Maintaining a sense of danger, and getting your players to post

Captain Kirk fighting the GornIn tabletop RPGs, and computer game RPGs there’s always a risk of your character dying. Players will spend a long time building their character stats, collecting items so the danger of their character death makes them take great care in trying to stay alive.

In play-by-post games, players are in control of the story, and write as if writing interactive fiction. There’s no real risk of a character being killed, unless it’s something you want to happen yourself. Killing other player characters is against the rules (in every play-by-post game I’ve ever seen), so there’s not much chance it will happen.

We all need danger

Danger makes good stories. Nobody wants to read a story about a man walking to the shops to get an ice cream, but if it were a dangerous journey over rivers of hungry crocodiles, past an erupting volcano and past deadly ninja warriors, it suddenly becomes much more interesting.

So there’s a chance that your players might get complacent because they know their characters aren’t really in any danger. Like main characters in a long-running TV show, you know they’re not going to die really, because they’re essential to the show. This doesn’t stop the series writers from putting them in trouble though, and making things extra difficult for the character.

You can’t kill the characters, but you can…

Think about things you can do with your characters. You know they can’t die (unless you can bring them back to life easily), but there are a lot of things you can do to put them in danger.

Lets say you’re the GM of a play-by-post game, and your members are getting a bit bored. Their characters aren’t really in any danger of death, and they know that you won’t kill them. But you can put them in danger.

Write that they’ve all wandered into some sort of death trap, maybe it’s a labyrinth with spiked walls that are coming closer towards them, and they can’t get out. Leave the story there, and hand it over to them. Now the next member to post will have to explain how their characters get out of the trap before they’re squished.

Good stuff, but it doesn’t really prove our point. The other players know that they won’t actually die. And the slow nature of play-by-post games means that they’ll have as long as they want to get out of the trap because the game can’t proceed until they’ve written something. Depending on how quick your game moves this could be days or weeks until they post their part of the story.

Less dangerous danger

So lets think of a slightly less extreme example. In the example above the players escape is crucial for the plot to continue, which means as you’re the GM you’ve lost all power. You can encourage the players to hurry up and post something by mentioning the spiked wall getting closer and closer, but weeks might go by without anyone posting and there’s nothing you can do because you can’t kill them!

So here’s another example. All your characters work for Star Command, and have been told by a top Admiral that they’ll get a promotion and a crate of whiskey each if they help save the miners on the purple planet of Kryterion VII from a planet-killing asteroid. You’ve written the story and left it on a cliffhanger where the asteroid is getting dangerously close to hitting the planet.

Your characters have to act, but it’s not then who are in danger. It’s the miners on the planet. If they don’t act in time (maybe wait a week or so for someone to finish this story) then as the GM you could write an action post explaining that the characters were too slow, and the asteroid hit the planet, killing all miners and they don’t get the promotions or whiskey they were offered. They players might be annoyed, but you’re able to move the story on without killing anyone.

Redshirt being killedKill NPCs

Remember the redshirts in the original series? Every episode a new character would be introduced that would go on an away mission with Kirk and Spock. He might say a few lines, and sometimes they even called him by name. But he only had one purpose in the story, which was to die, and show how deadly the planet was. He’d be the first to be killed by some dangerous plant, and to make all the other characters realise the plants are deadly.

Introduce some NPCs (non player characters) just for the purpose of killing later on, to show how deadly your situation is.

Players can put other members characters in danger too

If you’re just the player of a game, and not a GM then don’t worry you can put other members characters in danger too! Make sure you check with them first just in case you’re not ruining any plans they have for their character but after that, you can write that both your characters have got into some danger, and then hand it over to the other player to get them out of it. It might be some good character building for both of them, and might make their friendship (or hatred of each other!) even stronger.

So those are a few ways I’d suggest adding more danger into your game, I could keep on giving examples all day but I’ll leave the creative part up to you! If you have any other ideas please add them in the comments below.

Published by

David Ball

David is a web developer, and the creator of OngoingWorlds