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I'm trying to start a play by post game with my friends. I was thinking about using D&D 4th Edition (it's the game we play the most). We really know the system and it would make for little work when playing play by post, but the play by post medium doesn't really lend itself well to doing encounters. I was thinking about just doing it with D&D 4E and trying to make a story-centric adventure, and keep the encounters to a minimum. If an encounter is needed we would just be very descriptive so as to not make any mistakes (when it comes to opportunity attacks and position and such).

If anyone has any good suggestions about how to a play by post game with 4E or if they have any advice for me, that would be great.

Advice on how to handle encounters and skill challenges would be great!


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We've got a fairly long-running play by post going on The Back Room over in chat, and we can discuss it more deeply there. 4e is kinda sub-optimal fro a crunch standpoint, and if you want a more narrative adventure, you should probably find a game more suited to the mechanics. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 14 '11 at 1:29
hey @jason! Your current question (as I read it) might already be answered at rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/1407/…. Unless your real question how to make 4e work in pbp? –  yhw42 Feb 14 '11 at 2:23
Yeah it seems it is answered over at your link there. But it would be nice to get some advice from people who have tried 4E online. –  jasonaburton Feb 14 '11 at 2:37
Can you edit your question to reflect that? –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 14 '11 at 3:04
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted
  • 4e works quite well over Google Wave. The RPG-Bones applet has a very acceptable interface for a battlemap.

  • Trust your players. Don't worry about cheating. Just agree on what level of die roll honesty the group wants at the start of the game. My preference is: "You may always choose to fail any roll" but some groups may choose to play "just call them as you see them" or even "Anyone can fudge any roll." Adding technology adds complexity, and there's always a way to cheat, so don't worry about it.

  • Be very clear on what the group's goals are. Do they want a tactical challenge? Do they want to share a story? In my game we have ended up toggling between combat encounters then a bit of narrative and then a bit of combat. Make sure you work this out with your group

  • Figure out what to do about "timeouts" How long each player has to submit their turn, be it narrative or tactical. What happens when they don't?

  • The DM must assume competency: if the player states something and there are multiple ways to achieve it, the DM must choose the most optimal way for the player.

  • Explore batching: agree on when rolls are needed. If possible, let rolls ride (one roll to determine the use of the skill for at least the encounter). If at all possible, try to get batches of rolls that can be adjudicated in parallel.

  • Agree on amount of shared control: can players determine scenery? Can players put words into other's mouths? The more shared control, the faster the game, but some people don't like to give it up. Try to have each player provide guidelines for writing their character. Voice, types of actions, taboo, etc.

In general, it's probably worth your while looking at our wave game (combined with the chat logs in The Back Room) For that matter, I'm happy to lead a group character creation (that worked incredibly well for my game) for your group.

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Isn't Wave dead? –  SevenSidedDie Feb 15 '11 at 1:44
@SevenSidedDie Dying. It hasn't been switched off yet though. –  Matthew Scharley Feb 15 '11 at 1:50
More to the point, there will be wave after google wave. And there are already tools to use wave apps in their own little sandbox. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 15 '11 at 3:11
That's good news. Thank goodness for open code and federation. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 15 '11 at 5:01
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We tried this type of game over a BBS, way long ago, and it was challenging, to say the least. Now, you may not mean the slow-turn-around time that is BBS playing, but here are the problems that stick to memory anyways:

  • The biggest challenge is the system's dependence on dice rolls for determining action results. Your best bet is to minimize the use of rolls, or to get rid of them altogether. When we were trying this, we experimented some and eventually stopped relying on any rolls, instead just trusting our DM to make the proper decision each time. If the decision didn't work out so well, we complained, and sometimes rewrote history
  • Second in difficulty, is the scheduling problem. Different people are online at different times, and, especially in this type of game, it gets hard to sometimes get responses in time from all the players. Some players will be on 30 times a day, chatting with each other and the DM, some might be on once every 2 days. You can turn this weakness into a strength if you change the story line to be a mesh of interweaving lines, where time moves at roughly the same speed for everyone, but players which are online more often get more complicated characters and challenges to deal with.
  • Third in difficulty is the role-playing side of things. Without facial expressions, hand gestures and the like, game play becomes much more about story writing and less about role-playing. This can be fun, but only if all players are at roughly the same level when it comes to mastery of the written word, and are putting roughly the same amount of effort into their writing. For us, it turned into a collaborative effort, where we had a dedicated narrator that would rewrite our sessions into a much nicer sounding narrative than what we originally came up with.
  • The last issue that I remember, is the social side of things. This may not apply to you, but most of us didn't know each other in real-life. That means that we were not aware of much of the real-life back story to each person, personalities, personal problems, etc... We had to be very careful - especially since the game became very role-play focused - to approach each encounter with an open mind, and realize that we may run into real-life related hangups that we didn't know of before. Be careful, especially when approaching the standard hot button topics (ie, religion, politics, sexuality).


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I run a 3.5 game via a forum where we may not all be on at the same time, so your typical encounter might go on for a while. In this sort of setting, I highly recommend just trusting your players. Let them do their own rolls in encounters, it'll move the whole thing along so much quicker than waiting for you to roll everything out.

Other than that, I use Inkscape and a 16x12 premade grid template that I can then draw a set of walls over the top of and pretty quickly knock up a map (say, 30 minutes for the initial map, then 2 tops to update it for each position change).

Story-wise, it isn't difficult to run a game remotely just a lot slower due to the fact that most times you aren't all playing at once and even if you are, everyone has to type everything out.

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The trust with the dice rolling can be helped a lot by using an online dice roller that can link back the results into the campaign thread. Something like Invisible Castle or a plug-in for the forum software used that makes the dice rolls traceable and cheat-proof. –  user660 Feb 14 '11 at 21:43
@Baelnorn Using a totally cheat-proof dice roller can blow up in your face if you need to fudge numbers occasionally to make sure your party isn't wiped out. It's a judgement call either way. Personally, I just directed my players to the dice roller on the Wizards site. –  Matthew Scharley Feb 14 '11 at 22:07
True, but it's the same as with rolling the dice at the table. Rolling all dice in the open has its advantages and disadvantages. I personally would go with the certainty (and safety) that nobody can cheat either way. After all, being called a "cheater" is no fun for anybody, neither player nor DM. –  user660 Feb 14 '11 at 22:40
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Well, play by post doesn't mean you can't use graphical stuff - as simple as including tactical maps in your emails/posts, or having an adjunct system like MapTool or similar that has a complete tactical map setup everyone can look at. That would let you be "rules complete" and not handwave positioning/AoOs, but yes, it would be quite a long painful slog due to the detail involved in combat, though that can be helped by how frequently the DM plans to process posts.

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