Let's chat about asynchronous/pbf style play

I’m curious what people’s experiences with this style of play have been. There are two general things that I think would be interesting! I personally for various life reasons just can’t really get a live game going, and I’m not really in a great position to do one shots (and honestly, I don’t love one shots…I like campaigns). I’ve been interested in trying to delve into async play, but it seems like it’s not a super popular niche. Still, I’m curious to discuss!

First, what systems/games do you think work particularly well for this sort of play? Or particularly poorly. I’m also interested in perhaps like tweaks to games that make them work better with this style of play, though ideally without sort of hacking them into something that is unrecognizable (I’ve seen a number of PBF “tweaks for PBF” that end up streamlining them into…a freeform rpg).

Second, I’m curious about what sort of new game oriented towards PBF might be interesting, but sort of make the most of the format. I generally like crunchier games, which often…don’t work great async, because of the back and forth required. For example, I think Burning Wheel would be hard to run async without some real tweaks to skills rolls, because the game generally requires some back and forth between player and gm around what happens if there’s success, failure, applicable supporting skills etc.

----- (now my own thoughts)

From the systems I know, I think something like Dungeon World would be fine, since it’s already pretty streamlined. I just don’t find DW super interesting. Still, I know many people who’ve run it successfully.

I think D&D can get pretty slow online…combat just has lots of little steps. In general, I think a good async game is one that minimizes the amount of back and forth. It’s not that players can’t interact, but I think it just needs to minimize how much negotiation, rolling, etc is necessary for a particular action. A mechanic I think would be interesting is sort of, letting players speculatively do things. In a play by forum context, the player could say “assuming players B and C agree…” then spoiler the rest, and then if they get the agreement it becomes canon. The tricky part of this is that it requires players very willing to invest in and then potentially throw away stuff.

I think Ars Magica’s system is actually incredibly well suited to this, though I’ve never actually run it. The game is built around each player having an ensemble, and everyone being in the same place is quite rare. This is perfect for async play, as it means each player can sort of do their own thing.

I’m waiting for the finalized rules to come out, but I think Hearts of Wulin might be a pretty good fit (and hope to try an online async game when the finished rules come out). The key is that they really streamlined combat, and the focus on melodrama I think plays to the strength of async play, where players can really think through and ham up their posts.

I actually think Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish Granting Engine would make a great async game, it’s just hard to find people willing to invest in the weird rules and the weird system. But the mechanics of the game line up very nicely with online play, I think. You say what you want to happen, and it largely does. The game is sort of built around people creating and narrating scenes that help them and the group achieve goals. I would also love to try and get a pbf of chuubo’s off the ground, though past attempts failed.

Still, I’m curious about games that play to the strengths of async play, especially more mechanically rich ones. I’m really interested in the game Lancer, for example, but given it’s built around tactical mech combat…will probably suffer from the same issues that D&D does.

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There’s an old Japanese roleplaying game (I hesitate to call it a “system” as it seems to have been run by a central authority rather than based on published rules) called a net game, despite the fact that was play by postcard. Players don’t take turns asynchronously, but everyone gets the chance to write in what they’re character does, the GMs collect all the inputs, and resolve them all at once, rolling checks as necessary, then send a short article detailing what happens back to the players. At the end of the “campaign”, everything that happened gets published as a short story. To me this seems like a little bit of lost tech (at least to the West), that has a lot of potential for reinvigoration, especially with widespread internet, cons, and LARP.

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I know @RichRogers is a big fan of play by post. @Coalhada I know has done some in the past as well. They might have some thoughts…


This is a great idea! I wonder what kinds of stories would lend themselces best to this sort of system? Off the bat I think things like kingdom management, since then sort of waiting a cycle to communicate between people nicely models the time it takes for a horse to driver the message.

I think some things I’m now thinking about:
Is it possible to have games which still encourage and involve a fair amount of interaction (at least RP/social) between players that uses such a system? And is it possible to model conflict (esp tactical martial conflict on the small) in a way that is interesting (thinking Lancer here) but doesn’t get super bogged down in stuff?

Something I’ve thought about is pretty similar to what you put above. Basically everyone would roll some set of something, and those would be assigned. I’m leaving that loose. It could be one roll to represent overall effectiveness, or a number of rolls per action, or something. They all send this to the DM, who updates things for that round. Nicely captures the hectic nature of a round of combat and avoids the “15 minutes talking through a ‘6 second’ combat round in DND” which is common. I kind of like the idea of say, 3 rolls, each representing some aspect of combat…or even letting the DM choose. So if two go well and one doesn’t, you don’t know until the round resolves what it’ll be…

I’ve run a number of play-by-post games with good success until they died from the death-spiral of diminishing commitment. Two in particular stand out to me.

One was a sandbox campaign using the Adventurer Conqureor King System (before I learned its author was, among other things, the CEO of Milo Yiannopoulos’ business). This slowed down as expected during the tactical battles, but was still manageable.

The other was a game where we built the setting using Microscope and then hacked Dungeon World to suit.

As you might expect, the PbtA-based game flowed much better during play because it was more flexible when it came to interpreting and narrating the result of a given roll. Although the action scenes sometimes got granular, much more ground could be covered than the combat sequences in the ACKS game.

One that thing that really helped buy-in from the GM perspective was taking the time to format and add graphical elements to my posts, which both eased thread navigation and provided some suggestive visuals. Players had a lot of positive feedback about those aspects, and if I end up running another similar game in the future I will do that kind of thing again.

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Good Game design for PbF

  1. No initiative is good. initiative where you roll against a stat works even better.
    (E.g. Mothership roll under player speed means player goes before antagonist) Any waiting to figure out whom goes next is BAD.
    The problem with no initiative is minor but players are sometimes not sure if they should post before someone else.

  2. Opposed rolling is terrible in PbF

  3. Sandbox gaming is terrible in PbF. Too much consensus buliding required. Even though it is quite different, Microscope fails in PbF for this reason too

  4. Anything where you fight for or take turns with narrative control might work well… I am thinking of A Single Moment. Do: Pilgrims of the Air Temple.

  5. Nothing with a secret target number


The Veil or Urban Shadows should work well, because in both games players should logically not be in a party all the time because of the nature of their playbooks. That said, all players’ actions should impact the other players. One character breaks out of the police station? Another will hear the explosion, while a third’s plan to infiltrate BlueTech’s Corp office is complicated when it goes under lockdown. Why the lockdown? What’s the connection? That is the thread that will start to draw the characters together into a single story, even if they never meet.


I’ve played a bunch of play-by-post games (it’s kind of my favorite), so hooray for interest in it!

You’re right that the crunchier games aren’t generally ideal in an async format. In my experience, the best play by post games are ones that focus on relationships and characters over mechanics and maneuvers. Getting to peer into each PC’s head by reading their posts creates such a rich experience of character and really gives a lot of space for each PC to grow and glow.

Like @jasonlutes mentioned, PBTA tends to be a comfy place for play-by-post games – enough mechanical structure that you’re still playing a game, but easy enough to navigate and negotiate those mechanics that they support the game rather than getting in the way of it.