OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


PbEM? PBM? Sim? PBP? WTF do you call an online text-based-RPG?

Creating and running an online text-based role-playing-game isn’t really that hard. But what I do find very hard is explaining the concept to other people!

It doesn’t help when there are about a hundred names, all meaning the same thing. I’m just not sure what best to describe to call the game that I play, let alone even start to describe how to play.

So lets go over the possible names:

PbEM (Play by E-Mail)
This is the name I use the most. It’s probably also the least descriptive, because the game I run isn’t even played by e-mail, it’s on a Yahoo group. PbEM refers to a continual story where all members cc each other in each email, so that nobody misses a post.

PBM (Play by Mail)
A more broader term which actually pre-dates the internet. This refers to a game that could be played via good old fashioned snail mail. A big example of this game would be chess, where you make a move and then send a letter to your friend via a letter. It’s slow, but novel, and I can’t imagine anyone doing it apart from my Grandad. The term could also apply to internet games too. There’s a wikipedia article on this here

PBP (Play by Post)
According to Wikipedia’s article ( this is very very similar to an online text-based role-playing game. It is “a niche area of the online roleplaying community which caters to both gamers and creative writers.” They’re most likely written in third person format, and the writer often represents a character. This is a broad term that seems to imply that the members are creating collaborative fiction, rather than a game with points or score. The term also doesn’t specify how the game is played, and can mean it is played via email, forum, blog or wiki.

Online Text-Based Role-Playing-Game
This term has a lot more emphasis on the “game” aspect of role playing, and actually a bit more of the “role playing”. It includes TELNET, IRC and MUDS which are all ways of role-playing in “real-time” as part of a chat window, whereas all the above examples refer to writing a post like a short story. There’s a wikipedia article about it here

I think this refers to browser-based games like flash games, and database-driven management games. I don’t really know though, because it’s such a vague name!
SIM – An online text-based role-playing-game which is a “simulation” of life. I have often seen this proceeded by “PbEM” to specify that the PbEM game exists in a parallel universe of some kind.

A game played by using wiki software instead of a forum.
All these terms seem to be as specific or as broad as they need to be. I’ve seen games call themselves one thing, when they’re clearly another. I’m hoping though that specifying clearly what sort of game you have will helps when you get new people to your game wanting to join up, and managing their expectations so that they easily can tell from a short description what sort of game you’re running.

If you can think of more (and can describe them, please add them to the comments!)

  • You forgot MUD or Multi User Dungeon. theres the wiki article. Maybe this is what youre thinking with Play By Web.

    • You’re right, I missed them out. I kind of skipped over them a bit because it’s opening another can of worms. I’m not sure if they deserve to be bundled up with “play-by-web” games, or if it deserves a category all of it’s own. I’ve never been part of a MUD so felt uncomfortable even discussing one. I know it’s a real-time text-based game, in which case is clearly different to a PBEM game anyway and hopefully people won’t get confused.

      I’m quite jealous actually that a MUD had a very definative name, and saying it clearly describes what it is. PBEM games aren’t that easily designated!

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  • I am running a pbem text-based wargame, but I have never referred to it as MUD. The only thing, based on the description given in the previous comment, mine is not real-time. It is purely email driven.

    That is easier to play and moderate, since a person can play it when they are online, which could be time zones away from others in the game. Game is is when you want to be online, since email is anytime.

    I think it works.

    • Sure, it sounds like it’s different to a MUD, and does sound more like a PBEM. You say your game is a wargame, but how is the game played? Is it written like a story, or does it involve dicerolls/stats to see if the rifle shot you’ve fired has hit or missed? Where is your game played? On a Forum or in an email newsgroup?

  • Tim Sireno

    Well, I recently tried explaining what I do online on the BD to a fellow larper at an event this weekend and I used the words “Role playing Storywriting” to try and describe our little collaborative work/efforts. 🙂

    Not sure if I coined a new term there, but it seems to fit the bill.