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Old Screeds

Tips To Make Your Play-By-Post D&D Game A Long-Lived Success [24 Jan 14] Part one of an article I wrote for a gaming zine.

Turn 90 degrees from reality into the Realm of Shadows. There, the world is grey except for rivulets of glowing red blood that criss-cross the landscape. This is where the dead and the unborn move from the afterlife to the prime material plane, guided by the pull of the glowing blood. Take another 90 degree turn into the Wold, a place of magic and gods, where Witches tap ley lines that follow the paths of the blood, and where Fixers pull drops of the holy liquid into the living Wold, using it to repair the damage caused by the wars of the gods.

This is the setting for, an online D&D world founded for a tabletop game in 1985 and played continuously online since January 1998. And the feature that makes it a good fit for the rhythms of a PBM audience? The Wold is a play-by-post game, with players checking in once a day, reading the posts from the game master and the other players, and then making their own daily post.

Of course, people love D&D. And they love playing games online. There are forums upon forums filled with players seeking DMs and DMs starting games. But there are a few things that most of these games lack … things that make the Wold stand out. Based on my own 15 years of experience in these games, here are five tips to make your play-by-post D&D game a long-lived success:

1) Set Regular, Frequent Deadlines

Some PbP games have an irregular schedule, with turns advancing when all the players have posted, or just whenever the game master has a chance to get online. At first, turns are processed daily, then a couple times a week, then a couple times a month. Player interest lags, and the game dwindles and dies.

In the Wold, players must post every weekday. Sixty-odd players make about eight games, each with eight player characters and a GM – that makes a required nine posters, five posts a week, in eight games, for an ideal 360 posts a week total. The Wold has a Sherriff who tracks posting, and he reports that the Wold falls short of that ideal by about 20 to 30 posts a week. His weekly reports are widely distributed, highlighting games with good records, and noting those that need improvement. Players who miss too many posts are encouraged to step up, or get a substitute to take over their character, or maybe take a short break. This expectation for consistent posting, fostered by a community standard and active empathic engagement, keeps players invested in a game they know will not falter.

2) Develop A Reserve Bench

The real world always throws a spanner into your plans for a smooth-running game. People move or change jobs or get married. Computers and cars and enthusiasm dies. People get burned out. There WILL be turnover in every online game. For the vast majority of PbP D&D campaigns, that means the players fall below a critical mass, or the game master falls off the map. The game ends with a whimper. But there are ways around that. Run the game with a co-GM, which not only helps prevent burnout but keeps the game running if one game master quits. Decide on an ideal number of players, and aggressively recruit new ones as soon as there is a vacancy. Keep a reserve waiting list of people who might be interested in the game.

In the Wold, playing eight to ten campaigns in the same game world means that there is always an extra GM to step in. That’s especially true since co-GMs are the rule. Each game also has an “Assistant DM” a player in the game who steps in when a game master is on vacation or falls sick, and who is often a game master in training. With a deep bench of active members, a player in the Wold can usually find a substitute to take over in emergencies.

This is part one of a three-part series on how to run a successful long-term PbP D&D game. Check out Part Two and Part Three.

This article originally appeared in Issue #3 of a new gaming zine, "Suspense & Decision." Check it out! And I got a mention in this Greyhawk Grognard review of the zine.

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