Some Thoughts on How to Play-by-Post

edited October 2013 in PBP Discussion
hey all,

Someone new to PBP asked for a primer, and I realized, we don't really have one!

Here are some ideas / primers from other sites I've seen:
On Petals the Thrones, there's an amusing one:
PbP 101:

There can be no doubt that if you are interested in learning how to PbP, you have, at the very least, seen one in action before. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the rules of the games are obvious - while discussing what to include in this workshop we actually began to realize that many PbP rules are unspoken, that it’s actually taken for granted everyone knows and understands them.

The truth of the matter is that this isn’t always the case. So in light of that here is a breakdown of the basic things that every player should understand before they run out to join a PbP.

The Lingo

PbP: short for play by post. A type of online game played out in a series of posts.

DM or GM: short for Dungeon Master or Game Master. This is the person who has set up the game and it’s plot, who is guiding the players through the story line and seeing to all of the technical aspects of the game.

PC: short for player character. A short hand term often used to refer to a character in a role-playing game.

NPC: short for non-player character. NPCs are characters that are introduced into a PbP by the DM, usually for a specific purpose. They often serve some sort of game/plot function (ie innkeeper, serving wench, merchant) and, in game terms, have limited roles to play in the over all scheme of the story. Unless the DM states that you can do otherwise – never write the actions of an NPC.

OOC: short for out of character. Most PbPs will have an OOC thread where players can meet to ask questions, talk about the game or offer support and encouragement.

IC: short for in character. The actual PbP Game Thread will always be for IC posts only.

RP: short for role playing.

Open or Free Form PbP: this is an open ended game that has no DM and no formal structure. Players are free to join and leave the game as they wish.

Closed PbP: this is a PbP run by a DM, usually for a set number of people. Most PbPs that are closed will not accept new players into the game once it’s underway.

Meta-gaming: Meta-gaming occurs when players blur the line between IC and OOC aspects of the game. Examples of this can include: allowing your own personal feelings towards another player influence how your PC reacts to their PC or using IC posts to constantly ridicule and critique the way others are playing their characters. Nothing kills a PbP faster than Meta-gaming and for this reason we will be discussing it at length in other areas of this workshop.

Power-gaming: power-gaming occurs when a player creates a PC with over-exaggerated statistics or ridiculously potent magical items.

Co-post: This is a post authored by two or more players to facilitate PC conversations or interactions. Most DMs encourage co-posts between their players because it keeps the Game Thread from being over run by too many short, one or two sentence posts. Co-posts have a set of rules and etiquette all their own and will be covered in more depth in other areas of this workshop.

Signing up for a PbP:

Usually when a DM wants to start up a new PbP, they put out a feeler thread looking for anyone who might be interested in playing. This will usually contain all the basic information that you need to know in order to join the game – what type of game system is being used (D&D, Cyberpunk, Masquerade etc), the number of players required, character levels, etc.

There are certain things you should think on before you consider joining a new game:

The first is your familiarity with the type of game. That doesn’t mean that if you have never played a D&D game before you shouldn’t join a D&D PbP. If you really, truly are interested in playing but aren’t familiar with the game system, speak with the DM. More often than not, they are happy to help new players work out the details of the game and to aid players in the intricacies character creation. A good DM will also offer ways for you to access game resource material so that you don’t need to run out to buy rule books in order to play.

On the other hand, don’t become dependant on others to continuously guide you through the technical aspects of the PbP. You need to make a concerted effort to learn the rules of the game and, even more importantly, how to properly play your character. DMs and experienced players are always more than willing to help out a new player, but no one wants to have to baby-sit them. If you’re not sure you have the time or the inclination to learn a new gaming system, then it might be best to reconsider joining that particular PbP.

Another important thing to take into consideration before joining a new PbP is the amount of time that you have to devote to the game. A lot of work goes into setting up and creating game – often the plot hinges on the number of players and the types of characters they bring into the game. DMs will set rules as to the number of posts/week they expect from their players and you should be certain that you can meet those quotas before you even think about signing up to play. Nothing is more frustrating, for DMs and players alike, than slow-to-post players who consistently don’t meet the posting quotas. They slow down the pace of the game and ruin everyone else’s fun. Remember that when you sign on to play in a new PbP you are making commitment not only to the game and the DM, but to the other players as well.

That said though, no one can predict what might happen to us in Real Life and there is always the possibility that you might not be able to carry on with your gaming commitments. It’s always best to speak with the DM when situations such as these arise. Quitting a game isn’t always necessary, quite often there are other ways to work around a real life crisis.

How a PbP works:

Basically a PbP is played out like a story. Characters are introduced, a plot develops and a tale unfolds all through a series of forum posts, the entire affair prodded and guided and nurtured by a DM. That’s not to say, however, that you write for a PbP in the same manner that you would write to tell a story. PbP’s have certain rules and regulations that help facilitate play and keep order. These rules can vary from game to game but there are certain constants that you, as a player, must always abide by.

1) The only actions that you control within the game are those of your own character. THIS IS THE GOLDEN RULE OF ALL PBP’S. Although it might seem obvious to state, this is a mistake that first-time PbPer’s often (innocently) make. You can not have your PC make his/her grand entrance into a tavern and write that everyone turns to stare at you. You can not write that your PC pets another PC’s familiar and that the creature purrs happily at you. That’s not to say that you can never interact with other PCs in any meaningful way. If you want to pet the mage’s familiar and get the creature’s reaction, try doing it in a co-post format.

2) Stay true to your character description. Stick by the contents of your character sheet and do your best to keep your PC true to what you envisioned. Think a bit before you write – try putting yourself in your character’s shoes for a moment to imagine how they would react. Make an effort to stay true to your PC’s game stats as well – that includes things like alignment, ability scores, skills and feats. Nothing is worse than a PC with a personality that bounces all over the place or one that is an expert in all manner of things that they should have no business knowing.

3) Keep OOC and IC aspects of the game separate. As a player you have access to all sorts of information that your PC will not – character descriptions, OOC discussions, the inner thoughts of other characters revealed through IC posts. If two PCs are having a whispered conversation on the other side of a crowded room, as a player you can obviously read the post and know what was being discussed, but as a character your PC will have no knowledge of what was said. A player might describe their PC as feeling angry or upset, but unless they mention outward, noticeable signs of such emotions (such as clenched fists, angry growls etc) then do not write that your own PC could tell that they were mad just by the look in their eyes. Do your best to differentiate between what you know and what your PC knows. There’s a world of difference between the two. And please, please, please (we beg you) avoid Meta-gaming at all costs!

4) If you’re not certain about something – ask. If you’re not sure about the area of effect of certain spell that you want to cast – PM the DM. If you’re not certain whether or not your PC was included in a conversation, or might have been in a position to over hear it – PM the players in question. Never assume anything and when in doubt, check with some one in a position to know.

Above all else, remember that a PbP is a game and that the main objective of any game is to have fun. It may seem like a lot of work at times, but ask any avid PbPer and they will tell you that it is definitely worth the effort you put into it. Sit back and watch the story unfold, watch as the characters grow and develop, as the plot takes shape. I guarantee you’ll be addicted – just like the rest of us!


  • Here's one from RPGGeek:

    Play-by-Forum FAQ

    Welcome to the RPGGeek Play-by-Forum.

    This forum is meant to be a location to organize a game of any RPG your heart desires. For inspiration on which RPGs to play just check out RPGs for a look at a few. This thread includes the FAQ and some helpful resources for prospective players and GMs.

    Q: What is Play-by-Forum (PbF) [A.K.A. Play-by-Post (PbP)]?

    A: Play-by-Forum is a style of playing a role-playing game, or certain other types of games, on message board forums where the GM and Players alternate posting actions and events.

    Q: How does PbF work?

    A: When playing a RPG Play-by-Forum (PbF), the Game Master, (GM), posts an initial "in character" (IC) post that sets up the situation and what the characters see. The player then types out their character's response, usually in "third person" perspective. As an example...

    GM Post (posted at 1:51 am): As the party stands before the solid looking stone door, an odd rumbling can be heard from further down the corridor.

    Player 1 (Fighter) (posted at 1:58 am): Talon moves between Jan and the rumbling noise, "Hurry up, half-pint, we have company coming."

    Player 2 (Rogue) (posted at 7:22 am): Jan tries to open the lock on the door again. OOC: I rolled a 12 (d20 result of 2, +10 modifier). "Blast it Talon, shut up and let me concentrate, you big lug."

    Player 3 (Wizard) (posted at 8:37 am): Hal stands ready with arrow nocked, watching the corridor. OOC: Hal readies an action to shoot anything that comes around the corner.

    Player 4 (Cleric) (posted at 12:34 pm): Maximillian casts guidance on Jan. "My deity’s light shines upon you, guiding your hand to success."

    Player 2 (Rogue) (posted at 12:38 pm): "Thanks Max, but could you possibly spare me the preaching?"

    GM Post (posted at 9:43 pm): OOC: Ok, everyone has gotten a post in. Player 2, make another Open Lock check, with the +1 from Maximillian's spell.

    Coming around the corner of the corridor is a nightmarish beast composed of undulating flesh, eyes and mouths swimming about it's amorphous form. A maddening cacophony of screams, giggling, and other vocalizations assaults the group's ears.

    OOC: Player 3, take your shot. Then everyone roll a will save.

    The key to PbF is waiting for everyone to post a reply. Sometimes a couple of players will be online at the same time and will want to push things forward. Unless their characters are in a situation by themselves, or they're simply bantering between each other, players need to wait for everyone. Depending on how often the players assembled for the game can post, the GM will set a minimum post limit, such as one per day or one per week. If a player can't meet that minimum, they should let the GM know.

    Q: Why is the dialogue different colors in the example?

    A: Many players like to use different colors to differentiate what their character is saying from what their character is doing. It also helps identify which character is which if you're quickly scanning through posts.

    Q: How does dice rolling work?

    A: The Geek's own Geek Randomizer (Dice Roller) may be enabled directly in every forum and Geeklist. It's quite powerful and allows for a myriad of results depending on the game being played. You can also discuss needs / desires in the forum dice roller thread.

    In addition, there are several online dice rollers available. Examples include Invisible Castle and Konkret Dice Roller. You can also do something a little less formal, such as an honor system where the players roll, or the GM can roll all the dice. That decision is ultimately up to the GM.

    Q: It seems like a PbF is a little slow.

    A: PbF can go fairly slow at times, especially if players aren't able to post for a few days. Try to stick to the GMs minimum post requirements and be sure to notify your GM if you won't be able to post within those requirements for any reason.

    Though slower, PbF games have a tendency towards much more depth in role-playing. As GMs and players are not pressured to convey large amounts of information in compressed time. Details and flavor can be added to each post with time. Also, rules referencing is much less a detraction from the game as everyone involved can take a few moments to look something up between posts.

    Q: What kind of games can I play as PbF?

    A: In general, PbF tends to focus on Role Playing Games, like Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, Rifts, and many others. It is common to play Chess and a few other board games as PbF.

    Now with the Geek Randomizer, (Dice Roller), the use of image galleries and Geeklists, it is possible to play a wide variety of board games, on The Geek, not normally playable as PbF.

    Q: I'm a Game Master, (GM). So, how do I start a game?

    A: Post a recruiting thread in the RPGGeek Play-by-Forum Forum. (Players subscribed to this forum will be made aware of your posting.) In your thread describe your game, the player guidelines, and allow players to post their character concepts. Be sure to include a full description of your game in the initial post, as well as any character creation requirements you might have. Indicate in the thread title what game system the game uses. Then you may log your recruitment thread in this Geeklist.

    Here is a sample recruiting thread.

    Q: As a Game Master, (GM), how do I gauge interest of players?

    A: You may ask if people are interested by starting a thread in the RPGGeek Play-by-Forum Forum. Alternatively you may check out the PbF / PbP Players Looking for a Game and look up the game you are planning on running. Interested players have posted there and may be contacted by Geek-Mail.

    Q: Were do I begin my game thread?

    A: Use the "Play-by-Forum" forum under the actual RPG you are wanting to run. For instance under the RPG Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition) scroll down to the forums and click on the Play-by-Forum link there. Then begin your thread for a Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Ed game.

    Q: How come most of the games have two threads?

    A: Most games will have an Out of Character (OOC) thread, and an In Character (IC) thread. The IC thread is where the actual game takes place. The OOC thread is for out of character discussion about the game, asking the GM questions, and for general chit chat among players and fans of the game.

    Q: What about maps and battle grids?

    A: On The Geek we have a Guild which is used specifically for up-loading battlemap images, or any other game related images for that matter. These images can then be embedded into the PbF thread. As an alternative you may use your own user gallery to store images.

    Play-by-Forum Image Storage Guild

    If you create a nice homemade map, consider linking a copy to the Home Made / Homebrew Maps entry.

    Q: Any etiquette rules I should be aware of?

    A: See the Etiquette post below.

    Q: Are there any restriction on games dealing with mature subjects or the use of mature language?

    In the Play-By-Forum games, there are no restrictions about what you can role-play about (mature themes and subjects are fine). If there are to be mature subjects involved, please add to the end of the subject post "[Mature]".

    So, for example, if your actual play post was going to be:

    "Man, Woman and Goat - The Perfect Weekend (IC)" you would instead use

    "Man, Woman and Goat - The Perfect Weekend (IC) [Mature]"

    If there is something particularly offensive, you can always put it in spoiler quotes... but we don't think that's really going to be needed.

    Q: I wish to play-test new RPGs, or I want to find people to play-test my RPG creation. Where do I go?

    A: For play-testing there are a couple options;

    1) For Homemade games you may use RPG Sandbox to post about and request play-testers. You may want to create a new RPG Item depending, or use one of the already available entries. Then you can use the forums under the item to seek out and communicate with play-testers.

    2) For games which will eventually be published there is Unpublished Prototypes. Again an RPG Item may be created and those forums used for attracting and communicating with potential play-testers.

    Note the above two options will leave your creation in the public domain for any user to view and discuss.

    3) Another option is the Play-Testing Guild. This is a guild set up specifically for people to offer their creations for play-testing and for users to find opportunities to play-test. The guild offers a semi-private location to place your creations, in that only members of the guild can see what's there. Membership to the guild is not restricted though. Anyone interested may join.

    So both players and creators can subscribe to the above choices and get notifications about new or current offerings.

    Q: What should I do if I'm going to be absent?

    A: If you're going to be away from the computer or otherwise unable to post for any length of time, be sure to inform your GM, or your players if you're the one running the game. You can then work with your GM to figure out what to do with your character (GM runs as a NPC, fade to the background, or something else). If you're absence is going to be more long term, it may be best to retire your character. If you're a GM and are going to be away for an extended period, it's best to try to wrap up your game, or to find a replacement GM to take over.

    If you are in more than one game, you can also post in the Absence Thread.
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