Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Guest Post - "How Play-by-Post Made Me a Better Gamer"

How Play-by-Post Made Me a Better Gamer

The Setting

I was just a kid back in the early days of role playing games - you know, the late 70s and early 80s. My cousin introduced my brother to basic edition of Dungeons & Dragons, who then roped me and all his friends into gaming.  Sure we didn't understand a lot but we had loads of fun and I still look back on those days with fondness!  As the years rolled by and the devil-worship mentality took over in our town I left the gaming scene for a long time.  In 2008, however, a neighbor got me back into the hobby, and it didn't take long before I discovered the OSR and the fantastic retro-clone systems like Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord.  A while later I started an online game (via Skype) with my brother and his family, but it just wasn't the same as it had been those many years before.  Yeah, we still play, once in a while, but arranging a time for everyone to get together is proving more and more difficult and less and less likely.  I have enjoyed keeping up on the hobby, however, by reading blogs, web sites and many of the cool books and supplements put out by members of the community.

The Hook

A few months ago I had the bright idea to look for an online RPG group that didn't require a huge chunk of my precious free time.  I struck upon the lucky idea of play-by-post, or PbP as it is also known. I spent several days searching for a good community and site, and finally settled upon joining Roleplay Online - mostly because they had a number of specialized tools and tailored software that made the PbP experience easier and more fun.  Also, they had a robust community of several thousand active members, which made it easy to get into a game quickly.

The Treasure

Since taking the PbP plunge I have made several surprising discoveries.  First, let me share with you the unexpectedly good things.

I've become a better role player.  Yeah, I've found that spending some time thinking about and composing a well crafted reply has made me take more notice of my character and try to do as he would do and say as he would say.

I'm getting a much broader gaming experience.  Whereas nearly all of my pre-PbP gaming experience was concentrated in the fantasy genre, I find myself now branching out into lots of games, such as Call of Cthulhu, classic Spycraft and many of the awesome science fiction games I've always thought would be fun to try but never had the time to do so.

I can play on a time schedule that suits me. Time was my biggest issue for getting into PbP - both the amount of time required for a regular in-person gaming session and when I was able to set aside that much time to play.  PbP has let me play games on my own schedule.  I can post whenever I want, and spending as little as a few minutes each day keeps me connected to my game and the gaming hobby in general.

The Damage

However, there have been some adjustments which weren't so fun to make.  Here are some of the cons I've found with PbP.

The play action is much, much slower.  Yeah, be prepared for things to move glacially slow.  My rule of thumb is that it takes about one month to cover as much as we would in one hour of real face-to-face gaming time.  That can be agonizing, but it also allows me to play in more simultaneous games than I otherwise would have the chance to do.

Some of the rules and actions need to be tweaked in order to be feasible on PbP.  I'm finding that games with more rules (such as d20 based games and several newer RPGs) tend to be more difficult to play.  I think this is a natural result of needing to know more details for those types of games - such as the exact relation between two combatants, or where characters are standing when surprised by some dastardly villain.  However, the upside to this is that old school rule sets are very well suited to PbP!

It is not as social.  The part I probably miss the most is the good times that go along with live gaming sessions.  Subtle humor and inside jokes are virtually absent.  And don't even get me started on the snacks and drinks!  It's just not quite the same imbibing your favorite beverage when you are the only one in the room!  ;-)

The Experience Points

Overall I've found that I enjoy PbP immensely. The old school and retro game systems seem particularly well suited to the free-form / less-rules type of role playing that is often found on the site.  If you are thinking this type of play might be something you would enjoy, here are a few tips I would offer:

Give PbP a try if you don't have a regular group... or the time to play in one.

PbP may be right for you if you want to experience some game systems you otherwise might not get a chance to play.

And finally, this type of gaming may be your cup of tea if you want to get in a little bit of quality gaming time each day.

Most of all I've found that, just like other things in life, you get out of it what you put into it - so go for broke and have a blast doing it!  If you've had experience playing RPGs by post then please let us know how it turned out.

Rusty loves the OSR and tries to constantly keep up with its ever growing flood of blog posts and awesome products.  Although he doesn't have a gaming blog you can contact him at his science fiction review site: BestScienceFictionStories.com.


  1. As a long time supporter of PbP as a way to play in a world of little to no free time - and for people who live in areas where there is no community for gaming - I can say excellent post. Th ePbP scene doesn't get enough press, typically overshadowed by the VTT movements out there and I feel that is a sad thing.

    However, I do agree that as a social outlet PbP is lacking horribly. some sites like roleplayinggames.net and myth-weavers offer general disscsuion boards, but nothing is the same as being around the people your playing with.

  2. I've run these in the past and they've always come to a grinding halt. I can only think that you could run them as one DM/one Player, or with a group that meets at the same time and emails or posts back and forth. I think the latter would allow players more time for reflection and consideration of their actions as well as a written record, but hangouts still seem more attractive and more social.

    What I'm thinking of is something that could be managed like the old PBM games such as Tribes of Crane but along the lines of Birthright where each player would control a domain instead of an individual character.


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