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Painlord's Guide to PbP GMing: Make Your World a Better Place


Online Campaigns General Discussion

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Author's Notes:

PbP is *the* best Pathfinder format there is. No game you will ever run will have the depth of story and character that you will have in PbP.

I can't apologize for the length of this post as I recognize that in tackling this I could never have written all that could be said about Play-by-Post (PbP) GMing. There is just too much...and I could never say enough and do a complete job. However, there should be some things below to help you find the mindset to run a great game. I hope other posters will fill in the blanks with their own suggestions and ideas.

I did not work alone on this. Other active contributors include:

GM Angry Ankheg
DM Evilan
GM Rat Sass

Others have contributed to this post by running me in their games. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.

I freely welcome open discussion, your contributions, and disagreement in this thread...only through the sharing of ideas and collaboration can we push this format to be better.

It's Tough, So Tough:

It's tough to be a GM, twice as hard to be a good PbP GM. I have had several some many oh-god-no-more games crash and burn because of GMs not understanding how difficult it can be to GM PbP. Why is it so different than Face-to-Face(F2F)?

  • No immediate feedback from players. When there is a problem or a mistake, it can take hours/days to find and fix.
  • You cannot read facial expression of players. It's easier to spot areas of confusion in real life.
  • Difficult to know when to push; finding your timing is harder. This is the single hardest thing for a new GM to figure out. It's hard to know when to let RP flow and when to push sagging action. A GM will occasionally 'herd cats' to get the party back on task...it happens in every group.
  • Getting maps to work for a diverse online group is harder than drawing on a map pack. Figuring out how *you* are going to present fun and fair mapped combats. Sure, Rolld20, Googledocs, pic hosting all work, but what best fits your skillset? Which one are you trained in and feel comfortable with?
  • Having to read and respond to everything. A real life GM (usually) gets questions one at a time and can focus and prioritize how and what to answer. In PbP, it requires reading every post and seeing each post for what needs a response. It's very frustrating as a player to have to ask the same question, post after post. It's easy for a GM to miss things in PbP that normally wouldn't be missed in F2F.
  • Sometimes your players have infrequent check-ins...creating a difficulty in assessing what they meant when they posted. You want to avoid going back and forth, over days, to clarify so you’ll likely need to guess their desires and do what’s best.
  • Difficulty in describing your story/action/environment. Hand gestures, intonation, inflection all matter in communication...but are much more difficult in PbP. A map with two or three dimensions is a lot of PbP work...a clarification on a map might be two quick pen strokes to fix and explain in real life, but take a lot of map time to fix in PbP. You need to be able to explain story and setting via the written word. That can be much harder in PbP for some people (some people are not strong writers, or English is not their first language). Some people are better storytellers via the spoken word.
  • Focus. The good GM must be more focused than the players, more on top of the game, more energetic - every day for years. If the GM falters, the whole game falters - much more severely than when a single player drifts.

However, these are not insurmountable problems. A PbP game has many, clear advantages to 'Real' Life, Face-to-Face and can be an infinitely more rewarding experience for you and your players.

0. Prime PbP GM Commandment:

Coffee is for closers. I repeat: Coffee is for closers.

Don't set out to start a PbP. *SET OUT TO CLOSE A PBP* Finish what you're going to start...whether it's one book of an AP, a PFS scenario, or your own home brew.

These boards are full of dead games...started by GMs with the best intentions. But they have failed before the first 1000 posts. Failed before they even got to the good stuff. Mostly, it's because the GM lost heart, didn't realize what it would take to create a good game. They were unprepared for the daily effort that is necessary to *complete* a PbP.

In their wake, they have left player after player wondering why the game died. It’s because their beginnings were ill-conceived, poorly formed, and/or lacked the momentum to properly start in the first place.

So...*Don't start a PbP unless you can finish it.*

Being a PbP GM is hard (and also infinitely rewarding) and this guide is going to help you out. However, please, for the love of whatever gods you might pray to: try a PFS mod before starting a full AP. Finish something small first, get it done, get your feet wet and understand what it takes.

The good GMs aren't the ones who start PbPs...they are the ones that close them.

In short, this is the one and only Commandment for GMs: Finish what you start. There is no greater crime on these boards than a GM getting a party of players together, getting their hopes up, having them work on characters and backstory and their dreams...only to have them dashed when the GM disappears.

With that said, we can get to the good stuff. We can talk about how you can run an awesome game by setting good expectations of your players, keeping the pacing, running good combats, and setting the social tone for your game. The overarching tone of these suggestions is the following: train your players to make things easier on you. If you can do that, you can avoid or minimize some of the tough parts of being a PbP GM.

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1. Setting the Tone and Training:
This is your game. The best way to make it the way you want it to be is to lead the way...and train your players to make it easier on you. Take it away, Motte:

GM Motteditor wrote:
Running a PBP game is a LOT of work. You have to keep track of everyone more than you would in a tabletop game, and for me at least, I'm switching windows all the time to see what modifiers are in play, etc. etc. Even with some dice strings saved, every dice roll involved some typing that takes longer than simply tossing a d20. It's simply time-consuming to do each round of combat in a way that it isn't at the tabletop.

So do things to make things easier on yourself.

1.1 Set Clear Player Expectations:

The biggest thing I have learned is to set clear expectations for players before they get involved so that they know what is expected before they join. When you are clear about what you expect, your players will respond. Look at this beautiful(link) campaign info tab by GM Damo. You can see how much time and effort he went into planning his game. I would want to play in that game because I know what is expected. This GM's post was a great example of how to answer a player's questions about what is expected.

Set your expectations. Posting. Roleplaying. Formatting. Interactions. House rules. Community. Everything that you can make clear up front, will make your job easier later. Be clear!

1.2 Promote Community:

Pathfinder is a social game. Pathfinder involves interactive social skills and, as GM, it's your job to promote good social interaction. Your ability to work with others, create trust, and thank others will go a long way towards making your game better...and easier for you to run.

Acknowledge & Thank Awesomeness: When one of your players does something awesome, acknowledge it. Great roleplaying? Say so. Something make you laugh? You blew coffee all over your keyboard? Put in an LOL! or LOL@<name> into your next post. Use the "favorite this post" to show your appreciation. It matters. Soon, your players will start liking your posts and those of your other players.

React: Good stuff happens when people react to things that are happening. As GM, you have more opportunities to react than your players...while you should give your players priority in reacting, you should definitely have your say in promoting roleplay by reacting. Reacting properly gives the players hooks and creates interest. Interaction is part of the social nature of this game.

Socialize: Remember that you and your fellow players are people that have come together to play. Find ways to talk to others outside the IC and OOC threads. In most of my current games, I have connection with players via GoogleChat (via Trillian) or a Facebook Private Group through which we can chat about in-game and out-of-game stuff. Getting to know the other players has only enhanced my connections to their characters and to the roleplaying. My best games are ones that I can chat with the GMs about both in-game and out-of-game stuff. We're friends...having fun together playing PbP.

Trust: Building trust is essential, both between you and your players and for the other players to have so that they can roleplay honestly without worrying about mistakes. Some of the best RP and memories comes from players acting in character to results that didn't turn out as intended. However, players need trust to take those risks, to act and make mistakes.
Create trust by:

  • Being reliable and responding in a timely manner.
  • Doing what you say...and holding your players accountable as well.
  • Take your own risks, even making mistakes, so that your players can see how you take responsibility and fix it and carry on.
  • Be open for private (PM) discussion as necessary. And care for the secrets of your players. Not everything needs to be on an alias...work with players to create secrets that you will trust them to play out as they see fit.
  • Be objective and fair: RAW or RAI, explain fairly and make fair resolutions.

Be a friend, a confidant, a human. We aren't playing PbP because we want to play with robots...we aren't playing WoW. This is a roleplaying *and* social game.

1.3 Be Collaborative, not Combative Storytelling:

Play by post is a crafting process. The GM and the players can either collaborate and create a work of art... or combat each other over the design, details, and direction. The latter is likely to leave a battered and broken heap that no one enjoys. It's a choice; make the right one, and make sure your players are ready to join you in making a work of art.

1.4 Training, Bad Players, and Trimming Deadweight:

Dirty little secret: Bad PbP players are easy to find. There are lots of them on these boards. Good GMs are rare. There are a lot more players than GMs...which gives the GM a leveraged position. It does not give you the right to abuse players, but you don't have to put up with bad players...nor those who don't seem to be contributing.

Train your players using positive reinforcement: When you call out a great roleplaying post or clear combat action, you highlight what you value and your players will strive to do more.

The game, our time, this PbP format, is too valuable to let it be ruined by bad players...and I've seen plenty of bad players in PbP. What sorts of things?

  • Long, unexplained posting absences
  • Posts that have no roleplaying, hooks, or pushes
  • Argumentative or metagaming actions
  • Not reading the others’ posts
  • Not following campaign rules and expectations.

(Note: Knowledge of Pathfinder rules is a not an issue...nor is quality of build. As GM, you can place as much priority on those aspects as you deem appropriate...and you can work with rules-light players almost easier than you can with rules lawyers. It's a matter of preference and your ability to train your players on what you prefer.)

Remember, you outline the type of campaign you want, and then help the players live up to it.

You have the *responsibility* to your players to not let bad players slow down or ruin your game. It's *your* job to take action to protect *your* game from bad players. Sorry/NotSorry, it's one of the privileges/duties/honors of leadership.

Some behaviors are correctable and simple nudges and PMs should clarify what is expected. A few polite personal messages should clear it up.

Always give your players chances to improve...if you are positive with what you expect, it should be easy to fix. And remember this trick: Praise in Public, Criticize in Personal Message/Private.

Now, here is the biggest point of all this: Don't be afraid to cut bad players. You can replace them easily enough...but if a player is not contributing, or is sucking the soul from you or other players, it is your duty to cut them before they do too much damage. As one Venture Captain once told me: “You got to scrape the barnacles off the boat if you want to sail quickly."

Bad players are a drag on you and on your players. Give them a chance to improve...and GET RID OF THEM if they don't improve.

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2. Setting things Up:

2.1 Creating the World:
For some, the most daunting aspect of running a play by post is simply setting up the various threads. While it is not entirely straight forward, Paizo has made some changes that smooth out the process considerably.

Step 1: Create the Recruitment Thread:Go to the Play-by-Post Recruitment area of the Paizo Boards; use the "add new thread" link. This requires a title. The most important information to have in this title is whether or not it is an "open" or "closed" recruitment. If it is a closed recruitment, the post does not have to say much, but can be used to begin the setting the tone for the story. If it is an open recruitment, this is where the rules and expectations previously chosen will be relayed to prospective players.

Step 2: Create the Campaign Page: When creating the Recruitment page, there will be a small box at the top with a link to set up the campaign thread. The page it creates is a good place for a list of important things: rules, important NPCs, quests, links to maps and/or treasure sheets. A good campaign page makes the game easier for both the GM and the players. Paizo has set it up so that immediately upon creation, a campaign page will have links to create the other threads, including the one you will use the most, The Gameplay thread.

Step 3: Create the Gameplay Thread: When the other threads are used appropriately, the Gameplay Thread is allowed to stand as an almost entirely in-character space. Done well, they can be read near enough as a story. To this end, the first post for your Gameplay thread should be after your party has been chosen, after they have crafted their characters, and after they have had a little bit of time to get to know each other in the recruitment thread.

2.2 Choosing the Campaign -- Length, Levels, Laws:

Before you run a campaign, and before it can even be offered up to players, it is best to have some sort of sketch of what sort of campaign it will be. How long will it likely run? What levels will it cover? What ruleset and what sort of house rules will be in place? Each of these questions opens several others, but by asking yourself these questions, you will be able to be more upfront with prospective players and likely end up with a more compatible group in the long run.

How long will it likely run?
Hidden in this question are several other sub-questions. How many posts are you willing to make daily, and how many will you expect players to make? What happens *when* someone can’t post at some point? What is the preferred sandbox/rails ratio and will there be opportunity for personal stories for the players? All of these things can impact how long it takes to run the exact same scenario/module/or adventure path. There are no RIGHT answers to this, as long as the members of the group all have the same expectations.

What levels will it cover?
“Level” can apply to many things that are important to consider. The number of character levels the campaign will cover will impact the answers to the question above, but there are other “levels” to consider. What sort of experience level are you looking for? What age group? Will it be G, PG, or something more adult? How much humor and how much gore? What are your expectations regarding the Metagame and it’s in-game consequence? You may or may not voice all of these in the recruitment thread, but by asking yourself the questions, you’ll know what you are looking for and why as you search for players.

What ruleset and what sort of house rules will be in place?
While most of the Play-by-Posts on the Paizo boards tend to be Pathfinder, not all of them are, and of those, they could still be Core Only, Pathfinder Society, or a no-books-barred Pathfinder+3.x, or anywhere in between. Again, knowing the answers to these questions will help pull together people who will hopefully enjoy the same ruleset and house rules.

Just as important as the rules for the game are often “unwritten” rules that make for a good game. How deeply are you looking for the characters to be developed prior beginning? How much character friction (vs player friction) is allowable? How much, and what sort of metagaming is allowed? Being upfront about these things with your players makes sure that they have considered these things as well. It's not that any given answer is "Right" but that it is Right for the game and group in question.

Rules: made to be broken, or bent?
It can be very easy to lay things out just the way you would like them. That's fine and promotes good communication so that you end up with like-minded players and a game you can not just live with, but truly enjoy. Human beings are imperfect. Therefore, you and your players are likely to be imperfect as well. Knowing how much room you are willing to give people before making permanent changes can help stave off hurt feelings and leave future game possibilities intact. Even if you never play with a person again, leaving things well versus badly affects not just you, and not just that person, but the hobby as a whole, as every person goes out into the world and interacts with new players.

The Only Rule that Matters
Different rules will work for different groups, and though we all have our favorites, there is one that is important for every group: Communicate! Communicate problems early. Communicate often, both in the Gameplay thread, and in the Discussion thread. Build communication lines beyond the Play-by-Post threads, such as email, Facebook, or chat. Communication between player and GM is important; they need to be able to ask those questions that might pop up at the gaming table prior to posting. Communication between players is just as important. A GM should facilitate this if at all possible. This is a social game, and people need to be able to socialize directly, not just through the GM. Most little problems can be solved between players well before the GM needs to step in.

2.3 Recruitment:
I have such mixed feelings about recruitment threads. There is usually so much competition for a few threads that it seems impossible for competing players to find a spot. On the other hand, I love the challenge of the contest and how it spurs me to create a good, complete character.

What kind of game do you want? One that focuses on the technical parts of Pathfinder (builds, combat effectiveness) or one that is focused on roleplaying and character? You should create the recruitment thread to highlight what you want.

I will make no secret that I place roleplaying and character development over builds in every case. If your game is going to succeed, story and motivation are what matter...not how much damage someone can do. In my experience, combat and balance always work themselves out...roleplaying and story do not.

Get Players who read/follow directions: A Recruitment thread is a great place to quickly see who is going to annoy you and other players with their lack of attention. For instance, if you mention in your build requirements 'core races only' for a low fantasy game and some yahoo offers a Dhampir Half Dragon, maybe they aren't going to be an easy fit. I guarantee if that if they aren't paying attention in a recruitment thread, then they are going to be players who frequently miss things in-game.

Attrition: Unless you are incredibly lucky/unlucky, you will face some attrition from your starting game until the end. Players move on, get new jobs, lives change...things happen. You can either prepare to re-recruit when that happens, or recruit large (6 players for your average AP)...then not replace them as they leave.

Referrals vs. Open Auditions: There are some GMs who only open up to players they know or are referred to them. That can be good...you know the players you are getting have the potential to be good (or, at least, have a social pressure to contribute). On the other hand, we need to make the game open and inviting for new players. A referral might have a long, strong posting history and be a great player...on the other hand, playing with new and different players is how we improve as roleplayers.

Suggestion if you are taking referrals: Find a spot or two for new players. We always need to find ways to include new (to PbP) players into our games...they are our game's lifeblood and can be trained to be good players. This post (PFS) talks about what we want from new Pathfinder players. It applies nicely to PbP and the PbP community as well.

We can learn a lot from new players: both things we've never thought of...and things we know are wrong. Sometimes learning what not to do is as good as knowing what works. New players see and react in new ways...helping us flesh out possibilities within the PbP metagame.

2.4 Timezones:

In the past, a fellow player/GM that I respect insisted that getting players from similar time zones was essential to a good game. I'm not so sure. While I prefer the quick posts from people who are local to you, I’m not sure it is more or less important than other factors. Good players will contribute regardless of where they are. However, if you prefer to chitchat via GChat/AIM or other, having more overlap on the play/sleep schedules is important. And if you're seeking a very quick game, insisting that players are GMT+/- 2 hours from you can help you and your players have more time overlap.

2.5 Mapping the Adventure:

For many GMs, mapping may be the single most intimidating part of running a Play-by-Post. It doesn’t have to be. Anyone with the skills to reach Paizo to read and write a thread has the skills to do at least minimal mapping. HOW to map, however, remains a personal preference...you need a find a way that works for you.

Maps don't need to be amazing, they just need to get the job done. Questions you might ask yourself:

  • Can I learn to make it work?
  • Is it easy to update? *very* important
  • Do I want my players to move their own tokens or should I create a labeled grid and set positions?
  • Can I (and my players) access the map from work?
  • How important is mobile mapping, i.e. access from phones and tablets?
  • How much detail is important to me?

Google Drive: has 4 different formats that can be used to map: Googledraw, Google presentation, Google spreadsheets, and Google Document. That’s right, with nothing more than basic office productivity software, you can map for a Play-by-Post.

Rolld20: After trying basic office productivity software, most people decide to look for something stronger. Roll20 has a base subscription for free. It has everything that any of the Google Drive formats have, plus more. Like any community-supported resource, it is hoped that those who see the benefit will donate or subscribe at a higher rate to help keep it alive and growing.

RPG Virtual Tabletop: Several websites have lists and/or reviews of various options, one of which can be found at RPG Virtual Tabletop.

Ditzie: Some GMs like Ditzie, which is easily updated from any computer. You can create recursive maps easily.

In the end, this is a lackluster explanation because there are lots of options depending on what you want to do and how you want to do it. The most important factor in mapping is getting one that works for you BEFORE you start a game. Working maps is a high stress factor in PbP games. Get it right before you start.

2.6 Initiative:

Running initiatives can sometimes seem complicated, even at a Face-to-Face table. I suggest you use PROOP.

Prepare your initiatives (and common things like perception checks) ahead of time. Set up a macro or copy and paste it from your Campaign Info (example link) tab.

Roll initiatives for your players. Usually in a spoiler.

Organize your monsters/bad guys into meaningful groups. You don't necessarily want all your monsters in one group, but also, each additional group/individual you have will slow down combats. If you have yahoos that should be acting alone, have them act alone. If your party is facing 15 kobolds, then maybe do 3 groups of 5.

Order the initiatives from first to last, using highest init modifier in the event of a tie.

Post the initiative in a way that you can copy/paste later in your rounds.

In this, the GM rolls for everyone and then each person responds either in order, in subgroups, or as they can. At the end of the round, the GM summarizes, taking each person’s response into consideration as he lays out how the round played out. This can be a little or a lot more complicated, depending on which variation is chosen. In general, a little more work for the GM can speed the game up considerably. As with most things, communication is the key to success.

Here is a champion GM's Initiative Post

2.7 Treasure Tracking:
Some people *like* the detail of treasure tracking and game resources. Some players do not. If you want to track all the stuff with your players, please do...but be aware of the time involved.

You can also work with your players to track loot and gold, helping them keep lists and reviewing purchases and sales.

GM Treasure Tracker: GM Evilan's CotCT (spoilers) Treasure sheet. This was keen as he used WBL to level us, managing the treasure for when he wanted us to level.

Player Treasure Tracker: This one is run by Mal from our Reign of Winter campaign.

Personal Treasure Tracking: When there is no group tracking, I would at least encourage you have your players track their monies and purchases in the OOC, keeping a running total of gold.

Spasi's First Cashing
Spasi's Second Cashing - not the link back to the first cashing
Spasi bought stuff
And #4 cashing - you get the idea

If it is important to you (or your players), you are encouraged as ask your players to post their total Wealth in the OOC so you can see where they are as opposed to where you could be. If you notice a player who is significantly under WBL, you can manage a treasure drop for them.

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3. Random Things about GMing PbP that are Tough to Categorize

3.1 Consistency (aka The GM Evilan God skill):
If I had a second commandment, it would be this: Be Consistent. One of my greatest PbP GMs had a singular 18 stat: consistency. Every morning he would wake up and post...the next round of combat or the next interplay. EVERY FREAKIN' MORNING...it...was...awesome.

Why? We, as humans, respond to consistency and expectations. It gets us all on a regular schedule. And nothing is better for a PbP game than consistency: when players know the game is always going to move forward, they stay engaged, they stay in-character.

On the other side of the coin, random and fragmented posting is a killer. Unexplained absences, slow posts, and gaps make for a poor game. Your story falters when the details fade from memory. We players lose our connection to the game and our characters when we do not post.

Keep your momentum. Post everyday...and at a set time if you can.

3.2 Posts per Day:
It's fashionable to insist on a post a day from your players. Many players and GMs do not hold to that well. However, that rule doesn't really work for GMs. Here's one that applies: Post at a rate that you can sustain; post as needed to keep momentum. There is only *one* person completely responsible for the game: you.

My GM PbP requirements might look like this: "I'm going to hold you to the same standard as I hold myself: I expect you to post as often as is needed, adjusting to the pace of the group, as set by me. I plan to post at least once per day. When you do post, I expect you to push the action/story/RP or leave/pick up RP hooks. If our pacing changes to the point of negatively impacting your ability to keep up, I hope and expect that you will talk to me earlier rather than later. I promise to do the same if our positions are reversed."

3.3 Corral and Redirect:
Let's be honest: players are yahoos...goofy, silly yahoos (if you are lucky). However, even the best players get lost, lose focus, forget the 'mission', go astray. It's your job to corral them and get them back on track. For me, GM Chris was a master at getting our PbP group back on track or refocused. Look at these posts....

Example #1: OOC Corral Post #1 (Shackled City spoilers) – Party was lost on leads and story. Fixed in one post...

Example #2: ...until we needed more months later. (Shacked City spoilers).

Example #3: Not to mention combat confusion, a good corral post can fix those too...

Example #4: ...until it happens again. It happens. The best person to get things back on track is *you*, the GM. Players will get lost as they deal in the campaign and through the lens of busy lives. It's easy to fix.

Another great example comes from GM Brew:
Example #5: GM Brew answers a bunch of questions in this post. Well done, GM Brew.


3.4 Player Resources:
A good GM uses all of the resources at the table. This sounds obvious, but many games die because things become overwhelming to a GM who tries to do everything himself. If a game has six players, then a GM has not one person, but seven who can help do the work to make it a thriving campaign. If one of the players is an Excel god, relying on him to help with a treasure spread sheet just makes sense. If another has excellent focus, the GM might ask them to give a nudge if it seems like things are bogging down. Every person in the game has an vested interest in making sure it goes well, so don’t be afraid to let them *invest*!

By the same token, invite players over to the OOC to research rules questions. Have a question about how XYZ works? Ask your players to figure things out with you in the OOC. Quoting rules sources or linking to rules pages makes things work. Remember, you can play RAW or RAI or 'WhateverIWant' as long as you're fair, clear, and consistent in your rulings.

Here is another example (link) from the amazing GM Chris. Was the ruling right or wrong? Answer: It doesn't matter...the GM ruled and explained. We players were happy and moved on. Another example.

Players can also help with rules by researching things for you: Check out Atol (here).

Think they are wrong? Take it to the OOC: A powergaming yahoo gets slapped by the GM (next post).

3.5 XP and Leveling:
Assigning XP for encounters is an old and outdated system. If it makes you happy to track such things, then go ahead and do it. For me, the better system is Whenever-I-Feel-Like-It. If you're a GM playing an AP or running your own content, you pretty much know where you want your players to be.

GM Evilan used GP vs. WBL to decide when it was time to level. GM Evilan's Treasure & XP sheet. See the first tab? He used loot to approximate when we would be leveling. As GM you can adjust the loot.

Secondly, when characters level, in addition to having them update any alias information, ask them to either send you their new character sheets or post their new levels in the OOC, pointing out feats, spells, skills, and things of interest.

Hektir Lvl 2
Hektir Lvl 3
Hektir Lvl 4 etc.

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4. In-Game Management Stuff In short, do what works for you and your players. Here is what some fine GMs taught me in the past that worked well.

4.1 Know Monster Checks:

As we mentioned above, we want to both train our players to be good ones and support those characters who have chosen to put ranks into knowledge skills. For me, I love in-character knowledge rolls so that I can participate fully and use my character's skills.

There are two ways to handle them:

  • Put the information in scaling spoilers so that players can roll their knowledges and then read the appropriate spoiler for them. There is a great example from DM Are, here. As a player, I love this approach. However, it doesn't always give the player the chance to ask a specific question. Nonetheless, that is a fine trade off in PbP and you, as GM, can begin to include those answers in the spoilers.

  • The second method is poking your players with a reminder to roll if they want. Example:

    The big blob rushes at you with pseudopods extended! Knowledge (Dungeoneering), DC 18 for 1 question.

Or this example from GM Lithrac.

It's sometimes hard to remember what creature goes with what knowledge. There are plenty of links around to help you remember, including this one:

  • Arcana: constructs, dragons, magical beasts
  • Dungeoneering: aberrations, oozes
  • Local: humanoids (elves, dwarves, goblins, etc.)
  • Nature: animals, fey, monstrous humanoids, plants vermin
  • Planes: elementals, outsiders (demons, devils, angels, archons)
  • Religion: undead

The basic check 10 + the monster's CR. 15 + CR if you feel the monster is rarer. Players can usually get additional information for each 5 that they beat the check. But, as always, this is your game and GM for the most enjoyment for you and your group.

4.2 How to Push:

A good GM prompts, pushing when appropriate. And you will need to learn when to push and when to let things lie. It may take time for you and your group to coalesce. It may take you a while to know when to push and when to wait. Luckily, as you are GM, you can easily ret-con (go back on) actions and fix things if you go too quickly. As I believe there is a greater danger in going slow than quick, I always encourage pushing. Going too fast can be fixed, going too slow makes things harder.

4.2.1 What would you do?:

Check out this perfect push post by GM CC (link). It beautifully describes the actions and prompts the players to react. Granted, you should not need to prompt your players to react, but this sort of push is very effective. What would you do?

4.2.2 Stepping:

GM Cyrioul showed me this neat trick...'Stepping'. And another stepping post. These are great ways to give players a chance to interject or respond as you post a bit of dialogue. It allows for a bigger post AND for responses to them. It reduces the slowness brought on by the give-and-take that long dialogues can have in PbP.

4.2.3 Active Pushing:
It takes a while to learn when you should push and when you should wait. Every group is different and you'll soon learn your players' tendencies. Early on, I would push often, knowing that things can be slowed and retconned. Even after the game is going, at the end of every substantive GM post, you should include a push, usually in OOC text.

Example active pushes:

  • You guys are up.
  • Your options are: explore the kobold lair, go to town, or surprise me.
  • Waiting to hear from Jimbo Von Flumphpants and Sister Heddy Tartar. (Calling out your player's names is better than not. Don't be afraid to emphasize what you need from your players.)
  • You guys need a solution to the weregummybear. It's eaten half the town so far...and the other half is mostly orphanages and brothels.

4.2.4 Reward Your Pushers/Hookers:

You're going to have players that work to include others, move the action forward, and take responsibility for the game. Reward them somehow. Give them praise, highlight their actions, thank them for what they are doing. After all, you want to encourage it.

GM Evilan warns wrote:
”Track how often people post, and caution your heaviest poster just as much as you encourage your weakest poster. The GM should be the heaviest overall poster. If not, consider who is driving the campaign.”

4.2.5 GM PC:
If you have created trust with your players, then it should be easy to liberally use GM PC when appropriate. (GM PC=Having the GM post actions for a player...if they are missing, busy, a requested absence, or just-because-they-feel-like-it.) Knowing when to GM PC depends entirely on your game, your players, and what they are doing.

The best part about GM PCing? You, as GM, can take things back or fix things if they are wrong. The second best part is that it can help you keep momentum and story focus.

4.3 Beware of Doors:

From Oceanshieldwolf:

OSWolf wrote:
”Beware of doors: For some reason, placing a door in front of the PCs will make the game grind to a halt while they prepare to open it. Don't ask me why this happens, it just does.”

In a PbP game, you want to avoid 'doors', that is, unnecessary delays in the game where your players are spending days wondering who is going to open the door. Hopefully, you are training them to push and act, but...just be aware that doors/columns/funky blue lights/NPCs can all be 'doors', that is, barriers to pushing forward.

When you recognize that your players are afraid of a 'door', give them a push.

4.4 Fixing Errors:
Embrace the idea that you are going to make mistakes, do things wrong, miss things, misread, and screw up in a piddlespotting myriad of ways.

What's great about being GM is that you get to deal with them in any way you choose. You can either ignore them or, even better: fix them as best you can, learn from the experience, and move on.

As GM, you can go back in time pretty easily...or issue a story override pretty easily.

Example #1: ”Oops, I screwed up. The pegleg gnome you met back in town? He was actually a 'jittery eskimo firefighter' carrying two harpoons. He also told you that the secret to opening the Tomb of the Tattooed Turnips was weasel grease. You guys need weasel grease.”

Example #2: ”You're totally right, Kast. I missed the deflection bonus from your combat toupee. Take off 6 damage.”

Example #3: ”Oooh...oops! The DC for that Hold Person was supposed to be 14, not 34. Let's go back before the coup de grace, back to Round 2. My bad.”

Example #4: ”Uh...yeah, I made a mistake there. No one has died, but yeah, you all got screwed, but found your way out of the Tavern of the Tepid Teawater. Let's play on.”

4.5 Keeping the Story:

Aubrey the Malformed wrote:

The trick in a campaign for a DM is to keep reasonable fidelity with the overarching plot while allowing the PCs scope to do stuff. It's primarily about decent hooks, and also about rolling with what the PCs do while gently nudging them in the direction of the "good stuff".


PbP, of course, gives a DM plenty of time to think. That actually makes running a plotted campaign that meaningfully includes player actions easier because the DM doesn't have to make immediate decisions if they are surprised by what the players do. It also, of course, makes for good roleplaying, too, but that can be a bit dependent on the writing ability of the players and DM.

Aubrey says it better than I ever could. Have your story and get your players to collaboratively write it.

*************************

5. Running Combats:
Combats (especially the fun ones) can be a confusing mix of actions, delays and readies, spell effects, battlefield control and other good stuff. There are good ways to track them in PbP, but without protocol, they can get confusing. Some combats are easy, simple and can be even mapless (you don't need full detail in every fight). However, especially as you move up in level and skill, you'll want a posting and combat protocol to keep things clear (and even then things will get screwed up).

The key is being clean and ordered so that you and your players can easily see what round it is, what initiative it is, and who is coming up next. In short, it's about clear, communicative posts. Train your players how you want them to post actions and keep clear actions in combat so that you, as GM, can follow what they are doing and adjudicate the combat efficiently. You want to finish one round clearly so you can recap and move to the next.

Combat Things to Do:

  • 5.1 Have your players: Every post, every turn, put up a header with the round and their initiative. In PbP, there is no reason why you should not expect your players to keep track of things as well. Example: Round 1, Init 14.

  • 5.2 GM: When resolving actions or commenting or running a monster, makes a note about who is up next. Example: Amren, then the bad guys, then Garridan and Kast!

  • 5.3 Have new players? Playing with new players to Pathfinder? Or to PbP? Or just making too many mistakes? Ask your players to define their actions each round with OOC text for swift, move, and standard/full round actions. Training your players to think this way will make them better players.

    Exmple #1: Zilch drops his longspear (free), draws his morningstar (move), and swings at the donutbeast! (standard)

    Example #2: Appario draws his bastard sword (free as a part of a move action), Extortion, taking a 5' step (move), smites evil @ donutdevil (swift), and attacks! (standard)

  • 5.4 Tracking: Your players are responsible for tracking conditions gained and spell rounds. Yes, PLAYERS are responsible for accurately keeping track of spells and effects, counting rounds and ability damage and all that. Don't assume all the responsibility...have them clearly track and note both good and bad effects. This is about making your job easier. Then again, if you want track such things, go for it. Just make sure whatever you do, you do it consistently.

    Similarly, your players are responsible for communicating the effects and spells they are casting and making sure other players are using the bonus. When I GM, I don't go back too often to correct for player mistakes...I would rather teach them to play with precision. However, you might have a soul and will be nice enough to allow a late reminder bonus from a Bless spell. I don’t have the patience for being nice when I can train players to be better. It’s hard enough in PbP without going back to fix thing that your players screwed up.

  • 5.5 Stat Blocks: There are two kinds of stat blocks: those that appear under a character's name as a part of their alias, and those that characters can use to include information about their combat modifiers. You should ask your characters to build them to fit what you want to see.

    Alias Stat blocks: Here are some samples I've seen and used over time:
    {spoiler=Stats}F HalfOrc Barrister 2 (HP 15/15 | AC:15 | T:12 | FF:13 | CMB: +1 | CMD:16 | Fort:+4 | Ref:+2 | Will:+3 | Init:+2| Perc: +5 | Speed: 30 ft.{/spoiler}

    {spoiler=Taldan Magicky Guy}AC 16/12/14 (+4 w/Mage Armor) /HP: 30 / F +2 R +3 W +5 / Init. +4 / Perc. +15/ Sense Motive +1 {/spoiler}

    An End of Combat Post stat block might include very different information, including current spell effects, abilities, class features, and whatever else might be important to the active situation.

    In the past, I've used some like this:

    {spoiler=Dyrant Status}
    AC: 19 (+5 Dex, +4 MageArmor)
    HP: 120/120
    Weapon Equipped = AngelRelic
    Blessing of St. Cuthbert (+3 AC/Saves) = Cog/Atol
    Healing Touched Today =
    Favor of St. Cuthbert =
    Connection Hex = Finneas
    Fly: 1 of 14 minutes used
    Fly, current iteration: 3 of 10 rounds used
    Metamagic Rod Extend (1/3 used)
    Metamagic Rod Acid (0/3 used)
    Metamagic Rod Silent (0/3 used)
    AngelRelic (Staff of Fire) 9/10
    Wand of Displacement 4/12 charges
    Wand of Fly 20/28 charges
    Scarab of Protection: 20 SR & 5/12 charges
    Heroism, Extended
    Mage Armor
    Fly {/spoiler}

    Or, for a spellcaster: {spoiler=Spazzes} Force Missile (0/7 used), Lvl 1 (0/8 used), Lvl 2 (1/5 used){/spoiler}

    And an example of an in-combat status block:
    HP 23/35. AC 22 (total defense)
    Active Spell Effects:
    Divine Favor: 3/10 rounds used
    Longstider: 4 hours
    Barkskin: 40 minutes
    Smite: 0/1 left today.

    5.6 Combat Modifiers: Ensure that players clearly show their combat modifiers when they attack, calling out common (and uncommon) bonii that they are applying. Train them to show things like cover and firing-into-combat penalties clearly. Don't let them make your job harder. Train them to do it right.

    Example #1:
    Kast stabs at the kobold:
    1d20 + 8 + 1 - 1 + 2 ⇒ (8) + 8 + 1 - 1 + 2 = 18 to hit; (+bless, -power attack, +flank)
    1d8 + 4 + 2 ⇒ (3) + 4 + 2 = 9 piercing damage. (+power attack)

    Example #2: See here how a complicated combat post can be cleaned up.

    5.7 GM Spells: When one of your goons casts a spell (and the party can both see and hear it), the pro move is to describe the effect (in open text), and put a spoiler for your players who might want to spellcraft it.

    Example:
    The donutbeast chants words of arcane power, wiggling its sprinkles deliciously. The chocolate glazing seems fuller, sweeter, more delicious.
    {spoiler=Spellcraft DC 17}The donutbeast casts Chocolatify on himself.{/spoiler}

    5.8 Player Spells: Insist that when your players cast a (less well known) spell, that they write out the name of the spell, a link to a source, and give the DC clearly.
    Example: Kast casts Cause Fear on the goblin! DC 14 Will save vs frightened.

    5.9 Adjudicating Actions Players are going to post confusing and often contradictory actions...it is a part of the PbP game. Thankfully, you have the ability to adjudicate as you see fit: you can either correct or amend actions to fit or ask for an action to be redone. If you've built good trust with your players, your changes will be quicker for the game and the overall health of your group.

    Train your players to communicate with you about your adjudications. Players have to be willing to let go control for minor things e.g. You can't move that far, I'll put you here instead. or Player 1 killed that kobold, you moved here to attack kobold #2. Be careful you don't control too much - the players are in control of their characters. Keep the changes you make in-character.

    5.10 Round Recap: The GM types up a quick note about what happened in the last round. This is incredibly valuable to your players. This creates a great amount of trust and certainty in your game as players know you've read their posts and responded to them. The combat recap is the best combat tool you have for ensuring a clear and fun game.

    DM_Euan wrote:

    Briar manages to miss all his shots, but one of his hidden allies manages a successful swing - though it does only a little damage after reduction. Charlie moves up into position and summons a water elemental to flank with Nikolay. Barael flails about with his bow a moment before settling into a rhythm and hitting once. His precision damage seems to have worked which is good as less damage is done than he feels there should be. Fondo digs down and finds Barael’s blade resting in a puddle in the rock. He then pulls out a potion. Nikolay continues to dig deeply into the creature though the pain shooting through his limbs is hindering him visibly as he connects once, but does not confirm the critical. All the fire damage seems to go through and the smell of burning flesh fills the air, mingling with the bile of the breath weapon and the sweat and fear of combat. Dandilion moves up behind some rocks and rips a new hand out of the ether for her use.

    Kleestad continues to press his advantage on the most troubling opponent in the room so far - Nikolay!

    [dice=KL Claw]1d20+21 to hit; 3d6+24 damage;
    [dice=KL Claw]1d20+21 to hit; 3d6+24 damage;
    [dice=KL Bite]1d20+18 to hit; 3d6+24 damage;

    -Round 4-
    Briar - 20 (10’ up)
    IS1 - 20 (10’ up)
    IS2 - 20 (10’ up)
    Charlie - 18
    Air Elemental - 18 (5’ up)(-36hp)(-1str)(in pain)
    Water Elemental - 18
    Barael - 16 (-13hp)(greater invisibility)
    Fondo - 14 (invisible)
    Nikolay - 12 (15’ up)
    ...

  • Bottom line: Run the combats as you see fit. My long standing games have developed these systems to reduce the strain on GMs for adjudicating the chaos of combat. You should run the system that works for you...just make it clear to the players what you expect.

    * * * * *

    In the end, the only way we’re going to have better PbP games is if you GMs train better players. And when we have better players, we’ll have better GMs and better games.

    Let’s create a great PbP Community full of good players and GMs that welcomes new players.

    -Pain

    TL:DR:

    Finish what you start.
    Don't start a PbP unless you can finish it.

    Set your game up right.
    Set clear expectations.
    Promote communication and community.
    Use all of your resources; share the load.
    Get your maps set *BEFORE* you start.

    Train your players.
    Praise in Public, Criticize in Personal Message/Private.
    Don't be afraid to cut bad players.
    Hold players to your standards.

    Post Everyday. Be Consistent.
    Post at a rate that you can sustain; post as needed to keep momentum.

    Learn to Push your players and your posts.
    Keep up your momentum.

    Run good combats that make things easy on you.
    Train your players to make things easy on you.

    Paizo Employee Developer

    Nice guide, Pain!

    I know I'm still a ways away from GMing a PbP game (speaking of which, I should go post as a player), but it's really nice to recognize strong practices of some of my better PbP GMs in the guide you assembled.

    Grand Lodge

    I'm so glad to see this is finally up. It was a good read and a great reminder of things to watch for in my own GMing.

    RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

    4 people marked this as a favorite.

    Very nice (and, hey, I'm quoted!). :)

    My first thought to add, even if it's sort of on a bad note: You talk about the Prime PBP GM Commandment, which I agree with fully. I think what bothers me more than GMs not finishing games, though, is that they just disappear.

    I'm in the middle of running three long-term APs, and I've finished several smaller adventures as well. That said, I've ended at least two attempts to run modules before the finish. I wish I hadn't had to, but for various reasons they weren't working and I wasn't enjoying myself (and I don't think the players were either). So I explained that I was calling an end to them and said why.

    I think that's a huge difference than when the GM just (slowly) stops posting and eventually leaves the players to figure out that the game has ended.

    (Of course, I have the same rant for players, since I hate the "is so-and-so gone and should we replace him or maybe something happened and he/she wants to come back?" phase. Unless you've been hit by a car and are in the hospital, or something along those lines, you have the two minutes it takes to get online and leave a note that you have to drop out.)

    Liberty's Edge

    4 people marked this as a favorite.

    This guide will accompany me on my first venture into PbP GMing, and is responsible in large part for my deciding to try it in the first place.

    Silver Crusade

    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    This is great advice, especially for someone like myself who is venturing into the waters for the first time.


    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    Check out the competition :-)

    Why not add this to the Guide to the Guides?

    /cevah

    The Exchange

    motteditor wrote:

    My first thought to add, even if it's sort of on a bad note: You talk about the Prime PBP GM Commandment, which I agree with fully. I think what bothers me more than GMs not finishing games, though, is that they just disappear.

    ...I wish I hadn't had to, but for various reasons they weren't working and I wasn't enjoying myself (and I don't think the players were either). So I explained that I was calling an end to them and said why.

    I think that's a huge difference than when the GM just (slowly) stops posting and eventually leaves the players to figure out that the game has ended.

    Oh Motte...you're one of the good ones, you know that. And I have no problem with communication that draws down a game. I have a *huge* problem with new GMs failing because they were not prepared and withdraw from PbP completely.

    We all lose when the fade away happens. We lose players and a potential future GM. We need to stop that from happening both to protect our players, but also to protect our future GMs.

    * * *

    Cevah wrote:

    Check out the competition :-)

    Why not add this to the Guide to the Guides?

    /cevah

    Lol. :)

    We are not competitors, but on the same side. His post was crucial in setting the norms by which we post and communicate.

    I had considered the Guide of Guides for builds and whatnot, but if you think this should be there, please recommend. I would appreciate it.


    I've kind of wanted to try this before. though i've never actually seen one. but I also don't know where to look other than roll20.net for pathfinder games online

    RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    Online campaigns can be found here. Check out the recruitment threads to try to find a game. And good luck!


    Painlord wrote:
    Cevah wrote:

    Check out the competition :-)

    Why not add this to the Guide to the Guides?

    /cevah

    Lol. :)

    We are not competitors, but on the same side. His post was crucial in setting the norms by which we post and communicate.

    I had considered the Guide of Guides for builds and whatnot, but if you think this should be there, please recommend. I would appreciate it.

    The title of the thread includes the word "Guide", and the thread follows the title. I do recommend it, although having an editable document on-line makes revision easier.

    As to competition, its all good. The more views on a topic, the better the topic is understood.

    /cevah


    This was an excellent read, and should be very helpful! Thanks for all the work you put into it!


    This guide is very well written and will help me to make my current and future GMing of PBP better. Thanks for doing all the work to put this together.


    motteditor wrote:
    Online campaigns can be found here. Check out the recruitment threads to try to find a game. And good luck!

    Snapple! I never knew.

    Thanks~


    Dot

    Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    Dot.

    Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    That... was a lot to absorb. But my first PbP as GM (which happens to also be my first homebrew campaign) has about 800 posts now, so I guess I must be doing at least a passable job. :D


    A really good guide... lots of things to think about. Thanks for this.


    Great work, Painlord! I've been playing PbP here for a few years, and have just DM'ed my first PFS game as a Pbp (and introduced my son to Pbp!). I'm already doing some of the stuff you mention, having learned from good DM's here, but I'm eager to apply the many other useful ideas you present!


    Fantastic resource painlord.

    I'm in a PbP that has almost hit 1 year, and another that started in May. I love the format, for many of the reasons you state.

    Been in way too many that I managed to get selected for but that died soon after, many times with absolutely no warning or later communication. Some were running seemingly fine, or in one case, despite an initial absence after being questioned by players even fantastic (presage of things to come perhaps?), then... gone. I truly do not understand the lack of communication.

    The Exchange

    Jiggy wrote:
    That... was a lot to absorb. But my first PbP as GM (which happens to also be my first homebrew campaign) has about 800 posts now, so I guess I must be doing at least a passable job. :D

    You must be. And you're probably doing other things that I didn't mention. What is working for you? Or what are you going to adopt from my post?

    Jiggy, what else to PbP GMs need to know? Where was your steepest learning curve? Biggest hurdle?

    p.s. I guess you're liking PbP, eh?


    Great guide! Dotting!


    2 people marked this as a favorite.

    I'm not Jiggy (wait, that just sounded wrong), but I'd say that for me the biggest hurdle was wrapping my head around the magnitude of the task. I backed into running a KM game when the GM disappeared and I thought it'd be fairly straightforward--I'd done some essentially PbEM games previously, but with a combat system that was far less position-driven than PF/3.x, and with a group of people that I'd known and gamed with IRL for quite a while. Getting used to working with people I'd never (and in most cases still haven't) met IRL was a challenge. In the absence of concrete feedback, I had no idea what was working and what wasn't.

    That's a lesson I should take from this as a PbP *player*, though--if something isn't working, the GM probably won't figure it out without some help.

    Grand Lodge

    DM Carbide wrote:
    That's a lesson I should take from this as a PbP *player*, though--if something isn't working, the GM probably won't figure it out without some help.

    This. I'm a firm believer that gaming, and especially play by post, is a team sport.


    Awesome job Painlord! I agree 100%. I was so lucky that my first PbP players were so damn good they made up for my deficiencies. We are up over 5k posts now in that game. Your thoughts on consistency are especially important. Consistent posting > pretty much everything.

    RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

    Agreed with Carbide and Verdi. I definitely like to ask my players what's working and what's not. If I have a rules question, I'll bring it up in the discussion thread -- no reason I have to be a dictator.


    Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    Nice job, Pain!

    As someone who learned how to PbP via trial and error — and mercifully didn't try running one until he had a few under his belt — this post is a great service. :-)

    Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    Painlord wrote:
    Jiggy wrote:
    That... was a lot to absorb. But my first PbP as GM (which happens to also be my first homebrew campaign) has about 800 posts now, so I guess I must be doing at least a passable job. :D

    You must be. And you're probably doing other things that I didn't mention. What is working for you? Or what are you going to adopt from my post?

    Jiggy, what else to PbP GMs need to know? Where was your steepest learning curve? Biggest hurdle?

    p.s. I guess you're liking PbP, eh?

    OMG MAPS

    Due to limited computing options (only a tablet at home, no scanner, and lots of things—including Google—blocked at work), I still haven't found a mapping option I'm happy with. When necessary, I've typed out combat maps with X's for empty spaces and other letters for characters. But that doesn't help for dungeon exploration. :/

    Also, I found myself nodding in agreement when reading about figuring out when to let the roleplaying play out and when to push. Still working on that.

    You didn't explicitly mention this, but maybe you had it in mind: clumped initiative. That is, if my monster goes, and then multiple party members go before the next monster, don't make them go in sequence. That's just unnecessary slowdown. Of course, this requires some generosity when it comes to buffs, since maybe the fighter was able to post sooner than the bard but totally would have wanted that buff spell first.


    Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
    Jiggy wrote:
    You didn't explicitly mention this, but maybe you had it in mind: clumped initiative. That is, if my monster goes, and then multiple party members go before the next monster, don't make them go in sequence. That's just unnecessary slowdown. Of course, this requires some generosity when it comes to buffs, since maybe the fighter was able to post sooner than the bard but totally would have wanted that buff spell first.

    Very good point.

    I usually resolve in initiative order, but I'm pretty open about letting the Bard player say, "hold up, fighter, I've got a buff coming online next round."

    As with anything, YMMV — find what works for you and your group.

    Grand Lodge

    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    Great guide as always, Pain.

    I've got two things to add and a open question.

    1. Be a PbP Player before a PbP GM. I feel that this should really be a commandment as well. Getting at least a game or two under your belt as a player helps acclimatize you to the needs and volume of PbP GMing.

    2. Pushing by Passing the Buck (more advice for players than GMs). Something that annoys me a bit as the GM is when players 'push' by passing the buck, i.e. making a post that depends on other players making the party decision.

    Example:

    Brunn takes a seat on the nearby rock and pulls an apple out of his satchel. "Well folks, what should we do? We've burned down the Bubble Factory, but there's still the Soap Dam to blow up and the Loofah Mill to sabotage."

    In my mind, all this does is force the decision onto someone else. It's still a 'push' post in that it definitely provides something for the other players to respond to, but it doesn't really push the story. A better post:

    Example:

    Brunn takes a seat on the nearby rock and pulls an apple out of his satchel. "Well folks, we've burned down the Bubble Factory, but there's still the Soap Dam to blow up and the Loofah Mill to sabotage. I say we take the Mill next."

    Others can still move the story in a different direction, but there's something for the GM to use in the absence of disagreement. There is an exception here, which is if one player is driving the campaign too much, that player should offer up the decision-making to the rest of the party.

    Q. (Mostly PFS Specific) Chronicle Sheets. Chronicle Sheets have been almost the biggest pain in the whole PbP process for me; I tried several different methods before I found one I liked. If I have access to a printer/scanner, I print and scan them and put them up on a Google Drive folder for players to access. If not, I work some file conversion magic to get them into a word process, then save as a .pdf and put them up on Drive. This process is still rather annoying, so I'm interested to know what others do.


    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    I was just alerted that I am quoted in your guide, which I naughtily didn't actually read all of, just went and linked it to all my PbP Discussion threads.

    I hereby state that 'twas not my advice relating to doors. I stole it from elsewhere, as you can find from the link in my link'd post.

    Now having read the actual guide, I can say that I'm already doing some of these things as a player.

    * I don't always write what Round it is, but I do try to.

    * I bold each action (swift/free/standard/full/immediate). Example.
    - I do like the action type of action, action type of action approach.

    * I break down all my bonuses for attacks and damage. It frustrates me to no end seeing a 1d6 + 13 attack. I never know why any of it is happening, and if every character apart from me is doing it, I pity the GM trying to make sure everything is on the level or at least correct without accident.

    * Another thing I dislike is Monster stat-block type character sheets. Hero Lab is a little better. Check out some of my aliases* - they have all their Skills (all skills shown, though some lists are better represented than others with #no untrained, stat modifiers described, ACP etc) Feats, Traits, Racial Traits, Class Abilities, Gear nested in spoilers and with Saves, Offense and Defense all broken down with their bonuses. I hate seeing a bunch of bonuses but no idea where they come from…

    *It wasn't my format - I stole it from a fellow player's character in my first ever PbP that died when the GM, the Lost Gamer, completely disappeared from the forums. The game didn't reach more than 100 posts IIRC.


    Question for you DMs - I have a character in a PbP - a Seer from the Thunderscape Campaign Setting that has this ability:

    Second Sight:
    The gift of second sight is the seer’s
    defining ability. The second sight allows a seer to glimpse visions
    of the future, though this gift is frequently difficult to control.
    Once per twenty-four hour period, the seer may meditate for
    one hour in an attempt to glimpse visions of the future. The seer
    receives a series of abstract premonitions about possible future
    challenges. This grants her a number of uses of second sight equal
    to her Wisdom modifier plus double her class level.

    The seer may use her second sight to empower a number of her
    prophetic gifts. However, all seers possess the basic ability to use
    their second sight to grant minor bonuses to a variety of actions.
    She may grant a +1 insight bonus to any skill roll, attack roll, or
    saving throw that she witnesses, applied as an immediate action.
    This bonus increases to +2 at 5th level, +3 at 10th level, and +4 at
    15th level. The seer must declare use of this ability after the roll
    is made, but before the results are revealed.

    How would you have me use this in a PbP seeing as it is an immediate action, and I won't know whether it will make the roll I apply it to successful or not. {There isa higher level ability that lets the Seer know if it will make the roll successful before trying].

    Are immediate actions just difficult beasts in PbP's? Or is it a case of constant retconning?


    1 person marked this as a favorite.
    Jiggy wrote:

    OMG MAPS

    Due to limited computing options (only a tablet at home, no scanner, and lots of things—including Google—blocked at work), I still haven't found a mapping option I'm happy with. When necessary, I've typed out combat maps with X's for empty spaces and other letters for characters. But that doesn't help for dungeon exploration. :/

    How about using a spreadsheet? You can set column width = row height and get squares. In Excel, you can set a cell's background to solid black, and copy that cell to make the background. Upload somewhere, and all can share. Or print to PDF, or capture as a screenshot for a JPG. Since copying cells is very easy to extend to an area, you can fill a map easily.

    I know I saw a Hex PDF generator somewhere. Surely there is one for squares. Again, setting up a fill-in-the-blank to make boundries should not be too hard.

    Oceanshieldwolf wrote:

    Question for you DMs - I have a character in a PbP - a Seer from the Thunderscape Campaign Setting that has this ability:

    [Second Sight]

    How would you have me use this in a PbP seeing as it is an immediate action, and I won't know whether it will make the roll I apply it to successful or not. {There isa higher level ability that lets the Seer know if it will make the roll successful before trying].

    Are immediate actions just difficult beasts in PbP's? Or is it a case of constant retconning?

    My recommendation:

    1) Alert GM of ability
    2) Each round, determine if it might be important to use based on setup-text.
    3) On rounds where it is important, say you will invoke it if there is a skill/attack/save rolls #-# on a d20.
    for example: I will use Second Sight on the fighter's second iterative if it is from 9-12 on the d20.
    for example: I will use Second Sight on the bard's diplomacy if it is from 1-4 on the d20.

    If you post later within the round, you can quote someone else's post, and highlight the dice roll you want to modify, and state your bonus.

    Either way, be sure to keep track of the number of uses you have and have left, and be sure the GM is aware of this number.

    /cevah


    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    This is a well done guide.
    There is just one thing I disagree with:

    Quote:
    GM Cyrioul showed me this neat trick...'Stepping'. And another stepping post. These are great ways to give players a chance to interject or respond as you post a bit of dialogue. It allows for a bigger post AND for responses to them. It reduces the slowness brought on by the give-and-take that long dialogues can have in PbP.

    I had to click on the links to figure out what was meant. While it may seem like a good way to speed up dialogue, there is a potential negative side effect: anything the NPCs say after the first step needs to make sense regardless of what the PCs do or say in the first step. That could remove some of the significance of what the PCs do or say in all but the last step, since no matter what, the next thing the NPCs say is per-determined. A skilled GM could probably avoid having it be an issue, but it is something to be careful of if you want to try using this technique.


    Well done guide.


    Cevah wrote:


    Oceanshieldwolf wrote:

    Question for you DMs - I have a character in a PbP - a Seer from the Thunderscape Campaign Setting that has this ability:

    [Second Sight]

    How would you have me use this in a PbP seeing as it is an immediate action, and I won't know whether it will make the roll I apply it to successful or not. {There isa higher level ability that lets the Seer know if it will make the roll successful before trying].

    Are immediate actions just difficult beasts in PbP's? Or is it a case of constant retconning?

    My recommendation:

    1) Alert GM of ability
    2) Each round, determine if it might be important to use based on setup-text.
    3) On rounds where it is important, say you will invoke it if there is a skill/attack/save rolls #-# on a d20.
    for example: I will use Second Sight on the fighter's second iterative if it is from 9-12 on the d20.
    for example: I will use Second Sight on the bard's diplomacy if it is from 1-4 on the d20.

    If you post later within the round, you can quote someone else's post, and highlight the dice roll you want to modify, and state your bonus.

    Either way, be sure to keep track of the number of uses you have and have left, and be sure the GM is aware of this number.

    @Cevah - thanks. Those are good recommendations.

    And I do make sure I alert the GM as to how many uses I have left as in THIS POST. ;)


    Thank you for this. I don't know if I will ever have the ambition to try PbP GM'ing. But this still gives me lots of info to improves as a player.

    Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    Cevah wrote:
    Jiggy wrote:

    OMG MAPS

    Due to limited computing options (only a tablet at home, no scanner, and lots of things—including Google—blocked at work), I still haven't found a mapping option I'm happy with. When necessary, I've typed out combat maps with X's for empty spaces and other letters for characters. But that doesn't help for dungeon exploration. :/
    How about using a spreadsheet? You can set column width = row height and get squares. In Excel, you can set a cell's background to solid black, and copy that cell to make the background. Upload somewhere, and all can share. Or print to PDF, or capture as a screenshot for a JPG. Since copying cells is very easy to extend to an area, you can fill a map easily.

    Sure, that's great for making it, but how do I access/update it from work? That's the biggest issue for me.

    RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

    I use google docs. Lets me update anytime I have access to the Interwebs.


    I use Google spreadsheet for square girds.
    However, does anyone have recommendations for a similarly easy way of handling hexagonal grids?


    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    Wonderful guide Painlord. I was exited to see that I'm using a lot of the techniques you describe. A lot of what I do was built from necessity. I didn't have the opportunity to do PbP as a player first before jumping into the arena as GM, and it took a while to really find what works.

    Some of the things in your guide that I also do, like rolling the players initiatives for them... Creating round summaries (which includes hp & status changes) are things that for me evolved out of necessity for my own sanity.

    I also found some suggestions that I may want implement as well. I do have a couple less experienced gamers that I think could benefit from "(5.3) Have new Players" quite a bit.

    I also think I could also do a better job of "pushing" my players towards possible actions instead of leaving things completely open ended. So far, my experienced players keep the action moving, but the less experienced ones have trouble taking or deciding actions. And often delay posting because they don't know what they should do.

    Some things from your guide that I second:

    (5.6) Combat Modifiers - For a long time, I was going crazy trying to figure out what effects were in place when someone rolled. I implemented out of necessity this section so I could keep everything strait, and make adjustments if something was not right with them. Again, this really helps the less experienced players keep track of their players effects.

    (5.10) Round Recap - For both the players and GM's sake, this really helps to keeps things organized and focused. I also add damage taken and status effects... HERE is an example of how I do my round recaps with damage counter. I usually like to add a bit more flair in the round recaps than this example, but I was low on time. It doesn't have to be flashy as long as it gets the job done.

    (4.2.5) GMPC - Occasionally this is needed. I'll post actions for a player if there is too long a delay from them, or I talk to them via Google Hangouts and they tell me what to post for them. However, if there is going to be a longer delay, consider having another player take up the surrogate role for the player. Our group has one player who can't post with us that is currently being run by another player.

    (3.1) Consistency - I can't second this enough. Consistency is key to good game-flow. Even more-so from the GM. I find when I stay consistent, my players are more consistent... Let your players know ahead of time your regular posting schedule, and try to stick to that. If there is going to be a longer delay (holidays and what-not), let them know.

    -------

    If there is one thing I might add to your guide it would be:

    (x.x) Setup a Information Repository - PbP games can go on for years. It's helpful to everyone if the GM set's up a repository of information relevant to the games environment.

    Again, it was something that I more recently started creating, so it's not as developed as I would like. I place my repository information in my GM profile (Warning, contains Curse of the Crimson Throne Spoilers) LINK

    Note how I keep both a Korvosa map and Varisia map in the profile as well as descriptions of some of the people they've met along the way. When a player wants to go talk to someone that in game time, they met a week ago, but in real time, met six months ago, they can look up the information here.

    I plan on expanding this as much as possible to keep important information available to both players and myself, as it can be easy to lose track of what's what over the course of a game.

    ---

    All in all, I love your guide, and nice work!

    The Exchange

    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    +1 to all the GMs adding to this thread with their experience and ideas.

    This post becomes better as people contribute (not unlike any PbP)...and by joining voices, we can make the PbP format better and stronger.


    Painlord, I am in the process of setting up my very first attempt at being a GM here on the old Paizo forums. Your guide, along with Doomed Hero's (who is actually joining my game :)), were extremely helpful! I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU for taking the time out of your life to piece this together. And thanks to everyone who helped you!

    Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    motteditor wrote:
    I use google docs. Lets me update anytime I have access to the Interwebs.

    Unless your Interwebs is filtered by your workplace such that you can't access Googlestuffs, and you do most of your Interwebbing at work. :/

    But one of my players saw my post and offered to help, so yay! :D


    Jiggy wrote:
    motteditor wrote:
    I use google docs. Lets me update anytime I have access to the Interwebs.

    Unless your Interwebs is filtered by your workplace such that you can't access Googlestuffs, and you do most of your Interwebbing at work. :/

    But one of my players saw my post and offered to help, so yay! :D

    Google spreadsheets work surprisingly well on my phone. Setting them up would be annoying but modifying them is very easy.

    Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    Which I bet is really useful if you have a smartphone. ;)

    But, enough of my tech-derail, more GMing tips!


    Jiggy wrote:
    motteditor wrote:
    I use google docs. Lets me update anytime I have access to the Interwebs.

    Unless your Interwebs is filtered by your workplace such that you can't access Googlestuffs, and you do most of your Interwebbing at work. :/

    But one of my players saw my post and offered to help, so yay! :D

    Have you tried Ditze yet? Works pretty well for me.. Can be a pain to setup a map at first, but real easy for all players to update once it is.

    Try this link out.. DITZIE MAP.. If that works, try to move a token and hit enter. If everything works, it'll provide a new link that you can use in your posts.

    Sometimes when people can't do a map update, I just have them give me coordinates in a X/Y from their current location, and one of us updates the map when we can. For example, Ralof moves (-4,2).. The next person able to update, moves him 4 left and 2 up, with assumptions that they take the path of least AoO's

    RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

    GM Grecko wrote:
    (x.x) Setup a Information Repository - PbP games can go on for years. It's helpful to everyone if the GM set's up a repository of information relevant to the games environment.

    Yes. I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be, but I put various PC information in the campaign tab of each of my games (along with a few "macros" for initiative and Perception checks). As Grecko noted, these campaigns can go on for a long time, and it's very easy to forget who's who. I even have my players tell me if they want me to note anything about any NPCs (such as "suspicious" or whatever) though I don't think anyone's ever taken me up on that.

    I know as a player I'll link to key expository posts in the games so I'll go back, and there's no reason you can't basically do the same as a GM.

    That goes for rules too: I found it extremely helpful in a short-lived Skulls & Shackles game I was in that the GM listed what each of our possible ship actions were. I checked that constantly.


    May Contain Meerkats wrote:
    Q. (Mostly PFS Specific) Chronicle Sheets. Chronicle Sheets have been almost the biggest pain in the whole PbP process for me; I tried several different methods before I found one I liked. If I have access to a printer/scanner, I print and scan them and put them up on a Google Drive folder for players to access. If not, I work some file conversion magic to get them into a word process, then save as a .pdf and put...

    I'm curious to hear what approaches others have taken to this. I take a snapshot of the chronicle sheet in Acrobat, save it as a jpg, edit it in MS Paint, then save it as a pdf again. In other words, I do little annoying fiddly drawings on a written form to get it to look right and it's a pain in the tuckus. Then I post it to Google Drive so folks can get them easily.

    Better approaches that I'm missing, anyone?


    One little PbP wrinkle that has come up in games I've been in has to do with forced rerolls. Abilities like the Ifrit's Hypnotic Racial Trait or the Oracle's Misfortune Revelation that force someone to reroll a given die roll can jam up a PbP, because the GM will roll and post the results of that roll, which then have to be undone or redone.

    I have seen this kind of ability banned in PbP play because it disrupts play so much. I'm very fond of abilities that affect luck and fate, so I'm curious if others have seen this handled differently.

    And if this is too much of a threadjack, let me know and I'll take my question elsewhere.

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