PBP design

edited August 2007 in PBP Discussion
Being pretty new to PBP games, I've been looking around for games designed specifically for online play (realizing there are differences between forums, email, chat, and virtual worlds).

I've found some games, but what I haven't found much of is discussion about what you want to think about when you're designing a game for PBP.

Just to talk about forums here (this is a forum after all), what are the characteristics of a forum-based game? I'll throw some terms out but I don't know if they're the best to use: asynchronous, quantized (you play in units of posts), threaded, replicable (you can quote word for word), parseable (you can analyze text in posts).

I've found a few relevant links:

  • design for the game Tree of Life


  • some PbP discussion


  • games suited to play-by-post


  • PbP tips and techniques

Do you know of other things that could help with PBP design?

Comments

  • edited 4:51AM
    Yeah, this is something I've given a lot of thought to, without any great results. Through the Ansible was my attept to make a game that capitalised on some of the advantages you've outlined above, but it's by no means the only way of doing so.

    I guess the key weakness of PBP, in my mind, is that they're a really poor format for negotiation. You can see that in all the game pitches that are stumbling around here, not getting to actual play. It takes forever to collate everyone's opinion and synthesise that into a course of action. That has serious implications for a lot of popular story-game mechanics, which rely on shared decision making, and negotiating things like stakes or intent in a conflict. That means that a lot of story games are particularly ill-suited to PBP, sadly enough.

    The lack of negotiation can be leveraged to a kind of advantage though, I think. The whole "no takebacks" thing can lead to some pretty intense play, when you've just got to deal with whatever the other players throw out, rather than having that social level of feedback with which to modulate what's happening. You can't see my worried face when my character's getting hosed that tells you that this isn't how I saw this going. That's good and bad. It's bad because it means we can often miscommunicate and get a game experience we didn't plan on. It's good because, with trust, we can all play as hard as possible, and not have to look the other player in the eye while we're trampling on their plans.

    This is a really broad subject that we're talking about here. Do you think it might become more productive if we narrowed the scope a little? What's a game you've found that's really good for PBP, and why?
  • edited 4:51AM
    I feel kind of dorky saying my RPG experience is MOSTLY play by post. I was introduced to RPGs in person, of course, but ended up getting back into it (and into the indie games I ended up loving) years later.

    I agree with Simon about negotiation (and I think I will have to check out Through the Ansible). You don't have to worry about negotiation with something like D&D, where people - in the games I've seen - seem to be either in freeform mode (just post whatever) or in combat mode (post your statblock and who you're swinging your sword at). I'm running a Pool game at the moment, and I told people, straight up, you're badasses, assume you win, unless you think it'd be interesting, or you're facing a named Nemesis. People know where the stakes are, so the conflicts pop right up.

    Someone said once that if you're having fun, it's okay if the GM nudges the game going. I'd rather be railroaded than have the game founder on details. I would hope that most systems do okay in play-by-post, assuming that the negotiation of the mechanics is flexible. If the game system has flags the player can throw up (like Shadow of Yesterday), the GM can plan accordingly. That's actually one of the big things I like about story games and PbP, the GM has more time to think about how to hit the already apparent flags, instead of waiting/hoping for players to mention what they're actually interested in!
  • edited August 2007
    Simon, I'm only halfway there to getting PBP, because so far I've only watched a Polaris game and played KKKKK. I have to admit though that I haven't found any GMed games that looked fun, but that might be due to reading posts solely made up of "I check his pockets, his clothes, his details for anything unusual". Kind of like distilling the things in GMed games I find most boring and putting them in one place. It goes without saying that this doesn't have to be a characteristic of PBP games with a GM. Come to think of it you could hear something like this around the table easily enough too.

    KKKKK works really well for PBP as you might imagine; because it uses statements with a defined structure (basically that's the only mechanic), you really are playing the mechanic, unlike most games you'll ever see, where most of the stuff is freeform. The pace and style of the Polaris game also work really well for me.

    The possibility exists for PBP negotiation if you were to establish some kind of ground rules, or (I almost hate to say it, please someone come up with a less clunky word for it) algorithm at the beginning of the game that dictated what would happen. Such that you could make a play, and the other player could take the ball and run with it. If you get right down to it this is what KKKKK does, it's just that there are only a couple of algorithms defined.

    I don't mind freeform but I like game mechanics; I can see where many PBP players might gravitate to the medium because they like freeform. However if you were able to define more than a few of these algorithms players could almost choose them for their character's sheet. I don't know if this turns into a giant game of RPS, but I would hope not.
  • edited 4:51AM
    Posted By: georgeKKKKKworks really well for PBP as you might imagine; because it uses statements with a defined structure (basically that's the only mechanic), you really areplayingthe mechanic, unlike most games you'll ever see, where most of the stuff is freeform. The pace and style of thePolarisgame also work really well for me.
    I also think that Jonathan's game Waiting for the Queen/Tea at Midnight would be a good option, although I haven't tried it in PbP yet. Like george, I think that games with small amounts of negotiation or negotiation built into the system would really work best for PbP. Another good system to look at is the game that was designed and is being played on Knife Fight. The specific game there works best with audience participation, but once again the content of your post is dictated by what post number it is and what the last player did, without any negotiation over the content of that input. Or at least not any that was visible to the audience.
  • edited 4:51AM
    I think it's not just about negotation, but also just when the game asks for players in interpolate/interrupt into each other's turns. PbP needs to account for letting people take their turns slightly independent of each other, while still use mechanics and stuff to interpolate in between (so people feel like they're playing the same game, not just individual games in parallel).

    I actually have a few PbP designs and/or hacks to existing games I'm fleshing out on my own. I'll post here when I want to give them a whirl.
  • edited 4:51AM
    Posted By: Dave CleaverAnother good system to look at is the game that was designed and is being played on Knife Fight. The specific game there works best with audience participation, but once again the content of your post is dictated by what post number it is and what the last player did, without any negotiation over the content of that input. Or at least not any that was visible to the audience.
    Dave, do you have a link to that thread?
  • edited 4:51AM
    The play starts here. Seth explains the system in this post, which is quite a distance in.
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