Some problems with PbP GMing

25 11 2009

As I enjoy my relatively short time as a Play By Post (PbP) gamer and GM, I have started to notice the significant differences between table-top and remote gaming.

Unlike play-by-email, where it tends to become a one-on-one relationship, PbP is more like table-top in the sense that you have to accomodate many players and their different styles and wishes.

Unlike traditional table-top (unless you count convention one-shot gaming), there is no pre-determined group dynamic.  Players could be from anywhere in the world and have any sort of idea about what sort of game they want to play.

Many PbP sites just have game listings.  Specifically, the GM takes players on a first come-first served basis.  Sometimes they ask for a character rationale before accepting players – but rarely (if ever) have I seen a player rationale.

I’ll start with a real-life example.  I just joined an on-line game as a replacement with no rules for entry.  Once in, I had to provide ‘x’ dice rolls for random character generation.  That’s OK, I don’t mind some of that.

Except I ended up with a totally dysfunctional character – and nowhere to take it in terms of a future career.  I am an old, short, dumpy, very attractive (with a huge scar on her face), very intelligent, female woodcutter.  My weapon is a two-handed axe and I have poor strength and weapon skill.  Every facet of my character has been randomly rolled and the GM decided what skills I should take!  My future careers are pre-ordained and none appeal to me. 

I now wonder why this game has a high drop-out rate?  Should I quit now to save the GM the problem of replacing me later?  If I’m to invest daily time for a couple of years, I want to  have a character I can relate to.  I want to know that I can take this character somewhere and not simply aspire to be a vagabond.

My point here is that, as a GM, it is worth setting out some ground rules before players join a PbP game.  If you are attracting new players, you should explain how you expect character creation to pan out.  How you treat power-gaming or meta-gaming.  What you as a GM enjoy and what limits you’ll set on the game.

How about a questionnaire for potential gamers? 

  • What do you enjoy most about gaming?
  • What do you enjoy least about gaming?
  • What limits do you want the GM to set?
  • Where would you not want the GM to interfere?

You get the idea.  Unlike table-top, where you typically know the players and gain fun from the social side of the game, PbP isn’t like that.  GM and players need to gel.  My first effort at GMing a PbP started well and the posts flew thick and fast.  But then we were in combat.  As soon as I took my foot off the pedal and looked for some role-playing with the NPCs, posts dropped off alarmingly.

As a GM, I now know I need to keep things quick-paced for this group but had I pre-screened better, perhaps I would have got players more attuned to ‘my’ type of game?

As a potential PBPer, use this information in reverse.  Be honest with the GM about what sort of game you like and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Better to drop out before you start than to leave after a few weeks or months.




2 responses

25 11 2009

Spirits of Eden had a great post a couple weeks back about writing a good ad for PbP games. As a player, the ad sets the expectation, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend joining a game where the GM didn’t care or know to provide enough info in his/her ad to give prospective players an idea of what the game is about, both in terms of style and content. Poor ads are generally a warning sign of games to avoid.

25 11 2009

Sorry to hear you had such a negative experience with PbP. I would say yes, drop the game, politely. If the GM asks for a reason explain it.

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