View Full Version : Play-by-Post Optimised RPG: Ideas?

Samurai Jill
2008-11-04, 08:05 AM
I've been thinking for a while about the disadvantages of play-by-post adventuring- mostly due to the long delays between feedback and posting- and wondering if it would be possible to come up with some rule mechanics which minimise these problems... and maybe even turn them into advantages.
Because I think play-by-post has a couple of real benefits:

1. Plenty of time to think. You can afford to give lengthy descriptions or look up relatively complex rules without the risk of stumbling or breaking immersion.
2. You can treat the storyline as less of a series of session-based events and more as a continuous document. You can go back and edit things, smooth out the overall narrative, and maybe enhance a sense of ownership over the story.
3. You aren't constrained by the physical/computational limitations of a tabletop setting. You want to roll a 15-sided die or take the cube root of strength? No problem. And, of course, you can play with people in different time zones.

The problem, of course, is that everything takes ages to happen. Even a little playful banter between PCs, or a single combat encounter, could take weeks or months to narrate, depending on what time everyone gets online and how often they post. What to do?
Well I got my hands on Burning Wheel recently, and it occurred to me that the Duel of Wits and Fight! melee combat mechanics could help in alleviating these problems, since they both involve scripting out your moves several steps in advance (there are mechanics for changing your mind mid-action, but you pay a price in terms of action penalties.) It seems to work pretty well in practice, and it's perfect for PBP where you just want to get things over with quickly.

So, my basic concept would be this: The GM introduces a new scene or conflict, then the players can all chip in with their plans of action. The GM plays it out from start to finish, and the players then chip in with any modifications, embellishments or addenda they feel would be appropriate to the character in that context. Then the GM types up the finished result, and the players once more narrate what they intend to do in response- a few minor retries might be needed here and there, but the general resolution shouldn't take too long. (The artha resource could also prove useful here, since it essentially exists to convert dedicated role-play XP into an ability to revise events in your favour.)
The Belief/Instinct system could also prove helpful to ensure that characters don't do anything bizarrely uncharacteristic while the GM plays things out, or if one of the players needs to absent himself from play temporarily. You can have at least reasonable confidence that your character's overall priorities are sacrosanct, even in someone else's hands.

In brief, I think play-by-post games could benefit from a system that lets you sensibly automate much of your character's behaviour. That way, you can get a single encounter over and done with relatively quickly- say, inside 2/3 days of real time, rather than weeks or months.) And if you change your mind, well- you can go back and change things. It'd be less focused on the fight/loot/level aspect of play and more on the 'collaborative storytelling' aspect, but I think it could work.

So, anyways, that's my take on the subject. Any thoughts/ideas/suggestions/objections/reservations would be appreciated.

2008-11-04, 03:32 PM
No grid based systems - they're too hard to represent in a play-by-post.
Make it some simple areas mechanic where melee range is everybody in your zone plus anybody who specifically declares a nearby location.
very balanced character creation - not everybody will put the same level of effort into their characters, and you don't want to let it get too big of a difference.
no chances to interrupt during others' turns. Attacks of opportunity should be specified beforehand, especially if special attacks are allowed.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-04, 09:07 PM
Thanks for the tips. Thankfully, I think burning wheel has most of that covered in any case- (except for the balanced character creation... BW is very much RP-oriented and make no attempt to level the playing field between, say, elves and orcs. lol.)
Have to work on that, then.

Of course, the other problem would be finding people who know what burning wheel is. I may have to write my own rule set from scratch.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-05, 07:08 PM
Just out of curiosity- how many people here HAVE heard of/own burning wheel, revised or otherwise? ...Should I start a poll?

2008-11-05, 07:19 PM
I have not played it yet, but Victoriana looks fantastic. It will be in print this December. Here is a link to a free PDF sample: http://www.cubicle-7.com/acrobat/vic_preview_2.pdf

Samurai Jill
2008-11-05, 08:18 PM
Not to sound ungrateful, but are you saying I could adapt this to PBP situations? I can see some attraction in the lightweight combat mechanics, but could you sort of elaborate?..

I mean, what I'm really asking is if there's some reasonably popular, lightweight RPG system out there that would be particularly suited to PBP, which enough people already know that I could get a group together -or am I better off writing my own rules/content so I can post them online (and so get people up to speed) without breaking copyright?

2008-11-05, 09:13 PM
Why I think It looks good for PBP is the elegantly abstract combat system. While still I have not had a chance to try it, I think it fits the bill perfectly. Rather than a lot of back and forth rolls, it is condensed into a few, which can be roleplayed and described by the P.C.s. A few DND'ers have tryed homebrewing something like this, but not as sucessfully. The skills system is easier to do, because instead of complex systems for finding DCs, the GM says something like 3 black dice.

Also I do not know about "Burning Wheel".

2008-11-05, 09:39 PM
Let's see...

You'd want something where things happen "simultaneously"; and by "simultaneously", I mean everyone posts what they want to try for, and rolls initiative at the same time. Once everyone's posted (or a specified real-time timeframe has elapsed - in which case, everyone who hasn't posted is "trapped in indecision") then the DM makes a post for the NPC's and monsters, then makes a second, follow-up post for the results, where everyone's actions resolve in initiative order. Then you start over.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-05, 10:06 PM
Why I think It looks good for PBP is the elegantly abstract combat system. While still I have not had a chance to try it, I think it fits the bill perfectly. Rather than a lot of back and forth rolls, it is condensed into a few, which can be roleplayed and described by the P.C.s. A few DND'ers have tryed homebrewing something like this, but not as sucessfully. The skills system is easier to do, because instead of complex systems for finding DCs, the GM says something like 3 black dice.
That's true. (It's also something burning wheel features.) Check (http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/11/11444.phtml) it out (http://www.burningwheel.org/wiki/index.php?title=Downloads).

Let's see...

You'd want something where things happen "simultaneously"; and by "simultaneously", I mean everyone posts what they want to try for, and rolls initiative at the same time. Once everyone's posted (or a specified real-time timeframe has elapsed - in which case, everyone who hasn't posted is "trapped in indecision") then the DM makes a post for the NPC's and monsters, then makes a second, follow-up post for the results, where everyone's actions resolve in initiative order. Then you start over.
Exactly. In fact, I'd hope to go one step farther- the players script out their intended moves several steps in advance, and provided Things go According to Plan (tm,) the entire combat is over and done with in one cycle.
Of course, there's a difficulty there- if the players script out their moves explicitly, then it's hard for the GM to resist giving the monsters/NPCs a big tactical advantage. You might actually work around this by using something equivalent to Sense Motive checks to retroactively force monsters/NPCs to behave as expected- or, oblige the GM to script out their intended moves secretly beforehand, (maybe revealing their plan OOC once the dust settles. Something like that.)

2008-11-05, 10:39 PM
Exactly. In fact, I'd hope to go one step farther- the players script out their intended moves several steps in advance, and provided Things go According to Plan (tm,) the entire combat is over and done with in one cycle.
Of course, there's a difficulty there- if the players script out their moves explicitly, then it's hard for the GM to resist giving the monsters/NPCs a big tactical advantage. You might actually work around this by using something equivalent to Sense Motive checks to retroactively force monsters/NPCs to behave as expected- or, oblige the GM to script out their intended moves secretly beforehand, (maybe revealing their plan OOC once the dust settles. Something like that.)
No - you need a round-marker of some kind, where everyone posts exactly one round's worth of actions, possibly with one or two contingencies (example: Hit the orc on the left with the second swing if the first takes down the orc on the right; cast a Quickened Glitterdust if I see anything that's invisible after casting See Invisibility; otherwise, cast a Quickened Shield). If you're doing an "according to plan" thing, you've got a problem: Most times, thing's don't go according to plan, simply because your opponents plan too, and they tend not to mesh well. You'll end up doing things by individual round anyway more often than not, and the extra layer of complexity will very likely gum up the works.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-05, 11:26 PM
I don't think the extra layer of complexity would be significant (as I mentioned, burning wheel has an explicit game mechanic for handling this in a fairly simple fashion.) I agree things will quite likely go to Hell in a handbasket after 2 or 3 rounds, tops, particularly with larger groups, but depending on how gritty the combat mechanics are, the fight could well be over by then. I'm willing to stomach a little extra complexity if it reduces the need for extra conferences.

That said, I don't have a problem with a clause to the effect of "If the badly unexpected happens, stop and get more player feedback". Maybe an interesting parallel might be something like the Gambit system from FFXII...

But thanks for the pointers both of you.

2008-11-05, 11:30 PM
In play by post, that extra layer of complexity makes it impossible to run combat, in my experience. It is really hard to keep track of everything in pbp combat. If you are trying to look at plans several rounds in advance with modifications, I think it might end up harder. It would go faster, but it'd be really really hard to keep track of.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-06, 07:12 AM
What system were you using? I mean both the overall rules/to keep track of them..?

2008-11-06, 11:25 AM
What about something like Wushu? With the principle of narritive truth, each player dictates what happens, then dice are rolled to see how it impacts the encounter. The DM then dictates back what happens, taking the dice into account.

So instead of the player saying "I want to climb the tree, find a vine, swing down over the hordes of apes, and cut the head off of the warpriest", the player dictates what happens, and it happens.

Note that there remain rules -- you cannot narrate victory over an encounter until you actually defeat it mechanically, as an example.

Dice pools are determined by how detailed your description is, to a certain limit. For PbP, this limit can be extended (as it encourages longer descriptions), or the complexity (number of successes) of encounters can be reduced.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-06, 01:00 PM
That does sound rather tempting. I like the fact it's under Creative Commons, too. I'll take a look at the rule system later and get back to you on that.

Another possibility is that you could skip dice rolls altogether, and just use some kind of 'karmic currency' (like artha?) to limit the number of highly unlikely things the player can get away with. You'd still have rules governing the difficulty of a given task under different circumstances, but you'd just penalise the player for major deviations from expected outcomes. (I really ought to take a look at Amber one of these days...)

Samurai Jill
2008-11-07, 09:11 AM
I had a read through the Wushu rules. The basic game premise is a little more 'flamboyant' than I was aiming for, but it does have some very nice features. I'll probably try to adapt a couple at least.

The only drawback I see is that, although a lot of action gets described in one volley, you still need to go through several volleys before polishing off opponents. (Vetos might also bog down play a bit, though I guess they don't crop up a lot...)

How about this: You describe your actions, and they happen exactly as narrated, But- After all the action has been described, you need to 'fact-check' with suitable dice rolls. If the dice disagree with you, you lose some karma. Karma can be earned back by playing to a character's Beliefs/Instincts/Gambits, descriptive flourish etc. Thoughts?

Samurai Jill
2008-11-09, 12:39 PM
All right. I've worked out a simplified version of the burning wheel fight mechanics, which I'll spell out here:

The GM establishes an order of initiative when combat begins. The SOLE purpose of this is to determine who has to fight who- characters on each side are paired off in order of their 'reaction time', so that everyone gets equal odds as far as possible. Each fight then occurs more or less in parallel.

Three things matter in combat: Injury, Manoeuvres, and Positioning.

Out of Reach:
You cannot injure an opponent from this distance with hand weapons, but if your opponent has greater Reach, they consider you at Arms' Length.
Arms' Length:
This is the limit of your own reach. Your attacks (but not defence) suffer a -2 penalty. If your opponent's weapon has shorter Reach, they must Close to strike.
This is ideal striking distance. The opponent with greater Reach gains a +1 bonus to attack (or +3 for Long vs. Short weapons.)
Get Personal:
You move inside your opponent's normal Reach. This applies a modifier to all attacks- +1/-2/and -5 for Short, Normal, and Long weapons.

(I'm using a multi-roll d12 system, so those modifiers can be severe.) Positioning Tests are also used to determine initiative order at the start of combat, where the winners can pick any distance they like (but can't Get Personal.)

Each round, before any Manoeuvres are made, an opposed Positioning Test is made between foes:

Total Success
The winner can determine his/her distance as desired, OR may move one step closer/back AND take an additional Manoeuvre.
Partial Sucess
The winner moves one step closer/back, OR takes an additional Manoeuvre.
Stalemate or Partial Failure
(No effect.)
Total Failure
You cannot Manoeuvre.

Afterwards, possible Manoeuvres are as follows:

Strike (offensive)
This is the basic bread-and-butter attack option.
Block (defensive)
This is used to counter a Strike (with +2 bonus) or Shot (with -2 penalty.) You deal no damage.
Avoid (defensive)
This is used to counter an offensive, but cannot be used when Brawling, and deals no damage. You gain a +4 bonus at Arms' Length.
Disarm (offensive)
This can only work against defences, Disarm attempts or normal Strikes. You deal no damage, but gain a +2 bonus to attack- Total Success flips your opponent's weapon on the ground.
Charge (offensive)
In this form of Strike, you close with and seek to grapple your opponent. You suffer a -2 penalty as you Close, but any success puts you both flat on the ground and brawling- i.e, you Get Personal. You can only deal slight injury.
Feint (offensive)
Feint only works against defensive Manoeuvres. It lures your opponent out, giving you a +3 bonus to the check- success or Stalemate inflicts crippling injury.
Pin (offensive)
You can only try to Pin once you Close (for a -2 penalty) or Get Personal (for a +2 bonus.) Success temporarily immobilises your opponent, imposing a -4 penalty to their next action check, but you deal no damage.
Riposte (defensive)
A Riposte only works against normal Strikes and Feints, but you can deal damage normally.
Finish (offensive)
This takes TWO actions to try and deal a devastating blow. Any success is considered Total, and even Stalemates are considered a Partial Success. You can wait until the next round to Finish an opponent, but must win the intervening Positioning Test.

An opposed Manoeuvre Test is then made:

Total Success
The opponent is completely at your mercy. You can hold them at swordpoint, knock them unconscious, inflict crippling injury, or simply kill them.
Partial Sucess
You slip past your opponent's guard to inflict a serious injury (optionally fatigue damage if you're using a blunt weapon.)
You inflict a slight (fatigue damage) injury on your opponent.
Partial or Total Failure
You fail to inconvenience your opponent at all.

Note: Changing distance in the same round applies a -1 penalty to your Manoeuvre Tests. Just getting up from the ground is considered a position change.
As a general rule, any defensive Manoeuvre can be used to counter any offensive Manoeuvre. If your opponent goes offensive, and you have no suitable counter ready, you Block at a -4 penalty. This applies even if both opponents went for the offensive- separate Tests are made, and both could succeed, or both could fail. If both characters played defence, (or if their scripted moves were otherwise impossible to apply,) they simply circle eachother that round, vying for advantage.

The only thing you strictly need to worry about is scripting your character's actions, which essentially determines how things go for the next several rounds. You can plan up to 3 moves (desired position, plus desired manoeuvre) in advance. If you like, you can make these conditional- i.e. if my opponent does Y, I do X. Here are some examples:

"I'll Close and Strike, then Block. If she goes defensive, I'll Feint."


"I'll Charge, try to Pin and then Finish him."


"I'll stay at Arms' Length and use my Ripostes. If they Charge, I'll Block, and if they Feint, I'll Disarm."

(Using conditional moves only works if you win the Position Test, so use with caution.) In addition, successful, unconditional moves grant a cumulative +2 bonus to your next Manoeuvre (this wears off if you fail any Test.) So it pays off *BIG*time to be able to predict your opponent's moves.

Slight injury applies a -1 penalty to the character's next Position check. Serious injury applies a -4 penalty, and crippling injury means Total Failure on the next Position check. 4 slight injuries convert into a serious injury, (but do not cause extra penalties.) 3 serious injuries convert into/inflict a crippling injury. 2 crippling injuries, and the character is Stricken- unconscious (if you dealt fatigue damage,) possibly dead, and definitely down for the count. (I might tweak this, but that's the rough idea.)

Samurai Jill
2008-11-09, 11:08 PM
As you can see, the benefit of this system is that it's pretty fault-tolerant due to the range of gambits allowed, but also very gritty, because a single misstep in your plans can put you at a severe disadvantage, leading to a critical injury that puts you out of the action quickly. Hopefully, this means that most combats will be short.

I'm also hoping to lift burning wheel's Belief/Instincts setup, to help provide further automation for a character's decisions. An Instinct is essentially a conditional action which the player picks out during character creation (though not neccesarily limited to combat:) A character might have the Instinct, "If tempers rise, look for a peaceful solution first," "Sleep with my armour on", or "Block against a secondary opponent."

I also think that this kind of treatment could be extended to other areas of role-play interaction. I mean, take this (from the Guide to Play By Post Games:)

In PbP, there is a temptation to include the actions or reactions of other characters, PC or NPC, in your own post, in order to move things along in the story. Do not do this. It's known as “godmodding,” and quite frankly is rather rude.
Why? I mean, sure, presumably the player who owns that character is free to override your decision, but if they do, then it's just a matter of editing the appropriate post after the fact. Until the GM comes along the next day and finalises things, any given post on the subject should really be considered a "first draft". Instead of fighting the players' natural inclinations, harness them- consider 'modding' as friendly suggestions for narrating your characters' reactions or overall diction. Who knows? Maybe they'll come up with an angle on the character that you hadn't considered. You're not recording a documentary, you're collaborating on a story. The sole purpose of the dice and the rules is to ensure everyone gets an equal (and equally plausible,) say.

In order to speed things up, its usually okay to post probable actions your character will take depending on what happens next - a sort of “if, then” statement. Don't go overboard with this.
I would say, feel free to cover your bases. If you somehow find yourself in a split-second, life-or-death, adrenaline-pumping combat situation, then, yes, there are reasonable limits on how well a given character could realistically plan ahead on such short notice. But typical social encounters are a very different kettle of fish.
When you're talking about a leisurely conversation, it's reasonable to assume that the characters- as well as their players- would have ample time to think ahead and come up with a wide range of contingencies- questions to ask, avenues of inquiry, psychological weaknesses to exploit- that the character can bring to bear without all the other players having to wait for permission. Feel free to literally specify "<insert Stan's witty rejoinder here>" if you need to put words in another characters' mouth- or, to be specific in your (helpful) suggestions. Provided it doesn't make a vast difference to the outcome of the story- in which case there should be some mechanical test involved to decide things anyway- the owning players can come back and colour things in the next day.

Of course, there's still a major difficulty here. For this to work, the GM needs to script things out in advance too, and not pull shenanigans by altering the plan on the fly in favour of the NPCs. This means you need a neutral, trusted 3rd party to act as a witness, or some other online facility that will let the GM 'classify' his/her plan without tampering until 48 hours has elapsed. So, that's my thinking on the subject. I'll try to come up a system for proper character development tomorrow.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-10, 01:55 PM
Well, since this is a new ruleset I'm trying to apply here, I reckon the safest thing to do might be to use a system that doesn't require you create your character all in one go. Hopefully, this encourages the idea is that it's neither necessary or even desirable for your character to be fully fleshed-out in terms of his/her background, personality and abilities before entering play. This has two significant benefits:

Firstly, it reduces the entry barrier for new players who aren't very familiar with the rules- they can just jump in with an overall minimum of common-sense description, slowly assigning traits as they go. Provided they don't go 'over-budget', there's unlikely to be a problem, and the GM can advise them about it on a gradual basis.

For instance, the introduction for a new character might go as follows:

The Tyrant introduced Anaximenes to the embassador for Persia: Xyrus Docaster. His curled beard showing some grey at the roots, Anaximenes could just discern the outline of an ill-concealed weapon beneath his robes- clearly there was no love lost during these late negotiations. Despite his slight stiffness, the embassador stood tall to greet the Hellene with vigour, and the wrinkles about his eyes give off an impression of mirth.
From this description, you can reasonably infer the following traits: Age, Standing (Persian Official,) Physical Stature, Diplomat, Slight Frailty, Passion and Swordsman. Each of these might cost 4 resource points (excepting Frailty, which puts 4 back,) for a total cost of 20. Players could have 50, 80, or 100 or so to play with, (depending on how tough you want them to start off.) You might also introduce a Belief or Instinct or two to reflect the embassador's simultaneous mistrust and tact. There is one catch; you must not directly contradict earlier description of the character in question.

Of course, as long as the player doesn't contradict description or run over-budget, they can assign a character as many traits they want. And there may well be multiple interpretations for a given descriptive passage. But this is the general idea.

Secondly- since you're leaving your character room to grow, you can adapt their qualities over time to the needs of the party as a whole.

For example, later on in the campaign the party might find themselves stuck in difficult negotiations with the egyptian priesthood over the body of the fallen (they want to embalm, you want to resurrect.) Provided Xyrus has some resource points left, he could upgrade his Diplomat trait to be Great or Exceptional, providing a large bonus in their favour. Alternatively, if the party find themselves accompanying an envoy to distant Cathay along the silk road, where being assailed by bandits or embroiled in military action is not unlikely, Xyrus might opt to introduce Tactician as part of a noble background.

There is a catch, however- if there were occasions in the story beforehand where the character could or should have brought that Trait to bear, you'll need to come up with a fairly compelling reason for why they didn't. ("I didn't feel like it before" is NOT an adequate explanation.) This all comes under the heading of non-contradiction of earlier description, so- use with care. (On the other hand, revealing hidden talents, resources or affiliations for your character can be a way to introduce further plot hooks.)

2008-11-11, 12:30 PM
So, going back to the Wushu based suggestion: the core of the idea isn't the Wushu mechanics (which are based off of face-to-face storytelling), but rather stealing 'principle of narrative truth' and 'use mechanics to determine impact on mechanics'.

Player describes what happens. Until certain mechanical milestones are reached, you cannot narrate certain things happening (like "I kill the enemy, and the fight ends").

Your narration, together with your character's statistics, determines what rolls happen in the mechanical resolution phase.

The GM rolls the result based on your description, then narrates what happens next. The changes to your character's state and the encounter state are determined by the mechanical dice rolls.

No scripting. Just narration.

It might go like:
GM Narration: As you are traveling along the road, the something moves in the bushes. Everyone draws their weapons as a dozen of green-clad bandits emerge, each wearing band around their forehead with a strange glyph on it.

A women with a silver staff and black robes steps forward, the air crackling around her. Some of the guards aim crossbow bolts at her, but she seems unconcerned.

"This road is territory of The Kin. Put down your weapons and surrender, or we will force..."

She is cut off as a twang goes off -- one of the guard's crossbow bolts fires off. There is an arc of flame from one of the bandits, and the bolt is gone.

The woman repeats herself: "Put down your weapons and surrender, or we will force your surrender."

Veto: You may not narrate killing more than one of the bandits, or the women in the silverstaff, or escape until you pass a milestone.


The GM sets the scene. The GM sets up vetos. The players then describe what their characters do.

Next, set up mechanics that encourage the kinds of narration behavior you want.

A character can be a collection of cliches and values for those cliches. Each cliche you invoke might grant you more dice to resolve the situation, but maybe also open that cliche up to counter attack?

Actions can be categorized as, say, offensive and defensive and flexible.

Longer, more involved descriptions should have impact on the situation. There should be some limit to this, naturally.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-11, 03:18 PM
I don't see anything wrong with the overall setup you describe, exactly. It could probably work well with the right players. As a question of personal taste I can't help the feeling that, even with underlying mechanics that encourage conservative decisions, it's not a realistic way to handle unfolding events. I dunno, maybe it's just something I'm not used to.

Of course, GNS theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNS_Theory#Narrativist) will happily inform me that I cannot serve two masters- but that's the beauty of PBP- you don't have to make the tradeoffs that you would while under time pressure in a sit-down session.

I would be interested to try it out as a player, but I don't really feel qualified to act as GM.

A character can be a collection of cliches and values for those cliches. Each cliche you invoke might grant you more dice to resolve the situation, but maybe also open that cliche up to counter attack?
I like the word 'cliche'.:smallsmile: That sounds interesting, actually- did you have some ideas for specific counters, by way of example?

Samurai Jill
2008-11-12, 06:16 PM
I'll try to think about it some more and get back to the question later. In the meantime, I'll see if I can get some advice on the forge...

The other subject that I wanted to touch upon is the erecting of an overall plot structure within this kind of game, because one thing that a PBP campaign can't really justify is a railroad plot. When the GM has so much time to prepare a fresh description between every volley of combat or round of conversation, then there is absolutely no excuse for not being as flexible as possible with the material (where 'as possible' means 'not reduced to aimless rambling'.) I think this is another inherent advantage/opportunity for PBP games that should be given some thought.

2008-11-12, 06:24 PM
A character can be a collection of cliches and values for those cliches. Each cliche you invoke might grant you more dice to resolve the situation, but maybe also open that cliche up to counter attack?

Have you heard of Risus (http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/risus.htm)? That's very similar to what you describe, right up to the term 'clichés'. It's a great little system, and probably my favourite rules-light RPG.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-21, 03:20 AM
It appears I'm not the first person to tackle this problem. The folks over on The Forge were obliging enough to furnish some references- Play-by-Post roleplaying and the order of events (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=23595.0) and Designing for a PBeM Format (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=3570.0)

There seem to be two main solutions worked out:

The method-by-scripted-contingency. This is very similar to the approach I've described and apparently works fine, which is encouraging, but perhaps not as natural as would be ideal?

The method-by-argument. Essentially, you submit a version of events that may or may not be instated as fact depending how well you argue for it's likelihood. This could probably be adapted easily enough to using descriptive detail as 'arguments' for a particular piece of narration, but it's not exactly PoNT, since the GM could override your narration depending on what you describe. (Alternatively, you could simply use some metagame resource to 'ration' unlikelihood retroactively, and avoid dice entirely.) The problem here is that the players have no incentive to narrate either failures or spectacular success.

Another approach would be to use fortune-in-the-middle mechanics- state your overall objectives/intent, roll dice with suitable situational modifiers, then depending on how well you do, narrate the outcome as desired.

Callan was good enough to suggest a system of 'initiative points' for establishing post precedence, which might well be useful. Y'see, I'd like to have a system for establishing exchanges of conversation as economicaly as possible too, so this approach might be adaptable to 'revising' earlier fragments of text to include interjections/remarks/answers from other characters.

I'll take a look at Risus at some point, but that's all I have for now...

2008-11-21, 03:45 AM
Have you heard of Risus (http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/risus.htm)? That's very similar to what you describe, right up to the term 'clichés'. It's a great little system, and probably my favourite rules-light RPG.
Yes, I stole the term cliches from Risus. :)

Lord Tataraus
2008-11-21, 09:45 AM
Have you heard of Risus (http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/risus.htm)? That's very similar to what you describe, right up to the term 'clichés'. It's a great little system, and probably my favourite rules-light RPG.

For my PbP we use a slightly modified Risus, basically I gave everyone Plot Points which double as health and you can expend them for an auto succeed. However, the "health" bit is plot-based, so it encompasses social interactions as well. i.e. if you are a lawyer in a court case and you lose, you take a hit to PP and are slightly ashamed, or if you are embarrassed in a large crowd due to some social blunder you take an even bigger hit to PP. However, you regain PP as you become more important to the story. Every side-quest you get gives you PP and epic-usefulness gives you PP.

You don't have to use the Plot Point system, but Risus is definitely my suggestion as the best Rules-Lite, near free-form system out their.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-22, 01:17 AM
No, that sounds good, actually. Maybe not perfect for the purpose, but worth looking into as a complementary system at least.

I'd like to see a transcript of play, so to speak- do you have any links?

Samurai Jill
2008-11-23, 12:33 AM
I had a look at the Risus rules-set. It does indeed look like a nice little system, but I have some reservations about the conflict mechanics and whether other players would be happy to simply pool dice with the party leader without narrating independant outcomes. There may also be problems with adapting the system to non-comedy gaming (http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/9/9762.phtml).

Again, it would really help to take a look at an example of actual play before attempting to adapt Risus myself. I don't mean to be dismissive, but if nobody gives feedback to my questions, I end up having to go ahead with whatever half-baked system I can contrive on my own. A link so I can see what I would be getting into really would help. Thank you.

Plot points sound good, and they've certainly been used successfully in narrativist games before.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-23, 07:17 AM
Anyway, I'll try to contribute something less negative tomorrow.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-26, 09:16 AM
I think I may have a halfway-workable solution for generalised scene resolution. Essentially, you'd treat the description of a particular encounter a bit like a Wiki- each player would quote the previous player's description, then introduce changes to reflect their own character's decisions and other forms of narrative input.
A single round of descriptive input from each player in this fashion is a cycle. This typically means once every player has posted at least once to cover a particular time interval, or every 24/48 hours in real time. There's nothing to stop players posting more than once, but their karma allotment is fixed, so there are limits on the degree of mechanical input they can give.

At the end of each cycle, every player votes as to whether or not they're happy with the aggregate description thus far (and, if they like, submit their description for the next.) The majority vote after a given cycle determines whether the description is 'finalised'. Once a cycle is complete and the description is approved, each player receives 3 karma points, and each may grant 1 karma point to any other player.

The GM sets the overall timeframe for a particular cycle, and decides whether to finalise in the event of a tie, but otherwise gets one vote like everybody else.

Of course, there are rules-
* Inserting own character's actions- free.
* Changing description of own character's actions, without mechanical differences- free. This may be done at any time, even after a cycle completes.
* Changing description of another character's actions, without mechanical differences- 1 point.
* Changing or deleting own character's mechanical choices- 1 point.
* Changing, Inserting or Deleting mechanical choices of another character without express permission- 3 points. The choice cannot violate a Goal or Belief of that character. If it does further a Goal or Belief of that character, then the cost is reduced by 1.
* Outright violation of personal Goals or Beliefs is usually impossible unless outweighed by (an)other Goal(s) or Belief(s) of your character. Goals and Beliefs may change over time in response to conflict, whether internal or external. Conflict among or between Goals and Beliefs earns you karma.

Note that the general rules for plausibility still apply- you have to keep track of time, perform specific actions, and avoid other non-sequitors within the narrative. Depending how many dependancies are involved, introducing a small change may require a significant rework of other players' description, so use with caution. You can always retroactively agree to another player's choice of actions for your character, thus reimbursing karma spent.

If you want to directly oppose another character's actions, then normal rules for task resolution take over, and karma can then be spent to boost the odds of success on particular tasks. Whoever wins the conflict gets to instate their version of events. In addition, actions that reflect the Goal or Belief of a particular character gain a mechanical advantage to reflect their drive.

The other key feature here is that players can 'annotate' their description (possibly using <spoiler> tags) to give a better overview of a given character's thought processes and rationale. You can also use this space to allow for 'contingencies'- providing other suggestions for your character's actions, offers of assistance, tactical directives, etc. etc. This is subtext, quite distinct from the main description intended purely to allow for easy OOC conference.

EDIT: I've deleted and reposted to allow for better clarification. Down 2 karma... *b-dum chish*

The first idea I'd touch on is that you would define your character's Goals and Beliefs as a way of explicitly prioritising what is and isn't important to the PC. Other players have a certain degree of leeway in inserting actions for your own character if it's really, really important to them, but Goals and Beliefs define what is truly sacrosanct to a given character- they're signs saying, do not touch, ever, about particular aspects of the character.
You don't want to make them too narrow or specific, because Goals and Beliefs are what drive your character to take risks and endure trials, but neither do you want to make them overly vague or generalised, because then the character becomes a colourless tool of other players' convenience! It's self-limiting!

...Well, that's the idea, anyway. I'm hoping that a similar principle could apply with mechanical Traits of the character, but I haven't worked out the details.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-28, 06:11 AM
I should probably throw in a few thoughts on task resolution, and how to take advantage of online RP facilities. For now, I'm assuming a straightforward conflict between two directly opposed parties. There are lots of possible situations where this could be complicated by, say, fields of related knowledge, assistance from 3rd parties, unopposed results, and so forth, but these could require a bit more collaboration at the narrative level, so I'll leave them for now.

Anyways. Between acquired skill, innate talent and circumstantial modifiers you'd have two guages to determine the strength of each party in the conflict. Here's the trick: roll a die with as many sides as the two guages put together. You can do that with imaginary dice, you see!

Typically, 3 of these dice are rolled. Compare the results to your opponent's guage, and whether it's higher:
All higher = total success.
Mostly higher = partial success.
Mostly lower or equal = partial failure.
All lower or equal = total failure.

For example, a bandit with Great Strength (+1) (using a heavy blade +1,) Man of Action (+1), Swordsman (+1) and Skirmisher (+1) would gain a +5 bonus in close combat (after positioning,) and is pressing to attack. His opponent, a mercenary with Strength, Expert Spearman (+2), and Formation Training (+1) fighting beside trained professionals (+1) in Scale Armour (+2) gains a +6 bonus to defend. 3 11-sided dice are rolled: 3, 7, and 9. The bandit is partially successful, and inflicts either a slight or serious wound, depending on how injury goes.

Basically, total success is similar to a critical, while total failure is similar to a fumble. Thus, criticals are much more common against inferior opponents, and almost impossible against superior foes.

Here's where karma comes in- you can spend 2 karma to increase the success category, or gain 1 karma by accepting a lower success category. You can't modify the result by more than one category, but you can use this technique to manipulate the odds in your favour, or build up mechanical suspense through a string of apparent failures, conserving your energies for a later date.

Samurai Jill
2008-11-29, 05:18 AM
Does anyone think that the rules for scene resolution involve too much treading on other players' toes? I've been thinking of revising them, or using a different resource for managing narrative ownership, but the main idea is to ensure that players can involve other character's intervention in their decision-making without always having to stop for permission. Unfortunately, I'm worried that this amounts to deprotagonisation- just by other players, rather than the GM?

Anyways, I've been doing a little research on relatively 'free-form' storylines, and there seem to be 3 main techniques (this is mostly stolen from Story Now):

Character-based premise: This is where the PCs (and/or NPCs) all start off with basic goals or beliefs, all primed to lead to long-term conflicts that address a particular thematic question. The most extreme version- blood opera- winds up with half the participants dead, and it's often the easiest premise to implement, but usually requires involvement on behalf of all the players to get the right emotional balance.
Characters start off very well-defined, setting is established but flexible, and situations arise from character interactions.

Setting-based premise: This is where large-scale, external adversity swarms upon the protagonists from afar and obliges them to band together to serve the common good (or at least mutual interests.) Typical save-the-world McGuffin-based/BBEG quests eventually fall under this heading. The large-scale theme is unavoidable, so it's largely foolproof, but it can involve a fair amount of work by the GM.
Setting starts off very well-defined, situation (which brings the characters together) is flexible, and characters can be sketchy but define themselves with time.

Situation-based premise: You start off with the PCs directly involved in a particular local problem and a strong outline of their motivations for being there. Resolving that problem becomes the ostensible theme of the storyline, and the GM only needs to deal with aspects of setting that crop up during play, and knows what the character's angles are. It's consequently easy enough to GM, but the initial situation only lasts so long before you need another challenge for the players- there is no long-term premise. Once you use it up, you have to find something new to do, which can lend itself to 'episode-based' play, but without a strong long-term premise might also lead to repetition, imitative pastiche, or Gamism.
Situation starts off well-defined, character is established but shallow, and initial setting is vague.

A key point to note here is that having too many aspects of play well-defined beforehand is actually counterproductive- the players need freedom to address thematic questions without interference, working off established elements and tweaking or conjuring others to suit.

To give an example, OOTS starts off with Situation-based premise (Roy hiring the PCs to clear out the Dungeon of Dorukan) and then moves to Setting-based premise (the Gates and the Snarl,) with the DM employing Illusionism [i.e, the illusion of freedom] in the form of ad-hoc, insuperable obstacles (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0199.html) (Force) to herd the PCs from one to the other. Whether this was necessary or desirable is up for debate. :smallwink: