View Full Version : Lost in Translation: 'Fixing' PbP D&D

2007-10-17, 10:18 AM
With any transition to a different medium, it is almost always necessary to adopt a piece of work to fit its new container. Books don't always translate well into movies without some editing, but some plays are just better watched than read. D&D -- I think -- is no different. As an aspiring PbP DM, I'd like to know how best to transform the tabletop experience to the message boards. From you, fellow Playgrounders, I'd like four things:
1) Differences between the two media that seem to be a drawback -- These may be major issues that need real fixing, or they may just be something to be aware of.
2) Reasons (1) happens -- This is sometimes obvious, but sometimes needs explaining.
3) Workarounds or fixes to mitigate any wonkiness that comes from (1) and (2) -- Sometimes the best solution is "Just deal with it".
4) How well (3) worked.

Here are some examples from my experiences. I'll add more as people comment.

A. Combat sequences take even more time.
Reasons: If it's not your character's initiative when you log on and check, sometimes it's difficult to post your actions. The next time you do check, the game may have been waiting for a long time for your actions.
Fix 1: Create if-then posts that attempt to cover the most likely possibilities.
Result 1: Long posts are hard to read, which means some information is sometimes lost. But it does usually get the job done.
Fix 2: Players post actions whenever they are on, and if their actions become invalid (due to their target dying, etc), the DM extrapolates what that player would have done.
Result 2: Again, it does speed up combat, but as a DM, I'd rather not control my player's actions, even if I could probably guess accurately what they would do.
Fix 3: Players post their actions in a given round whenever they are on. Initiative is decided by posting order.
Result 3: I've heard of this one, but I have never seen how well it works so I can't really comment.

B. There are prolonged times of game inactivity.
Reasons: With a fairly good variety of time zones and posting habits present, there are bound to be gaps. I find weekends are either the slowest or the busiest times. Major US holidays (as most Playgrounds are in the US) are usually dead days as well.
Fix 1: Recruit players that are on at the same time as the DM.
Result 1: Never tried it so I can't comment.
Fix 2: Just deal with it. Although I'd like the instant gratification in know if my arrow finished off the BBEG, I'm OK with waiting until the next day. And I think most people are pretty tolerant of this difference from tabletop gaming.

C. Each player has a different set of mechanics and fluff available to them.
Reasons: Obviously, not everyone will have the same sources. In a tabletop game, books can easily be shared; the internet does not afford this luxury (at least legally). This means that within the allowed set of rules for a particular campaign, a player without certain resources may not be playing her character to her full potential. For example, in a game where the Completes are allowed, a diplomat without CAdv may not even think to use her Sense Motive skill to assess an opponent's CR or a rogue without CWar may not attempt to eek out some sneak attack damage with a surprise off-hand attack. People who rely on SRD without a PHB may not be aware of Elves' sleeping habits.
Fix 1: Use a rule set that you know is available to everyone.
Result 1: Not a bad fix, but people want to play with the supplements they've purchased. CrystalKeep (http://crystalkeep.com/d20/index.php) helps to broaden what's universally available, but it doesn't present any fluff. And it's still a small subset of all the published mechanics. There's also the extensive homebrewed section here that could provide common ground, but this implies a great deal of time and effort learning a wide swath of fluff and mechanics.

2007-10-17, 10:55 AM
Fix 4: Run combats in realtime over IM software (like MSN) or specialized software for the task, such as OpenRPG.
Result 4: Dunno, haven't tried it yet, but it should work.

Fix 2: Four letters: PDFs.
Result 2: Well, they're not technically all that legal, but hey, 4E is coming soon so who's gonna feel guilty about using them? :smallamused:

2007-10-17, 11:34 AM
Well, I'm not sure how well I can follow your template here, but let's see. I do run a PbP game, and it's a little larger than most that run on these forums, plus I've had a lot of experience with freeform posting, so...

Let's start with a minor problem that's been touched on above.

D. Different players have different levels of activity
Reasons : Pretty obvious, some people have lives that allow them to spend more time online. This means that the student with a lot of computer courses can post FAR more often than the guy who works 10-hour days doing general labor.
Fix1 : Just accept it. Players know, coming into a PbP, that there'll be periods where they'll have to wait on another player. It's a limitation of the medium, which, while unfortunate, is something that just has to be accepted.
Result1 : This is the standard method, and if there's a lot of difference between levels of activity, you can end up having the more active players lose interest. Generally not too big of a problem if the least active poster gets something up every day or two.
Fix2 : Place a specific limit on how long a player has between posting. Try and be reasonable, like once a day every weekday or something, but hold firm to it - miss your deadline, and your character stands there stunned.
Result2 : This is a little harsher than the first fix, and can cause more problems if you're not up front about it right off the bat. Many people get offended if you force their character to do nothing for a round, and if it happens too often, this can brew discontent. Among many random groups, Fix1 is the better option, but with a certain level of 2 mixed in.

Now, I'm going to address some of your other points to the best that I can, here... but I'm going to abandon the template, because honestly, I work better when I treat them as talking points.

A. Combat sequences take even more time.
This is the biggest tie-in to the above point that I made. Combat sequences CAN take a long time, because of the potential if-then statements. There are several solutions to this; Get in contact with everyone in the game via a messaging system and let each person in turn know that it's their turn, this generally works fairly well if you can do so. The if-then statements can work, if a player can handle that, but I find that it's the DM who benefits most from if-thens. Encourage everyone to post all their rolls at once, describing HOW they attack ("I lunge forward at my enemy, attempting to hack into it with a downward slash!"), then give attack rolls, damage rolls, and anything else carried with that attack. When the DM posts, if you hit them with anything other than smacking them in the face with damage, tell them the DC of the saves, and what will happen if they fail ("The wyvern buries its stinger in your stomach, you take 8 damage and need to make a DC 17 fort save against 5 con damage, as the wound feels like it's being eaten away at by powerful acid").

The main thing to remember, in this case, is that when in combat, it's the DMs job to be there ALL THE TIME. They are relying on your presence to post quickly after each of them have put up their actions, because every member of the party wants to know the current situation before they post their actions. That is, you need to be 4x as active as any of your players for combat to run smoothly.

B. There are prolonged times of game inactivity.
There's a couple of ways to avoid this - the first, of course, is to recruit people who will be active at approximately the same time. If you put in your recruiting post "Please post what times you are usually available", then select people whose times roughly match, that'll help smooth things out - the game might be inactive over the weekend, for example, while they are all out doing volunteer work/family time/whatever, but since ALL of them are inactive, it won't affect the game or slow it down.

The other is what I've done, and that is : make an entire forum, and invite as many people as possible. This, of course, is an ENORMOUS undertaking, and I don't recommend it unless you have a lot of time that you can devote to it, but if you can do so, excellent. Have everyone spend some time doing in-town roleplay before you send them off on missions, so you can get a good feel for what times they're available, and then subtly work things in that direction. For example, I have several players on my forum who I know post once a day, only once a day, and that's it. If I put together four people like this, I take care of the inactivity problem, because they're all getting together with people who meet their availability - but this does require more work on the part of you, the DM.

C. Each player has a different set of mechanics and fluff available to them.
Well, first things first - fluff doesn't matter. If you want to be the guy who casts lots of spells because of a demonic pact, be a wizard or sorcerer and fluff it how you like. I can take ANY concept and give it a mechanical representation from core-only material; That's just a matter of imagination, and the DM being flexible enough to allow it.

Mechanics, however, are the harder thing to work with. As you said, some people have access only to the SRD. This is where your knowledge of the rules as a DM comes in; YOU remember that Elves don't sleep as long as others, and YOU remember that they're immune to Sleep spells. When they come up against an encounter, YOU mention in your posts that if anyone has ranks in Sense Motive, they can attempt to get an idea of how tough these opponents are. Really, the problem here can be solved by the DM being a little flexible, and willing to explain to players how they can better optimize their character, if the player wants to hear it. If someone has access only to the SRD, and they make a barbarian who ALWAYS leaps into combat, why wouldn't you tell them about Leap Attack?

This is the hardest thing to overcome, but really, my advice is : don't try to force it. The main thing isn't that everyone be optimized to do 700 damage per attack, that just makes things more annoying for you, as a DM, because now you have to find monsters that can take that hit and not one-shot the party. The main thing is to let the players roleplay, and if you find something in the allowed material that fits with their character's style, you suggest it. "Oh, I see you're playing a TWF rogue who likes to use Sleight of Hand to trick opponents. This book suggests that you can do *this*, just in case you would like to try it yourself!", is perfectly fair. If someone's playing a TWF rogue that DOESN'T have ranks in Sleight of Hand, however, I wouldn't worry about it, because that trick doesn't fit what that player has presented you with, fluffwise.

If you'd like to see how all this works out in practice, feel free to drop by my forums - I have them linked in my signature.