Ars Magica PBP / PBEM - Best Practices Requested

I'm interested in hearing from any people who have been part of an Play By Post or Play By Email Ars Magica (or any other relevant roleplaying) game - either as a player or as a GM.

Any insight into what the strength and weaknesses of the medium are would be appreciated. Tips on pitfalls to avoid, best posting practices, organizational methods, inter-player coordination, etc.

I'd also love to hear your thoughts on what worked best in the game and what was hardest / least fun. And I mean this specifically by play methodology (how play operated) rather than what adventure / story was told. But if you have ideas on what kind of stories are best suited to this type of game, that is welcome information too.

Thanks ahead of time for any help.

I firmly believe a PbP dies if people don't post.

That may seem obvious but my observation is people that join a Play by Post aren't interested in posting. Or if they do post, they post infrequently.

In order for a PbP to suceed, not only must people post, they must post frequently. It's that simple. People must post, they must post frequently.

Anything else I add is a variant on this idea: "People must post, they must post frequently."

I don't think anything about that simple idea is simple but there are ways to encourage this.

One should accept that PbP is not table top. People need to stop trying to simulate table top. They should embrace the premise that they are participateing in a shared story that is written.

To do this a few things can be done.

Limit the number of people that play. I've seen free from games, with more that 20 people. Two different things happen. Each and every person writes their own story and hardly worries about what the others are doing, or they hold to the table top format.

When they hold to the format, with 20 people nothing can get done because you have to wait for every person to post. That slows the game down, and then your breaking the first and only rule of great Pbp: "People must post, they must post frequently."

I think 3 people makes for a steady and consistent game. More than 3 people and you run into a waiting game.

PbP is interactive.

I think a period should be established where players set up their characters. But after that period ends people should have free reign to keep to the spirit of a character by allowing others to write breif, non life changing things for a character.

So many players are willing to make one liners,"How's it going."
One week later: "Fine."

Often if "I" were to write anything for "You", "You" as a player freaks out. "I" should be able to write "Fine" for "You". That allows players to free themselves from posts that end on a question and require a week to get a response.

If a player had the simply luxury of saying "Fine" for their fellow player, they could move on and get to whatever they wanted to say.

Which is another point. Players should have something to say.

Players should veer away from One Liners all together. Players should commit themselves to forward movement.

The goal of each player should be to advance the story. Rather than simply react to GM posts: GM:The bandits attack you. PC:I defend myself. The players need to accept they are in an interactive story dependant on forward movement.

After the fight: The PC NEEDS to say :I go find out who ordered the attack. Or some variant on that idea. If every player is simply waiting to react to the GM, the entire burden of the game falls on the GM. And the GM isn't simply writing senarios now, he's writting everything but what the players do, which in a reactive game is a very narrow window.

Players need to contribute more than one liners. They need to contribute more than reactions to the written world. They need to contribute to the shared story, because that's what a Play by Post is. It's a shared story.

On this shared story. Ars lends itself to an ensemble cast. I think an ensemble cast is difficult to handle in a PbP. Either the players are required to make numerous characters and play them,or you need have a large cast of players. Either situation distracts the game by focusing on large numbers of people. For a Pbp to keep moving, it needs to be a tight ship.

I think a variant on normal Ars can excell in PbP. Something more along the lines of standard fantasy. An adventureing group with a specific agenda. This keeps the game moving forward with a clear focus. Currently I run a Unknown Army game that has ONE player and GM. We are tenatively taking on ONE MORE player. I participate in a Feng Shui PbP that has Three players and a GM. I'm in a Free Form Game, that has maybe 12 people. The game is nearly centerless. It's fun, but sometimes it's not accurate to call it a PBP at all. I'm trying to get a PbP going that focuses on the gauntlet of one Magus. Kryslin? Ahem! :wink: I'd love to run a game involveing Genghis Khan. Now you all know where I've been. But I digress.

My final bit before I sign off, is a GM has to want to do this. All this talk about forward movement, about a tight core group (3 plus GM) that stays focused and moves forward by contributeing. It's meaningless if the GM doesn't show up or runs out of steam after setting up the game.

Ok I lied. It's not enough to have an idea for a game. One has to have the gumption to finish a game. It's easy to put a lot of energy into building a game. I know people that build settings and characters as a hobby. But a game is the execution of those ideas. The willingness to change them and allow them to become something different as other people participate in the shared story. If all a GM wants to is share an idea. Don't start a game. Tell your friends. However if want to GM, have the time and energy to do it.


"People must post, they must post frequently."

Tight group: Three players and GM

Small focused cast.

Proactive players

Interactive players.

Active GM.

Hope this helps.


Chuck offers sound advice.

3-5 players works well.

Foxcourt had 9 during it's run. To keep everyone in a story proved to be a headache for me, the SG. Still, I managed to do it, until I ran out of free time. Storyguiding a PBP takes up a lot of free time. You have been warned.

So, I offer this :

Each player should make the shield grog for another player's magus. That way, more people get involved in the story.

Have a public document, sort of a 20 questions list, with every character's answer on it. Then, when writing posts, people can automatically include someone's simple response, instead of posting an incomplete snippet, and then wait for someone's repsonse. You can write a whole scene that can advance the story and be reasonably sure that everyone's responses are correct.

Keep 2 seperate lists for a PbeM - one is the raw messages with in and out of character stuff (like die rollings), the 2nd being the In character stuff only.

Make sure that everyone is on the same page of the same edition of the book when creating characters. Make sure you spell out, clearly, what supplements are going to be used, and what house rules are in play. Make this clear before you start.

And have fun. This is the most important rule of all.


1 Like

As I said on the other thread:
Avoid council meetings where the council does not finish until the last person agrees, they go on for months with even as few as 4 people. If two people cannot agree in character and argue back and forth without changing their minds then they will never agree and everyone else gets bored.
My advice is to set up covenants with a npc leading it who can keep the council meetings on track and dissolve them when you think it has gone on long enough.

Avoid combat like the plague, combat might be fun, but it is not fair to players. No one likes missing out their go in combat because they could not get to the keyboard for two or three days, so resentment builds up if you skip them out. But the other players don't like having to wait three or four days for everyone to post that rounds action. The more rounds combat goes on the worse it gets.

Other things:
Set out clear penalties for your players for posting frequency - Post once every day minimum, if you can't make that warn us. After three days without post then the gm npcs your actions, after a week without you then you are booted. Those are slightly quick for penalties, but you see the point.

If players start arguing between each other on small points. STOP IT! Tell them off and close the discussion down, one game I am playing in there are two players who according to what they have said have been playing in every ars magica game that turns up and sooner or later are always at each others throats. Some players don't have the maturity to play together and keep grudges, and it can go off much quicker than in tabletop because you cannot see their faces/body langauge. You leave the game at midnight, wake up and check again in the morning and there have been fifty posts with flying insults.

Keep the seasons turning fairly quickly, try to aim for one a month. Faster and players won't have much time to discuss amongst themselves and plan, slower and the players who know what they want to do get bored.

Make sure the covenant does not demand seasons work from its magi. The game I play in 3 out of 4 seasons are demanded as covenant service, but I haven't yet seen any seasons service agreed by the council. Everyone gets tired of discussion and goes of to do their own thing. Then some complain that the covenant is mismanaged and that the charter isn't obeyed, and that this player or that must be punished for missing his service. The game I run, there is no service needed but I aim to provide plenty to explore and investigate, let self motivation get the players doing stuff. Those who have not much time to post can study or play in labs, those who want to play actively can adventure on their own or explore.

In my experience, with four AM PbP two of which as an SG, the most important thing is Tuura's "People must post, they must post frequently" rule. This applies most of all to the SG, which I've found is the weakest link. More than in a tabletop game, it is up to the SG to push the plot forward, make sure all players contribute and are enjoying themselves (without much clues to their state of mind...), post frequently, play instead of absentee or nonresponsive players, and so on - it's harder than tabletop gaming.

I also agree combat should largely be avoided, but I think that with AM5's abstract positioning rules it is still playable.

I've found council meetings actually work out very well, the problem is with adventures when a key player suddenly fails to respond to a new development or the SG is unsure how to proceed and stalls. Council meetings are less vulnurable to this, as others voice their concerns. Internal bickering can be rather interesting too, IMO - and it at least tends to make people keep posting...

A major problem with PbP's for me is lack of body language and non-verbal communication. Without this quick non-textual communication, misunderstandings arise. I sorely remembers making several consecutive misunderstadings regarding actions in a certain combat. :frowning: Not sure how to improve that.

Don't make your posts too long. You're NOT an author, and wading through a thread of long posts to catch up is a drag. Of course writing succintly is boring too - but try to remind yourself you're not a best-selling author so it's probably best to carefully consider your words. Try to have every word be there for a purpose. (Yes, that's yet another toil on SGing PbP as opposed to tabletop - words are easier to wade through by hearing than in writing.)

Hmm, that's all I think. :slight_smile:

The pbp/email game I am currently in is really a pbwiki. I'm not the wiki expert some of the others are, but this seems to me to be working very well. It is easy to post, easy to adjust a post to fit things better later, easy to note places where responses are expected and probably best of all, each story page has an attached 'discussion' page. It is also relatively easy to have several simultaneous stories happening, or 'out-of-order' (tro some extent) stories happening simultaneously.

Of course, the players still have to post, and post often, as mentioned by others, and things have slowed somewhat as we enter a pulse period with several participants having a busy patch in real life right now (myself among them) I think. And we are learning as we go. This is the first pulse period and there are tricky things to sort out as we decide where (of several locations) to begin setting up the covenant.

Overall though, the pbwiki concept has enormously impressed me.
We also have a yahoogroup, but between the discussion pages and player pages it rarely gets used.


(edit- Pew! Quite a long one, sorry about that. Guess you struck a nerve!)

I agree with a lot of the above, but not in all points, and I think I've played in some of the games mentioned, or ones just like them.

The first and foremost is the posting format itself, the style of the board. Play by E-Mail just doesn't work, imo, because it's too awkward to follow. Nor do one-thread formats where everything crammed into a single continuous stream, or formats where it's awkward to navigate between threads. A PbP board like this, IF the ST can create new threads for different storylines/whatever, is ideal.

(Some RP boards allow multiple characters for single players, with multiple avatars/portraits- now you're talkin'.)

This all feeds into the "post early, post often" theme mentioned above, where the easier it is to read, the easier it is to respond.

The idea of a single NPC (or PC?) to "lead" the group isn't a bad one- it does avoid many IC conflicts, and the predictable "start up" pains that come with some Spring Covenants- charters, what is a group "necessity" vs individual concerns, etc etc. Some like the give and take, others just wanna blow stuff up real good. (And you can always kill them dramatically later.)

Combat- well.. before I go there, let's talk about advertising. There are many, many styles of play. Imo, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for any game, PbP or otherwise, is that everyone has the same sort of gaming style, that they are expecting the same thing from the game as a whole. Some are powergamers, turning themselves into dragons (ahem), some are labrats, blowing into their own thumbs and getting bigger, and Bigger, and BIGGER, but never interacting, and some are all about The Human Drama... and those are all good, for those who like that. The point is, when you advertise the game, be clear about what you expect, and what the players should expect.

In that advertisement, also make it clear that AM does not tend to move as fast as, say D&D. Also emphasize that character death may be a real possibility (if so), and that any one character is not as large as the story itself- that's a big part of AM to many players. Too often, people come in expecting something different, either from other games or just from how their troupe plays, and when they don't see it, they leave. (More on this below).

Posting length- I'll disagree with YR7, some people are authors. The key, as above, is to find a middle ground that all can live with. And what you can live with. Decide what will make you happy, and post that in the advert. Chase away those that will drive you crazy, and be happier for it.

Now- combat. When I advertise, I make it clear- IF combat starts, there WILL be one GM post/day to advance that combat. I sit down about the same time every day, and if a character has not posted, they WILL be NPC'd "reasonably"- not disappear for that turn, nor charge headlong to their dooms, but an "attack the nearest enemy" sort of action, unless their character has shown themselves, through RP, to have a different habit (or the player left the ST a note!). If a mage, then maybe the same spell they cast last turn, or the last one that seemed to work. If possible, perhaps a vague, "invisible effect" spell that can be filled in if the Player returns before tomorrow! Whatever.
(See also PbP vs Tabletop, below)

The reason for this, explained in advance in the original advertisement, is three-fold: 1) It's not fair to everyone else; 2) It's far more engaging to read regularly, and easier to keep track of what happened "30 seconds ago", and 3) We get back to the lab with the vis we got that much sooner.


Characters- When a person joins a game, any RP game of any sort, unless they truly know the ST, they create a character that they imagine will be fun. They have a scene, or a story in their head, of that character doing "great stuff" appropriate to that character. IF the ST has a particular theme or storyline in mind, then share that in advance! Nothing worse than a huge Flambeau in a purely political Saga, the flacid lab-rat trying to fight the Mongol Horde, or an evil-tainted, strong-gifted, fae-faced, notorious hedge-mage ex-misc with the Evil Eye in a saga revolving around public relations. "Challenging" is one adventure- an entire saga of that is just torture. Don't have to give spoilers, but give the players a hint where you're going, so they aren't left behind.

The flip side is that the ST should try to incorporate Characters' personal elements/goals into the Saga. If the ST has to create a different storyline for each mage, that's 2xX storylines, one for the mage, one for the Companion, plus any plotlines they had in mind themselves. Otoh, if the ST can (subtly?) invite magi/companions toward a more limitted number of expected themes, then that reduces the number of storylines needed to give every character their day in the sun. :wink:

Likewise, In Character, both magi and companions should grow organically out of the covenant and its needs and preferences, not be shoe-horned into the storyline simply because they flash a Player Character's Card. Screen out potential nightmare characters if they don't fit the storyline/premise. Too often, characters (magi included) would have no place being accepted into an existing covenant - but there they are, the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. Let the players know - any character must be accepted by the existing characters - (this helps with limiting storylines too). Better, by IC invitation only (ie, the covenant goes looking for specialists to fit a certain need, etc.) You want to run a lay priest? Find a covenant that wants him, it's that easy.

Number of players/characters- I find that in PbP you want to have one or two more than you want to run- RL or flakiness will thin the herd naturally. Me, I think that anything less than 4 limits the interaction, so I go for 5-6 players in the game. Making shield grogs for other magi, and encouraging a [variation between the function of the companion and mage, is also a good plan to be more easily included in storylines. (A berserker companion and a Flambeau mage, or a healer and a lab-rat Corpus mage are not so good combinations.)

Be prepared to run micro-adventures to keep players amused. A single benign but annoying faerie in the lab/kitchen, or a travelling merchant with some rare items from the exotic Levant - something, anything.

What else...

PbP vs Tabletop. YES! Lose any OOC references to the rules, game mechanics, or side comments in the IC threads, as much as possible. You are not seeking a transcript of a tabletop game, you are writing. Maybe it's bad writing, but it's writing- let it appear to be that, and it'll read, and flow, and feel, that much better.

Characters post intentions, not success/failure. They "try" something, but the ST will let them know how that works out. The players don't need to know the modifiers. If the player complains that they then have nothing to post about, either lose them (my choice), or tell them to expand their IC reaction to the success/failure of last round.

Don't worry about "posting in initiative order"- that's a tabletop convention for the convenience of the ST. Each player/character posts as they can, and the ST makes sense of it in one comprehensive "OK, this is what happens!" reply, followed by the bad-guys' actions, then all the players post again. (Waiting for "initiative" is an OOC tactic and GM tabletop convenience, nothing more.)

The ST rolls "all" the dice. Another tabletop time-saving convention to speed things up. In PbP, the GM sits down, makes all the rolls, makes sense of everything, writes it all up, done deal, next!

Description- try to describe the situation fully. Put yourself in the players' minds, and think about what you would want to know- open flames? big/little trees? Is the floor dirt, wood or stone? etc etc- set up the image clearly and distinctly, and the world will be a happier- and more lifelike - place.

Pro-active. This is a tough one for some, those who are used to the "Question & Response" of tabletop. There is no time for a "What do you do?" "I open the door" speed of play. It may take some time, but foster players to post a "plan of action"- if they plan beyond an intervening incident, no great harm done. But meanwhile, the plot progresses (and the ST might get a hint at some player fears/concerns that they can weave in!)

Arguements. If two characters are arguing, make sure the players are talking at the same time, letting each other know it's IC, and nothing personal.

If it's a rules dispute, step in quickly and make an executive decision. Don't let one player claim they "know" the rules, how one part of the Code must be interpretted, or how the Enigma works, or what magnitude a certain spell effect must be. Lose them if they persist in their delusions of infallibility.

NEVER think that a troublemaker is worth saving. They will bring the entire game down around them. Love the game, not the player. Hard love, lay down the law, and lose them if they don't get it. There are one or two more people on the internet who might be willing to play, trust me. (Besides, after the player is invited to leave, killing their character in dramatic fashion is a great plot device- nothing like a good enemy to keep the interest up!)

While tabletop is all about action with story tying it together, PbP can be the opposite, which fits AM perfectly. While "hogging the spotlite" in tabletop can be annoying, an internal monologue in PbP can be a great scene builder. While tabletop is all about rules, PbP can put those all "behind the curtain", and seem to be nothing constrained than a freeform writing excercise.

When the players forget the rolls, the roles are all that's left.

I like the material you added. I'm really like the idea that combat moves at one round a day whether you show up or not. To me, thats simply ingenious. It's something I just never considered. Work to the players advantage, but if they aren't there, just keep it moving.

I gotta wrap my head around that. It's so... simple.


Thnx, it just made sense.

And by keeping things moving it becomes like a daily cliffhanger, where each player wants to read what's next all that much more. It feeds on itself, the posting consitancy goes up, and the storyline moves forward.

Ever read OotS, or any other webcomic? Ever jones when the next installment is late?

The key is, as a GM, to get into the habit of posting the same time every day (or every X time period*) like clockwork. And if you let players fill in "generic" GM NPC'd posts, very little is ever lost, and players come to appreciate that the gain is so much more.

(* I usually go 1/day Mon-Thurs, and twice over the next 3 days, Fri-Sun, 6x/week during combat. Even the most elaborate battle takes less than 2 weeks, and usually less than one.)

Different strokes, an all that :confused:

In an ArM PbP, I'd like to play ArM, not freeform. If the player can't make the rolls, if he can't say "I spontanously create a phantasm of an angel, with voice, to talk to the priest", things become that much clumsider and slower - needlessly. OOC comments are a useful tool, and should be used to clarify what is going on "behind the screen" to ersolve such issues without interrupting the flow of the writing. Some players know the rules better than others - if I had Tuura and Abe in my PbP, I am certain Tuura will know the rules better. I have no problem with one guy claiming to be a rules guru (unless he isn't) - heck, I'd even be glad to make him beta-storyguide in charge of rule disputes or something. Finally, when the roles are all that is left you are playing freeform so you'll be better off playing freeform instead of constratining yourself needlessly with ArM rules. Nothing wrong with freeform, it's just not ArM.

YMM(O)V, IMO, et cetera. I don't want to argue, just to say that there are other ways to look at things.

(I did agree with many of your other points.)

Abe and I in the SAME PbP? I don't even know where to beging with that one! :open_mouth:

:slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :laughing:

Perhaps I mispoke- I never meant to advocate dropping any rules, nor trading away game mechanics for narrative freeform, quite the opposite.

What I intended, was to suggest that, in the IC threads, no "game terms" or OOC comments be seen. This achieves a more "storylike" read, that emphasizes the events over the mechanics. I believe that, in turn, encourages the players to play the character more than the game, that is, the mechanics become the medium for the character's actions, not the motivations behind them (which we've all seen occur.) In short, the personality more clearly rises above the numbers.

When OOC comments are removed from the IC threads, the "suspension of disbelief", or "immersion in story", or "chanelling the character" (or whatever you want to call it), is more closely achieved.

Some systems, like RPoL, allow Private Lines that are viewable only by the ST. This is optimal for including game mechanics that the other players don't have to read.

For others, I've seen a separate, parallel "mechanics" thread that allows for the OOC explanations and "math" of what is occuring in the "story" thread. And OOC comments, jokes, questions, tangents, should, imo, always be put into the OOC thread, where they can be commented on at length without interrupting the story thread.

My goal, which I've achieved on occasion, is for a lurker to ask if there is, indeed, a system behind the story. That's when I know we've transcended the numbers and found the characters.

re Rules - yeah, I was referring to the claim of "knowing" when in fact "interpretation" was what was needed. A subtle, but everpresent and important distinction in Ars.

I have always professed that "There are 101 ways to role play, and every one is right (just not right for everyone)", and am the first to defend someone attacked for their prefered way of having fun, but I am also very opinionated on what I find "preferable" for myself, admitting ymmv.

I think we're close on styles, no arguement perceived.

You beat me to it Cuchulainshound.

Yes, has a private lines option.

Typically I might write something for say Feng Shui:

Joe Cash flips on to the roof, deck the evil villian, then looks at the other and says, "Come and get some."

In a private message I write:
(Punch Mook- Shot 8, MA: 13 Damage + 8 )

In a PbP-game I'm in, we've sorted the combatpart by using teamspeak.
We find a time when all of us can spare a few hours and then talking our way through it, much like a tabletop game. We still use posts for dicerolls, but all together it speeds things up.

Ofcourse it requires a computer with speakers and a mic. A good thing is to use the first session to make sure everything is working allright.

oh, we're all living in the same part of the world, so no one has to be a nightowl in order to participate.

Epic threadomancy! I've tried searching for play-by-post advice, and this seemed the best thread even though it's 11 years old. (Maybe my search fu is failing me?)

Anway, how to make different forms of Ars work is a topic dear to my heart. Solo Ars, convention games, online games, PBP games - I want to experience Ars Magica in all the ways it can be found and encourage the game in general. However, lately I've been trying to get into PBP and it's been tough going. I'll be the first to admit I'm guilty of brief-posting and posting late as much as the next guy, but was wondering if people have any more good advice on how to keep games going and keep the flow up despite all the problems that can occur.

What's your experience of PBP? Does anyone PBEM anymore? Are there any remote play options we're overlooking?