How to vet for a good PBP

Online Campaigns General Discussion

The Exchange

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Forumites - I recently got to reading Doomed Heroes PBP guide.

Doomed Hero wrote:

PBP recruiting on the Paizo boards is a bit of a clusterf$!# free-for-all that leaves many people with a bitter taste in their mouth. Even after the party is picked, most do not look back on the process fondly. For those that don’t get picked, it’s easy to get frusterated.

Many forum-goers have a handful of different versions of the same character concept in their Alias list, because they didn’t get picked, or because they did and the game died, and they have this one character that they just want to play.

Don’t do that.

GMs will look at your aliases when choosing. If they see 10 different versions of Lord Sothbane the Stoic-est, they will assume you are unoriginal and pick someone else.

They will also look at your posting numbers. If you have been in a dozen games, but have never gotten beyond 50 posts in any of them, they will pick someone else.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not your fault that the game died. All they see is the pattern.

Now it's probably a little too late for me since I've been applying first, thinking later - since most of my PBPs that I applied for have died out.

But what kind of checklist would you put on how to spot GMs who will go for the long run for PBPs?

I mean for the first one - with wisdom of experience I'd say not to apply for any GM who hasn't PBPed on the boards before, or has not run/played any campaigns before. Yeah it's quite biased against newcomers, but it seems like new PBP GMs don't have the discipline it takes to run PBP for long.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

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I can't say this applies to everyone when looking for a GM and a good PBP, this tends to be what I go for (there may be exceptions):

- Overall I'm looking for five Cs: Competent, Committed, Courteous, Communicative, and Cool-Headed. I am also looking for Not-Creepy.

- I check existing GMs aliases to see if they have a past history of flaking out, where "flaking out" means disappearing without a trace. I'll check their player aliases as well as GM ones.
-- A GM who runs a game and then hits unexpected RL issues and has to end a game AND PROMPTLY TELLS HIS/HER PLAYERS THIS does not count in this group. This in fact proves the GM is competent, courteous, and communicative and understands the importance of commitment. Admitting you can't keep a commitment is proving you understand how important it is, and shows you are able to take responsibility. That kind of GM I'm happy to give a second chance if their life calms down later.
-- I've seen GMs even flake out during recruitment, or at least disappear for a good while, and that's often a bad sign. Those kind of recruitments I may back out of even if I already signed up.
-- I am also learning to vet GMs for how well they vet others for commitment. I've seen some GMs recruit players who turn out to have a long history of flaking out or not getting along well with others; this means the GM isn't doing enough work to get the game off the ground with players who will stick around and contribute meaningfully.

- I check existing GM posts to see their style of GMing floats well with mine. Sometimes someone isn't doing anything wrong, per se, but I just realize that for whatever reason their style doesn't suit mine.

- That said, I am happy to give a new GM a shot if they appear to be engaged and comprehending of what the time commitments are and meet other criteria -- and of course if you're not sure, it doesn't hurt to ask. Likewise asking questions or seeing otherwise how they play. After all, we need more PBP GMs, so never giving a new one a chance is ultimately shooting oneself in the foot...

- Not keen on GMs who ask for either too much or too little in an application. I WANT to be vetted and the GM to be sure my style and my character suit the game, so someone who wants the briefest information possible and just takes the first few people who apply aren't applying near rigorous enough standards--it means I don't know what I'm getting into, and the whole thing will probably be haphazard; you can get lucky, but the odds are against you. At the same time, I've gotten into applications where GMs want not only your usual character sheet, brief background, description, maybe a little roleplaying sample, but also extensive questionnaires, ongoing roleplaying before the game begins (which I find hard to engage in because recruitment threads are hard to follow at the best of times), endless interrogations of character motives, IQ tests, blood samples, promises of first born children etc.... no. I'm not doing that much work for a game that I might not even get into, or might end prematurely due to any number of reasons.

- Usually does not recruit a mixture of strangers and personal friends. All personal friends/acquaintances is fine; all strangers is fine. I've unfortunately been in game where a mixture generally leads to the GM in-joking with his buddies while everyone else is left in the dark. GMs who play favorites are not desirable.

- Reliably decent grammar and spelling, with a clear communication style. GMing requires good communication skills and a great deal of attention to detail. If you can't be bothered to check spelling and sentence clarity, then you probably can't be bothered to check complex mechanics accurately or read other players' posts well. I don't care if you're the best GM ever at tabletop; play-by-posts are by their nature WRITING GAMES. If you can't write well, I'm not going to play a play-by-post game with you.

- Encourages feedback; proves they receive feedback with even-handedness. They don't have to agree to every suggestion or criticism, but they do have to show they can take it calmly and provide reasonable rationales for their decisions. They don't get ridiculously defensive.*

- Is generally civil and respectful in all their interactions--this goes outside of PBPs too, if they're known community members here.*

- Is not creepy. GM needs to show respect for player and PC consent and agency, and be willing to protect their players from predatory actions from other players. They understand that people in a PBP group are often strangers to each other and thus will have more restrictive social boundaries than a group of friends that plays around the same table every week. They check in with players before using graphic sexual or violent content, and respect those who don't want it--and are clear about that kind of content being in their games from the get-go rather than springing it on the group halfway through (also, if a GM wants to run a graphically violent or grimdark game, it would behoove them to state it in the recruitment anyway, to be sure they get players that enjoy that kind of thing). They check in with players also before having NPCs initiate any kind of intimacy to be sure the player is interested in that kind of story in their roleplay.*
-- An aside mini-rant: while this isn't necessarily creepy, per se: at my old and jaded age, I am not usually interested in romance plots, or sexual ones for that matter. I'm here solely for the ridiculous stunts and the goblin stabbing. I find it deeply annoying when a GM--particularly one who is a total stranger to me IRL--has NPCs hit on my characters from out of the blue, without discussing it with me prior ("hey, are you looking for this kind of storyline?"). I do not come to the table to roleplay awkward flirting and rejection scenes; it is not what I consider fun. *

- Specific mechanics/requirements that are peculiar to what I'm looking for in a game (I want to play a system I know; I don't like gestalt or non-standard leveling systems like the thing that goes to 6th level or whatever; I don't like use of often broken and unreliable third-party sources).

- Isn't already GMing dozens of other games. They are spreading themselves too thin.

- Players who apply to a recruitment can also help one vet a game. If you see a lot of players you like/respect apply to a game, it's a good sign.

- As a GM I would look for many similar qualities in players.

A lot of this is stuff I've learned the hard way and now know to look out for.... I know Just a Mort's main concern is commitment but generally a GM who has enough sense of responsibility to be committed usually is also courteous, has reasonable recruitment standards, etc. etc.

* Some of this is hard to see in a recruitment, but it is something I look for in GMs overall. I do check GM posting histories to see how they interact with players in general.

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Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Completely subjective and possibly-unfair list of things I see in a recruitment thread that make me think the game won't last:

  • "I've never run a play-by-post, but how hard can it be, right?" It's more work than you think it is. A GM who goes into the game thinking it's going to be easy is less likely to stick with it when it turns out not to be.

  • "The other game I just started last week is going so well, I'm going to run five more games!" Truth: the players do the heavy lifting at the beginning of a PbP. Everyone's excited and eager to introduce their PCs. No one will ever be this chatty again. They probably haven't even gotten into combat rounds yet.

  • "Sure, you can play a third-party class ... or a custom race ... or a gestalt undead aetherial half-pseudodragon." If it's an all-gestalt game (but see below) or a themed game where everyone's a kobold or something, that's one thing, but a GM who doesn't have any restrictions on the PCs is unlikely to be detail-oriented enough to keep up with the game in the long run. Or, if you prefer, a GM without a clear vision for the campaign is less likely to remain enthusiastic about it in the long run.

  • "I'm running Rise of the Runelords, only everyone starts at 15th-level!" It is an insane amount of work to upgrade every encounter in an AP to make it appropriate for higher-level parties. All-gestalt games can sometimes fall into this category. In general, if I see a GM promising a super-high-powered game when it's not a high-level module, I presume it's going to be too much work for them to keep up with.

  • "It's a homebrew." I love homebrew; I have run homebrew games; I have been a player in at least two homebrew PbPs on these boards that were excellent -- while they lasted. But in the long slog of a PbP, not having premade encounters and statblocks to fall back on when you're getting overwhelmed by real life and low on energy will kill a game. You keep meaning to get that next encounter/NPC/map done over the weekend or as soon as you get off work; but it doesn't happen, and the delay snowballs.

  • Any recruitment thread that has more than a couple hundred posts without selecting players. The truth is, recruitment threads can be a rush. Everyone's being creative and having fun; you don't have to make maps and keep up with spell durations and hit points; and you, as GM, are god of the thread, with everyone's fates in your hands. Yes, some games are super-popular and have lots of applicants, and sometimes there are good reasons for a recruitment to last a while (i.e., you're waiting for the first book in the new AP to be released); but in general, when I see a recruitment thread that looks like a never-ending party, I worry that the GM enjoys recruiting more than actually running the game.

    Please note that all of these warning signs could turn out to be red herrings. A new GM's high-level gestalt homebrew sixth game could turn out to be the campaign of your life and run for five years, and a veteran running a Paizo AP as written, CRB only, can vanish on you fifty posts in.

  • The Exchange

    Bumping to see if anyone has anymore advice to give, otherwise I'll let the post die out.

    I appreciate this thread; this is something I should do more of.

    Shadow Lodge

    Yeah, I've been burned before. Probably will be again. These procedures are a good way to handle it, but PbP can be pretty cutthroat.

    Silver Crusade

    I'll second the importance of checking posting history, and add that no posting history is better than a history of flaking out. If the prospective GM is new, you could luck out, and find someone good just starting out in PBP. If the person has flaked before, they'll flake again.

    Yeah I am feeling bad for not telling my players when I got way distracted after graduating college in the homebrew game I was running but at least that lasted 2 and a half years but looking back mine lasted longer than the play by posts I played in.

    I don’t think that there actually is a set criteria. I think that the key is making sure that player and GM expectations match up. GMs need to clearly state what they expect from their players, which is more widely understood, but too many people forget to say the things they think are obvious. And players need to be up front about their expectations too. Maybe the GM is willing to adjust to meet them. Or maybe it just saves you both time and frustration that comes from trying to play with incompatible styles. Either way, that’s really the only way to get what you want, to communicate clearly what it is you want.
    PBP is a unique format and there is going to be some attrition along the way no matter how much you try to avoid it. But it can also be a lot of fun, which makes the games that sort of fell by the wayside not so bad. You win some, you lose some.

    Everything DQ and Joana said :-)


    One thing I look at in particular, and I am reitertaing what was already stated but it bears repeating, is whether a DM Recruiting for games has a trail of barely finished games already behind them.

    If I see a DM with several games that have not lasted beyond 100 posts I'll not apply even where the concept looks terrific. Often times, these Recruitments ARE for terrific ideas but if the DM has no staying power it will be more frustrating than rewarding in the long run.

    One thing I am noticing is that GMs who offer you high powered character options and tons of variety often end up being lousy or flaky GMs. If the GM says you can play a half-dragon centaur at first level, or a 30 point buy gestalt Drow, you should check his record very carefully.

    I suspect some of these GMs have a harder time getting players and do this to attract people that they might not get otherwise.

    Which means it is not a bad idea to get good at building core-only characters. :)

    RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

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    I expect a larger issue is that no-limits, high powered games are a much bigger challenge to run than some realize--and inexperienced GMs don't realize how much time it will take to prep encounters that are a sufficient challenge to those kind of groups-- and of course there are no pre-made adventures for stuff like that. So inevitably the GM burns out and, probably embarrassed they couldn't hack it, disappears. Often the GMs who offer these things are new GMs wanting to offer what they think would be fun as a player, and not realizing how much work it is.

    As a new GM on these boards, I will confirm first-hand that the beginning of my game was much easier than it has been lately, partially due to RL but also because I've had to come up with some stuff outside of the written content. That said, I was prepared for this and should have no problem keeping things going.

    I couldn't imagine trying to run a gestalt homebrew. I have a headache just thinking about it...

    So, the simpler the better, I think.

    Lol. Oh, man. XD
    Yeah. I've been running a high level gestalt homebrew with lots of house rules since 2011 (It'll be seven years in March! How did that happen? Time keeps getting away from me...) and it's like having a part time job. DQ nailed it as far as what usually happens when people try to jump into the deep end like that. I washed out as a GM the first time I tried to run PBP too. I'm just too stubborn to quit so I then went back to player mode for a while to learn from what successful GMs were doing. And even then it's part stubbornness, part luck, and part writing skills to pull it off. And lots and lots of collaboration with players. You cannot do it all yourself. That's the biggest lesson I had to learn. No game is a one man show. Especially not in PBP. And also that people will often surprise you. The person who drives you bananas might turn out to be the best player you've ever seen. The person you like a ton might not be a good fit with that game. I find for me it works best to not jump to conclusions about people ahead of time.

    Anyhow, back on topic, I think that everyone has their own checklist that's unique to their own style. I know that when I'm looking as a player, GMs who want a whole book worth of backstory before they decide if you get a slot is a huge red flag for me. Like, no, I am not that desperate, and my time is worth more than that. So I would walk away from that kind of recruitment. Another red flag for me is strict adherence to RAW. Not my style of game. I prefer at least a little flexibility in the rules. On the other hand, for someone else those things might be on their must have list. And that's cool. It would be a very boring world if we all liked the same things. But it is important to know what your lists of 'must haves' and 'ugh, nos' are. You have to know what you're looking for in order to find it. Define it and communicate it.

    The Exchange

    True, I know my preference is for strict RAW games but a whole book full of backstory is not my thing either. As a GM I vet for player activity and plot pushiness. More plot push is good.

    I can only run single/duo gestalt. As it is I think duo is already too powerful for most as published APs and PFS scenarios.

    Strangely so far people I like a lot have been fine PBP players.

    People who drive me bananas usually drive me bananas in PBP too. Again it doesn't take much to drive me bananas.

    I agree that RAW is better when running published adventures. I just don't run published adventures. I may take an idea from one, or pull part of a module here and there, but for the most part I make up all of my stuff. What I can't get enough of are monsters. Lots of variety and variant creatures really help keep things interesting. There can never be enough monster manuals! :)

    I think that you do a good job of letting people know what you are looking for, Mort. It's something that I appreciate about you. It means we will probably never be in a game together because we're looking for different things, but that's okay. Better to know that up front than to find out mid-game. I think that looking for that kind of clarity from a GM is good. If the GM is disorganized and wishy-washy before the game even starts, it's probably not going to last that long.

    lynora wrote:

    Lol. Oh, man. XD

    Yeah. I've been running a high level gestalt homebrew with lots of house rules since 2011 (It'll be seven years in March! How did that happen? Time keeps getting away from me...) and it's like having a part time job.

    This is BTW a Fantastic PbP that lynora runs and the breadth of the story is unbelievable. Well worth following!

    One thing to consider is if there's some mechanism for picking up after a pbp game has stalled.

    The online PFS/SFS pbp community, especially during the big online gamedays, are a perfect example of this since there's an organized element towards getting alternate GMs to get the scenarios finished up or putting in a new player if another disappears. :)

    Of course, there are examples of those that do happen with non-organized play pbp games too. ;)

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    Thanks for the kind words, SS! =^.^=

    Here4, that's an excellent point. Just because a GM can't finish doesn't mean the game has to die. :)

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    Here4daFreeSwag wrote:

    One thing to consider is if there's some mechanism for picking up after a pbp game has stalled.

    The online PFS/SFS pbp community, especially during the big online gamedays, are a perfect example of this since there's an organized element towards getting alternate GMs to get the scenarios finished up or putting in a new player if another disappears. :)

    Of course, there are examples of those that do happen with non-organized play pbp games too. ;)

    True, at least 4 of the games I run I picked up from GM's that vanished.

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    I keep a short list of DMs that I know to be flakes. There are a couple who are now notorious for starting a new recruitment every month, then flaking out. In some cases they don't even finish the recruitment before abandoning it and starting another one (and in one case, when called out on it, just started a new recruitment thread and said they made it because they felt the initial recruitment was not getting traction due to "negative posting").

    On my end, when a campaign fizzles out, I always update the status bar for the alias to say INACTIVE - CAMPAIGN DIED so that it's immediately apparent that it wasn't a result of me just flaking out of the game, but that the campaign fell apart, so my leftover lingering aliases aren't seen as some kind of evidence that I don't stay active in games.

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    Sadly, I have been a part of a couple of long-term games, and two of them died that I personally ran. I was super excited to run Shackled City, but, due to a HOST of issues both in-game, and for my personal life, I fizzled.

    The second was a PbP I took over. I wanted to push into it and I had a fun time, but I couldn't find a way to extricate my character, and I let the group know and apologized.

    Right now, I'm stepping back in as a player. I'd love to run Curse of the Crimson Throne (I got the HC at Christmas), and I love Korvosa. I'm not ready to run it, because I need to do the prep work for it. I am being honest with myself this time, as I've had very successful games, and I've had very unsuccessful games.

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    I have been the GM and player who needs to improve. I admit to dropping out without communicating. I am glad to see this thread here.

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