Oddysey and I were chatting last night about play-by-post gaming. Her recent adventures in learning to code has her intrigued by the idea of creating GM tools and that got me contemplating the potentials for PbP gaming.
The negatives of PbP gaming are fairly obvious, and largely revolve around time: it’s incredibly slow, and you often end up waiting on people to respond (sometimes people who won’t ever respond again, curse them). So, if you were crafting mechanics optimized for PbP, you’d want something that took this into account and minimized it as much as possible. This leads us to an intriguing conundrum.
To play a game is to make choices. And yet, it’s the points of decision, where you have to wait for someone’s response, that create all the delays and unpleasantness. Obviously you don’t want to remove all choice; do that and you don’t have a game anymore. And even removing some choice can be considered a bad thing.
After talking all around Robin Hood’s barn last night, Oddysey summed things up very succinctly: not all choice is created equal. What we really want is meaningful choice.
Lots of choices in gaming are less than meaningful, or are so basic that they’re not really any choice at all. So, obviously, any time we need to stop to ask what the players want to do, we want to make sure they’re making a meaningful choice.
Oddysey then suggested that a stakes mechanic (something akin, I assume she was thinking, to Dogs in the Vineyard) might be a good way to achieve that. I’m thinking a handful of parallel stakes mechanics. Think M:tG, where you have a handful of resource pools (maybe blue mana and black mana) and then you have to decide which you want to deplete based on a whole range of potential outcomes. And give each pool a few different ways it can be used.
The thing I like about this most is that it can be used to optimize one of PbP’s strong points: complicated mechanics. Since you literally have hours (if not days) between moves, there’s no need to keep the mechanics simple and quick. Want a combat system that modifies damage based on the attacker’s weapon and stance, and the defender’s armour, astrological sign, and what they had for breakfast? PbP can do it!
Granted, you need to keep it at least somewhat reasonable, to the point where the players can make logical and reasonably accurate guesstimates about success when they’re setting their stakes. But the possibilities are still quite broad there.
I’m curious if anyone’s seen any good PbP theory posts or commentary out there. Please point the way!
Art by Hippolyte Bellange.