Friday, September 21, 2018

Streamlining Mechanics, Part II

I had left two items off my previous post about streamlining mechanics in play by post gaming, and am adding them here:

4. Eliminating Save v. Uselessness. There's a fair amount of complaining in face to face games about effects that remove a player character for all or most of a combat's duration. This is for a combat that might take a half hour to a couple of hours to resolve in real time. Imagine what that would be like in a play by post game, where a large, involved combat might take a week of real time to resolve. Now imagine that your character was, in the first round, targeted by a Hold Person spell, or paralyzed by a ghoul, and they've got to sit around for a few days and wait for everyone else to finish up. For this reason I try to cut back on effects that take player characters totally out of participation: paralysis, fear effects that cause them to flee, etc. Sometimes it is necessary (or when a character dies) for this to happen, but when it does I make my best effort to wrap things up as quickly as possible so that everyone can get back to participating. Additionally, since I'm running OSR games, there are typically some henchmen around, and if it looks like a PC will be out for awhile I'll let the player run a henchman.

5. Fast leveling. Because it is so slow it takes much longer for characters to level, so I typically increase the amount of XP characters receive. My standard is to double the XP from defeating monsters and increase the XP from treasure by 1.5. I ran one game for about two years where the rate of advancement was about 1.5 levels per year.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Streamlined Mechanics Make for Quick Resolution

Before you're going to want to start your game you're going to need to pick your system*. I prefer OSR games as a general rule, both face to face and in pbp, which help to streamline play. OSR games tend to have easy mechanics as well as few character customization options. That makes it really easy to run the game with all of the mechanics "behind the scene"; with the way I run things, making all the rolls, someone without any grasp of the game can play a fighter or thief easily enough.

I also recommend that you go with a system that doesn't require a lot of back and forth to resolve actions, opposed rolls, etc. Given that a single round of combat can take 24 hours to resolve, if you start adding complicated mechanics, back and forth options, and so forth it can really stretch conflicts out.

There are a number of other things I do to help to make the game flow more smoothly, some of which are:

1. Cost of Living. I assume that there's a lump sum of money, paid at the beginning of each month and increasing in amount as the characters increase in level, that covers all of the small, incidental costs (level appropriate). That means the PCs don't have to pay for food and lodging in an inn, or tolls to enter a city, or taxes on their wealth, etc. It's a small thing, but the fact that my players don't have to spend time (ie make posts) asking how many coppers it costs to buy an ale helps to move things along.

2. Standard Operating Procedures. Before we begin play I try to establish some standard procedures that we'll follow when adventuring. The big ones that I can think of right now deal with exploration: whenever the party comes to a door we make the assumption that a thief listens at the door, then checks for traps, then picks the lock, if needed. Chests are always searched for traps before opening. Depending on how combat is going, I will often roll out multiple rounds of combat until something drastic happens (a PC is reduced to low hp, a new enemy joins the battle, etc.).

3. Transparency of Rolls. Since I make all of the rolls in the game I post the rolls for each round in spoilers at the end of each round of combat. I use an online dice roller that lets me post the link to each individual roll. This lets me easily track what is happening in a round as I'm working through it, and gives the players an easy way to double check me in case I make a mistake.

All in all, play by post games work the most smoothly when using games that have simple mechanics and a limited number of character options. Systems that require opposed rolls, have some sort of back and forth resolution system, or otherwise rely on multiple exchanges often slow down play and add to the complexity of running it. This doesn't necessarily mean that crunchy systems are bad and rules-lite systems good, since what is important is the amount of back and forth required to resolve a conflict. A crunchy system could require multiple rolls while a rules-lite system might require multiple back and forth exchanges; both could slow the game down to the same degree.

*Note that I'm making some pretty broad, sweeping statements here that reflect what I have found to be *generally* true. I've seen pbp games that use very complex systems last for years, so it is certainly possible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Establishing Momentum in PBP Gaming

I talked yesterday about the main pitfall in pbp gaming -- the slow pace -- and identified three key areas that can be addressed to make it less of an issue. We're going to look at the first of those areas today: momentum.

So, you've decided you want to run a play by post game. You've found your venue (either forum or a chat server like Discord or G+ Hangout). The first thing you want to do is recruit players and get them to make characters. The instant you start your recruitment thread you want to start thinking about momentum. As a general rule you want to get through the character creation process as quickly as possible and into the actual game. If you are able to do this quickly -- within a week, say -- your players will be enthusiastic about their new characters and excited to get started. The longer the character creation drags out the less excited people become, the more shiny things they see other than your game to distract them, etc. I set a firm deadline for starting play once recruitment begins, and will start play even if I don't have my ideal number of players or some are still working on their characters. It's easy enough to add folks in, but harder to rekindle excitement lost if the rest of the players are twiddling their thumbs waiting for one person to finish their character.

Also, during the recruitment phase is the best time to set posting expectations. I typically shoot for all my players to make a minimum of one post per day. If this doesn't happen all the time that's fine, as long as there's a majority of players to make decisions, but it is ideal. Especially during combat or individual actions, the one post per 24 hours is ideal.

Now that all of your characters are created and you're ready to jump into the IC thread there are some things you can do as a DM to establish and keep momentum up. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is you should never slow down a game waiting on input from one player, and try and set things up in such a way that you are never relying on input from a single player. I try to discourage individual actions (such as scouting ahead) even though it somewhat breaks immersion, but if players insist on taking those actions I make it clear that the player needs to be able to respond quickly to posts, usually multiple times within 24 hours. I don't want the rest of the players sitting around with nothing to do for a week while one PC takes their time responding to posts regarding their scouting attempt.

Tangentially to the above, I usually run games on a majority rules basis: as soon as the majority of players decide on a course of action (do we take the left or right corridor?) that is what happens, even if not everyone has weighed in. This rule favors frequent posters, but so be it. I'd much rather keep things moving for the majority of players than get input from one or two slower posters. Additionally, stress how important it is to make posts that drive the action forward. I frequently see posts to the effect of "My character is happy to go with the majority" or "My character doesn't care which corridor we take". These posts are, in my mind, literally worthless, as they don't do anything to drive the action forward. Insist that your players care which way to go, if only to reach a majority; if they don't care, then why are they playing in your game? Everything that is posted should drive things forward. If you're running the game, make sure that your posts give your characters things to act on.

If you can start off strong, and continue the momentum of regular posting for a good two or three months, chances are you'll have interested, engaged players who will both carry the momentum going forward and be better situated to weather the inevitable slow downs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Pacing, the main drawback of pbp gaming

I'll start of by discussing the main, in my mind, drawback to pbp gaming: pace. Play by post gaming is, in the best conditions, slow. In the worst conditions it can be sloooooooooooow. When it starts to get really slow, people start to disengage, which means they post less frequently or even at all, and it becomes this sort of giant snowball that eventually kills a game. There are several aspects that drive the slow pace of the game, but what it basically boils down to is the medium itself: someone makes a post, and people respond to it. This can take time. People in a single game can be across an entire country, or even on different continents, and don't respond right away once a post is made. It can take a week or more to resolve a single combat, and months to clear a standard size dungeon.

I've learned some strategies for dealing with the slow pace of pbp gaming, which can be broken down into the following three "M"s (I just thought of that):

1. Momentum. The first two months of a pbp game are critical. If you can keep up a good, engaging pace for that time the players will become invested in their characters, you'll become invested in the world, and it makes it much easier to maintain that pace.

2. Mechanics. This is two-fold. Play by post games work best, I think, when using games that have simple, straightforward mechanics, that don't rely on a lot of back and forth (such as opposed rolls). It also helps if the DM is the one making all the rolls. This removes some player agency (at least, it does for some folks), but really streamlines action. The players post what they want to attempt, the GM makes a bunch of rolls, then posts the results.

3. Missions. As I've been running games I've been leaning gradually towards smaller and smaller dungeons. The pace of pbp gaming is just too slow, I think, to realistically tackle megadungeons, without losing momentum. Because I roll all the dice, and because large combats can get overwhelming to run, I've been adapting some stuff from newer games, chiefly 5e. Giving solo monsters lair or legendary actions allow you to run encounters with fewer numbers, which helps keep the DM workload down.

In my next post I'll explore the specific issues of slow game play and how the three Ms can be used to speed things up.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Back to Posting

Work and the real world blew up on me over the summer, but I'd like to make a concerted effort to get back into regular posting. I think a good place to start would be to discuss my main -- and at this point in my life, preferred -- method of gaming: play by post. While slower than face to face (or chat-based) gaming, it is more flexible and allows me to game by only spending a half hour or so per day, as opposed to several hours at a time, which is difficult for me to find time to do.

Generally speaking, play by post gaming is accomplished on a forum. There are some forums dedicated soley to play by post gaming (Unseen Servant, RPOL, Mythweavers) while other forums have subtopics devoted to pbp (, Giant in the Playground, Dragonsfoot, etc.).

If the forum is devoted to pbp gaming, each game typically gets its own sub-forum, which can then be set up with multiple threads for the game. In these cases there are typically threads for character sheets, IC (In Character) action, OOC (Out Of Character) chatter, and other threads as needed (I'll usually set up one thread for treasure tracking, one to use as a calendar, one for house rules, and so forth).

If the pbp gaming is part of a larger, non-dedicated forum each game will typically have one or two threads: one IC and one OOC. I find that if playing on a non-dedicated forum it is helpful to use an online wiki to keep track of character sheets, maps, treasure, etc.

Regardless of where the game is taking place they will share similar features, and, in general terms, are not that different from a face to face game: there's typically a DM who runs the game, a number of players who run their own characters and go on adventures, etc. However, the slow pace of pbp gaming creates some interesting hurdles and some opportunities, which I'll go into at a later date.

Monday, August 6, 2018

New Patreon Hex is up

Hex 17.22 -- The Valley of the Sunken Sun

I've been so overwhelmed with work in the past two months I haven't had a chance to post here, which is not what I was hoping for. However, my new Patreon hex is up, detailing a goblin village worshipping a semi-deified carrion crawler, a goblin mage character class, and rules for combat maneuvers and lesser magical item creation that can be bolted on to Labyrinth Lord or other clones.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

New Patreon Post is up

New hex is up, featuring a giant snail on the brink of sentience, a gnoll village, two playable gnoll classes and a simple skill system to bolt onto your Labyrinth Lord (or other OSR) games.