Sunday, April 6, 2008

Play By Email

Hello and welcome to another week of the Game Dork's Gaming Corner. This week, I want to talk a bit about PBeM. For those of you that don't know, that stands for "Play By eMail." See, gamers have been playing games via correspondence since the 60s, when players in wargames such as Diplomacy would operate across miles of distance by sending their moves to their opponent in the mail. The opponent would adjust his own board according to the instructions in the letter, and decide what his own move would be, and then mail that back to the other player, and so on. This system was called PBM (Play By Mail).

RPGs, being as they are a growth of the wargaming community, would of course follow suit. And with the advent of email, it only made sense that this correspondence would move from the mail system to computers.

I am in a unique situation, in that I have moved out of my country of residence to a new continent, and have left all my former gaming partners behind. So it would seem that PBeM is an ideal solution for my gaming needs, as it allows me to play with people thousands of miles away in a different time zone. Unfortunately, none of my former gaming crew think that PBeM is a viable option. So today, I thought I'd talk a bit about PBeM.Here's what happens: The GM starts off with a scenario that he describes at some length (this is, of course, after all chargen has been completed). He details the situation for the players, and sends it off. The players then have a few days to confer with one another (usually via email themselves), then they type up their response and send it to the GM. In response, the GM will determine the outcome of their reactions, and send them another email containing yet another description of the scenario. Again, the players confer and decide on a course of action, which they then email back to the GM.

Usually, this works on a sort of schedule. Most PBeM games are "twice a week" sort of scenarios, running with the GM sending out his end of the game on Tuesdays and Fridays, and expecting a response from the players by the following Thursday or Monday.

Obviously, a PBeM game wouldn't work well with each email consisting of a single line of dialogue; the game would take forever. Instead, the players and the GM will have to trust each other to have a pretty good idea of what's reasonable and expected in the scenario, so that certain details can be filled in to speed play, enabling more content to be fit into a single email. This sort of game often lends itself well to Storyteller style of play, but Method Actors can find themselves enjoying it as well if they're willing to allow some level of leeway with the GM's treatment of their characters. Depending on the type, Specialists can enjoy this as well. Tacticians, Power Gamers, and Butt-Kickers would enjoy a different type of gaming, that almost becomes more like the traditional wargaming style of PBM.

There are lots of other things to think about, and many different ways to handle certain aspects of PBeM games (just one example: how do you deal with dice rolls?), but I don't want to write a novel with this post, so I'll leave you to do a bit of googling to find more information yourself. Suffice to say, PBeM games are a real and viable option. Maybe you should look into it! And in the meantime, you must never forget to

Game on!

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