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Author Topic: Game Master's Quick Start Guide to Play-by-Post Gaming  (Read 5264 times)


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Game Master's Quick Start Guide to Play-by-Post Gaming
« on: April 05, 2007, 03:16:05 AM »

Game Master's Quick Start Guide to Play-by-Post Gaming


Much more than in a face-to-face game, a GM is responsible for leading the players, setting the pace, and generally managing just about all aspects of the game. Depending on the group of players, you may even roll all the dice and manage the characters' character sheets. GM's may also need to lead the action more in PbP games than they would face-to-face.


PbP games are infinitely slower than tabletop games. An adventure that might take one or two evening in a tabletop game can take more than a year in PbP. Time tends to move very slowly in PbP, and it is really up to the GM to manage the pace in that respect. However, in an involved adventure, one day of game time in a PbP game can last for six months or more of real time.

Managing the pace of a PbP game is probably one of the hardest things a GM has to do. You need to give your players an opportunity to explore their characters as only PbP can allow, but at the same time, you need to give them new story hooks, obstacles and challenges, so the game doesn't get dragged down with nothing new for the players to do. The appropriate pacing style varies from one GM to another and one game to another.


Combat is probably the most controversial topic in PbP gaming. Combat is often the focus of tabletop games. Sitting around a table rolling dice and killing monsters is fun and exciting. However, in PbP, there's no table, and turn-based combat tends to slow a game down tremendously. Certain combat systems seem to be simpler to work with than others, but what system you use really depends on your own tastes and preferences as a GM or player.

Here are a few of the issues that arise in PbP combat and some suggestions for handling them.

Visual Aids

Visual aids such as pictures and maps tend to be great help in a PbP environment where everyone is acting with fairly limited information. Players will almost always prefer more visual aids to fewer. However, it's really up to the GM how to use them.

In games and game systems where battle tactics are important (Attacks of Opportunity in d20, for example), a battle map can be a great benefit to smooth-running combat. However, many GMs find that creating  and maintaining battle maps is too much work for them, and games can die from GM work overload on such details.

It's really up to the GM to determine what works best for him or her in using visual aids. Often that can only be determined through individual trial and error.

Managing Combat

There are almost as many flavors of combat organization as their are styles of games, but here are a few of the most important categories:

Inline combat

All combat happens within the in-character game thread. Variations of this theme include:

- The GM responds to all PC actions in one post
- The GM responds to each PC action after each post
- Dice results are included within the character's or GM's post
- Dice Results are not listed at all.

The advantage to inline combat is that it tends to be easier for the GM to manage. The disadvantage is that there are often misunderstandings about the scene, and posts might have to be discussed out of character and then edited. Depending on the particular group, this can be a headache.

Combat in a Separate Thread

In this situation, all combat posts, including in-character, out-of-character, dice rolls, and everything else are handled in a separate thread. Player and GM posts can be any order within a round. The GM then compiles all the actions and results for the round and then re-posts them in the in-character thread.

The advantage here is that the combat in the in-character thread reads very smoothly, and it tends to be much clearer to a reader what is happening.

The disadvantage is that this is a great deal of work for the GM.

Rolling Dice

Should you use an online dice roller or roll real dice? Should the players roll the dice or the GM? Should the results of dice rolls be public or secret? The answers to these questions really depend on your own preferences, what you think is important, and what you and your players find fun.

As one hint, invisiblecastle.com has an excellent online dice roller that allows you to copy and paste your roll results linked to a verifiable copy of your roll results. But again, whether and how you use tools like this is really up to you and your players.


It's up to a GM to determine how important ordered initiative is for a particular game. However, many PbP games use a round-robin approach to initiative, where the PCs all move, and then their enemies all move.

There are two important advantages to round-robin initiative:

1) This allows players to post in whatever order they can, without slowing down the game waiting on one particular player in the initiative order.

2) The GM can make all of his or her posts at once -- describing the effects of all the PCs' actions and all the enemies' responses in one post. This tends to be less work from the GM's point of view.

The most important disadvantage to  round-robin initiative is that the same players will tend to go first every round, based on their real-life schedules, rather than their characters' statistical attributes. Thus, players who have invested in high initiative scores do not necessarily benefit from them.


As the GM of a PbP game, you bear most of the responsibility for making it work. Your players will contribute ideas and characterization, and if you're lucky, they will offer you some good plot hooks to work with, but ultimately, you are in the driver's seat. You come up with the idea, recruit the players, get the game started, and generally manage all logistical aspects of the game from start to finish. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Advertising for Your Game

Post an advertisement one of the Recruiting forums. For instructions, see How to Create a Game Recruitment Ad.

Requesting a Forum

Once you have finished recruiting and you have the players you need, you need to request an administrator to create a game board. Post your request in the Game Board Requests board here.

Setting up Your Game Board

Almost all PbP games include three basic types of discussion threads:

- IC. The place where the in-character action of your game takes place.

- OOC. The place where your players can discuss any topics out-of-character. Some GMs allow players to add out-of-character text at the end of an in-character post, usually with some sort of special formatting to distinguish it from the rest of the post.

   Note: Some GMs prefer that no OOC discussion take place in the in-character threads whatsoever. I think it's generally accepted that the former option is more practical. Sometimes, you just need to say some out-of-character stuff in an in-character post.

- Character Sheets. Some GMs prefer to have all character sheets in one thread, while other GMs prefer to give each character his or her own discussion thread. It's really up to the GM.

Child Boards

Child boards are lower-level discussion boards within a main game board. This is a service that PbP House offers at the expense of some work on the part of the administrators. Most PbP sites do not offer this or a similar concept, and they are really not necessary to running a good game. That said, some common uses for child boards include:

- Characters. A place to store character sheets, which players and the GMs may not always need to see.

- Archives. A place for old discussion threads or finished parts of a game.
- Setting and/or House Rules. A place to store house rules for a game or information about the game setting. 

For more information about child boards and how to request them, see Child Board Policy.

« Last Edit: April 16, 2007, 01:05:00 AM by Archer »
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« Last Edit: April 16, 2007, 01:05:55 AM by Archer »
Read the PbP HOUSE FAQs!

Quote from: The Office
I'm not superstitious, but I am a little stitiuos.