Dissecting Dead PbPs and Why They Fail


Play-by-Post Discussion

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32

Okay, so I'm sure any long time denizen of this or many other sites has had this problem: your PbP is going along swimmingly, then pow. Nothing. No posts for a day, three days, two weeks, a month. It's dead and it seems to die just when it's getting interesting.

So what do we learn from this about how to keep a PbP going? What can DMs and players do to keep things interesting and fun for all? What tricks can we glean from the dead games we've all been in?

I'll start:

- The Long Hello: games where the players never seem to get together and the game dies before the action starts. Lesson: start with a bang and keep up the fun.


Wiki admin 5, artist 1, game master 1

The Invisible GM
GM goes several days without posting. Reasons vary from lack of player response to unexpected away time. Regardless of the reason for the absence, valid or no, folks lose interest in a game.

  • Lesson: GMs should update every one to two days at minimum, unless everyone signed on for something like weekly updates. If a GM has to be away, plan it ahead of time and let players know. When you get back, jump right back into the original schedule. This leads into:

    A Game of Attrition
    GM absence from a game will result in players losing interest, even if such an absence is planned before hand. There are uncountable other reasons for players to leave as well. When this happens games tend to slow, additional players and even the GM begin to lose interest.

  • Lesson: When players leave, GMs need to keep the game's pace unchanged, even if this means pushing the players a bit. Decide how many players you want at start, and look for replacements immediately should folks drop out; players may say they're fine with running a smaller group, rather than recruiting someone new, but seeing their numbers dwindle still has a negative impact.

  • The Exchange

    Who's Turn Is It Anyway?
    It's a big combat scene. There are at least 10+ combatants. It took forever for anyone to roll initiative. Then after the first turn, people forgot who should be going when. This leads to a lot of waiting around. Eventually, it all broke down.

    Lesson: Pre-determined Initiative
    Take 10 + every combatant's initiative mod to create the initiative order. Post that result at the beginning of every round as a reminder. If there are a bunch of PCs bunched together (ie. joe, john, jack), whoever posts first get to act first in that bunch.

    Why It Works
    - Bypass having everyone roll initiative.
    - Encourage PCs to check/post regularly (I need to fireball those mooks before the joe and john charges in).
    - Make sure everyone is on the same page.


    M Goblin Beer Snob 1/Freethinker 3

    #1 Problem: Players think "Ooh! This will be fun!" they post for a few turns (or weeks, or whatever), and then lose interest and stop posting -- either they forget about it, or they join another one and start participating in that one instead, or whatever. Because of the false sense of anonymity the Internet provides, 99% of the time they won't even have the courtesy to offer an explanation; just *BAM* in the middle of events, suddenly 2 PCs (or 3 or 4) are missing and can't be located.

    Solution: I can't think of one.


    Kirth Gersen wrote:

    #1 Problem: Players think "Ooh! This will be fun!" they post for a few turns (or weeks, or whatever), and then lose interest and stop posting -- either they forget about it, or they join another one and start participating in that one instead, or whatever. Because of the false sense of anonymity the Internet provides, 99% of the time they won't even have the courtesy to offer an explanation; just *BAM* in the middle of events, suddenly 2 PCs (or 3 or 4) are missing and can't be located.

    Solution: I can't think of one.

    Solution: After a certain "warning period," if some people don't post, recruit replacements.

    The Exchange

    Kirth Gersen wrote:

    #1 Problem: Players think "Ooh! This will be fun!" they post for a few turns (or weeks, or whatever), and then lose interest and stop posting -- either they forget about it, or they join another one and start participating in that one instead, or whatever. Because of the false sense of anonymity the Internet provides, 99% of the time they won't even have the courtesy to offer an explanation; just *BAM* in the middle of events, suddenly 2 PCs (or 3 or 4) are missing and can't be located.

    Solution: I can't think of one.

    Lesson: Recruitment by Application

    Instead of first come first serve, DMs require players to come up with a compelling reason (background, motivation, etc) why the he would let them join. Submissions are opened for a certain time only, after which the doors are closed until further notice.

    Why It Works
    - Cut down on lazy posters (I have to spend time to apply? Forget this!).
    - Encourage people to stay in the game (I went through all that to play, you bet I am going to check the boards).
    - DM gets a list of backups just in case.


    Wiki admin 5, artist 1, game master 1
    Wilhem wrote:

    Who's Turn Is It Anyway?

    Lesson: Pre-determined Initiative
    Take 10 + every combatant's initiative mod to create the initiative order. Post that result at the beginning of every round as a reminder. If there are a bunch of PCs bunched together (ie. mook1, joe, john, jack, mook2), whoever posts first get to act first.

    Why It Works
    - Bypass having everyone roll initiative.
    - Encourage PCs to check/post regularly (I need to fireball those mooks before the joe and john charges in).
    - Make sure everyone is on the same page.

    An Alternative

    GM determine initiative for everyone, either by rolling or taking ten as indicated above. Who goes first is only important for the first round of combat; have all NPCs act on the same count, and shift the order so all the players can act in a block. Give all players a deadline in which to post, and at the end of the deadline describe the events of the turn based on initiative order.

    Example:
    In the GM's first post include the initiative order and call for actions from players 1 and 2:

    Initiative Order

  • 18 - Player 1
  • 15 - Player 2
  • 14 - NPCs
  • 09 - Player 3
  • 02 - Player 4

    The second GM post should describe these two player's actions, the NPCs' actions, and include a shifted initiative order:

    Initiative Order

  • 14 - NPCs
  • 09 - Player 3
  • 02 - Player 4
  • 18 - Player 1
  • 15 - Player 2

    Now you can call for actions from all players at once. Include a deadline, let's say one day in this case, for all players to post an action. Those who don't post have their characters controlled by the GM for the turn.

    Recap the events of the turn in initiative order, including the NPCs' actions, and call for actions from the players once again.

  • The Exchange

    Heaven's Agent wrote:

    An Alternative

    GM determine initiative for everyone, either by rolling or taking ten as indicated above. Who goes first is only important for the first round of combat; have all NPCs act on the same count, and shift the order so all the players can act in a block. Give all players a deadline in which to post, and at the end of the deadline describe the events of the turn based on initiative order.

    ** spoiler omitted **

    Deadline to post sounds reasonable. Lump all the PCs & NPCs into blocks...I don't know. Everyone on 1 side get to act all at once is very dangerous. The BBEG might get owned in 1 round. Or your party cleric won't have time to channel before the rogue takes 4 hits and dies.


    PbP Overload
    Several times, I've seen GMs posting something like, "I just started a PbP last week, and it's going so well I'm going to start another one!" Of course, the beginnings of PbPs are pretty light on the GM, as the players are introducing their characters and chatting amongst themselves; later, when combat hits, GMs are overwhelmed by posting NPC/monster actions, keeping track of initiative, answering questions from players about what they can do, keeping the momentum going -- and all this times two or three or however many other PbPs they have going in the meantime. They generally end up getting burned out and shutting down all their games.

    Lesson: Allow at least a month or two to any PbP you're running before trying to start up another, just to make sure you can keep up with the workload.

    (Note that Overload applies to players, too. Even more than I've seen it among GMs, I've seen players, usually new to the boards or to PbPs, popping into multiple threads and begging for a slot in the game. Then, when something comes up in real life that diverts their attention/energy, it's not just one PbP they're dragging down, but several. The above lesson applies: As much fun as you think you'll have, play into a PbP a month or two, through combat as well as RP, before you're sure you can devote the time another one will require. There will always be another one starting up.)

    I've been a player in 5 games, in all of which the GM ended up quitting, either politely with notice or by just disappearing. I've thought about starting up one of my own, but I'm not sure how to deal with the pitfalls addressed in this thread. :)

    Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32

    Joana: good post. I think a lot of that can also be mitigated by communication. If you think you're in over your head, tell your DM/players. Something can usually be worked out, but non-communication is a cardinal sin in PbP games.


    Wiki admin 5, artist 1, game master 1
    Wilhem wrote:
    Lump all the PCs & NPCs into blocks...I don't know. Everyone on 1 side get to act all at once is very dangerous. The BBEG might get owned in 1 round. Or your party cleric won't have time to channel before the rogue takes 4 hits and dies.

    It does nothing to change the initiative order; everyone always gets to go before the NPCs have another turn. A BBEG that gets taken out in one round would be taken out in one round normally anyway. And the cleric still gets as many opportunities to channel energy before the rogue bites the big one as he would normally:

    EDIT: Example:
    So for a standard initiative order as follows:

    Initiative Order

  • 21 - Player 1
  • 19 - BBEG
  • 18 - Player 2
  • 12 - Mook 1
  • 10 - Mook 2
  • 10 - Mook 3
  • 07 - Player 3
  • 05 - Mook 4
  • 02 - Player 4

    Q Once the BBEG acts, how many PCs get to act before its next turn?
    A All 4

    Q Once the cleric (Player 3) acts, how many Mooks get to attack the rogue before he gets to heal that same rogue?
    A All 4

    By blocking the NPCs, the same initiative order looks like this:

    Initiative Order

  • 05 - NPCs (BBEG and 4 Mooks)
  • 02 - Player 4
  • 21 - Player 1
  • 18 - Player 2
  • 07 - Player 3

    Q Once the BBEG acts, how many PCs get to act before its next turn?
    A All 4

    Q Once the cleric (Player 3) acts, how many Mooks get to attack the rogue before he gets to heal that same rogue?
    A All 4

  • The Exchange

    X-X-Y-X-X

    Yes, there will always be 4 Xs around the Y. But don't be lulled into thinking lumping all 4 Xs together produces the same effect.

    Using the same example:

    Initiative Order
    # 21 - Player 1
    # 19 - BBEG (deals dmg to Rogue)
    # 18 - Rogue
    # 12 - Mook 1 (deals dmg to Rogue)
    # 10 - Mook 2 (deals dmg to Rogue)
    # 10 - Mook 3 (deals dmg to Rogue)
    # 07 - Cleric (heals Rogue)
    # 05 - Mook 4 (deals dmg to Rogue)
    # 02 - Player 4

    Because Cleric heals Rogue before Mook 4, Rogue is still alive at round 2.

    ***

    Initiative Order
    # 05 - NPCs (BBEG and 4 Mooks) (deals dmg to Rogue)
    # 02 - Player 4
    # 21 - Player 1
    # 18 - Rogue (dead)
    # 07 - Cleric

    Cleric did not get a chance to channel before Rogue get hit by all 5 attacks. Rogue is now dead.

    RPG Superstar 2011 Top 4

    Giving yourself some creative license with the players turns can help a lot. Make sure your players are comfortable with letting you use their characters to tell the story and move things on sometimes. This will really help you keep from getting your hands tied constantly consulting your players with "what they do."

    Scarab Sages

    M carbon based dice form graphic guy 10 / geek 5 / collector 6 / daddy 2 / GM 4

    I also think all the players and the GM should exchange email addresses. There is no messaging here and if someone hasn't checked the game thread, an emailed question can help find out what has happened...

    The Exchange

    I think another way to reduce failing PBPs is to not join one that you think is going to fail. I have noticed that in certain recruitment thread, when the OP disappears, at times one of the players would become the DM. Those player-turn-DM games are especially prone to fail, since the DM doesn't have DMing in his heart to begin with (nor the preparation, really). Rather, he has kind of forced himself into that position. Join those games at your own risk.


    Wilhem wrote:
    I think another way to reduce failing PBPs is to not join one that you think is going to fail. I have noticed that in certain recruitment thread, when the OP disappears, at times one of the players would become the DM. Those player-turn-DM games are especially prone to fail, since the DM doesn't have DMing in his heart to begin with (nor the preparation, really). Rather, he has kind of forced himself into that position. Join those games at your own risk.

    In general, if I see a player-recruiting thread, I check out the GM's history before applying by checking their various aliases. If they've run or played in any PbPs in the past that they've disappeared from or dropped, the risk isn't worth it. I broke my own rule twice, and both times the game died very early, before even the first encounter.


    This is a very useful and long-overdue topic for discussion. I have been in many PbPs that have died, both as player and GM, but conversely have taken part in many that have been running for a long time.

    In the case of the ones I've been in that died:

    Long term illness on part of GM
    Mismatch of system preferences between GM and players
    Growing ennui with the style of a particular game
    dropping out of too many players


    Wiki admin 5, artist 1, game master 1
    Wilhem wrote:

    X-X-Y-X-X

    Yes, there will always be 4 Xs around the Y. But don't be lulled into thinking lumping all 4 Xs together produces the same effect.

    You're looking at things incorrectly. It results in essentially the same effect I described; you failed to note the rogue would die in the second turn:

    Example:
    The translation of the initiative order you produced would actually be:

    Round 1 Initiative Order

  • 21 - Player 1
  • 18 - Player 2 (rogue; alive)
  • 07 - Player 3 (cleric)

    Round 2+ Initiative Order

  • 05 - NPCs (BBEG and 4 Mooks)
  • 02 - Player 4
  • 21 - Player 1
  • 18 - Player 2 (rogue; dead, if all five enemies attack him)
  • 07 - Player 3 (cleric)
  • This is very similar to the result you posted; the rogue would be dead by round two if all five enemies focused on him in either case.

    It's slightly changed, I'll admit, but also a lot easier and a lot faster to run in a PbP setting. And ultimately, your recommendation of taking ten for initiative would group the Mooks anyway.


    None of the PCs characters are the take charge kind. The players themselves might have an idea of what they'd like to do but no one is going to say, "this gets done now."

    Solutions: (1) Prompt the PCs after a suggestion has been made and at least one comment in support. "So, do you go up the stair?". (2) Have one of the characters play a party leader. I have more luck running PbPs where one character hired the others and, therefore, gets to make the call to turn right or turn left.


    Solutions: Allow people who have successfully completed a PbP to join first. Open up recruitment to new players after you have three or four experienced players.

    Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32

    Tarren the Dungeon Master wrote:
    Solutions: Allow people who have successfully completed a PbP to join first. Open up recruitment to new players after you have three or four experienced players.

    That's a good idea, but how many people have successfully COMPLETED a PbP on the web? Most seem to either fizzle early or go forever and those few that actually get to the end are rare.

    However, if you're running a PbP with a lot of new players, be aware that you as the DM might have to prompt them along during slow points. Don't rely on the players to understand that someone has to act; occasionally give them a shove.

    Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32

    Dialogue of the Damned: The PbP where no action occurs, where all the PCs do is talk.

    Solution: This one really requires the DM and PCs to discuss before the game starts how much will be dialogue and how much will be action. A talking game is great if that's what you expected when you signed up; conversely an action game is great if that was your expectation. But if you expected one and got the other, you're less likely to stick around to the end.

    The Exchange RPG Superstar 2009 Top 8

    James Martin wrote:
    Tarren the Dungeon Master wrote:
    Solutions: Allow people who have successfully completed a PbP to join first. Open up recruitment to new players after you have three or four experienced players.

    That's a good idea, but how many people have successfully COMPLETED a PbP on the web? Most seem to either fizzle early or go forever and those few that actually get to the end are rare.

    I managed to get the core groups for two PbPs this way. Remaining seats were left to newer players who have turned out to be equally active. It's working out well. One of the experienced players dropped out but otherwise both groups are still full over half a year later.


    Quite a few PbPS have finished successfully on the boards here - Rev Rosey's Rune Stones campaign is split into different episodes so that players can leave at the completion of each section.

    My own Moonshaes campaign has had varied success, being revitalised when I chanegd to 4E. So far we have completed 2 adventures.

    I was part of one of the group's in Tarren's excellent Kingspires adventure, and I left upon the completion of that particular arc.

    The Exchange

    As one of those players, Tarren has perfected his way of gaining players. It does work. Generally the newer players were people that others had vouched for or could see that they had a decent history of posting.

    At a table top game, I think the GM is very much in charge, but in a pbp, it has sometimes felt like he is at the mercy of his players and their posting. Or lack of.

    I recommend GMs to also play. Seeing both sides of this makes for a better GM.

    But my biggest bugbear is how to include the newer players. Some of them must be good but it's sorting the wheat out without jeopardising the game. When I started a game recently every player wasn't a newbie and that seems vaguely unfair to me. But I'd been burnt inn my last game and didn't want any more "newbie enthusiasm" to subsequently wreck a game.

    The other thing is the GM who stages a massive fight, with great terrain and multiple monsters, can soon find a month has gone by and the rounds are taking longer and longer and the game is dying on its feet.

    Cheers

    Dark Archive

    Scipion del Ferro wrote:
    Giving yourself some creative license with the players turns can help a lot. Make sure your players are comfortable with letting you use their characters to tell the story and move things on sometimes. This will really help you keep from getting your hands tied constantly consulting your players with "what they do."

    This is excellent advice. I've never done a PbP, but I've been running PbEmails for over 10 years now (with friends from waaay back in highschool).

    Nothing slows things down faster than constantly feeling like you have to ask "What do you do?" If it's a dead end hallway with one door, the players have to have some faith in the DM that the DM can continue his description of "you walk down the hall and open the door."

    Now, with that said, having some SOPs (standard operating procedures) for the party helps. "We always have the rogue do a quick sweep of the door." "The ranger in the lead will always pause to listen at the door." "We're tapping ahead of us with a pole down each corridor."

    Stuff like that helps move things along especially in "quick" dungeon crawls that can end up running years if yer not careful. :)

    -J

    Community / Forums / Online Campaigns / Play-by-Post Discussion / Dissecting Dead PbPs and Why They Fail All Messageboards

    Want to post a reply? Sign in.