10 PBEM Etiquette Tips For Beginner Players

From Jack Butler

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0145

A Brief Word From Johnn

“Feedback For Johnn” Contest

Prizes–Up for grabs in this contest are a bunch of d20 GM aid software titles! Winners will receive a fully licensed version of one of the following:

  1. RoleplayingMaster  http://www.roleplayingmaster.com
  2. DM’s Familiar  http://www.paladinpgm.com/dmf
  3. Campaign Suite  http://www.multiweave.com/trose/index.php

The publishers have each offered 3 copies as prizes, so there’s a total of 9 prizes up for grabs, which makes for great odds of winning!

Contest Details:

This summer my 82 page eBook, NPC Essentials, was published. So far, it’s receiving rave reviews. The most recent review at RPG.net calls it a “Masters Degree course in NPC creation, development, use and play,” though beginner GMs will find it very useful as well.

I’d like some feedback from you as I’m considering writing another eBook. So:

  1. If you didn’t buy the eBook, why not? i.e. eBook format, didn’t know the book was out, who cares about NPCs, price, etc.
  2. If you did buy the eBook, what did you think? How would you improve the format or content of my next eBook?

It doesn’t matter if your feedback is positive or negative– your email will be entered into the contest without prejudice. My goal is to improve and your comments will be critical to making that happen.

Contest deadline: Saturday, November 2nd. One email entry per subscriber.

To enter the contest, send an email with feedback about why you didn’t buy the eBook or, if you did buy the eBook, what you thought of it and/or how you’d improve my next one.

Send your email to: [email protected]

Thanks! (For more info about the eBook, visit http://www.gmmastery.com )

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Johnn Four
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10 PBEM Etiquette Tips For Beginner Players

Follow these basic rules and, generally, you can’t go wrong.

1. Post

Yes, this is simplistic. So what. Make sure you respond to every move, even if it’s a quick note saying “I don’t really have something to do so I’ll just do research”. There is nothing a PBEM GM hates more than setting up the game, sending out an exciting and gripping move, and then receiving no replies. Your character isn’t going to be center stage all the time, but when he’s not you still need to let the GM know that you are still interested in the game.There will be times when life prevents you from posting.

Maybe you and your family are going away on a trip. Maybe you’re in the hospital having a baby. Maybe you’re flat on your back with pneumonia. If possible, always warn your GM about times you’re going to miss posting. If you can’t warn him, send an note fully explaining why you missed responding to the game as soon as you are able. This is polite, and might save your spot in the game.

2. Write In Third Person, Past Tense

Say “he did”, “she did”, and “it did”. Avoid first person like the plague. Never write your narration with “I did this” and “I did that”. And whatever you do, don’t write “I do this” and “I do that”. Remember, you’re trying to tell a story, not write a diary.The primary reason this is so important is because GMs tend to write their moves in third Person, past tense. When he tries to integrate your responses into his moves, and you’ve been writing in first person present tense, the tense and perspective clash. Making life easy on your GM is a good thing.

3. Use Proper Spelling And Grammar

Regardless of what language you are writing in, choppy paragraphs and badly constructed sentences make for difficult reading. People won’t read your posts, or respond, if they cannot decipher what you write.

4. Avoid Bad Posts

There are several different types of posts to be wary of, each with its own problems:

  1. Non-Game Related Messages
    If you feel you’ve got to say something to the people on the game’s mailing list, as opposed to your character saying something to another character, say it quick, get to the point, and make sure everyone knows it’s an out of character post. Use OOC (“Out of Character”) to indicate such comments. If you get the compulsion to respond to one of these OOCs, go ahead, but respond directly to the player– it’s considered bad form to respond directly to the list.
  2. Rambling Messages That Say Nothing
    These messages usually consist of five miles of unremoved quotes followed by three lines of new text. This is not only impolite, it’s incredibly annoying. It borders on spamming. It’s a good idea to quote the message you are replying to in your new response, but only quote applicable text.
  3. Messages From The Willingly Oblivious
    These messages come about when one player totally ignores something posted by someone else, be it another player or the GM. If you don’t like something that’s been posted, you are NOT allowed to just ignore it and move on… especially if it came from the GM. Feel free to voice your objection to the GM, in a private message.
  4. Super-Hero Syndrome
    Basically a post of this sort involves your character doing things he simply isn’t capable of doing and not responding correctly to his weaknesses. The best example would be a character who should be hobbling around in pain after being wounded, but instead is prancing around like he was Errol Flynn in Captain Blood. This is a serious issue, even in games set in the superhero-genre
  5. Flames
    Now, when I say flames, I don’t just mean two players hurling insults at each other. That’s generally enough to get you booted from most PBEMs out there. I also mean the dirty trick known as the In-Character Flame War. In such a flamefest, two or more players will use their characters to fight each other over problems they are having in real life. You can tell this is going on when two characters who have no reason to be hostile to each other suddenly start fighting. Not good. It screws up the GM’s storylines and annoys the hell out of everyone else.
  6. Assassin Posts
    To put it simply, do not kill, maim, or otherwise destroy another character without the express permission of both the GM and (if it’s a player character you’re aiming to hurt) the other player. It really upsets people when you try to do this, so much so that you are inviting retribution by merely considering it. If you want to seriously hurt a character, remember that the only PC you don’t need permission for is your own.
  7. Plot Changers
    Do not post a message which drastically changes the plotline the game follows. The GM is there for a reason, after all, and it’s his game, not yours. If you have a good idea for a plotline, contact the GM. Maybe he’ll like your idea and run with it. But if he doesn’t, let it go. Don’t try to force him to accept your idea by jamming it into his game on your own.

5. Follow Syntax Conventions

When presenting dialog, use the correct encapsulating characters to help identify how the dialog is being heard by others. It varies from game to game, and GM to GM, but it’s almost certain that there is going to be some accepted rules about dialog conventions. Some commonly used conventions are as follows:”Use quotation marks here,” the speaker said aloud.

*Asterisks are used here,* came a voice over the radio.<<Double angled brackets are an indication of a foreign language being spoken,>> said a voice in perfectly accented Russian.::Typed text, such as that appearing in a book or in a newspaper, should appear in double colons::, the hero read.

(Parentheses are used here) the man thought to himself.

{Squiggly brackets are used here}, came the mysterious telepathic voice.

6. In His Own Game, The GM’s Word Is Law

Most Game Masters are willing to listen to opposing opinions, but never, ever present your opposing opinion to them on the game’s mailing list. And if a GM ever says something along the lines as “my decision stands”, let the issue go. We mean it, let it drop. Continuing to argue after he’s reached a final decision is not a smart thing to do if you intend to continue playing in his game.

On a related note:6a. Don’t Be A Rules Lawyer. Most GM’s hate this. If the GM makes a rules mistake, politely inform him of it out-of-game and hope he doesn’t repeat it. Do not demand that he reverse himself, especially if he already made his final decision.

7. Treat The Game As If It Is A Game

No one is going to come up with a cure for cancer while typing away at a PBEM. And PBEMs don’t promote world peace. They’re just games.

This has three meanings:

  1. Never forget, life doesn’t change just because your character gets reamed.
  2. Your actions can contribute to the group enjoyment or take away from it. It’s up to you whether or not you have fun.
  3. If real life is interfering with your game play, see to your real life first, even if it means dropping out of the game.

8. Be Heard, But Don’t Shout Others Down

If you’re naturally quiet and generally only post the minimum amount to stay in the game, try to post more often…at least enough to be recognized as being around.If you’re a big talker who responds to everything vaguely connected to your character, shut up once in a while and let someone else get a word in edgewise.

9. Avoid Time Crunches

Reply to a new move in a timely fashion. Sure, it’s sometimes impossible, but at least make the effort. It also means avoid spiraling time scales. It is rare that an action CAN and MUST take place at such and such a time and no later. If you can do something later and thereby avoid wedging in an unnecessary action now, you’ll be the GM’s friend for life. The game cannot move forward if everyone is always trying to get the last word in. Don’t do this if you can help it.

10. Always Remember The Most Important Rule

This rule reads: “If You Become A Problem, You Will Almost Certainly Be Removed From The Game”. This means be polite. It’s not that hard. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, occasionally doubt your own infallibility. This has nothing to do with what your character does with the other characters. It involves other real people and whether or not they’re enjoying the game with you in it. Be considerate and polite whenever possible.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Spicing On-The-Fly Adventures

From Omar Lazaro

Improvised adventures can be troublesome for even the most experienced game master. These adventures may lack continuity, clear goals, or proper pacing. With a small amount of spice to occupy the players’ minds, however, the players may not even notice such problems.

As a GM of Dungeons & Dragons I have learned three simple rules that have aided me in my campaign.

Give Them Interesting NPCs

Remember that the PCs are not the only people who make an impact on the world. There are other heroes, villains, scholars, and common people living around. Some of them even more powerful than the PCs. When you describe an NPC, give him some interesting features.Before you describe your next NPC, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Does he have an important physical mark? (Tattoo, obese, greasy hair, skinny, dumb, blind, missing limb, beautiful eyes.)
  • Is he powerful or only a commoner?
  • Is he more powerful than the PCs?
  • What’s his alignment? (Good, Bad or Neutral would be enough.)
  • Does he demonstrate a distinctive mannerism? (Mumbles, whispers, shouts, gesticulates, involuntarily moves an eye.)
  • Does he have special abilities? (Can see past-lives, premonitions, breeds a special lineage of an animal or plant, distills a green beer, knowledge of the region, political power.)
  • Is he wearing special garments? (Fabric, design, color.)

Interesting NPCs are especially important in improvised adventures. If you frequently create your NPCs with the above questions, don’t be surprised if your players find them special enough to involve them in adventures in ways you don’t expect!

Here is an example of a PC encountering a generic NPC.

Player (Knight of Kalas): Is the bartender around?

GM: Yes, behind the counter.

Player: I ask him for ale.

Now here is the same situation with more spice.

Player (Knight of Kalas): Is the bartender around?

GM: Behind the counter a corpulent man is filling a jar with beer. His arms are as huge as his prominent belly, his hands looks filthy, and the rotting teeth in his grin don’t help to improve his appearance. On his right hand, a faded tattoo of the Kalas’ Knighthood refuses to disappear.

Player: Is he an outcast or a former brother?

Your players will remember this NPC and perhaps he will have a special appearance in another adventure. If you make this NPC a regular character, take the time to develop him further. Think about his motivations: what happened in his past to make him choose this life?

Always Listen To The Ideas Of Your Players

Sometimes, when I’m improvising an adventure, I don’t have a clear idea of everything that would or should happen. I have, however, a remedy for all my headaches: my players!Player1: I use “Magic Mirror”. I’ll try to contact the King.

GM: On the silver surface you see the image of the King. He is standing next to Evirae, your hated foe. They smile at each other and Evirae gives the King a ring made of mithril. The image vanishes.

Player1 (out of character): Treachery!

Player2 (out of character): Perhaps Evirae is forcing them to work together.

Player3 (out of character): Also remember that Evirae has shapeshifters at his service.

Player2 (out of character): And the ring?

Now I have several options for the adventure:

  • Treachery: If this is true, why would the king do that? Is there a political reason? Is it religion? Does the king hate one of the PCs?
  • Pressure over him: Of what kind? Family? Economic burden?
  • Shapeshifters: Hmmm? And who else is a shapeshifter? A PC maybe?
  • The Ring: ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL! No, no, no I think I heard that somewhere else. But what about a wedding ring? A magical ring? A personal possession of emotional value?

By allowing the players to create their own conspiracy theories, they created choices for me. I even got to see what story twist the players found most interesting. Decision making on my part like this wouldn’t be possible in most well-planned adventures, but in an improvised game, it’s easy to change the direction of the adventure.

One last piece of advice on the matter of listening to your players’ ideas: Never hesitate. Your players must believe that you already know the plot of the adventure.

Never Restrain The Actions Of Your Players

This last rule is complementary. If you observe the earlier rules, you will find that your players will try to follow paths that you never expected. Don’t be afraid! In my experience, these paths are the most memorable and sometimes even better than the prepared plot. Pursuing their own interests is an important part of allowing your players to develop their characters.Don’t be afraid that the players will permanently derail your campaign. Besides, your players will often return to the main adventure on their own after pursuing their own interests.

If, for some reason, they don’t try to unravel the main mystery there are two things you can do:

  1. Let it be. If they don’t return to the main plot, it is because they don’t care. Move to another thing. Yet, don’t forget that life continues without them. The next time your players find something that is related to the previous adventure, it must reflect the fact that they didn’t care at the time.
  2. Tempt them back. If they don’t care, give them something related to the main plot that calls for their attention. Never force their actions. If you do that they would feel like pawns and all the sense of reality your campaign had will turn to dust. Consider the following examples:Player 1 (in character): We’ll go south!GM: But you have to rescue the princess at the Northern Fortress!Player 2 (out of character): Later. I think the half-orc that rode to the south is a spy.GM (Suffering): You ride to the south for a couple of hours and find a very large and turbulent river. The bridge is down and a totem on the shore reveals that it’s a Wild Magic Zone.Player 1 (out of character): Ok, ok, we’ll go to the Northern Fortress.Here is a different way to handle it:Player 1 (in character): We’ll go south!GM: Why?Player 2 (out of character): I think the half-orc that rode to the south is a spy.GM: You ride to the south for a couple of hours and find the half-orc that you were chasing. An arrow is protruding from his chest. In one of the pockets you find a fragment of cloth, lingerie perhaps. You find a message written in blood and in a secret code.Player 1: I’ll try to decipher the script.GM: It reads, “Bearer of message…Sir Victor altered by magic…Great magic device in fortress…Poisoned River… Knight of Kalas traitors…I can’t hold…more time”
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Co-GMing Tip: Special Effects Person

From Johinsa

re: RPT#144 – 5 Ways To Harness Game Master Assistants

Regarding the tips in issue #144 on GM Assistants, I have another one: the Special Effects Person. They help you use props and things to create the right mood, leaving you free to concentrate on the story and interaction.

My personal favourite is having someone run the sounds. I love having sound effects and background music in a game, but the times you really *want* sounds are generally the important/dramatic/climactic moments, which is exactly when you *don’t* want to say “Hang on a minute, guys, I can’t remember what CD I need.”

Luckily for me, one of my players has volunteered herself as Sound Person. We’ll make up a CD beforehand and I’ll tell her in a general sort of way what we need, without giving away plot points: sad music, fight music, music you’d hear in a bar, sappy music, tribal music, etc. Then she uses her judgement as to when to play it during the game and I don’t have to worry about it. I find this is a huge help.

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Player Metagaming Tip

From Eric A.

One problem I’ve always had in every group I’ve GM’ed has been the player who uses his knowledge of the game to aid his character or group unfairly.

An example: said player has a wizard character but is constantly giving advice to the thief or fighter on what to do, even though his character knows absolutely nil about thievery or fighting, because the player usually plays a thief or fighter. Alternately, he correctly identifies the magic item just by the description given without any research or identifying spells being cast.

My solution to this problem was simple: NPCs. The group tended to travel with at least two NPCs since it was such a small group. The NPCs started to remark upon the character’s almost psychic ability to know things he could not possibly know. When they reached a sizable city, the NPCs told stories to the locals about the character’s powers and soon the group was followed around by tens, then hundreds, of “devotees” of the character. And, of course, these followers got into all kinds of trouble with the player’s character to blame for not being able to control his “followers”.

Eventually, some of the campaign villains took notice of the character’s unusual “powers” and tried to kidnap him (in order to learn his secrets) or assassinate him (to prevent him from spoiling their plans).

When it dawned on the other players that the only reason they were being followed around by hundreds of useless NPCs and were the targets of every assassin and kidnap gang in three kingdoms was because the player wouldn’t stop using his player knowledge (metagame thinking), they confronted him and politely asked him to knock it off. When his powers mysteriously disappeared, his followers did likewise.

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Helping Hack ‘N Slashers Roleplay

From Jason W.

I am DMing a varied group of PCs who range from newbies to hack’n’slashers and I want to ever-so-subtly teach them the joys of a good roleplaying game (mixed in with some good combats, of course). After much thought and hair-pulling I came up with a simple way to entice players to roleplay well without forcing them into it.

Based on previous experience, the key to good roleplaying is to have a good feel for your character. Once you know how your character acts and why s/he acts that way, making decisions becomes natural and instinctive for the player.

So, I wanted my players to have good background information written up but I didn’t want to scare them off by asking them to type up a couple of pages at the beginning. The compromise? I asked for answers to 7 critical questions at character creation. Then, at the end of each session, I hand out optional homework questions to be completed off game time.

Doing the HW is completely optional and it can be turned in any time for full credit (thus letting the players go at their own pace). For answering the questions, they earn Development Points (DPs) that can be exchanged at any time for experience points.

Other benefits of this system I discovered include the ability to adjust the questions on a per character basis as well as base them on answers to previous homework–something that is hard to do with writing up ‘Character Questionnaires’ at creation time.

Also, you can include homework for more OOC stuff that needs to get done. I got a good response when asking my players to bring personalized miniatures and props to the games for homework.

Worked for me at very little cost in time.