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I have been invited to do an interview where I talk about Play-by-Post to the greater Pathfinder fan community. I want to be sure to cover its Pros and Cons, but I'd also love to really talk about why we love it so much.
If you were going to talk about Play by Post, what would you want to make a point of mentioning? What do you think is our biggest strengths? Our largest weaknesses?
If I get great responses, I might provide a link here from the interview. So, please! Tell us what you love about Play-by-Post!
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GM Hmm is our VL for Online Play, specifically for PbP :) and Very Well versed in the medium.
We are looking for topics the community thinks should be covered, in addition to what our own views are on the topic.
Jesse R. Davis [IronHelixx]
PFS Venture-Captain, Online Play
Discord Chat: PFSChat.com
Our Mission: To Champion, Serve, Support, and Build the PFS Online Community.
Just out of curiosity, have YOU done any play by post?
Off the top of my head
What I love about Post by Post (Despite not having done it in years):
1) You can play multiple games at once :D
2) Doesn't require Mic/Headphones
3) I find people RP alot more in PbP as they've more time to come up with their responses / more anonymous
1) I suppose Metagaming could be a larger issue since people would have more time to research
2) Some people might find the pace, usually 1 post a day, too slow.
The biggest strengths for me are that it allows for both a lot more roleplaying and also allows for those who might be uncomfortable with speaking up in person (or over voice), for whatever reason, to engage with the group on an equal basis.
Cons, for me, are that the games can be very slow and sometimes there are people who treat it as a less of a big deal to not post, despite the fact everyone is waiting for them, just like in a face to face game.
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Advice for people trying it out?
More story details
In general, it is easier to get the story out there in a PbP than it is in a face to face or Virtual Table Top game. You generally have time to compose the posts and think more about your responses. Take that time to think about how your character will react.
You can also add in little details that help make the story flow. Things like the details of where you got the idea for a particular disguise (saw hair like that on a gnome in Kaer Maga) or why you have a particular weapon (been carrying one ever since I got surprised by that nasty quickling) and where you might have been carrying it.
You do need to come to an agreement with the GM on how much of this you can do. Some GMs would object to you adding a coil of rope on a ship, while others would allow you to just reach up and grab one in order to swing across the main deck. You are in control of your own equipment, but what props you can pull from the environment depends on the GM.
A good way to deal with that is doing something like "Spends a few moments looking for a rope they can use" to indicate to the GM you want an item from the environment.
Try it more than once
There is a wide variety of styles within PbP, the most obvious difference being in expected posting rate. Some PBPs will have 50 posts a day, while others might get in 5 posts a week. You need to find a game where the pace matches what you can keep up with.
Even if you find one moving at the right pace, you may not like the way they tell the story. Even if you are going through an Adventure Path, the way that the GM has the NPCs interact and react can make a big difference in how the story unfolds. Some groups will put a big focus on relationships and contacts, while others just want to rush to the action. Some might allow for intrigue and manipulation, while others focus on equipment and logistics.
You need to find a game running at the right pace with the story elements you enjoy.
There are certain things that generally don't work well in other forms of RPGs but can work in PBP. An example is the internal monologue.
With play by post, you can show some of the character's internal monologue without bogging down the game. You can do things like:
Keeping a bright outward smile, you call out "Good to see you, Grognarious!" Be better to see you bleeding out on the pavement, but perhaps I can arrange that later. As you shake his hand, you subtly check for any hidden weapons up his sleeve.
You can give an idea of how much of a schemer or how paranoid your character is by providing a little internal monologue. It also allows you to play the silent type, describing your responses as gestures rather than talking. In a face to face game, this might be seen as not participating since your character never talks and it is easy to miss the body language. In a play by post, you can describe the body language clearly and make the descriptions of your actions carry your character.
Since Pathfinder is a group story, the lone wolf character still doesn't work well.
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BretI makes a lot of great points on the merits of PbP. I'll add my own thoughts and experience as best as I can.
You don't have to actually leave your home or talk to anyone to play. It's a fantastic medium for the shy, the introverted, the home-bound, the anxious, the stay-at home parent, the busy worker, etc. You don't have to leave your family, or try to wrangle several people's schedules in order to play maybe once a month if you're lucky. You don't have to speak if you're not comfortable with speaking or not good at speaking. All you need is some sort of internet-capable device and a connection. As someone who is shy, introverted, works an oddball schedule, and isn't a good speaker or quick-thinker, this is a key reason that I love PbP as much as I do.
Roleplay! So many chances for roleplay! There are so many little things you can do in a PbP medium that aren't always feasible at a real table. Have a familiar? Make an alias for them and give them their own personality! Throw in some internal monologue for your PC like BretI suggested or add some description and flavor to what you're doing! It can be easier to split the party, allowing for PCs to pursue their own goals and interests while in town (for example) rather than everyone either having to be attached at the hip all the time (unrealistic) or wait while the GM has to run through each little scenario one at time as would happen at a real table (can sometimes get boring).
You make new friends. I've met a lot of really fun, cool people from all over the world since I started PbPing 3 years ago. Some I only communicate with via PMs or in a game's Discussion thread while others I've actually had the pleasure of chatting with on mediums like Google Hangouts or Facebook. All of them I consider friends.
PbP can be slow. Like, really slow. There are some games that move quickly by virtue of having a GM and players that are all willing and able to commit to a more frequent posting rate than 1/day, but most move more slowly. If you're content with a more leisurely experience or simply can't commit to posting multiple times a day, then this shouldn't be much of a problem for you. But if you crave lots of action and a game that moves quickly, you might find yourself frustrated with the general pace of most PbP games.
People are flakes. This part will come across a bit harsh, but it's true. Just like the guy that habitually cancels on the game 3 out of 4 times for every reason under the sun, people can and will flake out on PbP and a lot of games either fail practically right out of the gate or within the first few months. Disappearing GMs and disappearing players happen often and it can be very frustrating and very discouraging to have spent time and effort on a character and gotten excited for a game only to have it crash and burn with little to no warning. Everyone understands that life happens but if things conspire to keep you from running or playing in a game, please have the common courtesy to let the rest of your group know when you get a chance instead of just vanishing into the void.
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Daily time commitment is low
The usual commitment for PbP games is one post a day. As a player, a well-thought single post only takes 5-15 minutes of your time. GMing often takes more time to post (especially running a combat), but even those usually only take 15-30 minutes.
Ability to play in many games at once
Since the time commitment for a single game is low, it's rather easy to be involved in several PbP games simultaneously.
Speaking strictly for myself, I'm currently in six active PbPs: a player in four, GM of two.
In general, you can play from anywhere: You can easly post from a smartphone or tablet. And, given the low time commitment, it's easy to play while you're doing something else... like taking public transportation, or sitting in a waiting room, or standing in a long queue.
For example, I'm running a "Rise of the Runelords" campaign in PbP. We are about 85% of the the way through Book 1. The fist post of the campaign was 6/1/2014. (That's 2 1/2 years ago.)
This also makes keeping track of in-game time difficult. For example, the current game-day has taken us eleven months of real-world play time!
At this rate, it will take us about 15 years to finish all six books of the AP!
People drop out... and flake out
Players and GMs will sometimes simply disappear, with no warning or explanation. That Runelords game I mentioned? I wasn't the initial GM: I had been a player. But then the GM simply disappeared in the middle of a combat about six months into play. I then took over the GM duties.
Since then, two other players vanished. One player, who had been one of the most dedicated players in the game, just stopped posting, with no warning or explanation. He hasn't been seen on the boards at all since October 2015. The other likewise disappeared for about a year. He later reappeared on the boards (and in other PbPs), but never mentioned anything to the other players of our campaign... or responded to any of our PMs. And I had another player in the campaign who formally resigned due to real-life issues. I found relacement players, but the party is down to one original PC... over the course of a week of in-game time!
Because of player churn, it can be tough to keep character-focused plotlines running the way you want to.
Looking at my PbP campaign history, I have seven inactive campaigns. Two of them ended early because the GM got busy in real life and announced that they had to walk away and cancel the campaign. The other five ended when the GM simply stopped posting and disappeared.
That said... by its very nature, playing D&D with strangers you've never met over the Internet has a much lower level of importance/significance in most people's lives than IRL commitments. It's very understandable to put PbP gaming at the bottom of one's priority list.
It's too easy to overcommit
While the time commitment for a single game is low, once you start to get involved in several games at once, you can suddently realize that you have a major daily time commitment. For example, my current PbP habit usually eats up about an hour or so a day... more if the games I'm GMing are both in the middle of a combat.
When you don't have a lot going on in your life, it's really fun to have a lot of PbP gaming going on. The flip-side is that if you have committed to a lot of games, it can get tough to juggle them all if your life suddenly get busy again.
For example, you often see a lot of recruitment activity in May and June... when students (and teachers) are on summer vacation. And most players who ghost seem to do so in late September or October... which happens to be when the first major school projects of the year tend to be due. Coincidence? (I think not.)
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Hi, the inestimably everywhere Lady Ladile led me over to this thread... so here are some garbled thoughts for you to ponder...
The Good Stuff
Time is on your side: I've lost count of the number of times as a GM I've looked at a creature's statblock and then needed to go from book to book trying to work out what things do... in PbP you've got plenty of time to do that, and to consider what a creature's tactics might be, whereas at a table you're up against a sort of a clock with players waiting on you... which kind of brings me to the next point...
It's a Great Place to Learn: It's a great way of learning the game... you've got the time, you've got the PRD at your fingertips and you've got fellow players / GM to help you (via PM or Discussion Threads)... and, with the pace of PbP, that help happens without it unduly interfering with the flow of the game...
Community: On these boards at least, there is a great community who really helped me on board with the game... getting in as a player on a small one-shot game with a GM who was happy to take on new folk then GM'ing my first games with the likes of Doomed Hero and Robert Brookes in my first parties through the Godsmouth Heresy. Over the following years, I've 'met' far more players than I could ever hope to in a Face to Face environment... After a couple of years I now 'know' more than enough reliable (and great) players to populate two or three tables of any game I choose to run...
Your multi-tasking GM: The pace of PBP means that, as a GM, I can scratch multiple itches at once... not being constrained to a single session per week (at best), I can run lots of different games at once (currently I've got 2 games in the Blight, 1 Shattered Star Game, 1 in the Emerald Spire, 2 exploring Legendary Planet and 1 on From Shore to Sea... there is no way I could manage that IRL - and I'm nowhere near as prolific as some of the folk here!!!)
So many players... You only need to take a look at the recruitment threads for the more popular APs to see that, for most games as a GM, you aren't going to struggle to get a group together... and the setup, from having an idea through recruitment and on to commencing the game, could be as little as a few days - compare that to most people's version of IRL!!!
Community again: Playing the games on the boards where folks can see it has actually led to Richard Pett dropping by one of my Blight games and Neil Spicer answering questions in the Discussion Thread of my Legendary Planet games... outside of the Paizo offices, I'm kind of thinking that doesn't happen at most people's tables!!!
...and the Bad Stuff
Disappearing Players / GMs: It happens... sometimes you'll get folks tell you that they can't stick with the game for whatever reason but, all too often, people just flat out disappear. Having said that, PbP does allow you - to a certain extent - to mitigate against that by running larger group sizes than you might want to at a table (I'll run up to six players)... and, as a GM (and a prospective player) you can always check out whether people have a habit of not sticking with a game... or indeed if their play style doesn't fit with yours...
Pace: I'm sure loads of people will pick up on this but, even with committed daily posters, most PbP games will stretch out into the multiples of years - this can mean that for games which are plot heavy, a certain amount of GM prompting is needed to keep things moving along.
Atmosphere: Not sure this is a 'bad thing' per se but the GM's only tool for building the mood in a game - which can be important - is the written word. IRL, a GM can use lighting, props, voice, music, etc... PbP forces the GM to really work on building the mood by writing - again, not sure it is a bad thing as such...
I'd tell them that slowness is no more inherent to the medium than poor hygiene is to live gaming.
Just as with live gaming, pace is determined by the group you choose to play with. It's easy to accomplish a lot more, and play more, in a week of PbP than in a week (one, maybe two sessions?) of live gaming.
It all comes down to the group you choose and the commitments you (as a group) make to each other.
1) The group can set the tempo. I've only participated in one PbP so far, and it's definitely an "adagio" piece, but I can tell that a fast-paced game is completely within the realm of possibility.
2) Roleplaying is much easier in this format. I'm usually a combat-only oriented player, but just this one PbP has gotten me to engage in the subtleties that make a new persona feel real. The world around you has more traction in your imagination, it seems -- and those subtle parts . . . . Those are what make "suspension of disbelief" so much easier.
3) The distinction between the "Gameplay" and "Discussion" threads. I mention this because it is far too easy to bog down a live session with one thing or another (just fielded some of that this past weekend, trying to run a live tabletop playtest). PbP gives you greater ability to maintain a narrative, and hash out grievances, misunderstandings, rules issues, and such like. It is amazingly helpful. And I can't emphasize that enough. The only requirement, of course, is that all participants realize and respect that divide (wishful thinking!).
4) Interface mobility. Being able to check on proceedings via your phone, tablet, what-have-you is excellent. The game is, frankly, always right there.
1) Only as fast as the slowest. While this isn't entirely accurate, given that many PCs can be "botted" by the DM/GM or another player (since everyone's stats are usually public knowledge), it *is* true that a game will frequently only advance as often as the most infrequent poster actually posts. While it isn't a "bad" thing, per se, it can be frustrating.
2) The metagame. This is the part that bothers me most: with easy document access and the timeframes often involved, "cheating", just that little bit, becomes too easy. Statblocks and rules text quickly perused can too heavily influence players' expectations/anticipations of "what happens next?"
3) Converting to a new venue. It may be more honest for me to say that this "con" is the most frustrating; I think, though, that I'm a 'special case' in this regard. While most people on these forums are already invested in them, getting a "real life" tabletop co-gamer to shift to this format has proven near-impossible for me. Perhaps it's just the association between "computer" and "video game" that makes people expect high-performance graphics card visuals and such, but I think it's difficult for some people to transition well/easily/quickly to this kind of game. My local group has scattered to the four winds in the past few years, and wedging a game session in during a holiday visit has been nothing short of catastrophic; I can't get 'em to switch over.
Despite my gripes, this game format is worth the time and effort. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a game.
|The Emerald Duke|
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Not sure if feedback is still wanted for this or not, and there is a likelihood that some of what I will bring up is previously covered (purposely not reading other folk's responses to avoid biasing mine) but as a semi active PbPer I feel compelled to throw in my 2 CP. Will stick to giving my top three points for each, behind spoilers to keep things manageable.
1) It moves with you! I have moved three times since I started playing, yet I have been able to keep playing some of the same folks. Further, I can go on vacation or move again and still have access to the same great community.
2) It waits for you. I have fallen off the grid twice for personal reasons. While the games have moved on without (well, except one that was able to reincorporate my character again) the forums were still here, waiting for me to be ready to pick up dice and characters again.
3) It is always on. While the games themselves might be slowish, a game is always running from its start to its finish. It allows folks to post at their pace and take the time to craft their character's responses.
1) Combat. Yeah, it has to be the top of this list... combat is a chore on the forums. With typical post rates being set to 1 post a day, a multi round combat can last a week or longer. And that is assuming that everyone is posting as per schedule. If someone is late it brings what (I assume) would be a quick, exciting bit in person to a grinding halt. Personally I imagine combat on the forums to be a series of bullet time events for the characters involved... everyone slowed and taking moments to give speeches the likes of which haven't been seen since the Illiad.
2) Early game deaths. Nothing is worse than to have spent weeks or months going through the selection process and the first few encounters of an AP or campaign, only to have the GM drop from time constraints. Or to have a few of the characters suddenly disappear, requiring replacement recruitments at best or game cessation at worst. I am sure that real life games have a share of character/player/gm turnover, but it seems to be accelerated by the slow speed of the forums.
3) Recruitment. If the other two weren't quite so frustrating, this would be at the top. PbP recruitment ranges from struggling to get enough applicants for more niche concepts or lackluster APs, to having 5 times as many applicants as spots available for the more well known campaigns. It can be frustrating both the GMs and players to recruit here, and the fact that many games die prematurely only makes this worse.
Hope this helps. As a final word, I enjoy the game and I am grateful that the forums exist for PbP, as I would not be able to play otherwise. There are drawbacks, and knowing about them in advance would be my advice to anyone considering trying to play. It can be rewarding though, especially when you are in a good group.