Play-by-Post Gaming: Pacing

Play-by-post (PbP) gaming is oftentimes a popular alternative for people to play their favorite roleplaying game if their real life schedule is too packed to reliably schedule a game. PbP games can be quite rewarding but they aren’t without their challenges to GM or play in. Let’s face it, PbP games can move slow, like molasses in January slow. Today we take a closer look at pacing in a PbP game from the gamemaster’s perspective.

Pacing is one of several keys to a successful PbP game. Pacing can go far to help keep players engaged in your game. While complete control of pacing is not always possible as gamemaster, you can help set the standard for your game.

Before the game even begins set the expectations for posting frequency up front. If you want players to post daily then make sure those expectations are stated up front. Keep in mind that people playing PbP games tend to do so because their schedule is busy, so a more realistic four to five times per week posting rate might be a better start. By setting these expectations up front you can help get a mix of players that plan to post at a pace fitting for your game.

Once a frequency is established it will be up to you as gamemaster to help keep this pace and keep things moving. Do this by quick replies to in and out of character questions that come up. This helps shows you are watching the game and engaged and tends to carry over to your players. In addition make sure your GM posts for the game come at a regular pace as well that falls in line with the frequency the group agreed to.

Handling combat in a PbP can be a tricky beast. I find having all of the players roll initiative and post their actions for the round. Using this method the GM will occasionally have to make slight modifications on a player’s actions if someone’s actions higher in the initiative count did something to change the scene slightly. This does take some player trust of the GM but it pays off by helping combat move in a timely manner. This has shown to be a worthwhile trade-off in my opinion.

Another hazard of combat in a PbP is if a player is slow to post during combat. This can take a lot of steam out of a game. In these situations it is imperative for the GM to keep the combat rounds rolling forward. There are a couple of different ways to do this and still be fair to the player that is away.

If it is early in the game and you don’t quite know the play style of the player, keeping them out of danger the best you can is a good option. Have them take a full defensive position or keep them towards the back away from harm.

If the player is already engaged in combat then go ahead and roll their attacks for them. When the time is appropriate you can have them withdraw for fall back to a safer position.

In longer running PbPs where you have a good idea of how the player runs their character then you can often NPC the character but have them do their normal actions. A GM often knows if a character tends to engage in melee, ranged attacks or use spells and such.

The key is to not let a player going afk slow the game down too much. Don’t punish the player for not posting during combat, but don’t hold up the game for them either.

Pacing in a PbP game is one of the keys to keeping your players engaged. Engaged players will go far in making for a more successful PbP experience.

What tricks have you found to help keep the pace up for a PbP game?