Fortunately, I am about to embark on two play-by-post/play-by-email games. The first of which is ze bulette's Dordogne using Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox. I have already had the pleasure of joining ze bulette in an inaugural chat session, in which I rolled up my primary and secondary characters. It was a bit of a thrill because - and I'm seriously damaging my old school cred here - I had never rolled 3d6 in order before! Even back in the day, it was always 4d6 drop-the-lowest. In later days, ability scores have always been assigned with points. I embraced the random nature of the rolls and my secondary character (simply called "The Old Man") was a curmudgeonly cleric with some pretty pathetic ability scores. He naturally became the sidekick of my primary character, a noble fighter who managed to have fairly decent strength and charisma.
Humanspace Playtest. I'm particularly jazzed about this one for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's always exciting to play with new people and meet new friends. Secondly, Humanspace Empires is pretty freakin' cool. I'm only vaguely familiar with M.A. Barker Tékumel (the depth of the milieu is more than a little intimidating), but I love how The Drune has spun out the weird Space Opera pre-history as its own setting. I'm a huge, huge fan of retro-SF space opera and I rarely get the chance to play in the genre. I look forward to breaking out my dice and rolling up a character tonight.
Now, I must say that my enthusiasm for these two games is tempered by the fact that, with one exception (see below), every play-by-post game that I have ever been involved with has failed spectacularly.
What are the pitfalls of the play-by-post-format?
- There is a lack of immediate social response to one's actions. In a face-to-face games (or chat games), players can riff off of each other in real time. That player-to-player dynamic is very difficult to establish in a game where players must wait hours or even days for their fellows to respond.
- Play-by-post games can be painstakingly slow. It takes a dedicated group to build any kind of momentum when posts may trickle in a day at a time. Major adjustments are needed to account for delayed posts and round-by-round, blow-by-blow combat systems are pretty much unworkable.
- The game is always "on". This last point is wait has scared me away from many play-by-post games in the past. I'm easily distracted and if play-by-post game is actually engaging, I may have trouble focusing on other things while I wait for the next response. And waiting for the next response can be frustrating if the other folks are similarly sucked in.
- We used Risus, which enabled combat rounds to be abstracted beyond the simple blow-by-blow nature of most games.
- We used the Mythic Game Master Emulator. Without an actual GM, the viewpoint character could resolve many in-game elements without having to wait for a human response. This worked brilliantly and it allowed us to really make progress in the story in a relatively short period of time.
- We had a Google Site with all our posts, campaign documents, character sheets, and content generation tools at the ready. It was more aesthetically pleasing than following the game an an email thread and we could always go back and review the story in a coherent form.
* Another exception: play-by-post roleplaying in support of an existing face-to-face game. I've had much success with these in the past.