How to Start a PBeM Role-Playing Campaign

From: draphsor@medisg.Stanford.EDU (Matt "Rollie" Rollefson)
Newsgroups: rec.games.frp
Subject: PBeM: Starting a Game
Summary: How to start up a PBeM game
Keywords: pbem, starting
Date: 30 Sep 91 09:04:39 GMT
Lines: 270

Copyright 1991 by Matt Rollefson; permission is hereby granted to
reproduce for private, non profit use provided that this notice is
included and the contents are not altered in any way.

[I wrote this sort of addressed to the prospective GM. I'm not sure
if this is the most effective way to write the thing - what do you
guys think?]

How to Start a PBeM Role-Playing Campaign

The time has come. Maybe there are no other role-players in your
area. Maybe you want to continue a campaign after you and all the
players have gone off to different colleges. Maybe you just want to
try out the PBeM format. Whatever the reason, you've decided to
start a PBeM role-playing campaign. Before you can actually start
playing it and having fun, though, there are a few preliminaries to
be taken care of.

Think Twice

The first thing that you should do is honestly evaluate the amount
of time you're going to have to devote to the game. Running a PBeM
takes a lot of work, and a lot of time. Beyond the normal chores of
fleshing out the campaign world and coming up with interesting
adventures, the GM has to be in fairly continuous contact with his
players, through e-mail. You should be able to log in at least once
a day for a minimum of a half hour to answer messages and keep track
of what's going on. Once a week (or more, depending on your
projected turn schedule) you should plan on devoting three to four
hours to come up with a move, send it out, and answer any questions
that have accumulated over the week. The specifics of your time
commitment may vary depending on your style of play, but this is the
order of magnitude.

You should take the time to get to know the computer you are working
on and its operating system well enough to be able to use it with
confidence. If you are going to be writing the moves on a personal
computer, you should know how to upload the files without losing the
formatting. You should have a good handle on how the e-mail system
you are going to use works. If your computer skills are lacking, get
a local wizard to help you. Time spent learning the system before
starting the game is time well spent. It's a lot easier to learn
when there aren't eight players screaming at you because you lost
their moves.

Finally, you should have at least one adventure and the basics to
your world already fleshed out. There is nothing more frustrating
for a player than to quickly answer a call for players, then
discover that the GM doesn't even know what's going to happen. If
you're a great improviser, go ahead. But make sure that you have
something for the characters to do, or your game may fail before it

Finding Players

So you still want to do it. The next thing to do is to attempt to
find some players. If you have friends who also have accounts and
wish to play, there is no problem. You can simply send them mail.
If you don't know anyone on the net yet, then you have to ask the
general world for players. As a rule, you'll get more response than
you can handle.

One of the widest distributions available is the USENET newsgroup
rec.games.frp. Depending on the hardware you are operating on,
there are different ways to post (send a message) to this group. On
most U*IX systems, the most straightforward way is through the
program Pnews. Simply type Pnews at your shell prompt, and the
program will step you through the posting process. Just remember to
type rec.games.frp when it asks for the newsgroup. Also, as a
courtesy to the readers of the newsgroup, you should include some
useful information in the subject line. For instance, if you were
planning on running an AD&D PBeM, your subject might read, "PBeM
AD&D campaign - players sought". The basic information that you
want to get across is that it's a PBeM game, what system it's
running under, and what the genre is. All this should be included
in the subject line. You can get into more detail in the body of
the message.

[Anyone know of any other general distributions that would be
suitable? Should I include rec.games.pbm? Mailing lists? etc?]

Now before rushing off and posting to rec.games.frp, some
consideration should be given to the body of the message. A general
call for players will probably get a lot of response, but if the
players don't know what they're getting into the game may fold
rapidly as the players discover that they're not interested. To
avoid this, a call for players should include several things.

1. The system. Even though it's already been mentioned in the
subject line, the system that you're going to be running should be
made clear here. Any ways in which what you're going to be running
differs from the 'normal' rules should be indicated, as well as how
great a knowledge of the rules is necessary for a player. PBeM
allows the rules to be invisible to the player if the GM is willing
to do the work, so it's quite possible to run a campaign with
players who know nothing of the system. This is the place to
indicate 'only experienced AD&D'ers need apply', or 'no knowledge of
Paranoia is necessary to play in this campaign'.

2. What you want from the players. Some GMs choose to create the
characters and hand them out to players. Some GMs want the players
to make up the characters. Some campaigns will require only the
basic stats of the character to start play. Some will require a full
personality sketch and detailed physical description. Your
prospective players should know what is to be required of them in
terms of character design before they reply to the posting. This
should also cut down on the number of replies from players who think
playing a PBeM would be sort of neat, but aren't willing to put much
work into it. Asking for a detailed character description will also
give the GM more information, thus making it easier to choose
between players. After all, an e-mail address doesn't give much
information about the person. Finally, this is a good place to
indicate the expected time commitment from each player. Not everyone
can log in for an hour every day to answer moves.

3. A teaser for the adventure, or at least some amount of background
information. This isn't strictly necessary if the GM is planning on
creating all of the characters and starting the players cold, but it
is useful information. It gives the players more information so they
can decide if this campaign is going to interest them before they
get stuck in the middle of it. Again, this helps avoid headaches on
the part of player and GM alike, by making sure that both know what
they're getting into.

4. Your e-mail address. Yes, I know it sounds silly, but people do
forget this. Ideally you will be on the internet. If so, your
internet address (something like user@foo.bar) should be sufficient
information. If you are on bitnet or have a uucp address, try to
include instructions for internet users as well as the address of
your 'native' network. Like it or not, the internet seems to be the
emerging standard.

[I'm not real sure about this last part - anyone from 'alternative'
networks or with more info willing to let me know the real low-down?
I'd like to avoid making this article too parochial, but I'm an
internet user, and an edu one at that, so I really don't know much
about how bitnet or uucp works, or how the various companies have
their networks set up.]

Also, be sure to tell your players to send their e-mail address.
While you can normally deduce it from the return path, this is not
always true. And players are as forgetful as GMs...

5. A time limit for responses. Usually one or two days will be
plenty of time to get ten or more prospective players. If you don't
get enough, just extend the time limit.

Finally, before posting it might be a good idea to read
rec.games.frp for a week or so to get a feel for how the newsgroup
works. Reading news.new-users is also highly recommended. The main
newsreader on U*IX systems is rn. To read rec.games.frp type rn
rec.games.frp at your shell prompt. On VMS systems the command is

[If anyone can give me the basics of how one would read
rec.games.frp under VMS, it would be appreciated. If all else fails,
I can probably get on a VMS machine and hack around, but I'd prefer
to avoid that at all costs... :) ]

Choosing Players

You've posted an announcement for a new game. You log in, and your
mailbox is overflowing with enthusiastic responses. Now, it's time
to whittle it down to a manageable number.

There are several things to consider when selecting players. The
first thing to look at is, did the player do everything you asked
for in your posting. A player who is serious about playing will give
what you ask for. Someone who is not serious will probably just send
a message saying 'yeah, I want to play.' Normally you'll want the
player who is willing to devote some effort to the game.

After you've narrowed it down to the serious players, you'll want to
start thinking about what kinds of characters you want in your
campaign. Take a look at what the player has sent you, and try to
figure out who will fit in best. Then send a test message to those
players, to confirm that you have a working pathway for e-mail
between you and them.

If you are absolutely swamped with responses, you might consider
simply taking the first n responses to arrive. This is an impartial,
'fair' method, but probably not the best method for establishing a
good group of players. Another method to consider is setting a definite
time limit on responses, and then treating all those that arrive before
the deadline equally. Eliminate the players who fail to send all of the
information you request. Then select randomly from the remaining players,
thus giving players who don't log in every day a chance to join a game.

Communicating with the Players

Communication is essential in an e-mail game. A feature of most mail
programs which will aid you greatly is aliases. An alias allows you
to substitute a name which makes sense (for instance, the name of
the player or the name of their character) for the often cryptic
mailing addresses. If you don't know how to use this feature,
consult a local wizard or, better yet, check the on-line help

Always tell the players what is going on. If you are going to be
away for a week, or even for a few days, tell the players. The
players should also let you know when they will be unavailable for
an extended period of time, although it's not so essential in their
case. You can convey this information in individual messages, or in
a special administrivia section in each move.

Alternative Forms of Communication

Besides e-mail, there are other ways to communicate between
machines. Most of these are only available to users with Internet

IRC. This is a program that allows several users to communicate with
each other simultaneously, in real time. It may be available on your
U*IX system. All players should have access if it is going to be
necessary to the game.

Talk. This is a command that lets you communicate in real time with
one other user. It is available on most U*IX machines.

Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs). These are programs set up on certain
machines which allow anyone to log on using a special port. Once you
log on to the program, you manipulate a character. It's a lot like
playing Zork. The difference is other players can be logged on at
the same time. You can meet them, talk to them, and (sometimes)
fight them. Using MUDs allows simultaneous communication, similar to
IRC. You must be able to telnet to the 'experimental' ports, though.
Again, all players should have access if this method of
communication is to be used.

[This section needs major expansion. My experience with IRC is nil,
talk is very flaky on my machine, and I've only played with MUDs a
little. (I don't want to flunk out of school! :) ) Anyone have any
more info, especially on irc?]

Tell the Players How the Game's Going to Run

After you've confirmed that you have a working path between yourself
and all of your players, there are some technical details to be
worked out. First, you have to decide if you want to allow direct
player to player communication. Depending on your style of play, you
may wish to keep your players in complete ignorance. Or, you may
want to let them speak to each other, but only in character. Or
maybe you don't care. In any event, you should be sure to make your
position clear to your players. If player to player communication is
going to be necessary for the game, you should make sure that all of
the players are able to reach each other.

The next major question is turn frequency. How often are you going
to log in? How frequently are you going to send out moves? How
frequently are the players expected to log in? How often do you
expect to receive a move from them? The answers to these questions
will depend on your style of play and the time you have available.
But you should be sure to inform your players.

Finally, you have to tell your players what the turn format is going
to be. Do you want long, steam of consciousness moves? Do you want
detailed description that you can insert directly into your moves?
Do you want them to send their moves to everyone, or just to you?
How much time do you want their moves to cover? How are you going to
determine sequence of actions? What happens if two players try to do
things that are obviously inconsistent? (For instance, one player
says he is going to heal the injured orc, and the other player says
he is going to kill it.) These are all things that should be
determined in advance as much as possible. The next article gives
some answers to these questions that have proved effective.

Draphsor vo'drun-Aelf draphsor@medisg.stanford.edu