Monday, October 27, 2008

How To - Play by Post Role-Playing

Life is about adaptability and gamers are no exception. Not all of us have the ability or time to have a regular tabletop group, it could be due to life changes, work, or that the local pickings for fellow gamers is slim and far between. For many of those folks, myself included, there is the option of PbP and PbE, also known as Playing-by-Post and Playing-by-E-mail, both of which are descendants of the Play-by-Mail offerings that we use to see as ads in Dungeon or Dragon Magazine, back in the day.

However, unlike the Play-by-Mail games of the day, most options for play-by-post/e-mail are free for game masters and players, alike. Although there are some membership sites that gather much of what could be needed for a PbP(E) game, most all of the tools and utilities are out there on the Internet for free. Be it using the offerings of sites like EN World, which has dedicated areas within their forums for PbB(e) games or creating your own private group on a place like Google's Groups, or even on blog sites like Blogger,  there are plenty of places to host your game.

Of course, one of the first questions that pops into the minds of some folk are, "What about the dice?" Fortunately for us, there are sites like Invisible Castle and Irony Games that have us covered, with secure dice rolling options that have archived results and multiple methods of sharing those results with both sides of the screen. With shared links, e-mail results, and other options, dice rolling worries are not something that should be worried about.

Now comes to the hard part of PbP(E), perhaps even one of the most important, which is communication. Text-based online gaming has been around for years and while it is enjoyable, it does remove a key component of tabletop gaming, a subtle one that we sometimes forget about, and that is emotional subtext to ones words and actions. As most experience folk on the Internet have seen, misunderstandings turn into flamewars rather quickly, which sometimes are worked out when it was realized that the perception of what was said did not match the intent. The same can be said for online gaming, so it is important to note what is going on with both in-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC) text and statements.

Clear and concise communication is just as important as timely postings, good spelling and grammar, and a solid grasps of the game mechanics. Due to the lack of seeing you as you do or say something with you character, people often have to assume the meaning behind the words, which can lead to a lot of fireworks. So, when playing in an online venue always remember to be patient and seek clarity if something strikes you in a bad way, the worst that can happen is that th worst thought is true. But, odds are, the worst will not be true and you kept yourself from being the fool.

Whether playing or running a PbP(E) game, it is always best to know what sort of time frame is expected by everyone involved, how many posts a day or week, or just a good outline of a frequency for the game, that way everyone involved is on the same page and enjoying themselves. While some folk like a faster pace game, others prefer slow and steady, so it is good to make sure that everyone involved knows what to expect.

You will also want to have three threads to keep track of while playing in a PbP(E) game, which is a Rogue's Gallery, an OOC Thread, and the IC Thread of the game. Now the Rogue's Gallery is where the character sheets, background, and related information is kept. The RG is an excellent resource, in that it allows players and game masters to check needed information, including making a roll for a missing player, or making silent rolls on the GM side of the screen.

In-Character and Out-of-character threads are a way to separate the normal activity of the gaming table, as it occurs online, which is the story side of gaming (IC) and the socialization of the players (OOC). Also, the OOC Thread is a good place for asking the GM questions that are less immediate then a rule clarity or encounter-based question. The OOC field would be where you would ask about which books are used and not used, potential development for your character, and other type questions.

Due to the sheer volume of information that you are potentially exposed to in OOC threads and the Rogue's Gallery, it is important to keep out of character and in character knowledge separate, as it is not only fair to other players and the game master, but it makes for a more enjoyable game, too. So get out there and have fun!

Also, if you'd like, feel free to share your own thoughts, tips, and comments about PbP(E)s by commenting in this article.

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