Tips for Setting Up Pbems & Pbps

From Leslie Holm

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0293

A Brief Word From Johnn

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Johnn Four
[email protected]
(P.S. Thanks for editing this issue, Forrest!)

Tips for Setting Up Pbems & Pbps

Online Roleplaying is a huge animal, encompassing MUSHs, MUDDs, SIMs, PBeMs, PBPs…the list goes on. In this article, I focus on PBeMs (Play By e-mail) and PBPs (Play By Post, or forum based games).

Roleplaying online is no longer just for people who don’t live near a gaming group. Most of the gamers I know have a weekly tabletop session in addition to playing one or more games online. The following tips will hopefully help you get a PBeM/PBP game started and running for a long time.


Before jumping into an online game, however, first consider whether PBeM or PBP is right for you.

How much time do you have to devote to it?

  • A PBeM usually posts a couple times a week, but the posts are longish, usually a page or two compiling the actions of all the players.
  • A well-run PBP should post daily, or more during times of conflict or adventure. These posts will be shorter, but must still deal with all player actions, so there may be many of them.

What form of play do you prefer?

  • If you like a more freeform sort, with less dice rolling, you’d probably enjoy running PBP.
  • A PBeM is usually a true adventure with the quest, traps, dungeons, monsters, and lots of dice rolling.

Both forms of play offer every genre imaginable, from straight D&D of every edition and setting to Star Trek to Harry Potter to Furries. You can run d20, GURPs, Hackmaster, Unisystem, Superheroes, FUDGE, Fuzion, Traveler….

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Where Can You Host Your PBP?

I worked on a massive Birthright PBP a few years ago. It had many boards, each one representing a different country, and the categories representing the different cities in each. It was a great experience and I recommend it to anyone who has the time and energy to devote to it. It is hard work.

You can get a free board from many places:

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Set Up Your Board – General Discussion

For PBP, you set up a number of categories, or groupings of conversations, in your forum. Start by creating a General Discussion category to serve as a bucket for a number of game-related, out-of character, and meta game type of discussions.

Forums in this category could include:

Introduction To Our Game

Here you would give a brief description of the kind of game you are running. Is it D&D, homebrew, or other rules? Is the setting one of your own creation, or are you using an established setting, such as Pern? (And if it is another’s intellectual property, make sure you have permission or you could be required to shut your game down prematurely!)

Rules For Character Creation

These can be as brief or as detailed as your game needs. If the game will be combat intensive, with a fair amount of dice rolling, then make sure you get a complete character sheet with all the information that will become necessary. If your game is more of a freeform sort, you might just want to gather the basics about each PC, such as character name, race, class, morality/ethics, and a brief background story.

Game Mechanics

This doesn’t need to be intricate, particularly if you are using rules from an established system. Let members know what they need, such as Player’s Manuals for a specific gaming system. If it is a homebrew game, you should spell out the rules.

Game Rules

  • Discuss spamming rules (advertising your own game isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you have a place specified and authorized for that).
  • Be firm on what sort of content you are looking for (is it PG13, mature, adult?). For example, if cursing is not allowed, let the players know.
  • You might make a rule about frequency of posts. For example, members who don’t post in 30 days without notifying the administration might be deleted.
  • Specify what acceptable in-character behavior is. For instance, most PBPs do not allow PC killings or power- modding. It is usually not allowed for any PC to dictate another’s actions or to negate someone else’s posts. In other words, PC Jacobi cannot say, “I whip out my daggers, and throwing with deadly aim, I pin Marzden’s coat to the wall.” He can say, “I whip out my daggers, and throwing with deadly aim, attempt to pin Marzden’s coat to the wall.” At this point, the moderator decides if what he is attempting is possible.
  • Inform players they should always read the back posts, lest they take the game in a different direction than it’s currently heading.
  • Inform players that posts should be well-written. Misspelled words, improper grammar, and one sentence posts should be unacceptable.
  • Continuity of writing styles is desirable. The past tense is usual; whichever you choose, make sure everyone sticks to the same tense.
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Set Up Your Board – Create Your Game World/Setting

Next, create a Game World forum category to hold these topics:

A Port Of Entry For Newcomers

This could be the city gates, the proverbial tavern, or anywhere else that would make a good spot for introducing a new game.

Political Forums

If you are building a world, create a category for each kingdom/municipality. Then you can create forums for the different cities in each area.

Regional Forums

If you are building for single city play, create forums consisting of the buildings to be found in your town.

When you are just starting, don’t put up too many forums. Newcomers will see a long line of forums with no activity and go looking for a busier game. Better just to have a few forums filled with posts.

Don’t forget to enter a topic in each forum, giving a full description of the area, land, or building.

Set Up Your Board – Create An Adventure Category

This isn’t necessary to every game, but it can be a good idea if you would like to keep adventure campaigns separate from the world/city life.

  • Use a new forum for each adventure.
  • Offer GM positions to particularly good roleplayers who show an interest in running an adventure.

Set Up Your Board – Create an Administrative Category

This is usually a private forum for Administrators and Moderators only. It can be made invisible to members if you wish.

  • Make a forum where you can archive old posts. Many games just delete them, but I advocate holding on to them. You never know when you might want to look something up. Just move them when they are old, closed, or obsolete.
  • A forum for planning is an excellent idea. New thread ideas, adventure hooks, and just the stuff you dream up at night can be stored here for later use.

Advertise Your Site

Now the hard work begins. You have built it – will they come? Start advertising by putting the URL to your game in your signature on e-mail, in forums, and wherever it’s allowed.

  • Often, you can also add a brief description in your signature, such as “ – the best fantasy game on the net!”
  • Visit sites like and and advertise your site there. Visit your advert regularly. Update it when needed.
  • Join a webring. There are thousands of them; you should be able to find one just right for you.
  • Tell everyone you know! You’d be amazed how well word of mouth really does work.
  • Exchange links with similar sites.

Running Your Site

  1. Unless you are blessed with friends who want to devote long hours to helping, you are on your own at the beginning. You will need to visit your site, at the very least, once a day. At the beginning, I suggest more frequent visits. You don’t want to miss a nibble. Later on, when things are more established, you can cut down on visits, but unless you have help, never leave it alone for more than a day or so.
  2. As you get members registered, reward frequent posters with titles. Every forum that I know of offers titles to be bestowed with a certain amount of posts. For example, 50 posts might be worth the title Novice Adventurer. 500 might be worth Grand Old Sage. These titles can be tailored to fit your campaign.
  3. Eventually, if you are doing a good job, the board will become more than one person can handle. Offer the position of moderator to involved members. Frequently, they feel complimented, and if they are really dedicated to the game, will be happy to jump in and help!
  4. The rapidity of PBPs fading into oblivion is becoming almost a joke in the industry. If you are creative, and have the time and energy to devote to the game, it can truly be rewarding. If you have a demanding real life, get bored easily, or have little patience, a PBP isn’t for you.
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Setting Up A PBeM

A PBeM isn’t a lifelong proposition, as a PBP could possibly be, but do be prepared for it to last for as much as a year. I’ve been playing (off and on) in one that will be 6 years old this month. It has been through different rule sets, different characters, and even different worlds, but still the GM perseveres. One major difference between the two types of games is the amount of time it takes to move in game time. What you can accomplish in a few months in a PBP might take a year in a PBeM. On the other hand, it’s not nearly as demanding, and it is an excellent set-up for a true adventure.

Again, there are many free sites for mail groups, most notably and

Most sites offer similar features, such as a place for files, pictures, polls, links, databases, and member management.

Set Up The Game

Start by entering files. These can be entered as text or uploaded from your computer. Yahoo offers 20 MB of space – if you need more than that, you probably need your own website. The files you enter will be similar to the forums you use in a PBP. You can create folders, to group like- files together.

  1. Game mechanics. Specify whether you are using a published system, and what the players will need. If it is a homebrew game, put your own rules here.
  2. Character Creation. Give specifics on what you want from a character sheet. I also put a blank character sheet in this folder for the players’ convenience.
  3. Posting Rules. In addition to the usual etiquette, set up definite posting rules. Be it once, twice, or five times a week, let your players know, and stick to it. Nothing causes dedicated players to lose interest in a PBeM faster than having to wait around for one person to post actions, especially if they are staring an arch-lich in the face.
  4. Add Photos. You can use this function to upload JPGs or PDFs of maps, pictures of creatures, or anything else you might find useful for your game.
  5. Create Databases. I have made databases of NPCs that my players encounter, places they’ve been, and treasure accumulated. It helps to keep the records somewhere that the players can find it easily.
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Advertise Your PBeM

Once you’ve set up your mail group, it is time to start advertising! Take heart, it’s not nearly as hard as trying to fill a PBP.

Check out these sites for advertising games:

I entered a game advertisement one night and the following night had seven responses. A week later, I had fifteen. In your first PBeM, you really don’t need more than six players. It is advisable, however, to allow lurkers to follow along with the game. Put them on a waiting list, because inevitably you will lose players!

Once all the characters have been submitted and vetted, devise a way to introduce them to the game, just as in a tabletop game. Some GMs use the standard “You meet at a tavern…,” and others introduce the players individually, creating a story for their meeting.

You’ve decided how often posting will be – make sure you post on your days! Players get very cranky if they have to wait. A typical GM post will consist of a general recap of what happened before, a new situation, and any Out of Character (OOC) details necessary. In addition to your regular posts, you will often be called on to answer questions, or simply post more frequently during combat or critical situations. Be flexible!

There will be times when your characters will need privacy from the other players. Often this is dealt with by GM-to-player e-mail away from the group. My solution has been to combine my PBeM with a forum board. On the forum board, each character has a forum which only he can view. In this area, we keep private posts, stats, special information, and XP – basically anything the player doesn’t want anyone else to see.

I’m a huge fan of PBeM. If you get the right combination of players, it can be almost as satisfying as a tabletop game. And for someone who lives in a small retirement community an hour away from any gamers, it’s a blessing!


I’m no expert, but if you’d like to look at how I am setting up a game, you can visit my site:

I have set up a member account in the name: RPGingvisitor with the password: opensesame

Simply log in with that name and password, and you will be able to access all the features.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Fictional Chemicals and Medicines

From K.D.

Thanks for the site. Maybe you already are aware of this one, but here is a nice compendium of fictional elements, isotopes of real elements, and compounds and alloys. This can be handy for ideas in gaming: List of fictional elements, materials, etc.

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Dice Widget For Mac Users

From Isabelle Pepin

On the new Mac OS X feature, Dashboard, they have a widget to help the DM: dice.

Very cool…you have all the dice and you just drag and drop to create the set you want for, let’s say, an NPC or monster. You can even name the set in a field at the left of the set.

If people have a Mac laptop with OS X, it will be much more convenient than actual dice, especially if you’re playing outside on a picnic table or something similar.

More info about the dashboard feature on the Mac:

A dice widget:

A better dice widget:

Have fun!

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Castle Compendium

From François Beausoleil

I bought a book a while ago that has 200+ pages of reference on actual castles through the ages, with 200 illustrations of the castles themselves. It is Castles: Their Construction and History, by Sidney Toy.

Thanks for the great newsletter!

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Custom Gaming Table

From Nate A.

re: Blogging Your Game Sessions – RPT#284

I was catching up on my reading of your e-zine, and something in issue #284 was particularly interesting. The looks at gaming tables and set-ups people use was excellent. It’s great to see ideas others use and find ways to improve the gaming experience. My group also has a unique game table we built and used, so I thought I’d share.

It is half round in design with the players taking the edge of the circle. The DM has his own station that is placed on the long side of the table. The advantage to this setup is that it better focuses all of the players’ attention on the DM, not across the table at the antics of another player.

The table has an upper tier that has a removable piece of plexi and grid, laid flush with the table top. This makes it very easy for all to see and reach the board. A lower tier (about 6″ below the upper) is about 15 inches deep for each player to have room for books, character sheets, dice rolls, and so on, and helps keep things organized and away from the map board.

Each of 5 player stations includes a slot for books, die pits/cup holders, and a small tack board. The DM station includes screenwalls that stand just above the top tier of the table, which fold down to allow for storage beneath the table. It also has the features of the player stations and a clear slot for a quick reference sheet the DM may choose to prepare ahead of time. The 24″ x 36″ battle board is easily written on with wet erase marker and pre-made maps can slide under the plexi. Built flush into the top tier, there are also 2 small bins for storage of minis, markers, dice, and more.

Total cost of this project was about $150. We used melamine (2 full 4’x8′ sheets) for the table surfaces because of its durability and because no finish is required. Simple unfinished 2x4s serve as the legs and structure underneath.

The built table is still lacking some of the details at this point, such as the dice pits and the storage bins, but it still works well for our games. Unfortunately, I do not have photos of the table as it is currently in storage till the group is back from our various schools, and we were never clever enough to take pictures in use. I do have rendered images taken from the 3-D model I built when designing it:

I also have a short demonstration animation which can be found at this link (9.5 MB): Thanks for keeping the e-zine going!