About Doomed Hero
Draft of Guide to PbP GMing:
This is the long overdue companion to DH's Guide to PBP Gaming.
In this guide I'll try to cover all the details of running a successful Play By Post game on the Paizo forums. Much like playing a character in a PBP game, GMing a PBP game is a whole different animal than GMing a tabletop game. It's the difference between sprinting through an obstacle course and running a marathon. The fundamentals are mostly the same. The techniques are vastly different.
If you want to start GMing a PBP game, I'm going to assume you've played in them before and understand things from that perspective. I'm not going to cover text formatting, long-term dedication or how to write immersive descriptions. You either already know those things, or you aren't ready to run a PBP game.
What I'm going to cover is organization.
First, make a GM Alias by going up to your Account settings. This is handy because the forums allow you to search posts by a particular Alias. Sometimes you'll need to search back through your game to find a specific point. It's a lot easier when you don't have to deal with your other messageboard posts being mixed in with your GM posts.
Now that you have a GM Alias, go ahead and go to the Recruitment boards and click New Thread to get the ball rolling.
So you have a story to tell. That's great all you need now are players. Think of it like a director with a screenplay. You need to pitch it to your actors. If you want a your dream cast, you'll need a good pitch.
You're going to start by going to the Recruitment boards and clicking the "new thread" link. This will get the ball rolling.
Your pitch should consist of Three things:
The most effective way I've seen this executed is to write a very short story about the events leading up to the adventure. Format it in Italics to visually separate it from the character creation guidelines.
Another option is to simply describe the style of story that you'd like to tell. Mixing basic genre descriptions with movies or books you are using for inspiration can provide a lot of information. For example "low-magic dungeon crawl through a labyrinth, in the style of Greek mythology" or "Indiana Jones-style jungle exploration action adventure" gives potential players a lot of information.
If this is a homebrew, things get more complex.
What you don't want to do here is dump a bunch of history and/or places full of fantasy-gibberish names. No one cares yet. You'll make readers go cross-eyed and skim over all that stuff you spent so long writing. Save those details for the Campaign Info tab.
Instead, just give the basic overview of the themes of the setting, and where the players will be starting. If you feel like writing up full Campaign Tab info, link it for people that are interested.
Character Creation Guidelines
If you want a Low Power game, what you need to do is set the Maximum starting statistic. (max of 16, after race mods, is a good low power baseline)
What Point Buy actually governs is the kinds of characters you're going to see submitted.
Low point buy games are going to create more "traditional" parties. You'll see characters that rely heavily on a single attribute, and that attribute will be in the 17-19 range. If you want a "classic" feel to your game, this is how to do it.
In a High Point Buy game, you're going to see more varied character concepts. You'll start seeing stranger builds. Monks, Paladins, Magi, Dex-based fighters, multi-class concepts, and other MAD characters require more than one high stat, so they basically only exist in higher point buy games. If you don't mind complex character concepts, go with high point buy.
I don't recommend this method because it will fill your recruitment thread with seemingly endless posts containing nothing but rolls. You'll also get a lot of people who will stick their heads in, roll, and if they get a below average spread, they'll either ask if they can reroll (which requires you to set a precedent for everyone, potentially causing another cascade of rolling posts), or they'll just leave, removing a potentially good candidate because of random chance.
Assigning an Array
Here are some example 20 point spreads. These will create 18 maximums and 6 minimums from almost all characters.
That being said, don't be afraid to re-flavor a class. There's no reason a Gunslinger couldn't use the exact same mechanics but actually be a guy with an extra-powerful crossbow. There's no reason a Samurai has to be Asian themed. The mechanics are all setting-neutral. Everything can be re-fluffed to fit your story.
If you are running a non-Golarion setting, I advise allowing Golarion specific traits to be re-fluffed to fit your game. "Havoc of the Society" could just as easily be named "Potent Sorcery" with the same effect.
Don't list a bunch of possible traits here. Unless they're the only ones the players can choose from, odds are they won't get picked. If you want traits to have some setting flavor, you could instead wait until party selection is complete, and then give a bonus trait to each player that helps them see how their character fits into the setting.
Note: Story Traits are awesome rewards. Did your players survive a story arc that had them stuck at sea for months? Why not give them each a sailor-themed trait related to the most significant experience their character had while aboard the ship. Something as simple as allowing the Fighter to Charge across unstable ground because of all those fights on a stormy deck, or giving the Wizard proficiency with the Boarding Pike from that time they used it to hook an enemy boat, can shape characters in profound ways. Players love story-related cookies. Even if it's not an amazingly useful ability, they'll still love it.
For low power games, you'll probably want to put strong limits of available magic items.
[spoiler=Your Recruitment Thread]
[b]Here's a few tips for making it easier:
Request characters sheets be submitted in an alias, or in a spoiler. Without that they are walls of text in the thread, making navigating the thread itself a lot harder.
Request that potential players not roleplay in the recruitment thread. If you want to see how characters interact and how players write, tell them that there will be opportunity for recruitment thread roleplay after the submission deadline, but before you make your final choices.
Some players will start talking to other players, trying to tie their characters' backstories together. Ask them to wait until after party selection is made. This will cut back on thread chatter and stop any characters from becoming "Package Deals". That being said, sometimes Package Deal characters can be very rewarding story-wise, so if a couple players take that initiative, you may consider asking them to pursue it via Instant Message, and make a contingency plan for the possibility of only one of the characters being picked.
When addressing a player to ask them questions or give feedback, put your comments in a Spoiler. Spoilers are big, bold and save space. They're a lot more likely to be noticed by a player, and most of the time, players will respond to your spoiler with one of their own, which continues the trend of keeping the thread easy to navigate.
Picking Your Party
Pick good, reliable writers.
Check a player's posting stats for other games. Read some examples of their writing. See what they are like in message board discussions. Snoop around. Most of the time their posting history will speak for itself.
If you like how they write, consider them for the game. Don't worry about party makeup. Just go with the people who's concepts make you excited.
By the time you announce your party, have the Discussion Thread and Gameplay thread open and ready to go. Let your players check in and "dot" the threads. That will attach the threads to the player's campaign tabs and let them get updates a lot easier.
When you announce your party, link them to your game threads. Don't make them hunt. I've seen games lose as many as half the party just from the GM not giving the players a link to follow when they announced the group.
Starting Your Game:
The Campaign Tab
Make a setting almanac and put it in a spoiler. Search the internet for pictures that fit the landscape or architecture of the areas. Link them in the descriptions.
Make an NPC list and put it in a spoiler. Link the post the NPC was introduced in, and any posts that the NPC did something significant, in with their description so the players can easily remember who they are.
Make a House Rules list and put it in a spoiler.
You get the idea. All your reference material goes here. Links are super handy. Use them.
The Gameplay Tab
If you don't care about that, then don't worry about formatting. As long as what you write is able to be understood clearly by the players, you're fine.
The Discussion Tab
Setting The Stage
Do not tell your players "the game will be starting at this village" and then let them roleplay how they get there. You'll end up with one person describing walking on a road, then another will jump in and describe meeting them on the road. A conversation will start, and all the other players will be forced to either sit it out, or have their character inexplicably showing up on the same road also, just so they can be included. It's awful. Don't do it.
Instead, let them work out how they know each other in the Discussion thread, or tell them that they'll meet on the job. A neat way of combining the two approaches is to split the party into a few different smaller groups. Within their given group, they know each other, but dont know the others. Maybe a cleric and a paladin are from the dame church and have known each other for a long time. Maybe an Inquisitor and a Ranger are partners tracking down criminals. Starting with a few character ties will help your game along.
Once character ties (or lack of them) are established, the next thing to do is establish the setting. Describe where they are and why. Try to be concise. You can fill in any gaps later once motives are established and the starting choices are made. Before those things happen, players will skim descriptions to find what is most relevant to them. After that, everything is relevant to them.
Then, drop them into the fire.
Nothing sets the tone of a game quite like the first fight. Don't let them get their bearings. Don't let them ask questions. Just blood them.
Everything else will fall into place after that.
Keeping Things Moving:
The most important tool at a PBP GM's disposal is the "Cut Away".
Think of it like a movie. Once the plot-relevant stuff has happened, the story doesn't hang around and show us how the main characters get ready for bed, or the entirety of their shopping trip. It skips forward.
Do that. If a scene is lagging, skip ahead. If a fight is basically over and posting has slowed down, resolve the end of it "cinematicly" and get on with the story.
Games live and die by their momentum, and you are the one with the reigns.
Handle shopping trips, divvying up treasure, lengthy discussions about what to do next, and anything that slows the story down, in the Discussion thread.
If nothing happens during travel, don't roleplay it out. If you aren't playing a Survival themed game, don't make a big deal out of things like Rations or how exactly camp is laid out.
Always keep in mind momentum. If it's flagging, change things.
The first thing players need to know is what the complications are. A pre combat chart can help a lot. Mine looks like this:
This chart can be re-posted at the top of each round as a reminder to the players, and it can be altered if conditions change (a single casting of Daylight is often enough to remove lighting issues for an entire fight, for example. A Gust of Wind spell might clear away fog for a time.)
Block Initiative: This is an optional initiative system that speeds things up a lot. It relies on one simple fundamental: All the enemies go at the same time. The players either go before the bad guys, or after them.
Higher initiative players get put in group A. Lower initiative players get put in Group B.
Within a given group, players may act in whatever order they want. This means that for the most part, players don't need to wait for anyone else before posting. They can just post according to when they are able to.
The GM would then only need to make two posts a round.
The first post would be the results of Group A's actions and the actions of the Enemies.
If you are going to use them, there are a number of options.
MS Paint works fine. Saving and uploading a simple picture to Google Docs or any other hosting site can be a simple solution.
Google Docs Spreadsheets also works fine. Just adjust the grid to be squares, and use initials to represent players and enemies. Setting the background color of various squares can create simple topography like rocks, doors, trees and water.
Map Tools is pretty intuitive to use and seems to be the preferred method. It just takes some time investment to get used to it. There are some good tutorials on YouTube.
For post apocalyptic games set on earth, Google Streetview makes an amazing tool. A screen shot of a street, slightly altered with Photoshop or MS Paint to show damaged buildings and things like that, then posted to a hosting site or game wiki, can make a powerful visual aid.
Google Street View also has great pictures of places in the world that fit right in to fantasy games. Go on a virtual street tour of the Yucatan or of some obscure town in Eastern Europe or Northern Scotland. You'll find some amazing pictures that are ready-to-go lanscapes and maps for your games.
I recommend making yourself a pre-written and pre-formatted template and putting it in your GM Alias for ease of reference.
You can see how the empty parenthesis indicate that those characters have not yet acted.
Many times, the overall success of a skill check is going to be based on the total of the roll. Higher might mean noticing something of particular importance, or remembering more detailed knowledge.
A great way of front-loading the work for skill checks you know are coming is to to put the results in Spoilers.
You might describe a ransacked bedroom, and then ask for Perception checks. Instead of waiting a day for everyone in the game to make their checks, and then responding based on the results, you can speed things up by posting the results right away. Something like-
You notice a spot of blood on the window sill.
The way the glass is scattered makes you think that the window was broken from the inside.
You notice a spot of blood on the window sill.
The way the glass is scattered makes you think that the window was broken from the inside.
A section of the floor where the rug has been rumpled by the struggle looks like it is less worn than others, like the boards were replaced at some point.
Then, when the players roll their checks they can consult the appropriate spoilers and react immediately to the information.
Another way of handling skill checks you know are coming is to simply roll for everyone with the appropriate skill, and post the results in individual spoilers.
A handy way of handling general knowledge checks is to assume everyone with the appropriate Knowledge Takes 10 and then write a spoiler for them describing what they recall. Often this is really going to be an info dump for the bard or wizard. I find Spoilers for the information to be the bast way of handling knowledge checks because it allows the players to put things in their own words, or to withhold information if they feel the need to. Simply writing out "what the bard tells the party" removes the bard's autonomy. As a GM, that's usually a bad idea. I advise against it. Frankly, it's lazy storytelling, which is about the worst sin a GM can commit.
Roll for them yurself, or Spoiler the results.
Nothing slows down a fight quite like Saves against multi-target monster abilities.
Compare the following examples:
"The Gorgon breathes all over the party. Everyone make a Fort save."
"The Gorgon breathes all over the party!"
"The Gorgon breathes all over the party!"
"Fangaren makes a strangled sound as his flesh hardens to stone."
Which takes the least amount of time? Which seems like the best narrative tool?
Don't be afraid to make Save rolls for your players. If you make it known up front that you'll occasionally do it, there won't be any complaints. It's all the same dice roller after all.
Did you know that you can program your keyboard to automatically paste in something if you press the right key sequence? Super handy.
Look up a Keyboard Macro tutorial for your operating system on youtube. They are usually super easy. Then set a keystroke combination to do something like type out [ spoiler=[ ooc][ /ooc]][ spoiler] whenever you press Control+Shift+S+P
Pre-coding Dice Rolls-
If you put dice coding into an Alias, the dice roller doesn't get the instructions. That means you can store the dice codes in your GM Alias so you don't have to type them all out every round.
Advanced Storytelling Tips-
Creating a separate Alias to be "the guy telling the story", and posting as that character whenever you need to cut to a new scene is a good way of establishing a narrative theme.
The Narrator could be an NPC, older in the future, telling the story of the great heroes he knew in his youth, or it could be an archivist, far in the future, written like a history text book or lecture, telling the story as a chronicle of the distant past.
It could even be a villain, or a ghost, or a god. It might not be clear who the narrator is, or what side they are on, which creates a new mystery for the players to speculate at out of game.
Stats according to the averages of a whole bunch of stupid online surveys. Apparently I'm built with an Heroic+ spread. I'm cool with this.
Currently running Clarion Quietus at www.againsttheshadow.org
Vigdir roles: Tutor, Herald, Watcher, Guide
It, ah, it was a song, you see. Not a poem. That was the trick. She hid the proper key signature in the lyrics. I've been hunting for it for a long time, but all the villages in these mountains have their own version. The only clue I had about which one was right was a cryptic letter she wrote about "listening to the right tail", spelled t a i l."[/b] he said with a slight grin, pointing at the rat-man's long tail.
"I always thought it was a mistake in the translation until tonight."