I am contemplating starting up a web-based text game for my D&D group to be played alongside our weekly sessions. The idea would be to play through events related to the main storyline, but not so involved that the outcomes would directly affect our current adventure.

I don't want to require everyone to be online at once (or else this is just another session), so IRC and chatrooms are out. I am looking for a method that allows us to play at a slow pace but gives everyone a chance to respond to what the GM says before moving onward with the story or the combat.

The only idea that comes to mind is a forum-based game with heavy restrictions (e.g. each player must post a response or opt out of responding before the GM posts again). For combats I would post maps with the position of all the monsters and characters between each turn.

Does anyone have any experience running a game like this?

What's the best way to run a web-based text RPG in such a way that not all players need to be online at the same time?


5 Answers 5


Use Rizzoma. Embrace multi-threaded actions. Assume competence on the players' parts. Avoid boring combats wherever possible. Have the players give commands as a group instead of individuals. Have a timeout on actions of whatever the group decides with assumed actions being whatever's "reasonable" for that time in question, absent instructions. Allow everyone to write boring dialogue. Only block for specific player input when there is an entirely unanticipated and important decision with multiple and non-obvious choices.

I've done quite a lot of Play by "Post" games. Here are some links to successful ones on Rizzoma:

There are a number of matters of import. First, doing turn-by-turn battles is simply annoying. While it's quite possible using the RPG-Bones applet, there is a great deal of group control.

  1. Avoid avoid avoid interrupts
  2. Have players describe their strategies and assume that they're competent. (Describing a square-by-square movement path gets old fast and isn't very fun. Save it for when it matters.) Players should have a turn, then monsters. Players should be allowed to control each other's characters and act in any order, subject to other player veto before the 24h time limit is up.
  3. Use multithreaded adventures to your advantage. Have multiple points in time happening simultaneously. Players can be in multiple places at once and, borrowing from Microscope there are some fascinating levels of fractal reality possible, given that the details of the resolution of one thing are not necessarily needed for the fact of the resolution to impact the next event. For non-combat adventures, multithread as much as you can.
  4. Conversations are good, especially multi-threaded ones. This is a great time for long political discussions (allow editing of discussions to reflect details discovered after writing.) and planning. Combats should be abstracted if possible. (mass-conflict would probably be better than heroic-tactical conflict)
  5. Don't get bogged down in the rules and in tactical minutia. The cost of resolution is way too high. Feel free to use a narrative resource before preparing it, and then start a sub-thread where appropriate to play through its preparation.
  6. Use Google Docs for character sheets. Be as open as possible with what players are thinking, feeling, saying, and planning. Embrace other people using your character and use it as an opportunity to see what others see your character as. Negation and other player-based rejections of action will cause the game to fail.

I run (and play in) games like this based on play by e-mail, and log the results in a wiki. The largest concern is your rules- not your game rules, but the meta-rules to govern player interaction.

There are several games that I have run and played in hosted on my wiki. Most of them have game logs so you can see examples of play.

Also, my general rules, courtesy of Tony Lower-Basch.

  1. Thou shalt not BLOCK.
  2. Thou shalt always retain FOCUS.
  3. Thou shalt not SHINE above thy fellow players.
  4. Thou shalt not be a GAG.
  5. Thou shalt be CHANGED by the world.
  6. Thou shalt not WAFFLE.
  7. When in doubt, BREAK THE ROUTINE.
  8. To WIMP is to show thy true self.
  9. He that tries to be CLEVER is not, while he that is clever, doesn’t try.
  10. When thy faith is low, thy spirit weak, thy good fortune strained, and thy team losing, be comforted and smile, because IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!

A little more meaning to these - to block is to try to remove obstacles and conflict without resolving them, to focus is to keep your primary concern on the characterization as it is much harder to establish when not face-to-face, to shine is to make your character impressive at the expense of others, and to gag is similar, except on a level of not letting others talk. To be changed is to work within the world, instead of using it as a backdrop, to waffle is not to decide. To break the routine is to change up what you normally would do in a situation, and to wimp is to take the easy way out to avoid conflict.

The reason that these aspects are important is that there is a different dynamic in this paradigm than face-to-face gaming, which brings it more into the realm of creative writing, even with rules. And this should be encouraged; in situations like this, bad writing can bring a game down pretty quickly.

All of this is based on experiences I've had in my PbEM experiences, both good and bad.

Hope that helps!


Years ago, when the public internet was young (around 1998 to the early 2000's) my wife would play a lot on Yahoo Groups. Then, they would have live sessions on Yahoo chat. I think ychat is long since dead though. But anything like yahoo groups (google groups, a wiki as suggested by @wraith808 or a forum) would work. I like Wraith's rules. If you get in a group of talented writers, you can have a lot of fun. If you have POWER PLAYERS it can suck.

If you know and trust each other you can do away with the GM and just free flow a good game. With enough OOC relationship, you can even write in a little action for other characters, knowing that they'll be okay with it and they might return the favor.


I roleplay in play by post games, both syncronous (play by chat, everybody has to be there for the game to progress) and asyncronous (play by forum, play by e-mail).

The first thing you need to realize is that if you try to play with the same rules of your weekly, we-meet-at-Bob's-on-Fridays game, even a synchronous game will be really slow. Espsecially if your players like to be detailed (in my games we write abbout one post every 5-10 minutes depending on lenght, and with longer posts it is often a matter of telling people "before he does that, I say this, and then I say this after he finished", which will make you crazy if you ever try to find out the timeline of when everybody did what they did.) So slow that you won't be able to play many backdrop events at all, and the backdrop will lag behind.

Since a play by post game is that slow, my suggestion is to have a chat (which is better than a forum in my opinion because it's easier to see if someone is writing, avoiding crossposts) and just brainstorm what should be happening, instead of outright roleplaying the whole thing.

Ignore resolution mechanics, go with the flow and maybe use a chat like the one provided by Discord where you can comment with small icons under each sentence, like the new Facebook emotes that got introduced along the usual "Like".

Paint the world at large, deciding together what you, as a group, think is going to happen in the game world as the result of recent events (both decided here and as the result of your characters' actions during the usual game sessions).


Nowdays, use Discord.

While this question was already answered nearly ten years ago, I want to give a more up-to-date answer.

In 2021, Discord is a good choice for play-by-mail or non-realtime roleplaying games. Several previous contenders have been discontinued (Google Wave in 2012, Apache Wave in 2018, Yahoo Groups 2020), and Discord has a number of advantages over existing options.

While Discord resembles IRC in that it's a text-based chat system, a critical difference is that it retains chat server-side, allowing it to be used for non-realtime communications.


Discord is free, and allows you to set up a private invite-only server for your gaming group. It allows multiple chat channels and direct messaging. It can integrate dice bots and other roleplaying game support bots. It's not run by Google, who have a habit of starting new and innovative communications apps and shutting them down later, so there's a good chance Discord will still be around five years from now.

It is web-based, and also has well-established apps for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac and Linux, which nowadays allows people to receive notifications of updates and play on the go. You can't generally do this with a web forum. It's very useful for the DM to enable mobile notifications and respond quickly, as the DM can be the bottleneck in many systems. Servers are also run by Discord themselves, which makes it more reliable than many fan-operated internet forums, which are at greater risk of shutting down due to technical malfunction or other problems.

Other advice

In my experience, play-by-post is much slower than in-person play, and you have to make adjustments for this. The main things you can do to mitigate this:

  1. Pay attention to bottlenecks which block play. For example, the standard initiative rules in D&D would mean that all players wait on one player. The DM is often also the bottleneck, so I have used a "players make all the rolls" variant so that combat can continue without me.
  2. The strength of non-realtime is that you can type lengthier paragraphs, take more time considering strategic decisions, and divide the party more easily. Consider using systems, house rules, or modes of play which play to these strengths.
  3. In a game like D&D being run entirely on in non-realtime mode, use milestone XP. You won't get through as many combats in the same space of time.

Read the play-by-post and online-roleplaying tags for further questions discussing this topic.


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