In PBP is a Sandbox filled with Quicksand?

FitzTheRuke

Legend
As most of you know, I run a LOT of Play By Post here on ENWorld. Six games, currently! I've made a few observations on the style over the last few years that I'd like to share with you. Food for thought. As always, I welcome your feedback.

PBP is, at the best of times, a juggling act. The GM and players are the jugglers, and our posts are the pins/balls/whatever. It's all about timing. If I'm thrown a ball (post) while I have too many other balls in the air, I drop it. Then I have to get the rest under control to go pick it up and get it back in the game, so to speak. (I'll try not to take this metaphor too far, but I make no promises). Early in any given game, the timing is usually pretty tight. Everyone is excited, and they post quite often. Inevitably, as the game goes on, timing gets more screwy. This is a vicious cycle! The longer it takes between posts, the longer it takes between posts. Back-and-forth is the bane of PBP.

It occurs to me that the worst sort of game for PBP is a proper Sandbox. (I'm going to treat "Railroad" and "Sandbox" here as if they are polar opposites, though I don't think they are, exactly). A Railroad actually works BEST for PBP for reasons I hope to get into. Gamers, like cats, will go in all different directions if given the chance. In a Face-to-Face game, it'll get worked out relatively quickly with some discussion (or arguing). This doesn't work well in PBP because back-and-forth takes forever; no one really knows each other (therefore lacks any 'shorthand' solutions); and typing out one's feelings on any subject takes time, patience, self-reflection, and writing skills (all of which we can't expect any of us to have).

On top of those problems, anonymity combined with the true fact that none of this is very important (in the grand scheme of things) allows people to drop out (permanently or temporarily) of a PBP game often without feeling any responsibility to LET ANYONE KNOW. Ghosting is a common practice. While I find it immensely annoying, I also find it forgivable - it's just part of the way things work. I'd rather everyone would just tell me if they want to quit, but c'est la vie.

At any rate, the more choices that are presented to a party, the more bogged down the game becomes. "Go anywhere; do anything" doesn't work well when you have to get a half-dozen people to AGREE on what that is going to look like. It seems that less is always more when it comes to options. One option is easier to deal with than two, which is easier than three, etc. To make matters more difficult, many players seem to think that "quiet" (ie no post) is the same as "agreement". Unfortunately, no post is no post. It could mean anything. This is why I will often use what I call a "consensus of two" (if the first two players to post agree on an option, then that it where we are going, in particular if no one cries out "WAIT!")

For various reasons, my entire life is built around guessing/intuiting/asking/listening/finding out what people want, and providing it. (I'd explain more about why that is, but maybe I should just seek therapy). I'm very good at it, but it's exhausting. It does make me uniquely suited to running PBP, though.

Like nearly everything, PBP is made easier by people clearly communicating what it is they want. If you're in one of my games, keep in mind that there's no such thing as TMI. I'm not asking for long-winded essays (like this one?) but a lot of quick-notes, made often, would help to alleviate a lot of the burden. Thanks for reading!
 

log in or register to remove this ad

payn

Legend
On top of those problems, anonymity combined with the true fact that none of this is very important (in the grand scheme of things) allows people to drop out (permanently or temporarily) of a PBP game often without feeling any responsibility to LET ANYONE KNOW. Ghosting is a common practice. While I find it immensely annoying, I also find it forgivable - it's just part of the way things work. I'd rather everyone would just tell me if they want to quit, but c'est la vie.
I havent really done much of any PBP style gaming, but the above would drive me crazy. The least you could do is bow out politely of a game you committed to playing. Sheesh.
 


FitzTheRuke

Legend
I admit that sometimes I am at a loss on what to post. Particularly if there are multiple options for actions.

And that is very fair.

I tell you, though, that sometimes posting ANYTHING will help to bump things forward. It lets the DM know that you've considered it, and are probably happy to go along with whatever anyone else chooses. Sometimes being too easy to get along with can be just as much trouble as being bossy or obstinate. (Just as much trouble, but maybe not quite as rude).

I'm honestly happy with posts like, "Brubba the goblin let out a loud belch and shrugged his shoulders". (When faced with a choice). It's evocative, amusing, and lets me know that I can move on.
 

Steve Gorak

Adventurer
Great op!

I also find that the longer the time the posts are, the more I forget my character’s states and abilities, thereby compounding the problem. I agree that a railroad type adventure for pbp is best, with committed players that give a sign of life once in a while.

I’ve been here in Enworld for close to 20 years now (damn I’m old! ;-) and most of the games I played that died were because of an open decision point. And splitting the party in PBP is a painful proposition because the separation can last months in real life!
Cheers,

Sg
 

Prickly Pear

Adventurer
I agree. PbP needs a bit of railroading to move along.
I have been guilty of not posting anything for a few weeks, mostly because real life came in between. However, I could have posted something, at least in the OOC channel. Other times, I have tried to prod the story along by giving an observation by the PC or describing an activity like waiting, or so.
 

Neurotic

I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
Would it help to have what's up/discord/other IM channel dedicated to the game? Discord seems popular for that - so much so that there are DMs asking people to roll in discord
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Would it help to have what's up/discord/other IM channel dedicated to the game? Discord seems popular for that - so much so that there are DMs asking people to roll in discord

Maybe, but I'd rather not. I don't really want to check yet another app to see if anyone has posted anything. I do that enough here.
 

payn

Legend
Maybe, but I'd rather not. I don't really want to check yet another app to see if anyone has posted anything. I do that enough here.
I like the discord feature that tells me when someone posted. I suppose many of them email or alert or whatever. Though, I'm increasingly pushing more of my social stuff into discord/slack so its becoming a one stop shop. I get it tho.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Yeah, I've pulled back from PBP gaming as a result of many of the issues raised. I'd have to be pretty desperate for a game to jump into it again.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Ironically, I suspect you'd be able to run a better PBP like some old PBM games where the players were not even intended to be operating together; at that point you need to keep track of relative time (so some players might be operating after a while at a much earlier period than others) but the waiting issue would go away.

Of course at that point there's not a great degree of reason to have everyone able to see each other's posts, and in fact it might be counterproductive in forcing firewalling that was otherwise unnecessary.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
You know what else doesn't work well in D&D PBP?

Caution! I mean it's perfectly fine to say "I do this (action) being careful to not make noise/disturb whatever" but for the party to be generally unwilling to act due to an abundance of caution? (Or worse, argue about the relative safety of an approach?)

Not good. Much better to act, even if the action turns out to be a bit of a mistake.
 


FitzTheRuke

Legend
I've been doing most of my PBF on rpg.net. This forum is a ghost town of what it once was.

Yeah, that's true. I think PBP is dying out as the modes of online play are improving. It makes sense, as it's not the best way to play if you want to get anywhere. I like it because of the writing exercise, and because I'd likely never be able to find a proper block of time to devote to a face-to-face online game.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Yeah, that's true. I think PBP is dying out as the modes of online play are improving. It makes sense, as it's not the best way to play if you want to get anywhere. I like it because of the writing exercise, and because I'd likely never be able to find a proper block of time to devote to a face-to-face online game.

Its also time-shiftable. While remote VTT play allows you to overcome space problems, in some ways it can make time problems worse, since the people you connect with may be on very different timezones.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Its also time-shiftable. While remote VTT play allows you to overcome space problems, in some ways it can make time problems worse, since the people you connect with may be on very different timezones.

Yes, exactly. My players are in all sorts of time zones. I have had players from both coasts of Canada and the US, France, Croatia, Brazil, Australia, and the UK. And that's just the ones that I know about. I don't think it would even be possible for us all to meet at the same time. Someone would either be working or sleeping (or both!)
 

I find multiple timezones beneficial to PbF as long as your posting frequency requirement is greater than one post per 23 hours 59 minutes. And as long as you don't use strict initiative. Time zone becomes initiative order.
 
Last edited:

I would like to address the splitting the party part though. On the one hand, it would seem PbF could handle that really well. Just keep posting and have separate plot threads running or create new threads for the split and truly split the party. The only true downside would be having more active posters in one split than the other. This could make later synchronization difficult.
 

Neurotic

I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
I would like to address the splitting the party part though. On the one hand, it would seem PbF could handle that really well. Just keep posting and have separate plot threads running or create new threads for the split and truly split the party. The only true downside would be having more active posters in one split than the other. This could make later synchronization difficult.
Or stop the active party while they wait for the others to resolve to the same time point.
 

Steve Gorak

Adventurer
I've been doing most of my PBF on rpg.net. This forum is a ghost town of what it once was.

This is so true, the Enworld PBP forums are slowly dying. I remember a time when you had several new games per week! This was about 10 years ago. Now, we're lucky to have one new one per month, and it'll likely be @FitzTheRuke DMing (thank you by the way and please don't disapear! ;-)
Cheers,

SG
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top