PbP: I need some help with structure

Started by droog, September 11, 2009, 04:51:27 PM

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Okay, I'd never run a PbP game before. I had a sudden whim a few months ago and decided to run my Dark Ages hack of HQ at a small forum called the RPG Haven. I collected five interested players. On the example of DitV, I ran introductory solo pieces for each chr. These went really well, and I managed to use them to teach the system and get at least one player on board with a new style of play.

You can read the introductions thread here. It is a complete record of rules use and shared fiction.

Did it read well? I thought so. But now I'm finding myself paralysed by the success of the intros. I'm finding it hard to decide how to structure the next part. We have time differences of almost 24 hours spread across the group (Australia, Europe, US).

For me this has been very interesting, as it has allowed me to see how a PbP game can work. But now I'm butting up against lack of technology, and I'm no engineer. I need some help. I have content out the ears, but what do I do with it?
AKA Jeff Zahari

Callan S.

Hi Jeff,

What's play aimed at, in a general sort of sense? Can you articulate it? And are players part of making or atleast helping to aim that structure toward what it's aimed at?

I think you previously had the aim to teach the system - it seems the problem is that now your without an aim. I might be wrong on that, of course. Just seems that way to me.


Howdy Callan; thanks for responding.

I guess you're right. I was (a) trying to teach the system (b) demonstrate narrativist play.

The players, I feel, have risen to the occasion. I think you can see some initial fumbling in Jim's case, followed by an epiphany of sorts.

I would say that my aim is to drive the chrs at the relationship map, and to allow them further opportunities to reveal their chrs in play. Whether this is sufficient I don't know, but I feel it should be good enough. It's just vanilla narrativism. I'd like to see intense conflict with a romanticised Dark Ages backdrop.

For all that I feel there's something to your comment, and I'd like to ask you to unpack it some more.
AKA Jeff Zahari

Callan S.

Well, I think you were trying to achieve a real life event before - ie, teaching someone (it's a real life thing like baking a cake is a real life thing, you'd agree?). But now your aiming at certain fiction and because it's fiction it gives no clue as to what real life things you should be saying or doing.

What do you think you should be saying and doing in real life at the gaming table? Does the HQ text tell you much on that?

I don't know HQ really much at all. But I do know about thirty years of gaming design has centered around offering very little in terms of what to say and do during the activity. And I know alot of RPG's repeat that habit.


Hell, no, HQ tells you very little about what to actually do. What I'm doing with this game is what I learned from games like DitV and Trollbabe. So that is taken as read.

The thing is, after many years of doing it, I can make a passable stab at juggling this stuff at the table. Looking for cues, quick cuts, all that. Likewise, the one-on-one format of the intro thread worked quite well (I felt). But I'm feeling a bit lost as to how to proceed, because I do not have this experience with PbP. Can I just frame scenes and wait for people to jump in? Does the time gap pose a difficulty?
AKA Jeff Zahari

Callan S.

Well, the advice I was giving was along the lines of exploratory designing - playtesting as you go. As to what will definately work, assuming there is such a thing, there may be some posters around with extensive PBP experience who can tell you stuff on that. :)


First of all it seems to me you need to stick those guys together, the characters I mean. My first idea was to draw an actual relationship map using some kind of wiki/graph website. The reason for this is that if I'm not mistaken your guys get how to do conflicts now, and turns, but presumably you'll want to draw them into a single story thread. In my recent rustbelt game I've been ticking round the players as you did, but because of the links we built up between them, and a bit of wrangling on my part, (not to mention the mechanics of the game) those separate scenes started to overlay and turn into joint scenes. In other words we blended from the "solo pieces" to the group pieces and back again.

Now one thing I would warn you is that DITV has a specific dynamic for it's solo-scenes, which you haven't replicated; this is that they centre around some personal feature of the character that once resolved, for good or bad, is replaced by the group structure that ties the characters together. You don't have that really, ie the intro scenes weren't framed as "an interlude before the group is formed", they were just someone doing their thing before they hit into the others.

My solution to the structure problem? Either by discussion on a board or via some separate tool like an actual map, decide how the characters are connected, and what their general aims are. Then you as GM chuck in some stuff to make those aims move them towards each other, or at least substantially affect each other. n other words you use the discussion thread and map to replace partially the cues you would use at the table, and to get a feel of what these guys are after, and then juggle away like a champ! You can just flick scenes like your doing, waiting for someone's turn, but having the scenes relate to each other by their shared context and links that you've created. If someone takes too long, you can ask them if they could swap order with someone, so that things can keep moving, but let it be their initiative to suggest that they won't be there, before it get's to you framing their scene. If you're playing with respectful players that shouldn't be a problem, aside from a few hiccups. Then you'll start to find a pace that is as fast as you can casually sustain, speeding up sometimes like when stuff gets pivotal, but usually being maybe a little slower than your starting intros.

Does that help?