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View Full Version : [3.5 & 4e] A faster way of running Play-By-Post combat



Saph
2009-04-28, 06:21 AM
Play-By-Post games tend to die. A lot. Sometimes the DM finds he doesn't have enough time to run the game, sometimes the players lose interest, sometimes it's a combination of both. Most often, though, the game just goes slower and slower until it finally sputters out. The slower the game goes, the harder it becomes for players to stay invested, and the less frequently they check the thread.

This is a method I've come up with designed to speed up combat in PbP games. It won't guarantee that the game will hold together, but I think it'll help keep the players interested - and at the very least it means you'll get more gaming in. :)

(Note: All the advice in this post assumes you're playing D&D 3.5 or 4e. However, it also applies to any other game that uses the same mechanics for initiative and combat turns.)

PbP Initiatives and Combat - Individual Method

This is the method I see most groups using, and for a simple reason; it's the same way you play D&D face to face. When combat starts:

1) All players roll initiative and give their results to the DM. DM rolls initiative for each group of monsters. Once all are rolled, determine initiative order.
2) Players and DM post actions in initiative order, highest to lowest.
3) Once everyone's had a turn, return to step 2) and repeat.

This method works great when everyone's sitting around a table. It doesn't work so well in PbP. At a table, if Bob's forgotten that it's his turn, the guy next to him can poke him and say "Hey, Bob, it's your turn." (This takes about 5 seconds.) In PbP, someone has to notice that Bob has forgotten to take his turn and send him a message, then Bob has to notice that he's been sent a message and act on it. (This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 days, or more if you're really unlucky.)

PbP Initiatives and Combat - Group Method

This is my revised approach. When combat starts:

1) Whoever's online rolls initiatives for everyone. Initiative is normally a 'no-choice' roll, so it doesn't matter who does it. The DM makes one roll for all the creatures under his control, taking the average of their initiative modifiers. (E.g. if he has 4 critters with +4 initiative and 2 critters with +1 initiative he makes one roll at +3.) Determine initiative order.
2) All the players who go before the DM take their turn, in whatever order.
3) The DM takes his turn.
4) All the players take their turn, in whatever order.
5) Return to step 3) and repeat.

What's the Difference?

The difference is that the group method is at least twice as fast.

You have to do some math to understand why, so here it is, spoilered.

Setup:

For our test group, we'll take a standard group of 6 people - Alice, Bob, Charlie, Dave, Erica, and Fred the Dungeon Master. Each reply at different speeds.

Alice and Bob check the forums often, and on average reply in about 12 hours. I.e., when it's their turn, on average it'll take them 12 hours to notice, figure out their action, and post. Fred the DM also takes about 12 hours.
Charlie and Dave are slower, and on average reply in about 24 hours.
Erica is a slowcoach, and on average replies in about 48 hours, ie two days. (There's one in every group.)

You might think that this is faster or slower than your typical game; if it is, feel free to cut the numbers in half or double them.
Combat with Individual Initiatives:

The adventurers run across a pair of dreaded Forum Trolls. Combat ensues!
Fred the DM announces a combat and rolls initiative for the Forum Trolls. He gets a 4 and a 14. Time required: 0 days.
Alice, Bob, Charlie, Dave, and Erica roll and post initiatives personally. They get a 20, 10, 1, 18, and 8 respectively. Time required: 2 days.
Fred the DM sees that everyone's rolled initiative and posts initiative order as follows: Alice, Dave, Forum Troll 1, Bob, Erica, Forum Troll 2, Charlie. He tells Alice that it's her turn. Time required: 12 hours.
Alice takes her turn. Time required: 12 hours.
Dave takes his turn. Time required: 1 day.
Fred the DM takes his turn for Forum Troll No. 1. Time required: 12 hours.
Bob takes his turn. Time required: 12 hours.
Erica takes her turn. Time required: 2 days.
Fred the DM takes his turn for Forum Troll No. 2. Time required: 12 hours.
Charlie takes his turn. Time required: 1 day.

The PCs have now completed one combat round. Total time elapsed:

2 days + 12 hours + 12 hours + 1 day + 12 hours + 12 hours + 2 days + 12 hours + 1 day = 8 1/2 days.

Each further combat round will take about 6 days.

Why so slow? Because everyone has to wait for the person in front of them to take their turn before they can do anything. The total elapsed time for the PCs actions is the sum of all the player's reply times.
Combat with Group Initiatives:

The adventurers run across a pair of dreaded Forum Trolls. Combat ensues!
Fred the DM announces a combat and rolls initiative for the Forum Trolls. He gets a 9. He also rolls initiative for Alice, Bob, Charlie, Dave, and Erica, and gets a 20, 10, 1, 18, and 8 respectively. He posts an initiative order as follows: Alice, Dave, Bob, Forum Trolls, Erica, Charlie. He tells Alice that it's her turn. Time required: 0 hours.
Alice, Dave, and Bob take their turns as they come online, posting in whatever order, depending on who shows up first. Time required: 1 day.
Fred the DM takes his turn for both Forum Trolls. Time required: 12 hours.
Erica, Charlie, Alice, Dave, and Bob all take their turns in whatever order, depending on who shows up first. Time required: 2 days.

The PCs have now completed one-and-a-half combat rounds. Total time elapsed:

1 day + 12 hours + 2 days = 3 1/2 days.

Each further combat round will take about 2 1/2 days.

Why so much faster? Because each player is posting as they come online. They only need to wait for the DM. The total elapsed time for the PCs actions is the highest number among the reply times.
Short Version For The Non-Math-Inclined: The group method is much faster because you're only waiting for the slowest person, instead of the total wait times of every person.

Another benefit of this method is that once combat's underway, players don't have to remember the initiative order. They just have to remember if they've gone since the DM's last turn or not.

Possible Problems

The main issue with this method of tracking initiative is that it isn't strictly by the rules. By the group method, players who are online more and post faster will act ahead of players who react more slowly, even if they're techically supposed to have a lower Initiative.

I don't think this is a big issue because:

- The faster players don't actually get any more actions than anyone else; they just get to go first.
- Much of the time in D&D combat, assuming the players are acting as a team, it doesn't matter all that much in which order the players go in. Besides, players can always sort out action order among themselves.
- It speeds up combat by a factor of 2x or 3x. I'm willing to swallow a little inaccuracy for that.

This method also starts to fall apart once you introduce spells like Celerity and other stuff that monkeys around with the initiative order to give PCs multiple actions. However, the normal way of tracking initiative in PbP has almost as much trouble with this stuff too, as PbP deals poorly with abilities that trigger during another player's turn.

Lumping the monsters together into one group and the PCs together into one group also changes group tactics a little, causing the teams to act in unison instead of in a fixed order. However, while this does change the nature of combat slightly, it applies equally to both sides; it doesn't favour either the monsters or the PCs.

Finally, this method means that players don't get to roll their own initiatives. I don't think this is a big deal, but I guess it could be an issue if players really like making initiative rolls for some reason. More seriously, it does cause problems if PCs have special abilities that affect initiative and require player input (e.g. Nerveskitter). This can be dealt with by the player specifying actions in advance ("I'm going to cast Nerveskitter in every battle") or you can just suck it up and spend the extra time waiting for the player.
Conclusion

Doing initiatives in a group rather than individually in order is a much quicker way of running a PbP combat. You sacrifice a very small amount of accuracy, but in exchange your combats should go at least twice as fast. This means more game time, faster combats, and (IMO) more fun. :)

Comments, suggestions?

- Saph

Tempest Fennac
2009-04-28, 06:27 AM
It's an interresting idea, but the problem with everyone posting their actions at the same time is that it could lead to things that they don't want to happen (eg: if a Wizard decided to use Greas on some enemies, they may not be standing together when his/her turn comes round, and the Cleric may need to heal someone hugently less then 1 round into a fight).

Saph
2009-04-28, 06:35 AM
It's an interresting idea, but the problem with everyone posting their actions at the same time is that it could lead to things that they don't want to happen (eg: if a Wizard decided to use Greas on some enemies, they may not be standing together when his/her turn comes round, and the Cleric may need to heal someone hugently less then 1 round into a fight).

Actually, neither of those situations you listed would happen. The PCs don't go at the same time as the monsters; they go at the same time as each other.

So the monsters will still be in the same position when the Wizard's turn comes around, and the only difference with the Cleric will be that he uses his heal before/after the other PC's turn rather than after/before.

- Saph

Tempest Fennac
2009-04-28, 06:38 AM
Sorry for misunderstanding. This idea could be worth trying out (I'll try talking with the players in this (http://mydndgame.com/campaign/203)game about trying this (so far, only 2 of the original players are still in it; 2 vanished, 3 people joined, then 2 people left and another person, who hasn't entered it yet, has just joined).

Saph
2009-04-28, 06:48 AM
Cool, hope it works.

The idea is to reduce wait time - when you check in on your game you don't have to say "I want to act, but I can't because I'm waiting for Erica then Bob then Dave". Instead, you can act, then wait for the slowest person to go, then wait for the DM to go, then act again.

- Saph

kamikasei
2009-04-28, 06:52 AM
Well, the obvious point to make is that you still have to wait on others, not necessarily if their intitiative is ahead of you but if your action depends on their doing something first. Maybe you want to get your ally to move before using a spell so he won't be caught in it. Maybe you need to see if the monster hits him (with an AoO?) before deciding whether he needs healed.

It's a solid idea, but should probably be coupled with some OOC thought on standard tactics and teamwork to ensure things go smoothly. It's not just the ability to go "hey, your turn" that's lost when you go to PbP, but the ability to do basic OOC planning mid-fight (and not just blatant metagaming, but stuff on the order of "I'll fireball the orcs." "Hey, let me get clear!").

Saph
2009-04-28, 06:59 AM
Well, the obvious point to make is that you still have to wait on others, not necessarily if their intitiative is ahead of you but if your action depends on their doing something first.

Yeah, this is true. If your action depends on them acting first, you still have to wait.

But very often your action doesn't depend on them acting first, especially in 4e games where combat is straightforward and mainly comes down to 'pick a power, pick a target'. So you don't wait any more than you would anyway, and have a good chance of waiting less.


It's a solid idea, but should probably be coupled with some OOC thought on standard tactics and teamwork to ensure things go smoothly. It's not just the ability to go "hey, your turn" that's lost when you go to PbP, but the ability to do basic OOC planning mid-fight (and not just blatant metagaming, but stuff on the order of "I'll fireball the orcs." "Hey, let me get clear!").

True enough. If the players are active, they can do the OOC chatter and planning anyway - what this is really designed to help with is the two or three players who only check in every day or two.

- Saph

Oslecamo
2009-04-28, 07:39 AM
I've tried doing something like this both as a player and DM, and here's my input:

1-It indeed helps speed things up, but I advise to shlitly increasing the dificulty of the ecounters. A coordinated party gains a bigger bonus than coordinated monsters, since the monsters normally don't have much on the way of team abilities. When the debuffers get to act first and the rogue is assured a flanking position monsters go down awfully quickly.

2-Get up a time limit, and stick to it. Once the DM posts the monster's action, the party got X days to post their actions, then it's the monster's turns again. I've seen the campaign seriously crawl down again when the party started discussing strategy for the turn too much in OOC.

Jokes
2009-04-28, 08:28 AM
I've recently found editgrid.com. It's an online spreadsheet that you can share with others, and they can make edits to it, all in real time, which I've been testing for PbP maps.

Here's an example (http://www.editgrid.com/user/jokes/Example). It speeds it up because I don't have to worry about hosting maps, taking screenshots etc. Downside is that maps have to have square features and you can't export the map to a jpg to stick in your posts, just post a link.

Edit: As for your suggestions, I like. Id suggest for 4e at least the DM splits up some of the monsters, because you will often have encounters with lots of minions all attacking at once. But that will vary encounter to encounter.

Tengu_temp
2009-04-28, 09:14 AM
Huh, you've described my usual way of running PbP games, Saph - I always use either this or some minor variant.

Saph
2009-04-28, 09:18 PM
Edit: As for your suggestions, I like. Id suggest for 4e at least the DM splits up some of the monsters, because you will often have encounters with lots of minions all attacking at once. But that will vary encounter to encounter.

It's a trade-off between speed and spread-outness. I like the DM making all his moves together, because it means the rest of the party don't have to keep track of the initiative order, and means that the game goes faster if the DM gets delayed for some reason.

It does mean that in number-heavy encounters the party will be taking 10-15 attacks all at once, but I don't think having them all attack at once is all that different from having them attack in two or three groups.

- Saph

DragoonWraith
2009-04-28, 10:31 PM
Yeah, we've been doing this, excepting that the DM has just taken all of the posts and activated them in the appropriate order, instead of first-post-first-go. If the DM is around and someone else isn't, there turn is kind of held in reserve, and everyone else posts "what I'll probably do, assuming [whoever isn't there] does this", and we'll try to give as many options as possible, like "if the Paladin saves against the poison, I'll stab her. Otherwise, I'll stab the Guard," and the DM can just use the appropriate action. We've had a couple of times where it turned out that intervening actions changed what we wanted to do - so when we got back, we just said that. So far, it hasn't been an issue.

Actually, the biggest issue has been planning, rather than the action. In a fight, we usually know what we need to do. Actual decisions that affect the entire group and need everyone's input have been trickier.

Pink
2009-04-28, 11:57 PM
A couple things.

1. If you're this concerned about days being wasted rolling initiative, why not as the DM, you roll initiative yourself? I do this for my games. In fact, I have a thread for rolling in several of my games. Anytime I make a roll for them as a reaction to speed things up it goes in here, whether it's Initiatives, Save, or a skill check to better correspond with their actions. This way the players can all see that I've used the correct mod and since all my games use forum dice rollers, it's still as fair as if they rolled it theirselves.

2. As for monster's attacking all on one Initiative...A little trickier here. It tends to work fine enough in 3.5, however for 4e, well, there are alot of Interruption actions from both players and enemies that need to be accounted for, and while a DM can (or rather should) be able to respond rapidly enough with enemy reactions, when a DM makes one large post that has all of the enemies actions within it, it may very well result in a day or two (or more depending on the game's general posting speed) resolving Interruptions before the next round can properly begin. Overall in 4e I've actually found that for pbp it's necessary for a DM to be very active and able to post reaction posts as often as possible in a game, even if it's not the enemy's turn yet, just to keep things updated.
Overall though by clumping up several groups into one initiative it lowers the strategic value awarded by readying and delaying actions for both players and the opponents. Now this may be an acceptable cost for speed.

3. As for having players go on a first post first go manner...I would disagree with this. While I certainly agree with allowing players to post actions out of turn, I still think that they should be compiled and executed by Initiative. I suppose this comes up mostly to personal opinion for me, but I also think that it's good for the players to have a structured turn order to plan from and be able to expect from.

4. Overall though I think that this method of yours and your mathematical evidence is highly suspect. Different games have different rates of posting, and your math is only an estimate to draw from. The best way to speed up a game and combat is to have players who all acknowledge the same posting level, and have a DM that is willing to take actions for absent players if they haven't met this level.
For my own games it's expected that players post once at day at least. In most of my games I've been lucky enough to have groups that have kept quite close to this rule. If anything It's me that the players are waiting on in a couple of my games. We're usually able to get through 1 round a day normally.

Saph
2009-04-29, 12:15 AM
1. If you're this concerned about days being wasted rolling initiative, why not as the DM, you roll initiative yourself?

That was pretty much what I recommended.


2. As for monster's attacking all on one Initiative...A little trickier here. It tends to work fine enough in 3.5, however for 4e, well, there are alot of Interruption actions from both players and enemies that need to be accounted for.

I don't think the individual method handles this much better, though. The DM still can't pause at every opportunity to wait for a player to use an Interrupt, so no matter what you do, players are going to have to cut in to previous posts.


4. Overall though I think that this method of yours and your mathematical evidence is highly suspect. Different games have different rates of posting, and your math is only an estimate to draw from.

I don't see what grounds you have for claiming that the math is suspect. If you do a strict individual initiative order, then the total time for everyone to take their turns is (A + B + C + D + E). If you do a group initiative with everyone acting as they come online, then the total time for everyone to take their turns is (E), where E is the slowest person.

In the first case, the total wait time is the sum of the five players' wait times. In the second case, the total wait time is the greatest of the five players' wait times. You know the second way's going to be faster, even if you don't know exactly how much faster.

Now, if you're lucky enough to have a group where everyone is consistently online for hours each day and the total wait times for everyone don't top 24 hours, then it's probably not necessary. But in my experience that's pretty rare.

- Saph

Severedevil
2009-04-29, 12:38 AM
Bluewizard ran his campaign that way, and it worked quite well. If you can't conclude a round of combat in a day, it reaaaaaally drags. (Also, characters that didn't get a player post would act as expected. Essential if people are tardy.)

Besides, the characters don't actually wait six seconds to act. They're all acting almost at the same time... so how could you know the full outcome of the previous initiative before you decide what to do?

Ellisande
2009-04-29, 05:03 AM
I don't have any real problems with this--it would seem to speed things up--but why not take it a step to the simpler? Just return to original DnD's system, with one initiative for the party, and another for the monsters. This way, either first-post first-go or some more nuanced order would work fine.

I feel weird posting this, because I really prefer having individual initiatives (in in-person games), but it seems that having one initiative per team would be the simplest and best way to do it in the slower medium of play-by-post.

Severedevil
2009-04-29, 05:21 AM
That would be convenient, although fast response by player shouldn't automatically translate into fast response by character. (Not good roleplaying.)

How would you calculate a team's initiative?

Fishy
2009-04-29, 07:29 AM
We're doing something like this over at the most awesome and long-running game I've had the pleasure of playing, and with only a minor hiccup or two, it works very well.

The one thing I disagree with is the DM rolling initiative for everybody. Yes, it slows the game down, yes, it's inefficient, yes, it's a 'no choice roll'. However, when the DM shouts posts 'Roll Initiative!', it creates a moment of anticipation and dramatic tension. You know something's about to happen, and you have no idea how it's going to turn out. Our DM doesn't even post the battle map until after everyone's rolled, I don't know if that's intentional, but I find it very neat.

More importantly, the 'rolling initiative' post is where you get to jot down one or two quick lines about how your character reacts when they suddenly realize that $&*# just got real. It's a moment to develop your character, or show it off, in just a split second.

Plus... I like rolling dice. They make that neat sound.

Awesomologist
2009-04-29, 11:29 AM
Good topic, however I think slow games is just the nature of the beast when it comes to PbP. I try to promise, as a DM, a decent posting schedule, but sometimes real life gets in the way one night.
For players its also hard to have to wait for one player, and you're right it's usually only one or two that drag the whole game down. But patience is key.

When it comes to 4e games where there are a lot of immediate actions and opportunity actions, its best to have players post in turn. The DM can then let the players be away of any opportunity actions that may be available. Most of the times, as a DM i'll just roll the basic melee attack that player would get when a monster provokes an attack, but I'll also try to check with the player to see if there are any any specific actions he would want (Say if a fighter has Heavy Blade Opportunity, they may want to use a specific at-will attack for that OA that they wouldn't normally use).

In the end, if you find one player is slowing down the game for the rest, just find a polite way of punting that player. Check with them first. A lot of the times they're just busy, for instance a lot of college students have finals these next few weeks. I'm not going to punish players for trying to get good grades. Work with the slow posters and if they're just too darn slow all the time, then feel free to punt and get a more eager PbP player.

Ellisande
2009-04-30, 07:06 AM
How would you calculate a team's initiative?

Back in the Good Old Days, I think you'd either use the best initiative modifier or the Party Caller's initiative modifier.

If you want a bit more complexity, you could average them, but I don't see the point; this is, after all, a simplification that gives up a bit of individual flexibility for a lot of (PbP) time saved.


The one thing I disagree with is the DM rolling initiative for everybody.

I'd agree with you in in-person games. It's fun to roll. It creates tension. It makes a connection to your character. But in PbP games, you don't feel the dice in your hands, and the dramatic pacing isn't nearly the same--the biggest risk is losing it completely by drawing it out and losing players.

Belial_the_Leveler
2009-04-30, 10:00 AM
I've been using this method since I started playing DnD online. In the more than two years I've been using it here, it has worked a LOT better than anything else.

Yakk
2009-04-30, 11:28 AM
The above works. The single clump of monster initiatives has problems (because focus-fire takes down players easier when all monsters act at the same time -- reacting to the other side's actions is far less organic).

One trick to create a more 'typical' result for monster initiative would be to roll 3d20, and take the middle roll.

Another way is to have monsters act over a range, in a sense. Allow some monsters to act 'out of turn' during the players turn, but only a fraction of them, if you happen to check the forum. You'd have to use your judgement for this, but it could make the conflict more organic.

It would also encourage players to post their actions quicker.

Ie, imagine you have 5 monsters. You roll everyone's initiative (and don't post it). You ask for actions from everyone who beat the monster initiative roll.

Then you wait. If within a reasonable length of time, you make a post of a monster acting, even if the players haven't.

After doing 2 of those monster-bumps, you might bump the highest 'after monster' initiative player up to 'before monster' initiative (as in: "fred, you can act before the monsters if you choose").

Similarly, after a player posts, you might have a monster act.

If all of the players are prompt, you can adjudicate what the players did, then have all of the monsters act. Then ask for actions by everyone again (moving the 'end of this turn' with the 'start of next turn'). Or you could have most but not all, and give the 'end of turn' players a bit of time to post their actions before making the last of the monsters act.

The 'temporary bumps' up and down the initiative ladder you throw in are temporary bumps. Keep track of your original initiative result. And mark who has acted on a given round.

Avoid making a given monster act twice 'in a row' (or close). But this is combat -- some chaos is allowed. :)

valadil
2009-04-30, 11:53 AM
If your actions really are dependant on other players you can always set up contingencies.

"I'll attack the shaman if I can get into a flank, if not I'll go for his minion," or "I'll cast CSW on the player with the fewest HP remaining."