Long live Play-by-Post!

In tabletop roleplaying games, there is this West Marches concept. At its core, you have a pool of players, more than you’d want in a night’s session. You play a series of episodic sessions, scheduled and driven by the players in a sandbox world. Having done this with 40+ players, I learned the real game is the social interactions between all the players outside the gaming sessions —this is where the magic lives.

During my military years abroad, I was heavy into Play-by-mail games right when BBSs were spooling up just before AOL. I’d get my multi-page turn in the mail, and sometimes I was able to connect with other players to ‘chat’ about a turn. Some games let you ‘post’ messages to ‘characters’ or ‘positions’ in the game via the game’s newsletter. That, too, was magical goodness.

What’s missing for me today is playing games in large groups like the days of yore. Yep, CoD, Apex, to a limit, Elden Ring, EVE, Guild Wars - yep, I hear it. But I’m getting old; twitching and controller dexterity ain’t what I’m looking for.

I believe there is still life for asynchronous multiplayer games using this newsletter/comments medium. For sure, using emails, Slacks, and Discords as mediums. Folks are currently using forums and chat apps to run RPG sessions. But I mean multi-player, more than five players. En Garde! is a solid example. It’s got warts, but remember how old it is. Underneath those warts is a framework that works nicely. I’ve seen it play out in Slack and through emails. I will run short versions of it to understand what makes it tick and what we can take away from it. Remember Tomorrow RPG seems ripe for ‘porting’ to a Play-by-post style. We’re going to find out.

I’ve got much bigger thoughts and ambitions, but let’s start here. See what we see. Is multiplayer Play-by-Post dead? Can Substack support multiplayer Play-by-Post gaming? Can we leverage modern game tech to reduce old-school complexity? We’re gonna find out.

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Exploring play-by-post games (PBM, PBEM, turn based games) in online formats for multiplayer asynchronous play.


GM-At-Large. Cranky Indie Game Designer, Working on Lifted, a Supers RPG powered by Cortex. Writes about TTRPGs and Dadness, 10X play and my giant dogs. You get XP for subscribing.