What makes for a good PbP game?

After joining a game, I've mulled over starting one of my own. Before I did, I thought I'd ask the broader community what helps make a PbP game go well? What leads to the game failing? Pointers and thoughts on this style of RPing?

A lot of the time, games die because people lose interest and stop posting. This is a hard one to stop, and you're unlikely to be completely successful in keeping people, but a few tips include:

  • Think about whether you're still going to be interested in running the game six months, a year, five years down the line. PBP games are slow, and it takes a long time to get anything done. If you think your attention span is likely to be limited, it may be worth running something that is explicitly a "one-shot" (although I don't think I've seen anyone actually try this on the forum, so I don't know how well it would work in practice).
  • Recruit more people than you think the game needs to run long term. People are going to drop out - you're likely to be doing well if you have a 50% retention rate. Having a way of easily explaining people coming and going IC built into the concept helps (Base Camp does this, for example, by explicitly having an obligation to host visiting magi).
  • Try to have a core of reliable players who are invested in the game and post regularly. This is easier said than done, but if you can manage it it helps a lot.
  • Split the party. Whilst a bad idea in face-to-face gaming, having multiple story threads running for different characters means that everyone has something to do rather than waiting a month for another player to finish up in the main thread. That said, be aware that this can be a lot of extra work for you if you're SG-ing them all - consider getting beta-SGs involved. Name the threads in a way that makes it obvious when the story is happening (E.g. "Spring 1220: ...") to make it easier to keep track of the timeline.
  • Consider doing most of the work of covenant set-up yourself, and presenting it to the players as a fait-accompli. People spend a lot of time arguing about the library before anyone ever sees play. If you do this, make sure there's a good outline of what people are signing up to in the recruitment post (although that's always good advice anyway). Be aware that this will be a lot of work.
  • Set reasonable deadlines, and try to stick to them, but don't be completely rigid about it.
  • Avoid having a massive list of houserules and minor tweaks to the core rules. One or two key changes is okay, but if I see a post of dozens of minor tweaks and clarifications in the opening recruitment post, it's going to put me off - I'm never going to remember them all, and it makes me think the SG is going to be unnecessarily picky. If you do make house rules as you go along (which is probably inevitable as sometimes clarifications are needed to the core rules), make sure they're properly documented.
  • Be clear about the power level you want, and consider adjusting the book availability for character generation to match. In particular, some of the options in Realms of Power: Magic and Faerie can significantly bump up the power level.
  • Think about the tone you want. Feel free to reject comedy or excessively "adult" characters if they don't fit.
  • Request the forum set-up early - it can take a while to come through.
  • Get people to post an initial character concept highlighting anything they expect to be controversial. Only move on to statting it up after the basic concept has been approved. Statting up a character in Ars Magica is a lot of work, and it gets frustrating repeatedly redoing it (and rechecking it) - you'll probably still have a couple of extra rounds of changes, but hopefully these will be on the order of "you've overspent by 5xp and you've got 3 personality flaws" rather than "that needs a complete rethink".
  • The game is likely to start off with a flurry of posts, and then slow down over time. Be prepared for this, and try to make sure it doesn't slow down too much. One thing we've found helpful in Base Camp is having the occasional "right, let's get everyone doing things again" where the post rate picks up again.

Another thing that can kill games is player conflicts - people get annoyed, and then someone gets fed-up and walks out.

  • Try to be patient, and avoid assuming people are acting with bad intent. People will forget what was said a month ago, misread something or work off different assumptions and playstyles. If you're angry, wait until you've calmed down to post. Don't insult people, either directly or by implication, and expect civil behaviour of your players too.
  • When accepting players, consider being slightly selective. Some people's playstyles and character types don't work well with specific other people's play styles and character types. Some just don't work well with anyone. If you know that someone will drive you up the wall, don't have them in your game. You can often get an idea of this by looking at past PBP games, although that doesn't help with people new to the forum, where you'll just usually have to take the chance.
  • Don't make things a total democracy. Give players a chance to make their points, and listen to them, but then make your decision and move on. Bogged down arguments make nobody happy.
  • Be prepared to ask people to leave the game, but don't do it on a hair trigger.

@Salutor it sounds like you've played your fair share of games. This is excellent advice!

May I recommend this ancient thread covering this topic?

Salutor neatly sums up a lot of problems. I've experienced games struggling to get off the ground from everyone arguing about covenant design. I've also seen games suffer from people really not getting the original SG's vision and not buying in.

As there are always a few people desperate to play Ars, but games accepting players come and go infrequently, any new game faces a lottery as to whether it gets a big amount of interest from people who like the SG's idea or whether the only interest is from people who just want to play any kind of Ars.

House rules - it seems no two troupes play AM the same, and every spell is open to interpretation. I'm convinced that people must be very polite face-to-face as I never get arguments around the table as heated as people do online.

The two biggest pieces of advice I can come up with are prepare to lose a lot of players (happened in every PbP I've seen) and the more you detail the setup, the more people will know if the game is right for them or not.

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SO ANCIENT! Kryslin and Tuura are forum legends lost to the mists of time. I played a PbP game with them when I was a teenager back in the early 00's.

@Salutor already covered most of this but if I had to summarize the most important part would be, consistency.

Imagine doing all the setup & having players joining & forming the covenant, only for it to meet its demise a few months afterward. Then another thread opens up & the whole thing happens again & again...Especially in a game such as Ars Magica where it takes some time for things to build up, this can be devastating.

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This is a helpful thread! Keep advice coming please as a new pbp sg I appreciate your help

I came across this on reddit:

Since I have failed at running 2 PbP I will give my thoughts.

The failures are all mine. Running a PbP is much like trying a creative write challenge where you need to write something several times a week. I find I am pretty bad at that as I need time to mull over some responses. Sometimes I do not feel like writing which is really not helpful.

Time was my most pressing issue. In a table top game I would have a week to prepare for each session. PbP is always on and always moving. If you take a week off you might lose players. 2 weeks can be death for a campaign.

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