A play-by-post role-playing game (also called an online role-playing game, text based role-playing game, as well as a sim, simm, or simming) is an online role-playing game in which players (also called roleplayers, writers, or simmers) interact with each other and a predefined environment through text. The role-playing occurs in a free flowing manner in which each player writes a snippet of story, with each contribution building upon the proceeding material in a largely unplanned fashion.
Play-by-post role-playing is a subset of the online role-playing community which caters to both gamers and creative writers. Games may be based on original settings, other role-playing games, or non-game fiction including books, television and movies. Play-by-post role-playing activity is closely related to both interactive fiction and collaborative writing.
- See also: Timeline of simming
Play-by-post role-playing began in the late 1980s as fanzines and offline role playing games games were adopted to the online mediums. The introduction of IRC and the creation of national online services - most notably CompuServe, Prodigy, and America Online (AOL) - enabled users to tap into a larger pool of potential players, which resulted in the establishment of formal communities, known as clubs.
During the 1990s, the bulk of play-by-post online role-playing occurred on online services based in the United States, but as the decade progressed, CompuServe and Prodigy were shut down, and many AOL sims moved to the Internet. The era was marked by turmoil as the popularity of play-by-post role-playing skyrocketed and clubs struggled to respond to the demand. Despite this, one club came to dominate each of the online services of the era, Starfleet Online (later renamed Spacefleet Online) on AOL, Starfleet Online on Prodigy, and Fleet 74 on CompuServe.
In 1994, Starfleet Online on AOL broke apart. This created a unique dynamic on AOL. While Fleet 74 on CompuServe and Starfleet Online on Prodigy continued to control a majority share of the play-by-post role-playing market on their respective online services until the demise of both services in the late 1990s, on AOL, the breakup of Starfleet Online allowed new clubs to take root. This in turn spawned a flowering of role-playing concepts and management styles.
In December of 1996, AOL introduced unlimited usage - previously members were limited to 5 or 20 hours of online time a month before incurring steep charges. This fundamental change in economics rocked simming to its core. With unlimited online time, pent up demand for play-by-post role-playing was unleashed. Many clubs found it difficult to adopt. Fights and wars broke out. Clubs shattered. But it was also a time of tremendous opportunity, experimentation, and creativity. Those who rose to the occasion had, by the end of the 1990s, built diverse role-playing communities with hundreds of members.
By the early 21st century people no longer needed a national online service to reach the Internet. Just as had occurred in 1997, clubs that refused to change with the times died. The impact was gradual, but those clubs that did not leave AOL and move to the Internet slowly suffocated. Depending on ones location, the transition to the Internet caused a boom or hardship. For the few clubs with access to top of the line programming talent, the Internet offered seemingly unlimited growth and opportunity. But for others, it was a struggle to maintain cohesion, attract recruits and establish an identity on the Internet.
As play-by-post role-playing diffused across the Internet, the grand old clubs of AOL that did not move entered their final death spiral, clubs lost contact with each other, and traditional means of recruiting and advertising broke down, making it harder for all but the very few clubs with top of the line programming talent to remain competitive. This limited creativity and made it difficult for individuals with fresh ideas to get started. Compounding matters, Star Trek - one of the main engines of play-by-post role-playing - had declined and gone off the air. In its final years the series had degenerated into massive battles, causing many Star Trek games to become little more than battle games. Many feared that play-by-post role-playing was slipping into a dark age or would end all together.
Yet, despite the concerns, new clubs utilizing Internet tools begin to hint at a renaissance. The few clubs with top of the line programming talent - such as the Federation Sim Fleet, Starfleet Legacy Alliance, and Bravo Fleet became new empires that dominated play-by-post role-playing in ways that had not been seen since the days of SFOL a decade earlier. The new empires also professionalized and institutionalized play-by-post role-playing in ways never seen before.
By 2005, play-by-post role-playing was completely centered on the Internet. This new era offers clubs the ability to reach thousands of simmers and provides new programming tools to organize people. But there are challenges to overcome - competition from online games, fragmentation and isolation of the play-by-post role-playing community on the vast Internet, and the difficulty for new clubs to attract attention and recruits.
Today, Content Management Systems, wikis and other tools have given play-by-post role-playing with good ideas but who are not skilled programs the ability to compete and get their ideas off the ground - and a new flowering of clubs has occurred. New genres - such as Stargate and Firefly - are bringing new vitality and creativity into play-by-post role-playing, with e-mail and message board games, for the first time since the early days of play-by-post role-playing, becoming more popular than chat games.
Unlike other forms of online role-playing games such as MUDs or MMORPGs, the events in play-by-post games are rarely handled by software and instead rely on participants or moderators to make decisions or improvise. Players create their own characters and descriptions of events and their surroundings during play.
The opening message or post of each scene typically lays down the scenario and describes a scene, or continues from a previously started scene. Threads then become an ongoing story in which players periodically advance the plot by reading the latest reply and then responding with what their character does and how the environment changes in response. These replies are often open-ended so that other players can continue. When, how often, and how much each player contributes varies from game to game.
The written structure of a play-by-post role-playing game can take one of two styles, long style or short style.
- Long style games read like a written story, with each snippet following the formal rules of writing. Snippets can run from a sentence to multiple pages in length. The long style is often utilized in mediums that are conductive to formal writing, such as e-mail and message boards.
- Short style games utilize a series of shorthands and abbreviations, typically no more than a sentence or two, in which the player briefly describes their actions, thoughts, or speech. The short style is frequently utilized within chat rooms and similar mediums where short sentences are the norm.
Play-by-post games are frequently written in the third person perspective due to the fact that multiple players must share each scene, each with his or her character as the focus of attention. Common online game terms such as OOC (Out of character) or OOG (Out of Game) are used to differentiate in-character from personal posting.
Elements of chance, including the outcome of events, may be determined through dice rolls or software designed to provide a random result. Alternatively a game may be diceless and rely on cooperation between players to agree on outcomes of events and thus forgo the use of randomizers. To avoid disputes, rules are developed, or a specific player is designated as the game master and empowered to describe the outcome of events.
Where players are left to agree on outcomes, players can detail the results of their actions, or can leave it for the next player to state the outcome of events, or can work behind the scenes to mutually agree upon the outcome before writing.
Consider the following possible post from a character named Bob attacking Joe:
- Bob punched Joe in the chest, knocking him over.
This post makes the assumption that Joe takes no further action to avoid the attack from Bob and that he will drop as a result. These types of actions are often called "autohits" as they "automatically hit" without allowing for a response by the affected character. Some games have rules against this style of play (commonly referred to as the 'no power playing' rule).
In the alternative, a player will only state their action, leaving the outcome uncertain. This approach would require Bob to write something like the following:
- Bob swung a punch at Joe's chest, attempting to knock him over.
This allows Joe to respond to the action without contradicting the post.
Games vary in the degree to which the setting is established; some go as far as to include a virtual "world" to roleplay in, while others allow players to improvise the setting as they progress.
Settings may be derived from novels, TV shows or movies (often resulting in collaborative fan-fiction), historical times, or may be unique to the game. Science fiction, fantasy, and super-natural shows and films have proven to be a popular setting for play-by-post role-playing games. Historical settings are another prime source, especially the middle ages and the golden age of piracy. Member created universes tend to follow these trends, with those set in an original science-fiction universe or a fantasy realm the most numerous; alternate histories and dystopian futures are also a common theme in member created universes.
When derived from a specific source, play-by-post role-playing games usually avoid recreating the characters and events of the genre they depict. Rather players typically develop their own characters and adventures, which are then set within the larger framework of the genre. (For example, a starship set in the Star Trek universe, but not the USS Enterprise).
In general, each player plays and develops his or her own character. Characters may be original creations of the player, or may be based on a character taken from canon if the setting and rules provide this option. Each community may have its own rules regarding the process of character creation and either allow characters to be liberally created and used with minimal review, or require characters to undergo a review process in which administrators examine the character application and decide whether to approve or reject the application.
In many cases, characters are regarded as belonging to the players who created them, and others are not allowed to make drastic changes to them without the creator's consent.
In addition to standard characters, games may also incorporate non-player characters (NPCs). Some NPCs have recurring roles, while others appear only briefly to aid in the writing of a scene.
The degree to which the a play-by-post role-playing game adheres to canon - that is, how closely it follows both its source genre and remains true to the storyline created within the game - varies.
Games seeking a high degree of realism will only allow elements found in the genre - or if based on a custom setting, those listed in official guides - to be portrayed, such as specific ships, locations, technology, or the manner of speech/customs. At the opposite end, a game may deviate heavily from the genre and may be based in the genre in name only. Most games exist in the middle, drawing upon the established canon of the genre and supplementing it with in-game elements that can be reasonably assumed to exist within the probable bounds of the canon.
The scope of what is accepted as canon also varies. Television series, films, novels, guidebooks, games, fan fiction, etc, can in part or whole be accepted or rejected by the game as constituting the official canon recognized by the game.
As a game occurs, it develops its own storyline; the degree to which content produced by the game becomes canon for the purpose of the game similarly differs across games. For some, everything that occurs within the game is canon, and effort is undertaken to ensure events produce a smooth history. Others games, however, are haphazard, with the story unfolding with little or no relation to past events.
Games that accept the publication of violent or adult content are often identified with a rating.
Some games allow members of any writing proficiency to join, while others may require members to provide a sample of writing for review before allowing participation. In addition, a minimum word-count for each post may be required in order to encourage more detailed writing. Games that cater to all levels of role-playing may have specific sections for various difficulty levels.
Play-by-post role-playing games take place in a text-based online medium. Chat rooms, message boards, and e-mail traditionally have been popular, although social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are a viable option.
Internet forums (aka Play-By-Message-Board or PBMB or simply Forum-Games) are the most common medium for play-by-post gaming. Forums may provide features such as online dice rolling, maps, character profiling and game history. Using a forum (as opposed to a live-chat interface) allows players to re-read what they have previously written at a later date, and to read posts made by players in other threads. Many online services provide free game hosting specifically for gamemasters, or provide general forum services that can be used for role-playing purposes (such as Proboards or Invisionfree).
As an asynchronous collaborative editing tool, forums lack safeguards to prevent two writers from posting simultaneously and contradicting each other. House rules may require players to take turns sequentially in order to avoid such conflicts, or players may require posts to be edited or deleted to rectify the situation which may result in dispute and intervention from a moderator if one is available.
Play-by-post role-playing is generally devoted to advancing a single overarching storyline that all board members participate in, rather than many different non-related stories proceeding in separate threads (the latter being known as "multi-genre"). They vary in organization, but the primary formation includes a full set of rules governing role-playing, out-of-character conduct, combat between players, threads detailing a set storyline (often contributed to by plot-advancing, staff-organized events, or player role-plays), character approval forums, and a full staff with admin(s) and moderators. Larger boards set in a single setting are often organized by cutting up the setting into separate forums, each based on locations within the setting.
Many message board based games. such as NationStates, establish a hierarchy of moderators to manage plot flow and continuity. To keep story threads organized the message board is often organized into forums based on geographical location within the game setting.
Play-by-email (PBeM) games employ collaborative storytelling that is similar to its message-board based counterpart, but utilizing e-mail as the medium.
Online Chat Rooms may be used in a similar fashion as forums for role-playing purposes. Unlike forums, posts are displayed to the screen in real-time and thus may increase the pace at which responses are written. Play-by chat games require users to be present for the duration of a scene which may last several hours. The game may be supplemented by external character profiles or may rely on users to provide information about their character upon request or upon entering a room.
Real-time interaction between characters in chat rooms are similar to those encountered in MUDs but lack automated features of MUDs such as combat resolution and item descriptions. Players in chat rooms are required to describe objects and events through manually written text.
Play-by-internet (PBI) refers to fully automated games which take place using server-based software. Play-by-internet games differ from other play-by-post games in that, for most computerized multiplayer games, the players have to be online at the same time, and players can make their moves independently of any other players in the game. The turn-time is usually fixed. A server updates the game after the turn-time has elapsed evaluating all the player's moves sent to the server. The turn-time duration can be hours, days, weeks or even months.
A play-by-wiki game is played using wiki software instead of a forum. Because players' previous posts are editable and the gamemaster takes responsibility as the overall editor of the story. As a result, plot holes can be avoided and writing skills may not be as important for each writer.
Wiki space provides not only a means of communication, but also a permanent archive and a designated off-topic discussion area for each page. Players can edit posts freely because records are automatically maintained and changes can be easily undone. Sites such as Wetpaint are commonly used for this.
The role-playing blog (RPB) is a game which is played out online using posts within a blog or weblog. Unlike message board role-playing, a role-playing blog is generally restricted to one gaming group, and the blog contains static files such as maps, archives, and character sheets specific for that group. RPBs often incorporate mixed elements of message board role-playing, play-by-chat, as well as play-by-email styles, allowing players to mix and match the style of play that they prefer. Popular blog sites used to host these games are Tumblr, LiveJournal, insanejournal, deadjournal, journalfen, and scribbled.
The style of role-playing on Tumblr often comes in the format of a 'main blog', the headquarters of the game, and multiple character blogs from which each player posts. The main blog often advertises for players through the tags of Tumblr. The main blog is where applicants to the game apply by filling out an application on the main blog, and where other such administration of the game occurs. The Roleplay game creator is often referred to as the "Admin" short for "Administrator" and players may be required to run major plots and game changes by the Admin before proceeding, making the Admin function in a way that a traditional GM might have. Players role-play by reblogging each other's posts and adding paragraphs of interaction from their own character to the end, each of which are called 'paras.' Often seen are text posts with dialogue and an accompanying .gif image expressing the character mood or intended expression of emotion. Though, recently .jpg icons have risen in popularity in some games.
The style of role-playing on Livejournal, insanejournal, deadjournal, journalfen, and scribbled style RPB's is contained through "community" blogs that connect "character blogs or journals." Character Blogs/Journals are generally written in first-person character driven context. These character journals are then open to all players of the community to interact on a first person style of writing. Interaction on the "Community" blog is done mostly in third persion storybook fashion. RPB's on a "livejournal platform" are frequently run by an individual referred to as MOD (moderator). MOD's are in charge of creating the community/game setting, rules, style of play, and general worldly game views. MOD's are also in charge of creating worldly events for game play response for individually plotted characters.
Role-playing Google documents
Somewhat similar to blogs and wikis, Google's documents can have permissions set to allow users to access and modify a document online. This allows multiple users to edit the document at the same time, meaning that others can modify the story online. There is also a revision history that can be split allows commenting on particular words or phrases, or even a general comment, as well as a chat bar for that particular document. Since this form of role-playing is relatively new, it's not a common way of role-playing, and it has drawbacks in the content being editable by anyone with permissions.
- Also see: List of simulations
Play-by-post role-playing occurs within the construct of an individual game (also known as a sim, simm, play by post game, role-playing game, or RPG). The term "game," "sim," etc can be a noun or a verb, depending on the context, for example "I joined the sim," or "let's sim." However, even when the verb is used, the noun is implied, for in order to sim (verb), a sim (noun) exists.
Each game possesses a degree of structure. At the one extreme, the game may be a simple pick up game - that is, players gather at random with little or no set rules and game for as long as they wish. At the other, the game may possess a rigid hierarchy and a number of rules. The majority of game will meet at a set location (and in the case of a game occurring in a chat room, at a set time).
While only two individuals are needed to conduct a play-by-post role-playing game, most games possess a core of a half dozen to a dozen players (typically referred to as the crew) who regularly take part in the game.
Requirements on how to join a crew, the level of participation expected from players, and how an individual can loose their membership varies widely across games. While rare, some games can be characterized as "open" in that anyone, regardless of membership status, can take part in the game.
- Main article: Hosting
Almost every play-by-post role-playing game has a designated leader, known as the host (also referred to as the commanding officer or captain). The host is responsible for all out of character management of the game and its players. Within the storyline of the game, the host often plays the most important position (for example, a game that takes place on a ship, the host will often play the captain), although this is not always the case.
The host may or may not also serve as the game master.
A club (or group) is a collection of games that have organized together and are bound by a common set of regulations and/or leadership.
There is no agreed upon definition designating the difference between a club or a group. Some use the term interchangeably. Some view a club as having a small number of games or players, where as a group has a large number of games or players. Others define a club as offering games within only one genre, where as a group offers games spanning multiple genres.
- Also see: List of active intersimming simulations
- Also see: List of inactive intersimming simulations
An intersimming organization, also referred to as an intergaming organization, is any entity that promotes or assists the hobby of play-by-post role-playing gaming by offering services to players, games, and clubs, but which does not run games as a core function, and which is not part of a club.
In diceless games where randomisers are not used to determine the outcome of combat, the onus is on players to come to an agreement. Disputes may arise from players engaging in competitive engagements if neither player is able to come to a compromise that is acceptable to both. Players may write their characters in a way that makes them overly powerful or invulnerable, a practice referred to as "power-gaming", "god-modding", or "superhero syndrome". In such cases, a moderator may be required to review the conflict and make a ruling as to what should be accepted as the final result.
- FAQ: PbEM - Describes PbEM roleplaying and answers frequently asked questions
- pbem2.com - Public, automated listing of active play-by-post games.
- PBEMplayers - Resource for PBEM games, and links to relevant articles and games
- Ongoing Worlds - Community of play-by-post roleplaying games
- RPG-Directory - Directory of play-by-post roleplaying games
- Distant Fantasies - Directory and Resources for RPGs.
- Hammer, Chas. My Simming Memoirs. Accessed: November 9th, 2014.(source)
- Aa.Vv. "Play-by-post role-playing-game", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Accessed: November 9th, 2014.(source)