Running a Successful PBeM Campaign

Copyright 1996 by Harrigan


1. The Nature of PBeM
a) What are PBeMs?
b) If You Are New to PBeMs
c) What Works; What Doesn't
d) Choosing a Genre and System
e) Choosing a Format

2. Choosing Players
a) Deciding What to Look For
b) Player Information
c) How To Find Players
d) What To Ask For
e) What To Watch For
f) What To Watch Out For
g) Guest Stars
h) Know Thy Players! And Their Characters!

3. General Tips
a) Starting Up
b) Keeping It Rolling
c) Encouraging Player Interaction
d) Plot Hooks
e) Planning and Consistency
f) When Things Go Wrong
g) Turn Lengths
h) Tardy Players

4. Keeping Things Going
a) Character Development
b) Character Driven Plots
c) Pacing
d) Dealing With Problems

5. PBeMs and the Web
a) Why the Web?
b) Putting Your Game On The Web
c) Encouraging Player Involvement


I'm actually fairly new to the PBeM experience, but I think I've learned a fair amount in the past few months; enough so that I felt the need to write it down before it all fled the premises of my head. I hope this is helpful to someone out there. Good luck!

1. The Nature Of PBEM

a)What Are PBeMs?

PBeMs, or Play-By-eMail games are usually one of two beasts. Traditionally, the term PBM is associated with the popular global and intergalactic conquest games which use the regular mail-system. People play against one another, and send in their turns and receive updates from someone running the wargame. On the Internet, such games are flourishing because of the speed of email. Fairly recently, another kind of play-by-email game emerged.

It is this kind of game that is the subject of this article; traditional role-playing games like Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, Champions and others -- played over the Internet, with one person acting as a Game Master and several others playing characters in the game. The Internet has spawned a whole new kind of role-playing, where players send in their actions via email to the Game Master, who then consolidates everyone's desired moves into one turn. That typed up, he or she then sends the turn out to the players. They respond to it, and the cycle begins again.

b) If You Are New To PBeMs

Don't sweat it. They're very easy to get the hang of either playing or running, as long as you don't mind putting in the time (especially if you run a multi-player game). In the late summer of 1995 I had decided that I'd gone just about long enough with no gaming. I'd moved away from my gaming friends, and was dying the slow death of a starving man. So I contacted all my friends who had email access, and asked if they'd be interested in starting up a game of some sort. They said yes, so I began thinking about what I would run. Since I had never played in let alone run a PBeM game, I joined a Cthulhupunk PBeM game and happily designed what I thought was a very intriguing 60 year old German intelligence agent. Alas, Erwin Sparkz never got to play, because after one turn, the GM never wrote me again. *Sigh* Well, I wasn't about to let one little burp deter me, so I simply concentrated on starting my own game. I've always like Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu, so I decided to go in that direction. I think that the horror genre comes off particularly well in PBeM's somewhat unusual format, and I think it's worked well to this point. If you want to see what we've done so far, check out the URL I provided above and head for the archives. All of the turns are available in html format.

So, where does this leave you? If you are new but anxious to try, jump right in and start something. It's the best way to learn. Find the old PBeM FAQs (to be found buried somewhere at http://www.irony.com among other places) and any other related material and read up. If it strikes your fancy, go ahead and join someone else's game first, to get your feet on the ground and see what's what. Also try asking people to `lurk' in their games. Many PBeMs fill up quickly, and there's no room for more players (more on that later) -- but people who `lurk' follow along without running characters. I think it's more fun than it sounds, and I encourage people to try. My game currently has nine lurkers, and more are signing on every week. This is an excellent way to see what's happening and *how*, since most GMs are also willing to send player responses out to the lurkers -- so the lurkers get to see what information the GM is going on and building from.

Be aware that everyone runs their own PBeM a little differently. Just because your GM makes you get your turns in at 3:31am every full moon doesn't mean you have to. It's your game; do with it as you will.

c) What Works; What Doesn't

This is pretty straightforward. Since the turns are coming out at *best* a few times a week (and more likely once every week or ten days), it's fairly easy for people to forget exactly what's going on. It's this reason that combat- intensive games don't come off well on the net. Games like GURPS, where a combat round is one second, can take FOREVER to play through email. This is certainly not to say that you shouldn't have combat (god forbid; it seems about 90% of gamers want to kill stuff) or play GURPS on the net (Steve Jackson's game remains my favorite system). Keep the combats short and intense so you'll have the players attention, and things don't get bogged down because 32 more 8hp Deep Ones have just arrived. I try to fit several combat rounds into each written turn, so things move along at a more even pace. Some PBeMs have the players send in responses for each and every combat round, but I prefer to have a "set" of actions a character can perform. I'm getting a little ahead of myself, but this is where knowing the players characters and how they would react in particular situations comes in.

The play-by-email format is best suited to storytelling-type games with rather involved plots and lots of character interaction. Pretty much any genre works; fantasy is the overwhelming dominator of market-share, but lots of sci-fi, horror and other games exist. Speaking of such...

d) Choosing a Genre and System

Choosing a genre is obviously important; choosing a system is not necessarily so. You'll want your players to be familiar with where your coming from, so make sure they understand if your game is set in Salem during the 1690s. The list of role-playing genres goes on and on, and I won't try to list every single one. Choose something you're comfortable with, and something you're interested in (obviously). It can be a world of your own devising, or a pre-made world (like the Forgotten Realms) -- these have the advantage of having some players be already familiar with the geography, history, etc., of the world. Of course, if it's a modern or other "real-world" game ALL the players will be familiar with at least some aspects of it. Presumably, if the players are signing up for your game they're also interested in the genre, so that base is covered.

As far as choosing a system goes, again you're best sticking with what's familiar to you. Some people (myself included) try to push the numbers and statistics into the background; they only exist as guidelines for a character's personality and abilities. Some GMs even (gasp!) forego dice and simply write the actions as they unfold naturally. Fans of the various diceless systems would probably very much like such games.

Rolling dice brings up an issue. There are various on- line dice rollers now available (at the Irony Games site I mentioned earlier and elsewhere) so players can "roll" dice on the web-page and have the secure results be sent to the game master. I think this would bog things down unbearably, but some players REALLY want to roll their own dice. Thank god I don't have any of them!

Most GMs do all the dice rolling themselves, to keep things honest and (more importantly) moving along at a good pace. Waiting for a player to roll his damned percentile dice and mail the result to you before you could complete the turn would be infuriating. No thanks. So if you know what's good for you, do all the dice rolling yourself.

How *much* you keep the system "behind the scenes" is up to you. I dislike saying, "The Wart-Ogre hits you for five damage. You have two hit points left!" when I could write, "The spiked club crashed down on Togar's shoulder, driving the Dwarf to the ground. Leering over the fallen warrior, the gigantic Wart-Ogre bellowed a victorious battle cry. On the ground, Togar was nearly unconscious. He had strength enough left for perhaps one more blow..."

Some players may not like not having exact numbers, and if you want send `em the figures they're crying for. My players are happy with the description I provide, and can always tell then an injury is mild or life-threatening. I've removed hit-points and other game-terms completely from my campaign; as a result I think it reads more like a story than a game. That's what I want. Your mileage, of course, may vary. So tank up!

e) Choosing a Format

There are several ways PBeM turns can go out to the players, and there are several "kinds" of game you can run. As far as writing turns, there are about three or four main ways of going about getting the information out to your players. First is the "quick and dirty" method of simply collecting everyone's actions and organizing them, putting them into a chronology of sorts. Figure out who has the best speed, who is next, etc. This style is quick and better suited to combat-heavy games, but I think it's pretty uninteresting. It might go something like:

Thrag drops his axe.

Morgan shouts, "Die Troll!" at the large green monster. He then throws a dagger and misses.

Sylpye darts in and drives her rapier into the troll.

The troll howls in pain, and backhands Sylpye to the ground, opening a nasty wound on her cheek.

Eh. I prefer to write everything out in longer-winded prose. My Call of Cthulhu PBeM Campaign is run in such a style, where I try to blend everyone's actions into a seamless story. It should be hard to spot "combat rounds" and other game system logistics. The above example would read a little differently:

The troll loomed menacingly, baring it's teeth in gruesome fashion. Thrag's heart jumped; here was the famed Ukial Troll, the slayer of his father! His hands slick with nervous sweat, Thrag's axe slipped from his grasp when he brought it back for a blow. Cursing, he chased after his weapon as his fellows engaged the beast.

Morgan danced in towards the troll. Determination shone in his eyes, and he called, "Die, troll!" as he hurled one of his fine Setian throwing daggers at the creature's eye. The troll ducked, and the knife flew into the woods behind him, making a loud "thunk" as it dug into an oak.

Sylpye moved lithely past Morgan and in the flash of an eye had opened a ragged, seeping wound on the troll's stomach. Black ichor dripped to the ground, and the troll howled in berserk pain. Backhanding Sylpye with a gnarled fist, the troll sent the young woman spinning to the ground. Stunned from the blow, Sylpye tasted her blood as it ran freely from the wound opened on her cheek...

It obviously takes considerably longer to write turns in this fashion, but I think it's worth it. Another possibility is to send each player a customized, quasi first-person journal style turn. This would take a LONG time to do if you had a lot of players, but it's probably the most realistic. With the player-only perspective, players don't know things their characters don't. It also means players won't know exactly what the other players have in mind; a very realistic but at times troublesome feature to the method.

Consider: Arthur and Jacob the Cthulhu Mythos investigators are in the old Toole mansion; it's well past bed-time and Arthur has just stumbled on an old book in the library, something called the "Necronomicon." Showing Jacob, he sniffs and the two head off for bed. This is where the turn ends, and the players write to the GM saying each wants to sneak down to steal the book. The GM must determine if one wakes the other up, and who gets there first. If the GM is running in "quick and dirty" style or "story" style, he or she has to whip up some secret turns so that one player won't know what the other is doing. This is what I do in my Call of Cthulhu campaign. After each turn (which everyone receives), I include general information everyone would know, and "secret" information in a section entitled "Thoughts." If *I* were to write the next scene in the story, it might go something like this:

It was nearly two in the morning when Arthur swung his feet down to the floor. Padding softly to the dresser, he lit a candle and cracked open the door. The hall was dark, and the flood of ghostly light from his candle made the shadows play terrible games with the doctor's mind. Creeping into the hall and down the stairs, Arthur moved into the library where the remains of the evenings' fire still burned low.

Scanning along the shelf with his candle, he frowned when he came to an empty place that marked the location of the blasted tome. "Jacob," he thought to himself. Turning towards the stairs, his heart jumped when Jacob's face appearing in the doorway, illuminated by the yellow light of the lone candle.

"Looking for the book?" Jacob asked pointedly.

"Er, why, yes. I couldn't sleep."

"Nor could I. I came down to fetch it nearly an hour ago; it wasn't there and I figured you'd taken it."

Arthur looked shocked. "No! I've not seen the book since we turned in for the evening."

"Well," Jacob said. "*Someone* has it..."

End of Turn

Arthur's Thoughts (sent only to Arthur)
Well, this is a fine stew. You'll bet anything that cad has stolen the book. Who knows what nefarious plans he has in mind!

Jacob's Thoughts (sent only to Jacob)
Arthur suspects you, though you don't have the book. When you came down at 1am, it wasn't there. His footfalls on the stairs just now woke you and you've come to see what the old man is up to. He's probably hidden the book from you.

The same scene, written with "personalized turns".

Arthur's Turn
Round about two o'clock in the morning you find that you can't sleep. Your thoughts have turned to the hideous book in the library downstairs, and you'd feel better knowing it was under lock and key. Lighting a candle, you move down the hall and descend the stairs, doing your best to ignore the frightful shadows playing at the edges of your pallid light.

The study is dark, but the embers of the fire are still flickering. Moving along the shelves, you note that the book is missing. Jacob must have beaten you to it! Who knows what vile purpose lies behind his action!

Turning to return to your room, you nearly cry out when Jacob's eerie face appears from the shadows of the doorframe.

"Looking for the book?" Jacob asked pointedly.

"Er, why, yes. I couldn't sleep," you reply.

"Nor could I. I came down to fetch it nearly an hour ago; it wasn't there and I figured you'd taken it." Jacob moved into the room as he spoke.

"No! I've not seen the book since we turned in for the evening," you reply in slightly offended tones. The nerve of him! Suggesting you'd stolen it!

"Well," Jacob said. "*Someone* has it..."

End of Arthur's Turn

Jacob's Turn
It was just after one when you decided that you'd have a little look at that book. To your surprise, it wasn't on the shelf when you went down to the library. Arthur had probably beaten you to it. Gods knows where the old fool would hide it.

Now, after two in the morning, a sound on the stairs has woken you again. Putting on your housecoat, you creep down the stairs and peer at the light in the library. It's Arthur, scanning the book shelf.

"Looking for the book?" You ask pointedly.

"Er, why, yes. I couldn't sleep," Arthur jumped at your sudden presence.

"Nor could I. I came down to fetch it nearly an hour ago; it wasn't there and I figured you'd taken it."

Arthur looked shocked. "No! I've not seen the book since we turned in for the evening."

"Well," you said. "*Someone* has it..."

End of Jacob's Turn

While this method of storytelling has it's advantages and charm, it's a nightmare trying to keep tenses straight and keep things coherent and running smoothly. With a small group of players it might be possible, but the GM had better be prepared to spend an enormous amount of time on the individual turns. I find it easier to include a lengthy "Thoughts" section after the generic turn. That way I can relay secret messages and other information only that particular player needs to know. I find that a paragraph or two per turn is acceptable.

[A special note to Lovecraft fans:
I've played with the idea of writing a PBeM in the form of the reminiscing first-person, like so many of HPL's stories. It would be tough, and you'd have to reveal that someone survived since they are telling the story. But I think it could be done.]

There are other formats to put your turns in. I've even heard of people using a mailing list, going from one player to the next down the line until it reaches the GM, who writes the new turn and sends it through the chain again. I'm unfamiliar with the mechanics of such a system, so I'll stick to topics I know something about.

Lastly when deciding what kind of game you're going to run, figure out how long you'd like the game to be. A one- shot? Many people have developed elaborate one-shot games that they run several groups of players through every year (Horror on the Orient Express is a good example of such an adventure). The more you play the adventure, the better you get to know it, and the more amusing some players' responses become. Such one-shots can be run more then once, but obviously not with the same characters. Each time the adventure is finished, a new group of players and their characters are selected, and it all starts again.

I think the best kind of rpg is the ongoing campaign, and it translates very well to PBeM. This is an ongoing game where the same characters go from one situation to the next, growing and developing as time progresses. It's like a series of linked one-shots, with roughly the same cast (or at least the same players) every time. This, again, is how my Call of Cthulhu game is run. I've made each "adventure" a chapter in the story, and we're currently progressing nicely through Chapter Two.

2. Choosing Players

a) Deciding What to Look For

Each GM has dream players, and each GM has demon players. If you hate munchkins in your regular games, look out for them in the electronic format as well. They're fairly easy to spot. Deciding what you want is really a matter of taste. I like my players' characters to have well-rounded, fully developed personalities, not "I have a +2 sword!" If you don't mind cardboard characters, fine. Just know what you like.

As far as how *many* players you allow in your game, this is entirely up to you. I run one Champions game with a single hero, and it is moving along remarkably smoothly. Co- ordinating multiple players is more challenging, and takes more time. My CoC game currently has six players, and I'd be loath to include more. Not only does one have to weave more and more characters into the fabric of the story, but the chance of someone being late with a turn increases with every player who signs on. An option is to use what I call eeGuest Stars.' More on this shortly.

b) Player Information

If, like me, you want players to put a considerable amount of time into character creation, it's only fair that you give the players a good starting point. Put together a package that includes the basics of your game. Include the genre, system, house rules, perhaps a list or three of useful items like spells, equipment or weapons, and anything else you figure players might need to create a character for your particular game. Over the Internet, it's easy to work with people to tweak the characters. Grant Ivendar, a character in my CoC game, was designed by a fellow who'd never played Cthulhu before. I was able to send him the basics, and his ideas were so good that the character fleshed out perfectly in a few nights, though Derek (the man behind the lunatic) has never even *seen* a Call of Cthulhu book.

The stronger your handout, the better response you'll get with respect to well-developed characters. The package I assembled for my CoC players included the time and place (Boston / New England 1923), the system (Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu), lists of skills and equipment, and a section where the players answered various questions about their prospective investigators. Most CoC players make up very detailed characters, but some will need some assistance to bring real color to the investigator. It's very helpful if the Keeper / GM asks questions like "describe his family," "what are his passions," "what's his favorite food," "what is his favorite place," and "what are his vices / weaknesses?" It can also be helpful to include very specific examples of situations the characters will be reacting in. For example, ask the players what their characters would do if they were shot at, challenged to a duel, etc. What the person running the game is trying to do with this glut of information is get inside the character's head. Remember, in a PBeM game the players cannot micro-manage every action their character takes, so the GM had better know how a particular person would react in a certain situation. The better the GM knows the characters, the more smoothly the game runs. For every decision the player makes for the character, the GM probably makes ten, although they're usually of lesser importance.

The game would bog down horrifically if players were allowed to address EVERY situation, so it's a simple fact that the GM must make most of the minor decisions a character is faced with in a turn. So players, send *everything* you have on your character to the GM. And GMs, ask for *anything* and make sure you are prepared to run the characters by yourself if necessary.

c) How to Find Players

Okay. You've decided you want to run a PBEM game, and have put together some kind of player info package. How does one go about finding players? This is remarkably easy. Post to appropriate newsgroups (alt.horror.cthulhu for Call of Cthulhu games, rec.games.frp.super-heroes for superhero games, rec.games.frp.gurps for GURPS games, rec.games.frp.misc for stuff between the cracks, etc. The newsgroups are rife with people who want to play. There is also a rec.games.pbm group, though they deal mainly with strategic wargames) and then sit back and wait for the responses. They'll come. The Irony games site (remember? http://www.irony.com) also has a bulletin board of sorts for people looking for players and games to join.

Remember, though, that you won't be able to accept everyone who wants to play. Once you've got the characters you want, you can assemble a `waiting list' in case someone drops out or doesn't work out. Then you can put the character in your number 1 spot on the waiting list into the game. You get the idea.

d) What to Ask For

Make your requirements very clear in your post asking for players. Specify the system, the world you'll be using, what kinds of characters or classes you're considering, and what you *expect* of the players, like how frequently you'll want their turn replies.

The more info you provide, the fewer useless responses ("but why *can't* my cyborg play in your 1920s Cthulhu campaign?") you'll get. Making decisions won't always be easy, and you may have to turf some fine characters. Just remember that every character you take on increases your workload.

Make sure the players have all the Internet access they'll need for the game; my CoC game has several web pages. While they aren't *necessary* (one guy in my game can't see `em), they are awfully useful. And beware students with inactive summer accounts... if you want to run your game year-round make sure people can stick with you.

One last thing: let them know how you feel about character generation. In a game like GURPS or Champions, there are no random rolls, so players can't `cheat.' With AD&D, CoC or others, players sometimes fudge the rolls to give themselves better characters (like it matters with Cthulhu...). Let people know how you feel about this. I tweak the numbers as I see fit, anyway, but I let my players know if I lower that Strength from 40 to 15. I find it's easiest, even with "random roll" games to let people simply assign the numbers they want. Then the GM can balance things out.

Oh, and let them know about equipment. They can include a list of what they own, or you can simply assign them some goodies. In my game, I very much de-emphasize the importance of money and `loot'... what you decide is obviously up to you.

e) What to Watch For

Like I mentioned before, look for things in the PBeM characters that you like in your regular games. I tend to favor characters with a lot of motivation, personality, history, and interesting background. If a player has put a lot of time into the character, you'll know it. These are the players who are likely to stick with the game, and even help out with the writing by providing kernels of inspiration for the GM.

Try to assemble a well-rounded group of characters. If you're running a fantasy game, don't pick six warriors. Throw a priest, mage, and spy into the mix of you can. In my Cthulhu game, I've got a P.I., a cop, a Chinese occultist, a globe-trotting scholar, a student (who happens to be the son of one of Britain's most famous recluses), and a con-man. Try to put together an interesting group, one where the characters can interact with each other in interesting ways. Romance, rivalry, jealousy, companionship, hatred... these are all things the characters can experience among themselves.

f) What to Watch Out For

Sorry to repeat myself, but like I mentioned before: beware of the kinds of characters in PBeM that you dislike in your regular games. If you hate munchkins, don't let `em in your game. They're really pretty easy to sniff out. If you don't want a character with a dark side who may stick his knife in the other guy's back at the drop of a hat, don't let him in. If suits your fancy, though, go out on a limb for some of these fringe characters. Might make for interesting roleplaying. Just realize what you're doing if you let disruptive personalities into the game.

I've been biasing this towards the longwinded story- telling type of game, and I should mention that things will be a little different if someone wants to run a 12 person AD&D dungeon monster slaying fest. Maybe you hate characters with "too much" personality. In that case, go for the guy with the vorpal sword. Whatever. Just keep in mind how the characters will react to one another.

g) Guest Stars

Ah, guest stars. There comes a time when your game is full, but someone writes in with a positively juicy character who will mesh perfectly with the game. Write them in! I've adopted the policy that, if I like the character design enough, I'll *find* a way to insert them into the game, if only for a few turns.

This allows more people to enjoy your game, and can give you a fresh jolt to keep things moving. People can also control important NPCs if you let them, or run villains at odds with the usual characters. This all adds work, but is a great deal of fun.

h) Know Thy Players! And Their Characters!

If someone is going to miss a few turns (it happens, believe me), make sure you know about it and are prepared to put the game on hold (ech!) or take over their character until they return to yon faithful computer terminal. Like I mentioned before, it's EXTREMELY important to know the characters like they were your own... it'll help tremendously when someone's computer explodes and leaves them unconnected. You should know how to reach your players other than by email, in case of `emergencies.'

3. General Tips

a) Starting Up

Define your goals. How many players, how often will the turns come out, etc. Work out some sort of schedule. I try for a one-week turnaround with my CoC game. The new turn shows up on Monday, player responses are due by Friday and I write the new turn over the weekend. Make sure you've got free time, then slot some of it for your PBeM.

b) Keeping It Going

Don't get discouraged if things don't work out right away. There will be speed bumps, I promise you. Big ones, probably, but in the long run it's worth it. Holidays, spring breaks and the like can put real cramps in otherwise smoothly running games. Back at Christmas, my group was only averaging a turn every three weeks or so. But we stuck with it, and we're now getting about five turns done a month.

c) Encouraging Player Interaction

I encourage players to write one another, asking that they cc me a copy of the email. That way they can discuss important decisions, hash over complex problems, etc. It's neat sometimes when they *don't* write each other, because it's a little more realistic (no over the table banter about *what do we do!*). In most cases, the players don't contact each other, make their own decisions and I have to mesh them all together in the turn, sometimes with interesting results.

d) Plot Hooks

Drop `em, and lots of them. This is only applicable when one is running a campaign, but that's who this article is really directed at. When in the middle of one "story," drop some clues and hints about things to come. It's less realistic when things smack the players in the head out of the blue. It's better when there is some subtle foreshadowing, and it makes the whole experience that much more believable. In my current chapter there are two storylines woven together, but I don't think the players have caught on yet. Makes for interesting gaming!

e) Planning And Consistency

If you're running a PBeM, you've obviously got access to a computer, which is good -- because you'll need to be *organized*. You've got to have some kind of master plan, a direction to keep things moving, otherwise the turns will meander and get a little boring. Remember, you've got a captive audience here, so make sure what you write is relevant (not necessarily to the plot, just to the *characters*).

I keep separate files on Character's vital stats, the actions of NPCs, upcoming events, who has appeared in the game (you definitely need a place to keep track of all the names of people who appear in your game), etc. Keeping things consistent can be difficult, but it's necessary. It's harder than one might think after twenty some turns, and I strongly recommend GMs maintain files of some sort to keep everything in order.

f) When Things Go Wrong

Don't panic! Wait! Panic! No, don't panic. If you need to drop someone who is a problem, fine. If you need to take a break, fine. Just explain the situation to your players and deal with the problem. It's your game. If you're at a loss for where to take things, or for how to solve a particular problem, ask your players. They'll probably be only too glad to help. Also post to relevant newsgroups. Internet hounds like me love responding to such stuff.

g) Turn Lengths

Obviously, shorter turns are easier to write than longer ones, and longer ones require the GM to make more decisions for each character. The thing that really dictates how long a turn is (at least for me) is *what's happening*. If people are doing things like library research, visiting families and fixing the car, I can get a *lot* written since few decisions of staggering importance must be made. In combat (which, you'll remember, should be kept to a minimum depending on your style), the turns will be quite short since the actions each character takes may mean living or dying. Just write as much as the story allows... don't force anything, and don't feel bad you've only written a page if everyone has to decide what to do when faced with dread Cthulhu ("stare slack jawed and gibbering" is of course the correct reply).

h) Tardy Players

First and foremost, I recommend a good, sound spanking. If that doesn't work, harass them a little with some gentle email reminders. If *that* doesn't work, write the turn anyway, keeping the tardy player's personae in character as best you can. They won't let it happen too often -- and if they do, you need to find a new player.

4. Keeping Things Going

a) Character Development

While the story is important in my games, the primary focus is on the characters and how they react to the world around them. They've changed subtly over the course of the year, and are still developing. New facets to old characters can always be found, and I try to make the conversations and interactions as human as possible, so people will actually *care* about what happens to them -- and even the NPCs.

b) Character Driven Plots

Ah, this is the meat of my Call of Cthulhu game. Once you've collected a group of characters, glean plot ideas from their backgrounds. It becomes much more personal when a player *sees* something he's written about in his character history make it into the turn. In this way it truly becomes an interactive, collaborative story. Neato, huh? If you've got great players like I do, you'll have no trouble coming up with plot ideas, since the characters themselves are bursting at the seams with a wealth of good material.

And remember to focus a little on the more mundane aspects of life. Pay attention to the fact that William Rool has an estranged sister, *as well* as that oath to avenge his father's death he's always going on about. The minor issues that add believability to a character lend the same credence to the story when such details are explored.

When they write their responses, good players even sometimes have ideas about which direction the story should move, and on at least one occasion I've gone with the player's ideas.

c) Pacing

This can be problematic, but you really just need to find a groove you're happy with. Ask the players once in a while if things are moving too quickly or too slowly, and adjust the pacing to suit everyones' (including you own) needs.

There isn't much advice I can offer otherwise, I'm certainly no award-winning author. Just watch that things aren't dragging or speeding along at breakneck speed.

d) Dealing With Problems

If you are having trouble keeping things moving, are out of ideas, or whatever, take a little break. Perhaps someone else will run a game for a time while you collect your thoughts and rebuild your game. The Internet has lots of gaming resources as I'm sure you all know... there are plenty of ideas out there if your reservoir runs dry. I really haven't run into too many problems other than tardy players, so that's about all I can comment on.

5. PBeMs and the World Wide Web

a) Why the Web?

It's my opinion that the www is an *ideal* forum to support an ongoing PBEM game. Web pages provide a stable place where players in the game can talk to each other (if they happen to forget each other's email address, the GM can include everyone on the page), a place where the turns can be archived so the players (and anyone else interested) can go back through the old turns, and graphics, maps, and other useful game-bits can be displayed.

b) Putting Your Game On The Web

When I decided to put my CoC on the web, I sat down and thought about what I wanted. Each game is obviously different, but here's what I decided:

-A main page roughly describing the game, with links to my other pages and my email address for people interested in the project.

-A links page, with links I deemed relevant to my Call of Cthulhu campaign. Through this, players were able to find the CoC Character Generator and lots of other nifty stuff.

-An archives pages. Each and every turn I write gets htmlized, and I put it on the web for all to see.

-An images page, with portraits of player characters, NPCs, maps, artifacts, and other graphic info I want to relay to my players.

-A cast page, with brief descriptions of each player character and *all* the NPCs. The player's personal email addresses are also on the page, so they can easily reach one another.

-A "Mythos" page. This is particular to Call of Cthulhu, where the investigators are piecing together, bit by bit, arcane and blasphemous knowledge about the terrible Cthulhu Mythos. Sometimes *players* know much more than their characters, so I've tried to highlight exactly what blasted knowledge has been learned thus far in the game.

To set up your own web pages, you'll need server space and at least a passing knowledge of how to work with html (hypertext markup language). It's not very difficult, and MANY resources exist on the net to help beginners get their feet on the ground. Good luck if you go for web support! I think it's worthwhile.

c) Encouraging Player Involvement

It's a great idea to get your players to help out with the web pages. They can write the descriptions for their characters, draw or find pictures of their characters to send you, and help out with all sorts of other stuff. Remember to ask people's permission about putting their email addresses up for all to see, and give credit where credit is due.

Well, whew, I guess that's all for now. Sorry this has been a disorganized mess, but I felt I just had to get it all out or I'd forget my train of thought. I hope this helps people get started, and I'd love to hear from people about their experiences. Sorry for what I'm sure is a pack of typos, and probably bad grammar to boot.

Good luck,


End Note:
I'm now thinking more and more about collaborative PBeM campaigns where NPCs, characters, items, plots and all manner of ideas cross from one persons game into the next. When I get my thoughts organized, I'll see that it gets posted. It would be a lot of work for the respective GMs, but would be very rewarding. It's something to think about, at any rate.