This is second installment of a two-part case study of a play-by-post (PbP) game that I ran a couple of years ago. The first installment, How I Lost My Play-by-Post Virginity, Part 1, covers the info I provided to my players before the game — an introduction to PbP gaming in general, as well as specific guidelines for our game.

This was my first PbP game — as a player or GM — and in the process of GMing it I learned several lessons that would definitely make things go more smoothly the next time around. Here’s what went well, what went badly and what I should have done differently.

What Worked Well

The EN World forums. I got a lot of mileage out of reading other PbPs when I was writing my guidelines, and we all found the EN World forums to be a good place to run a game. (If you’re choosing a forum for your PbP, check out the Play-by-Post Forums section of our GMing Wiki, which compares several PbP boards side by side.)

Separate IC and OOC threads. This is pretty common practice for PbPs, and I can see why. It worked very well for us, keeping the story thread nice and tidy while also giving us a place to blow off steam and cover metagame stuff.

How my players wrote their posts. It took us a little while to get used to conveying things in text form that we would normally have gotten across visually, but after the initial adjustment period everyone did a great job. This was one of my favorite aspects of the game, and having more freedom to polish your descriptions is one of the strengths of the PbP format.

Trusting my players with their die rolls. With a group of longtime friends, this was a no-brainer — we trust each other in so many ways, why should this one be any different? With a group of strangers or messageboard buddies, I might opt for disclosing rolls. (Some PbP boards have ways to do this built right into their software.)

Having a default action for non-posting players during combat. My players missed combat turns from time to time, and it was nice to have this in place. It’s simple, fair and just an all around good idea.

Maps, from a playing standpoint. My simple maps were clear and easy to understand, although they could certainly have been prettier. We had very few problems determining what was where, who was next to who, etc. — which is the main point of using a map, after all.

What Didn’t Work Well

The timetable. The single biggest frustration in this game was our timetable: “Every 48 hours or so” just didn’t cut the mustard. It was a pretty good fit for our real-world schedules, but it produced a slow game — and it really made things crawl in combat. If I ran a PbP again, I would set the turns at 24 hours, and require everyone (myself included) to check in or post at least that often.

Since the primary concern with this game was keeping a great group together, I matched the timetable to the group (I don’t think we could have kept up with a faster-paced game). Starting fresh, I would match the players to a timetable I knew would work for the game, the shorter the better.

Pacing. I was more worried about stepping on toes than I was about keeping the game moving, and it showed. Not wanting to dictate player actions is a good impulse, but it’s not the same in a PbP as it is when you’re all sitting around the table. There were times when I should have skipped over details, or nudged the game along more aggressively.

This is definitely a social contract issue, and one I’d make sure to bring up before starting a new PbP. Cutting a few corners and taking a more active role in moving the game along would have made this campaign more fun, and probably led to it lasting longer than it did.

Listing modifiers with rolls. It might just have been the syntax I chose (which was clunky, although clear to read), but I found the whole “Tell me how you arrived at your total” thing pointless in practice. It basically meant calculating everything twice — once to make the roll, and once to write it down — and it was a waste of time.

If ignoring it had led to a few mistakes, that wouldn’t have been a big deal — every tabletop game I’ve ever been in has involved occasional mistakes on die rolls.

Too much combat. I adjusted a lot of things about the game to match the new medium, but not one of the most important elements: combat. Combat already tends to take a long time in D&D 3.x, and in PbP form it takes much, much longer — the combat I remember best took three weeks.

That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, as it was a fun combat, but when every battle takes that long you either need to have fewer combats or take shortcuts. Coupled with how long it took me to write the combat posts and draw the maps, this made combat one of the biggest reasons why the game ended.

Maps, from a prep standpoint. Even though they were simple, the game maps I created took a long time to put together. This was partly due to my relative inexperience with Dungeon Crafter and Photoshop — I made a lot of little mistakes, then had to redraw things after I’d already compressed layers and saved the file, for example. Like most game prep, though, I’m not sure there’s a way around this one.

There are many, many different approaches to running a PbP game — what works for other groups may not work for yours, and vice versa. I hope that seeing how I tackled (or failed to tackle) common PbP issues gives you ideas for your own PbP campaign, and helps you run a great game.

If you’ve got other tips for GMing a PbP campaign, have suggestions for handling specific things that came up in this case study or have any questions about these posts, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.