Now, let me preface this with the notion that any system can work with any game. As long as it is possible to adjudicate and answer “what happens next” a system is viable.
However, not all systems suit all games equally. A good GM will use the system that best suits the game he’s interested in running, and that means one he doesn’t need to struggle against to get it to work with what he has planned.
That includes format, and that’s what we’ll be evaluating today.
What factors do we need to keep in mind for play-by-post gaming?
PBP is written prose, not spoken. Instead of Bob simply saying, “I attack the guy,” or “I shoot him with my blaster” he’ll write out a paragraph of something like
Unfortunately play-by-post games move slowwwwly. It depends on the players, but some will only manage a single post per day, or only a few per week. This can make fast-paced combat unbearably slow, particularly in games requiring a lot of back-and-forth between players and GM.
Bob recoils from the stormtrooper in revulsion, hand going to the blaster holstered at his hip. “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams!” he shouted, drawing and firing in one smooth motion, trying to plug the Imperial Dog between the eyes.
So, ideally, a system that rewards descriptive posting can take advantage of the format. Feng Shui, for example, gives mechanical bonuses for entertaining and descriptive combat turns, and something like that can really work well in Play-By-Post.
“I attack the guard. (rolls dice.) Hit.”
“Okay, the guard is going to try and parry… failed. Go ahead and roll for damage.”
“4 before armor.”
“Okay, it’s a solid hit. The guard grunts and swears, but doesn’t quite stagger. He strikes back with his own blade… (roll) …hit. Roll your defense.”
“He hits you in the arm. 6 cutting after armor. Is that crippling? Roll for crippling.”
“Yeah, crap. (roll) Made it!”
“Okay, it hurts, yeah, but you still have the arm. Round 2.”
A one-on-one combat round like the above will take a minute or so face to face, but in a play-by-post game it could take days. You can mitigate this by having players combine tactical information in a single post – “tell me your attack roll, damage, and defensive plan in each post” but this lacks the immediacy such combat systems benefit from.
Instead, think about focusing on games whose combat isn’t quite so moment-to-moment. Not so tactical.
Speaking of Tactics
A lot of games (and a lot of gamers) use miniatures in combat to track positioning and allow for “crunchier” combat. In play by post, unless you’re running an app allowing for real-time positioning (which requires everyone to play at the same time), you can’t exactly use the same set of minis.
As a compromise, the GM can provide drawn diagrams or maps… but these can take a lot of time to prepare. And while you do have a lot of time when turns come so slowly, it’s still a lot of work for busy (or lazy) GMs.
So, again, we see that systems with lighter or more abstract combat systems are better for play-by-post.
In my experience, the following systems are particularly suited to play-by-post gaming:
- Unknown Armies
- Call of Cthulhu
- One Roll Engine
- Apocalypse World (and spin-offs)
- BCMI Dungeons and Dragons
And the following systems, while not impossible, are somewhat hampered
Again, there are always workarounds, but those are predicated on play-style rather than inherent conditions of the game itself. We’ll talk about some of these techniques when we discuss running the Play by Post game.
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