Play By E-Mail


With the coming of the electronic age and the internet, it was only natural the new way of getting together with friends and acquaintances would soon be used to play together as well as conduct business. Playing is, after all, what we wish to do much of the time when the moment isn't forcing us to earn our daily bread, and so we have begun to use the Internet and electronic communications to play our games. But not just solitary games or games of fixed dimensions and limited interaction with real people, but roleplaying games as well. So if you had thought roleplaying was only for real life get-togethers, or you thought it was only something you could do with your well known friends, think again.

This article deals primarily with PBEM (Play By E-Mail). IRC (Internet Relay Chat) gaming is also part of it, but I have already written a bit about that, and if you're interested you can read it here:

An IRC Gaming Primer (Some things I want my irc gamers to know)

PBEM, on the other hand, is different from IRC gaming. PBEM takes on one of two primary forms; the supplement to a RL (Real Life) game or IRC game, OR the pure PBEM game.

PRIVACY: Some players may like their anonymity, and no one can blame them for that, considering, so it might be a good idea to set up some separate email account to help preserve this. Since many places offer a free email account, this is not a major problem. The GM must, naturally enough, have your email address, but the other players probably should have it as well. I will say here, for what it's worth, that it is considered bad form to give out another's address without their express permission, and gaming is no exception. So, either shield yourself with an extra account or be prepared to give your address to all the other players and hope no one there is callous enough to break this unwritten rule.

Of course, if the other players and the GM are real life friends, you probably already have their addresses anyway, but in an IRC game you may not know each other at all, so that's why this is important even in a supplemental game if you were wondering what the big deal was or how you wouldn't already personally know your roleplaying associates.

The supplemental game, I believe, deserves to be addressed first since it can greatly enhance any on going game and therefore may be the most common. The prerequisite for this game is that all players have an E-Mail account and that they read it at least several times a week (at least 3 times a week is good, though 3 times a day, assuming you can manage that, might also enhance performance). But, even if a player cannot read their email with that frequency, it is the GM (Game Master) who must really be able to respond with the greatest frequency. Thus, the GM has the hardest job, but that's nothing new.

The Supplemental PBEM Game

We shall assume that game sessions are far apart, perhaps only a few days or, more typically, a week, or perhaps even more time passes in between sessions. The larger these gaps between sessions, the better PBEM will work for you. If you are a good player, in my honest opinion (IMHO) there is some time during these days when you should give thought to your character. Players who don't consider their characters at other times other than during the sessions are not, again IMHO, playing the game as it should be played. Of course, this time need not be lengthy. It may simply be working on your character sheet, drawing a picture, making a map of their home, writing a history, or just thinking about your PC while driving to or from work, for example. It may even be incidental, as talking about the rules of the game your character is in may give you a firmer understanding on how those rules apply to your character. No one said you had to think hard about it (it is a game, after all), but you should be thinking about it to some degree. This is part of character development. And when a question comes up that requires GM intervention or a GM ruling or some GM explanation - and it often does - BAM, you're stopped in your tracks until next session. What a drag :_(

With supplemental PBEM, you can send out a letter that very day and expect to get an answer before the next game session. Now you are free to continue developing your character ;-) If another snag arises, another letter should solve that problem. Thus, in essence, supplemental PBEM allows us to use more of our free time to play, and PBEM lets us fit it into our busy schedules to boot.

Roleplaying with other players may also be done. Assuming you have their address (if not, send it to the GM and they'll forward it to the desired player), you can interact with another character. This is particularly good when the interaction may require a great deal of time and not be of particular interest to the other players. So instead of making them all wait while you conduct a private affair, this can be done during non-session time freeing up more session time for everybody else (yourself included). It also helps keep IC (In Character ) and OOC (Out Of Character) knowledge separate since those other characters probably wouldn't be privy to private conversations anyway.

NOTE: After two (or more) players have finished their particular private roleplaying session via email (perhaps a string of letters over several days), one of them should paste the text into a text file and send it to the GM. This will allow the GM to keep abreast of what's going on in their own world and it will allow them to take appropriate action or give appropriate awards (like character points or experience points) for roleplaying.

Remember that the primary point of session time is to do things together as a group or a party. Session time is thus best used for group activities or things that cannot be done easily by PBEM. Supplemental PBEM will lighten the load, and small, time-consuming tasks that often don't even involve all other party members will not drag the game down or bore the other players. Spell research, training, acquisition of equipment, consulting with a sage (or other NPC) about a personal matter, settling a dispute between TWO PCs, etc., no longer need take up large blocks of time in a game session that is already rather limited since all that other private and personal stuff can be done in PBEM.

Unfortunately, most supplemental PBEM may only be done when the party is in the proper position. If the session ended with everybody hanging on the side of a cliff, for example, there would be little opportunity to consult with a sage, do spell research, or even have a heart to heart talk with another PC (though retroactive play is possible, it has its own problems). As a result of this, most PBEM will occur only when sessions end in town or in a position of relative safety. Even in the field, the party curled up in some cave or their tent, two PCs may have a lengthy discussion at night, so PBEM could happen there. Mostly, however, it will happen when the session ends with all characters in a town. There, they will have free reign to interact with each other and a plethora of NPCs via PBEM with the GM.

NOTE: Retroactive play is done under the assumption the actual actions happened in the past when they could have. If one can avoid a paradox (I never would have gone to the Forest Of Light considering what I just retroactively found out), it works out fine. If not, entire sections must be ignored or rewritten, so to speak, so caution is indicated. Retroaction is most often done while, during an actual session, the GM says he doesn't wish to spend session time doing that right now, but you can assume it was done and we can roleplay it later during a break, when we are alone in the car, or in PBEM, etc.

For example, your PC wishes to confer with a sage, but no other PC cares about this private matter, so the GM tells you that you do consult the sage but you can roleplay that encounter later with him PBEM. Then the game continues under the broad assumption your PC has had this encounter already (and nothing untoward may happen during it, so you may not be allowed to attack the sage, for example. For all you know, the sage may have killed your PC with a surprising defense). Unless you cannot proceed without specific information from this encounter, this usually works well. So if Kaltar wished to look into making a magic staff, that encounter would be assumed to have taken place and your PC acquired that knowledge while the entire game doesn't have to screech to a halt while the GM and Kaltar's player take 30 minutes to look at some details only those two care about anyway. But if Kaltar wanted to find about the Forest of Light BEFORE he would even consider going there, you could not assume he got that information and then proceeded to the Forest of Light as it may be the case, when he actually roleplays that encounter, he learns something that would have made him avoid the Forest of Light in the first place.

Forward action (what's the proper bloody antonym for retroaction anyway?) is roleplaying done now for future events that will (probably) happen. (I will buy a healing potion when I get to town. Say shop keep, how much is that loaf of bread?) Typically this may be done just as a matter of convenience. For example, buying bread and subtracting the copper coins for it can be done now while the player is waiting for the GM to finish up with another matter, and this just assures they won't forget to do their bookkeeping. Of course one could have a heart to heart talk too as a future action while waiting for almost any action to come to fruition. It is just a matter of doing it now to save time later. This will not usually cause a problem as one can totally ignore all of it if something came up to prevent it from happening. The point is, PBEM may be done even while your character is clinging to the side of a cliff as the actions may have already happened or they might happen later, but you are just using your in between session time now to get these things done.

One must simply avoid paradoxes while utilizing these roleplaying opportunities. For example, if the GM tells you that you can roleplay your friendly chat with the NPC crystal dragon later, the player must not take this as license that he can do anything during that encounter when they do roleplay it since they were clearly alive later. Thus, forearmed with the certain knowledge they were alive in the future, they steal the dragon's treasure, confident the dragon will not kill them since he "didn't" kill him. THINK AGAIN! The GM will simply (probably) burn that PC to a crisp and tell everyone to back up to that point as everything beyond that point is null and void. Then they will play it again, but that PC will be toast. Similarly, if a player had their PC do some future action that becomes no longer possible, they simply declare that action null and void and everyone should ignore it since it never really happened.

One may even try to adventure in supplemental PBEM as a lone character. This is not exactly wise, IMHO, for adventuring alone and without backup is a good way to both die and have no one in a position to reclaim your body (assuming Raise Dead or something akin to this is possible). But if the risk is low and the payoff is potentially high, it might be done. The rogue, for example, checking out that store or following that rich looking NPC to his home are good examples. Actually going into the home though armed guards can be seen is not a good example. Any private excursions may be done, however, no matter how foolhardy. But if trouble rears its ugly head, the GM will either have to put it on hold until next session, OR they'll have to adjudicate the outcome without a lot of player interaction.

For many players, they may dislike the idea of not personally rolling their own dice or making every little decision for their own character, so they may not like it if the GM rules or adjudicates the outcome without their direct input. If this is you, PBEM may have its drawbacks for you, so you'll either have to avoid such potentially dangerous excursions or ask the GM to wait for the session to complete it. Unfortunately, this may be taken as a license to get oneself stuck in between each session and then hog the time of each game session getting out of it. So be warned not to let a player monopolize the GM's time thus, and if they persists, deal with them. A GM may, however, even probably, not like the idea of simply informing a player their character has died. It is recommended the GM strongly urge the player not to take such lone and foolhardy action as they may die. If the player ignores this warning, you should not feel badly about telling them of their character's demise (assuming the dice fell that way while you rolled for the results of their hide in shadows or move silently or whatever).

Now, a fantastic bonus of supplemental PBEM is where your character may stumble upon something, follow it up, and learn of a quest or a mission or a job that cannot be done by themselves. This makes it important to round up the other characters during a session, roleplay that character telling of their discovery, explain why they need help, and convince the others to come along. Any number of things are possible, and the GM will appreciate your interaction in ferreting out interesting stories suitable for session scenarios, the roleplaying required to relay the information to the others, the roleplaying required by the others to ask the hard questions and answer why they should care, and the unified action of the party during a session rather than having everyone running around in 12 different directions looking to do their own thing (which is better done in PBEM anyway). And if you're looking for even more incentive, the GM will almost certainly award such an industrious player with more experience points or character points or other rewards as they will improve the quality of the overall game and therefore deserve it. Worry not the other players may feel cheated since they are getting less xp or CPs. Even if they have no time to PBEM, it is not like you are punishing them when you reward another, and players who look upon it that way are missing the point. Besides, the possible secretive nature of PBEM makes it difficult for them to know who's getting what rewards anyway, and you needn't volunteer this information.

In fact, done properly, a non-PBEM player who only plays during the actual session may wonder how in the hell this other player seems to have a more intimate, almost GM-Like knowledge of things in the world since they didn't see this information pass over the table top. My god, it would look like that character actually had a life in this world or something; it would be like he or she were a real person with real concerns and a real personality. Huh. Of course the non-PBEM player may begin to feel inadequate and left behind, but it's his or her own fault for not participating with a great and available supplemental tool like E-Mail. Naturally, if they don't have email, it is not their fault, and this is why it is almost unfair to play this way unless ALL players have email. As time goes by, however, it will soon be nearly impossible not to have email in the same way it is nearly impossible not to have a phone or a TV.

The Pure PBEM Game

The Pure PBEM Game is a very different animal. First off, you can't even play without email. The game, by its nature, is much slower paced. Some may dislike this feature so much they will refuse to partake in it, not seeing much "action" in such a slow game. Others may live for the excitement of combat or the thrill of being called on to make snap decisions during times of crisis. Yet more players may demand more direct interaction with their character, never liking it when the GM, let alone another player, might take liberties with their character. Finally, many may be rather unskilled with the written word (reading and/or writing) such that they would not be comfortable in a PBEM game. Though word processors and spell checkers certainly would help a great deal, they may still lack the basic language talent for this style of play. It takes a certain kind of player to appreciate the Pure PBEM game, but it does have its rewards to make it worthwhile.

The game, though slower, is so much deeper and well thought out that it has richness most other roleplaying games will always lack. Descriptions are written and then given in detail rather than on the fly, and read carefully and taken in rather than heard in passing at a noisy table, and within these descriptions are often found the framework upon which to build your character's actions which, in turn, can be more detailed and well thought out as well. Furthermore, you can quickly reread sections and check your facts and more carefully consider if some knowledge is IC or OOC and act accordingly, making your character's actions far more realistic.

The GM will have a particularly arduous task as they must both carefully read everything and write the back ground scene and they must have firmly in mind a more detailed plot and a well developed world that will probably be more complicated than most other game worlds. Battle, a common draw and fixture to many fantasy games, is not the point of a PBEM game, or at least not the high light of a session, so traditional points of interest may have to be replaced. The GM would have to adjudicate much of the outcome of a battle on their own and without player blow by blow interaction, and the appeal for the action found in battle is sometimes lost in such a game. Thus, the PBEM game thrives on character development, plot, intrigue, vivid descriptions, a colorful turn of phrase, an acumen acceding artistic articulation, and a careful consideration of your character and their interaction with the other PCs and NPCs. Easily, one may spend an hour every day playing this game, so for actual game time, it is more, not less, than many weekly RL games.

BATTLE: When battle does occur, the GM will ask for your character's general plans and contingencies. After they have collected a fair idea of everyone's strategy, they will use dice, their knowledge of your character's abilities, and poetic license to adjudicate the battle, probably giving a gory description of the carnage :-0 This may be done in one shot or several postings, depending, but you will not, as players, be rolling your own dice or perhaps reveling in the chaos and excitement of melee since too much of it is out of your hands after you give your plans over to the GM. Those who live for combat, as I have implied, may not like this style of play.

Posts may be sent out by players in a round-by-round fashion, wherein they describe - in detail - their PC's actions, thoughts, feelings, etc. Note they do not write beyond what would normally require the roll of the dice - that is left for the GM to adjudicate - but up to that point, it is all the player's input. After the GM collects posts from all players, he or she will write the results, describe the action, and take the next step - probably up to the next round for a battle. Then you do it again. Each round may take several days of real time, so I swing my sword at the creature is hardly going to be an adequate post. PBEM will require greater writing skill and depth than that.

The supplemental PBEM is rather self explanatory, often only needing the will to do it to make it work. The Pure PBEM game may require greater description.

Some hosts on the Internet may supply your group with an automated email forwarding and posting affair. You sign up and are a member of that group. You send email to the group and all members of that group automatically get a copy of your letter (you even get a copy of your own letter since you're a member). Of course, this host is not absolutely necessary, but it does help. Otherwise, you either have to have an email application that sends to everybody on a particular list (for a particular address in your book), and you'll have to add and subtract players yourself as they come and go, or you'll have to send the same letter out manually to each player. Fortunately, I think there are a variety of ways to do this so it should not be great problem to find one and make it work for your group.

Via E-Mail, you set up your character with the GM over a period of days or weeks (patience is a virtue in this game). After it's ready, and after the GM informs you they have the other players ready as well, you can begin.

Now, the GM starts the ball rolling by describing a scene with your character in it (and possibly other PCs too, but you may meet them later as well). The description is in detail, the GM showing you his skill with the written word and his vision of his world. After you get and read the GM's post, you respond to it. You carefully consider what your character wishes to know or do, ask, what they think, and how they perceive things and why. You can describe them physically, let the others know your thoughts, facial expressions, body language, or in any other way write something that would read much like a passage in any book or work of literature.

After the GM begins, each player may respond. Also, after each player posts something, a player may respond to that posting if his or her character is in a position to do so. Like all roleplaying games, you should keep character knowledge and player knowledge separate and consider what your character will say, think, or do based upon what THEY know, and not upon what you, as a player, know. Many things in the posts might not be apparent to your character (just like many things said openly over the table in a RL game might not be knowledge your character would have). Of course, some conventions will be made. For example, if your character frowns and others can see this, they may infer she is displeased and be more privy to her thoughts or feelings (*as written between asterisk, for example*) than normal. The better you know another character, the greater the empathy and the greater you can discern another's thoughts and feelings, etc., without having to actually hear their words ("inside quotes") just like in ordinary literature.

Here is an example:

Simon considered Ali's words. "Many thanks," Simon murmured, taking the proffered chair with a slight bow. "As to Trispitsi, my history with that good merchant - curious fellow, is he not? - is as brief as it is recent. To whit, and somewhat to my own surprise, I find myself employed as his caravan master for the next leg of his trip. He claims that he has a desire for honest and reliable men about him, and apparently is satisfied in my regard." His words were overly formal and stilted, he realized, virtually as soon as they left his mouth. So be it, better to appear stiff than to offer offense, painfully aware of his unguarded back. *Unless you counted Rathdaegn,* he thought, smiling slightly at the notion.

"You look like a warrior of some standing." commented Alisand.

The man's face went blank suddenly; the hint of old wounds lingering in the back of his eyes. "There was a time, Lady Alisand, a time not that far past, when I would have striven for such recognition. A time when I would have struck out at any who dared doubt it. Now, however," he continued, his face relaxing into a wry smile, "I find myself content to be just Simon. In some ways, a more difficult goal, no?"

"My name," she almost whispered it, "is Alisand Luster. Now, tell me what's up."

Simon was silent for a moment, one hand absently turning the ale mug in even quarter circles. "My Lady Alisand," he said finally, lowering his voice to match that of his table companion, "As I said, Trispitsi hired me to ensure the safe arrival of his cargo to Tanadon. By all accounts, the trip should be an easy one - or as easy as any in these times. He was also quite specific in his desire for reliable guards as I was given to understand that his previous choices proved of dubious character. He spoke quite highly of you and your companions, Lady," Simon went on, mentally trying to fit that image around that of the drunken man he had seen wander away from the table sans pants. "Indeed, he urged me to seek you out and discover whether your path continued towards Tanadon. I rather suspect," he said, lips twitching in a faint smile, "that he hoped to enlist your services for free. It is not an unreasonable thing for him to wish for, I suppose, merchants being merchants and all. However, he also gave me the option of enlisting your services for pay, an option I feel somewhat more comfortable offering you, and one I do not feel the worthy tradesman would begrudge. It would also," he added after a brief pause, his voice pitched for Alisand's ears alone, "perhaps offer your companions some respite from pursuit. Trispitsi has spoken for you, and as I have pledged him my services as far as Tanadon, that is sufficient for me. However, I am well familiar with the look of the hunted. And Lady Alisand, you and your companions both wear that mark in full measure."

The above (in bold) was one player's response to the on going story. Here, I play Alisand Luster, mage and priestess of Ogma; the other player plays Simon, a new addition to the game, and a warrior of sorts. There are also other players involved and reading this as we go, and they may jump in with their actions anytime they wish as well. Simon's player took some of my former post and interspersed it into his own, thus answering questions or making a more fluid, story-like, response. Next, you will see my immediate response to his post (in bold).

Alisand was indeed impressed with Simon's character, his openness, his formalities, and his apparently astute nature, though his last comments brought her back from a sense of, well, what? - awe inspired comfort and trust, to one of the cold reality of pursuit. She wondered if she really 'looked' hunted, for if she did, it wasn't helping her to hide. *Fat lot of good it does, this stupid hood,* she thought, though she knew too many had observed her enter the inn without it on, and Simon could have easily been amongst them.

"How did you find us so quickly? Did Trispitsi tell you where we were?" Ali hoped to Ogma *mayhiscloakconcealourpurpose* that it was so, for if it wasn't, anything Simon could so easily do, so could another of a less than helpful nature. *I find myself content to be just Simon. In some ways, a more difficult goal, no?* as she waited for an answer to her question, the words of his rhetorical question replayed themselves in her mind, standing out above all others. This wasn't just wisdom, it was wisdom's foundation, and he knew it well. That was where the feeling came from, the security, the ease he imparted to her, the warmth that crept toward her, almost taking her fully into its embrace, until he splashed her with the cold reality of being numbered with the hunted. *Damn reminders, take my pleasure and stave off my inner glow, I hate you, yet thank you for keeping me alive, bastard that you are.* She couldn't remember where she had read that, but Simon brought it back to her. She was, indeed, among the hunted.

"Obviously, Simon, Trispitsi picked well this time. I am," she paused, looking for the right word, "pleasantly surprised. As for myself," she decide it would be incomprehensible for an enemy to go to the lengths necessary to sucker her in like this and concluded Simon was trustworthy, "I was going to Tanadon soon anyway. I would be happy to travel with Trispitsi again, no charge, unless some compensation may later help should expenditures be made on his behalf, I have no desire to take money for what I would do anyway. However," she continued, smiling at Lilly, "others will, out of respect for proper form, you understand, require what small enumeration our mutual Trader in rugs and carpets can afford." Ali knew well Trispitsi didn't deal in rugs and such, but wondered if Simon would know. Probably. Just one final cautionary test, for why would a bandit bother to know what Trispitsi dealt with while engaged in squeezing her whereabouts out of him, though one hired to guard it should almost certainly know.

She look at Simon then and smiled, a rather genuine expression, not like the one before when she prepared her spell to take him out, perhaps the very one that gave her that earlier 'hunted' look. She'd have to work on that. Standing then, she put her hand on Nigar's shoulder; he had long finished the remaining food and was nursing his last mug. "Nigar, what say we all go for a walk, have a pipe, and take in the sweet air outside? We could do with a breather from this..." she didn't say it, just waved her hand at the room in general as she attempted to lead them all outside, even beckoning for Anduin to follow and bring Arthur with her.

OOC: Ali will try to get outside with them all and see if Simon does anything funny. If not then, probably never. She will make one last effort (unless Simon says Trispitsi is going to be here for days yet), to get Nigar to cough up the information, and if he doesn't, she'll reward him with the rest of the tobacco (unless Simon indicates during this walk he smokes, she'll offer it to him). We may even get Nigar to "hide" us at his place if we have to stay the night, but he's kinda of secretive, so that's unlikely he'd take us all, but if she can get a personal invite, she'll tell them all to go find Slater or go find Galien while she sees Nigar's inner sanctum. Or even just a name from Nigar to look up once in Tanadon would be helpful. Bottom line is we gotta move soon. Too many people already know where she is, and she likes this not.

Jim (Alisand)

As you can see, each post can be rather involved (just depends on the time you put into it). Of course, they may be sweet, short, and simple as well, as in this example:

Still shivering, Lilly decided she definitely first wanted to share her findings and most of all her feelings with one, and most preferably more, of the others before she would decide to do anything else. Lilly slipped away and found her way back to the party. She appeared to be just in time for the Baron's grand entrance. People started moving towards the terrace and Lilly started scanning the area for familiar faces. Wasn't that Anduin? Good to see that the bard had actually managed to get inside, not that she ever doubted that, of course. She didn't seem able to locate Arthur. She still wondered what happened. Alisand would be the best person to ask, Lilly decided, and she made her way towards the Priestess.

I now had the option to wait for Lilly to say something before reacting, or I could just as well write how Lilly came up to Alisand looking cold or something, and take it from there. But as Ali was waiting for the GM to post something concerning what she found out by casting a Detect Magic, I waited. Your best judgment is, as always, your best guide as no hard rules can tell you how to roleplay.

Each post builds on what the NPCs and other PCs are doing, saying, sometimes even thinking. You take that knowledge and decide what your character actually knows. For example, you may not know exactly what Ali is thinking even though you, the player, just read her exact thoughts. How your character will react, think, feel, or whatever is then expressed in your post in the literary style of the game. Some may strictly try to adhere to a more book-like style, others may freely be in a more third person, present tense and descriptive style. For example:

Arthur doesn't like what Simon said, so he'd glare at him, then he'd leave in a huff.

Rather than...

Arthur glared at Simon, obviously not pleased with what he just said, and quickly rose in anger, throwing the chair back as he did so. With a final burning scowl directed at the new warrior, Arthur left the inn feeling quite dejected and angry.

What style you want for your game is up to you, naturally. You may even post in one style while another player post in another. It will still work.

You will have noticed the OOC line. This is stuff the player may be saying about the character rather than what the actual character may be saying. It often contains game mechanics and rule questions or asks the GM or other players direct questions one wouldn't ask as a character might ask them, but as a player might ask them. After you say and do and think what you feel your character would, you may begin to express their IMMEDIATE plans, hopes, fears, in an IF this then A, else B sort of manner in an OOC line. This lets other players help predict your PC's actions. For example, if I said: OOC: Ali would go with Lilly if she asks, otherwise she'd go with Arthur. Then, Lilly's next post may have Alisand and Lilly go somewhere without Lilly's player having to first stop and ask and wait for my response to see if Ali will go with her. I probably even said that OOC because I was half convinced Lilly would want to do this at that time, considering.

Naturally, the game may be slowed down much further without adopting a similar practice. Post a few lines, wait a day or two for a response of one or two lines, post a few more, wait, etc., it can really drag if no one is willing to make even trivial assumptions and take small liberties with your character.

For example, Arthur's player may decide he would take Alisand aside, away from the party, and discuss something in private. Unless Arthur's player has reason to believe (from what's going on or what he knows about Alisand) that she would object to leaving with him, he need not wait for Ali's player's response before taking her out and speaking with her. For example:

Arthur dearly wished to confer with the priestess privately, so he motioned for her to follow him onto the terrace, and thankfully, she did just that. "Sister Alisand," he began in a whispered voice, "etc."

Here, Arthur's player assumed Alisand would not object with this little liberty he took with the Alisand character, and more often than not, with proper care and attention, you can do things like that with no difficulty. However, Alisand's player may have had a very good reason why she would not go. Then this might happen:

OOC: Sorry, but Alisand sees Arthur's invitation but politely declines to go outside as she must remain inside while waiting for the baron's appearance. We must consider all subsequent information in Arthur's last post to NOT have happened. Please pick up from that point.

Sometimes the little rewrites can make a game screech to a halt for a few days while things are sorted out, but remember, this game takes months or years, so this is not atypical. As the game continues and you get a better feel for it, you will probably learn where each player draws the line that you shouldn't cross by taking too many liberties with their character. As a general rule of thumb, if you are not half certain they'd go along with your post, it is better to end it there with a question rather than proceed under that assumption.

After the GM has waited two days (that's about the right amount of time, I feel, for the more active and serious game, but as some players may only post once or twice a week, the GM may have to wait longer), then they will respond with the next GM posting. Thus, if your character was waiting for the GM response, they can move again (it's their turn).

During the course of play, players may often make requests. Please do this or please don't do that. Unless you have a huge problem with such a request, you should try to please them. For example, I often say (and I'm often ignored), OOC: Please cut off or delete the previous post from the bottom of your responses as this just takes up computer memory and we already have it so do not need the reminder anyway.

Now, if your internet host keeps an ongoing record of each post, that's great, but if not, I suggest you copy and paste each post into a lengthy text file (in fact, this is a good idea even if your host does keep a record of your post as you can work with it off line). That way, you can SEARCH it later for clues, names, or just to reread a few passages to get the feel for what happened before. It's particularly valuable for continuity or helping you remember what your character just did (last week) when for the player, it may have been months ago (game time typically is a lot slower than real world time in PBEM). For example, the players may take all of September of most of October to go through the actions their characters did in a single night. You might even conclude you are not getting anything done in this game (in comparison to Real Life games), but you may be generating dozens of pages of character development.

As of this writing, I approach the one year mark for the PBEM game I'm playing in, and the group has generated nearly 400 pages or written IC material (and probably hundreds more of OOC material). Yet, I'm not sure our characters have played more than a fourth of one year in that world. The point is, in a Real Life game while moving our characters through a quarter of a year of game time, we'd have given our characters far less thought and consideration and might have amassed less than a few dozen pages if we wrote them out. So PBEM is slower, yes, but a lot more detailed and involved.

So, even though the Pure PBEM game is rather different than many faster paced games, what it lacks in speed, it can more than make up for in richness in detail and character development and depth. If you can, I highly recommend trying it.

Here are some guidelines or protocols for smoother PBEM gaming:

Play By E-Mail Protocol (A Detailed Look At Some Guide Lines For Good PBEM.)

© September of 2000
James L.R. Beach
Waterville, MN 56096