
You’ll be rolling your own dice and telling me what you got. This goes for hit points, too. I trust you. For my part, I’ll continue treating all of my combat rolls as being “in the open,” and I won’t be fudging any of the results.
To keep the game from bogging down while we wait for rolls, I’ll make certain checks for you from time to time. Initiative is a big one (that lets us get right into combat), but Spot and Listen checks will often be automatic (if there’s a noise, you have a chance to hear it), and other things like this may come up as well.
When you post what you rolled, please list modifiers, special circumstances, and so forth — basically, all the little stuff that’s easy to forget. When you do this, put what you rolled in (parentheses). For example, “OOC: I got a 29 on my Tumble check ( + 10 + 2 from inspire competence).”
If you don’t want to roll dice in front of the computer, check out Kevin Savage’s online dice roller.
If you’d rather to have your rolls archived for everyone to see, you can use the Vacuum Elemental Games dice roller. This one allows you to put your roll in a database by character name, and attach a note to explain what the roll is for. If you go this route, make your note pretty specific (or it won’t be all that useful).
When we get into combat, the timeframe gets a bit more aggressive — because if it didn’t, one battle could take months! When combat starts, I’ll kick off with a post that has a response deadline at the bottom — we’ll try 48 hours to start with, and see how it goes. That means everyone’s actions for that round need to be posted within 48 hours (including OOC questions about those actions).
Actions will still occur in initiative order, but posts may occur in any order. Feel free to change your mind about what you want to do based on posts that have already been made, even if they’ll actually occur after your action. This helps to make up for the fact that no one will know how things turned out until the end of the round.
I will always make the first two posts in each combat round. The initial post will be initiative totals (which I’ll roll for you), a narrative version of what happened in the previous round, and the in-game consequences of those actions (status changes, HP loss, etc.). The second post will be your enemies’ actions for the round. This might sound odd, but it should even out in the end — because the monsters will be a bit better at adapting to what the Follies do than vice versa, since I’ll be writing the round summary after everyone has posted.
A good combat post should include several things:
- What you want to do, in narrative form.
- Where you moved from and to, using the grid provided on each battlemap. “OOC: I run from D-9 to S-22.” (See Maps, below, for details).
- If you’re attacking something, list your to hit and damage rolls — even if you know you missed. Also, please list any modifiers to your roll, and put the actual roll in (parentheses). For example: “OOC: I got a 22 to hit — (13) + 8 + 1 from bless — and a 9 for damage ((4) + 5) on the dire flumph.” Doing this will help you remember to take spells, feats and other things into account — and gives me a chance to spot mistakes or things you might have forgotten.
- Contingency plans! Since you won’t know the outcome of your action (or anyone else’s, for that matter) until the end of the round, give me a plan B. Heck, give me plan C as well, if you need to.
If you miss the 48 hour deadline, I’ll assume you’re taking the total defense action (+4 to AC for that round, doing nothing else) until we hear from you.
Once everyone has responded, I’ll narrate the first round in another post (with OOC information included, like how much damage you took, etc.), and the 48 hour timer for the next round will start over.
In the interest of pacing, I may occasionally have to take my best guess at what you would have done in a given round. If it’s a crucial moment, or if I just can’t come up with a reasonable action, we’ll pause combat instead, and I’ll ask you for a clarification.
Sample Combat Post
Seeing that the dogsblood is trying to cut the ropes holding up the bridge, Artemis draws his rapier and runs swiftly towards the humanoid. He takes careful aim and tries to stab the dogsblood in the back of the head.
OOC: Moving from A-7 to D-15, I charge the dogsblood, getting  + 9 + 2 = 17 to hit, plus any bonuses because he wasn’t looking.  + 12 = 19 damage (including sneak attack). (I’ll be at -2 AC until next turn, because of the charge.)
Using battlemaps and counters has been a lot of fun, so I’m going to try and stick with it. Instead of creating a physical map on graph paper and doing something awkward like taking photos of it every round, however, I’ll be using a cool little program called Dungeon Crafter to make digital maps.
Check out this sample map I whipped up. As you can see, it’s got all the basic elements of the part of the tower that the Follies are in, and each PC is shown on the map. There’s also a handy grid with numbers down the side and letters across the top, so you can say things like, “Marduke will move to J-5 and sink your battleship.”
I’ll be hosting these maps here on 3d6.org, and including links to them in my combat posts. They’ll also be kept up to date from round to round.
Because I really enjoy drawing the physical maps, you might see one of those from time to time as well. Some things — like the Follies second performance at Farry’s Port, for instance — just wouldn’t look the same without dozens of counters all over them!
If we wind up in a spot with some downtime (say, back in Selgaunt for shopping trips, spell research, etc.), we’ll use email and the OOC thread to resolve it. Once everything is sorted out, I’ll put up a “what happened in that tenday” post in the IC thread, and we’ll be back in action.
We started doing basically the same thing in our tabletop game right before I moved, and it worked well. Even though the division between game time and non-game time is a lot blurrier in PbP, bogging down the IC thread with item management still isn’t a good idea!
Play-by-post gaming has its own jargon, including a number of handy abbreviations. Here are some of the common terms.
Board – Short for messageboard. Someplace where you can post and interact with other users.
IC – In character. This is a bit different in a PbP game than in a tabletop campaign. In PbP, “in character” includes PC dialogue as well as narrative — most of your posts will contain both. The thread where we actually play the game is also called the “IC thread.”
OOC – Out of character. Things like rules, references to the game itself (as opposed to the action at hand), comments to other players — basically, anything that steps “outside the world.” Your posts will often describe your PC’s actions, but that’s not considered OOC. An example of an OOC comment: “OOC: I want to take 10 on my Gather Information check, which gives me a 27.”
PbP – Play-by-post. Useful shorthand for messageboard gaming.
Post – One discrete entry in a thread, also called a message.
Thread – A series of posts on a messageboard. The Selgaunt campaign uses two threads: one where we actually play (the IC thread), and one where commentary, questions and other stuff goes (the OOC thread).
That’s it for the guidelines — stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, How I Lost my Play-by-Post Virginity, Part 2, which covers the ups and downs of the actual game. My thanks to Troy E. Taylor, whose excellent guest post I Was a Virgin Convention GM inspired me to write this post — and helped me choose the title.