Tips To Make Your Play-By-Post Game A Long-Lived Success
Turn 90 degrees from reality into the Realm of Shadows. There, the world is grey except for rivulets of glowing red blood that criss-cross the landscape. This is where the dead and the unborn move from the afterlife to the prime material plane, guided by the pull of the glowing blood. Take another 90 degree turn into the Wold, a place of magic and gods, where Witches tap ley lines that follow the paths of the blood, and where Fixers pull drops of the holy liquid into the living Wold, using it to repair the damage caused by the wars of the gods.
This is the setting for WoldianGames.com, an online D&D world founded for a tabletop game in 1985 and played continuously online since January 1998. And the feature that makes it a good fit for the rhythms of a PBM audience? The Wold is a play-by-post game, with players checking in once a day, reading the posts from the game master and the other players, and then making their own daily post. Disclaimer and disclosure -- I refer to the Wold a lot below because I love it and I help run it. But you can use the tips in this article to run a great PbP game anywhere.
Of course, people love D&D and other PRGs. And they love playing games online. There are forums upon forums filled with players seeking DMs and DMs starting games. Here at Erfworld.com, we have our own forum for PbP gaming. But there are a few things that most of these games lack … things that make the Wold stand out. Based on my own 15 years of experience in these games, here are five tips to make your play-by-post game a long-lived success:
1) Set Regular, Frequent Deadlines
Some PbP games have an irregular schedule, with turns advancing when all the players have posted, or just whenever the game master has a chance to get online. At first, turns are processed daily, then a couple times a week, then a couple times a month. Player interest lags, and the game dwindles and dies.
In the Wold, players must post every weekday. Sixty-odd players make about eight games, each with eight player characters and a GM – that makes a required nine posters, five posts a week, in eight games, for an ideal 360 posts a week total. The Wold has a Sherriff who tracks posting, and he reports that the Wold falls short of that ideal by about 20 to 30 posts a week. His weekly reports are widely distributed, highlighting games with good records, and noting those that need improvement. Players who miss too many posts are encouraged to step up, or get a substitute to take over their character, or maybe take a short break. This expectation for consistent posting, fostered by a community standard and active empathic engagement, keeps players invested in a game they know will not falter.
2) Develop A Reserve Bench
The real world always throws a spanner into your plans for a smooth-running game. People move or change jobs or get married. Computers and cars and enthusiasm dies. People get burned out. There WILL be turnover in every online game. For the vast majority of PbP campaigns, that means the players fall below a critical mass, or the game master falls off the map. The game ends with a whimper. But there are ways around that. Run the game with a co-GM, which not only helps prevent burnout but keeps the game running if one game master quits. Decide on an ideal number of players, and aggressively recruit new ones as soon as there is a vacancy. Keep a reserve waiting list of people who might be interested in the game.
In the Wold, playing eight to ten campaigns in the same game world means that there is always an extra GM to step in. That’s especially true since co-GMs are the rule. Each game also has an “Assistant DM” a player in the game who steps in when a game master is on vacation or falls sick, and who is often a game master in training. With a deep bench of active members, a player in the Wold can usually find a substitute to take over in emergencies.
3) Foster A Sense Of Community
The lesson we learn from Facebook and social media is that people like to connect with each other. For a long-lived game, provide ways for your players to become friends rather than just gaming acquaintences. Encourage out of character chat, jokes, and stories. And in game, look for ways to foster in-character friendship as well.
In the Wold, there are out-of-character boards for real life chit-chat, as well as a weekly lottery to encourage posting. There is a board to discuss rules, and another to debate politics and other controversial topics. There is an in-character board where characters from different games can meet, get to know each other, and even play games and mini-adventures. Whenever a new person joins, every member is encouraged to send the newbie a welcome letter with some personal details about themselves. Also, GMs are rotated every so often from game to game, so that players get to experience different GM styles and so that our GMs get to know more people on the site. The fact that the Wold is entirely free (zero cost) also makes the members “friends” and “volunteers” rather than “customers” and “staff.”
4) Offer Rich Content To Keep Players Interested
For a short game, a prepackaged module set in a bland generic world is fine. But if you do not offer your players a rich gaming environment, with a detailed setting and interesting rules options to explore, they will get bored.
The Wold has a decades-long history of creative development, with a unique cosmology, 20 gods and demigods, two new base classes, four unique races, 28 Woldian prestige classes, 14 campaign feats, new spells, magic items, monsters, and more. The vast majority of that content is found in the "Woldipedia," a 930-page wiki. The Wold has also evolved with the game, from D&D 2.0 to D&D 3.5 to the Core Pathfinder flavor of D&D. This richness gives players a feeling that the Wold is a special place, not just a bland clone of a packaged setting – and that keeps them coming back.
5) Embrace Churn
It is inevitable that players (and game masters) will come and go. Some game organizers try to ensure stability by setting a high barrier to entry. If a player has to submit an application, or pass a test, or submit references, then the players who jump through the hoops will prove that they are devoted. However, my experience is that even devoted players may come and go.
There is another philosophy. People will rotate in and out of your games – that's a feature, not a bug, because with time you select for players who do well in your setting. Let players enter your game freely, and leave freely, and eventually the ones who like the game and do well in it will stick around. The Wold, for example, features a "no application or tryout policy." It is easy to join, and easy to leave. Those who end up staying prove themselves just by staying. In time, your stable of stable players grows.
Endnotes & Resources
In addition to the links embedded above, there are tons of resources out there online. Here are a few nore notable ones.
Here's a nine-year-old (gasp) article I wrote on PbP gaming that included interviews with two people running PbP sites.
A comprehensive series of 20 articles on PbP gaming from Alisha Brock at the Knoxville RPG Examiner. She covers IC and OOC terminology, characters, scenery, writing posts, and more.
A blog post by Eric Martindale on the best play-by-post roleplaying sites.
A Gaming Security Agency blog post on Tips and Tricks for PbP Gaming.
Here are a number of places to try PbP gaming:
- Of course, Forum gaming at Erfworld
- The Wold
- The Unseen Servant Play-by-Post Role Playing Games
- RolePlay Online
- Myth Weavers
- The Tangled Web
Tim Harper's PbP vlog:.
A video intro to PbP and a plug for the DnD Online message board gaming community at RPG Crossing:
Written by Cayzle of Cayzle's Wemic Site
NOTE: User was awarded 50 Shmuckers for this submission -Rob