Play-by-post and the written word

Encourage the Beautiful by Louis Rhead

In my last post, I gave an example of play in my vapourware play-by-post game (which, incidentally, has the working title “Out of Hope”, due to the fact that player characters will start off in Hope and at some point, presumably, will travel out of Hope)

One of the most obvious things about my example is that it’s “wordy”; it is (I hope) decently written; it’s a story. It has fine details, but also forward momentum. 

This, for me, is one of the most wonderful features of play-by-post (PBP) games. Freed from the constraint of having to improvise suitable responses in real-time, the referee (and player) can really take their time to spin out a story. Of course, doing that improvisation in real-time brings its own particular excitement, but what asynchronous play loses in immediate thrill, it makes up for in texture.

(NB by asynchronous, I mean that replies are not immediate: the various players of the game choose their own time in which to play. More typical, synchronous gameplay means that everyone has to be available at the exact same time. Email, text messages, WhatsApp etc are asynchronous; voice and video calls are synchronous) 

This time-to-think is the main reason why I have been considering running a play-by-post game myself. While I do run synchronous games (i.e. in-person or via voice/video chat), their need for spontaneity makes me hella nervous, and I often feel with hindsight that I have gabbled though interactions with the bare minimum of creativity, too focused on not breaking the flow. 

I have always felt that my brain works much better at writing speed than at speaking speed (I still remember my BSc dissertation supervisor Professor Norman Freeman expressing surprise on reading my paper: “normally people who can’t talk about their work can’t write about it either, but this is actually very good!”) The additional time that the gaps between moves allows me with PBP lets me relax a little and do what I feel I do best.

It also, obviously, leaves a written record. Those play-reports which, if you’re anything like me, you always plan to write but somehow never get around to: they’re already there!

A corollary of this is that those written reports can be repurposed. This might just mean copy-pasting the description of a place or a person from the response to one player’s orders into the response to another player, to save the referee a little time. But I would like, ultimately, to go further: to repurpose all of those play reports into something bigger, perhaps a novelisation of the game world where the player characters get to star.

Again, none of this takes away from the wonder of playing together with people synchronously. I just want to emphasise that play-by-post is not an inferior version of standard TTRPG play, for people who can’t find a shared time to play together; it is its own thing, and brings some real benefits that just don’t exist with synchronous play. I’ll be exploring this further in future posts.







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