How to get started with PbP

I really love the idea of playing a slow, considered game with that personal touch of play by post. I’d likely use Email for the sake of speed and my illegible handwriting, but I’m not sure where to get started.

  • What are good systems for this? I specifically like PbtA systems for the moves mechanic.
  • How do I find players?
  • Any experiences or tips you’d like to share?

Take a look at the PbP recommendations thread and see if that helps you!

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This is exactly the conversation I was looking for :stuck_out_tongue: Thank you!

I’m a super big PbP fan! You might also want to check out this discussion for some system-specific information: Let's chat about asynchronous/pbf style play.

Finding players and a group who you jive well with is tricky IMO, because matching up play-styles and postability (ie: how frequently people are available to post) is a challenge. That said, if you’re looking to GM a game, I don’t think you will find any shortage of players who are eager to jump in once you find them!

The Tavern Keeper Discord has a looking for players area that might connect you with some interested individuals. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries (read: failures) to find “your” group. It’s a thousand percent worth the effort!

I have a bazillion and a half tips and tricks and lessons learned about PbP (I have literally thousands of words written on the topic in a draft of something I hope to release to the world one day). Are you planning to play as the GM or as a PC?


Are you planning to play as the GM or as a PC?

I’m a GM through and through. :slight_smile:

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Awesome! Okay, so getting started as a GM, below are a couple things I have found have a big impact on the game from a foundational perspective:

  • Set expectations clearly with players as far as post rate, OOC communication, mechanics (do you call for rolls? Do they just roll as seems fit? Who narrates success/failures? etc), game tone, and so on.

  • Keep your scenes organized. Split PCs out into separate scenes if they aren’t in the same location/time. Avoid letting two different scenes overlap with each other in the same scene/thread. Have a numbering system that follows each PC so it’s easy for them (and you) to reference back to past scenes. I like when the initials include the initials of PCs who make appearances in the scene in the title (which means you as the GM need to update the title if new PCs join the scene partway through)

  • Find the emotional punch to hit PCs where it hurts, drive them apart, bring them together, give them the best and worst things. Use these punches frequently and don’t be afraid to really drive at the drama. IMO, emotions and relationships are the biggest strength of a PbP format.

I’ve gleaned much of that from watching a master at work - so here’s where I tip my hat to @richrogers for being a kickass PbP GM.


Can u explain your numbering system and labeling for PCs in a scene? I don’t quite see how this works.

Hey Deckard, let me try to break down the scene numbering system I use.
It’s Session.Scene, individualized by PC.
So, in the opening scene of the game with the characters of Rolfball and Joe’s Girl, I might title the scene:
Out of Control Party (JG 1.1, R 1.1)

A few scenes later, I might bring Rolfball into an ongoing scene with Dremmer. Now, this would be the third scene of this session for Rolfball (maybe after the “party” scene, Rolfball went out to check on his gang, and now he’s riding in to talk to Dremmer about a looming threat), but in the example, it’s only the second scene for Dremmer (perhaps Dremmer started off waking up in an alley, then he went to the local dive bar where he is now). So, with that in mind, the scene title might look like this:
Diver Down (D 1.2, R 1.3)

Does that example help, @Deckard?


@RichRogers It does. I am still curious his this helps though. Are you playing by email or in a forum? I think U understand it in email.

___off topic
Btw, my username is Inkwan at rpggeek. I came to the Gauntlet from your +1 forward podcast. I am nearly through your back catalog. It may be my favorite podcast

It’s for forum play. It helps me, at least, in that I can go back through forum threads and follow the timeline by specific PC.


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Ah, yes. Helps As GM, not necessarily player. Got it.

I find it really helpful as a player too actually, so I can easily reference back to “that one conversation,” even if it happened months ago in real-life time, and remind myself about what exactly the PCs discussed together.


I was curious if you had any advice about how to find engaged groups online that are able to keep the game going. I’ve tried to organize PBP games over the years, I’m trying to organize some now, and despite trying really hard to set expectations at the beginning, in general things sort of peter out. Of course, the common denominator is “me”, but I’m just curious how you usually find people to play with that are excited and engaged with the medium? I’d love to find people to play with where I’m not always having to expend 99% or the organizational energy… I really like the idea of PBP but haven’t been fortunate enough to fall into a situation where it has gone anywhere
Edit: I guess I’m just curious if there are any communities of people who get invested in their games, but without being jerks who take it too seriously. I hate investing in a game then feeling like i have to pester people to do things, though both of said games are still wrapping up character creation…maybe actual play will be smoother. I also realize this is a problem many people have with RPGs in general (finding a good group)…

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I’ve legit been pondering this question since you asked it and unfortunately, I don’t have a super satisfying answer yet (other than to say – if you’re dedicated enough to bemoan the ability to find an engaged group, then you are likely not the problem :wink: )

One of the things I’ve seen work is - get into a few games (maybe not simultaneously, because you want to make sure you don’t become the problem by overcommitting and slowing everyone down) and wait for them to play out a bit, recognizing that they will likely die. (Sad, but true). HOWEVER, after the game, if there were one or two players you think might be good to play with again, try to coordinate something right away with those people. Eventually by pick-and-choosing these players like this, you should be able to get a group together who is cohesive in playstyle and post-rate.

This is pretty much how I got “picked up” out of a dead game and brought into a new thriving one with a different group of people.

The groups I’ve had the best luck with have been posting 1 or more times daily. I recognize that that simply isn’t doable for some folks, but if you get a crowd that’s on the same page like that, it’s real hard for a game to die with all the energy going into it (from everyone involved).


One other common denominator of course might be the system. Pathfinder for example might be a favorite system but it is TERRIBLE for so many reasons on PbF.

I 100% agree with Heidi’s advice though. I am just about to try that strategy with my own PbF. I plan to pick through the PbF games I have played and request that the most enthusiastic players and colorful writers join my next game.

One other point is to give the story a middle and an end point. On PbF, it is easy to think the game will be going on forever and therefore to start thinking of your least favorite forum game you are in as a chore. Instead, I suggest running it more like a convention game, where you start hard framing scenes when the game becomes a grind or starts running way behind. For example, you might say, I want to get to the climax of this one-shot in 3 months.

For example, if you find you are still in the opening scene after a week of play (post-character creation), you might want to just re-frame the scene with the party on the road. Or, instead of allowing players to negotiate deals in town for 2 weeks, do an Apocalypse World style “love letter” and get them back into the adventure.

This certainly helps me because I know we won’t be lingering 3 weeks discussing why the players are going to go on a mission or negotiating a deal when they get to a random town. As soon as something like that happens in PbF, you will lose a player. If it happens a couple of times, you will lose everyone but the diehards.