OngoingWorlds blog

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

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TV series & films that would make great PBEM games

There are many PBEM games around, many set in their own fantasy worlds where the GM has done their own worldbuilding to create a world for their game, but there are many films and TV series which have already done the worldbuilding for you and provide a great setting for your PBEM game.

Star Wars

Star WarsGeorge Lucas has created a diverse fantasy world with spaceships and limitless types of aliens. It is popularly extended through many films, books and games. Creating a new scenario within this world would be easy, and because if it’s popularity you will have a large audience who are already familiar with the world.

Settings for this game could be a planet, a spaceship, or a group of people travelling the galaxy. There are also multiple time frames you can choose from when creating your game.

Star Trek

Starship EnterpriseThis is a rich science fiction universe described in all of the Star Trek series’. Each spinoff series has focussed on exploration so there are many locations already described, and it is not too hard to invent many more for new adventures.

The classic way to create a Star Trek PBEM is to think up a name for your ship, set up a goal (usually exploration of new alien worlds) and populate your ship with members as your crew. Because of Star Trek’s popularity, you will have a large audience already familiar with the world and technology within.

The TV series’ episodic format can be easily converted into a PBEM format – discover a planet, perform a mission, then leave to planet and go onto the next adventure. It can be tough for a GM to keep coming up with new worldbuilding ideas for new planets however.

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What I look for in a PBEM website

I’m a relatively lazy person and I think everything should be easy. I’m a fan of Steve Krugs book titled “Don’t make me think”, about how websites should be so usable that the user should just be able to use a website without even thinking too hard.

Confusing navigation should be avoided

Confusing navigation should be avoided

When I first visit a webpage I think it should communicate a lot of information straight away. As a web designer/developer I have to think about this problem daily. Creating a website without enough relevant content on the homepage will lead to a high percentage of your users navigating away instantly. They will only stay if they are “hooked” by the information and navigation items you provide.

A website should allow you to complete certain tasks that you want to do. For website about a PBEM site, I want to perform these tasks:

  • Find out how this game is played
  • Find out if the game is still running
  • Find out how to join this game
  • Find out how to contact the GM
  • See the game’s posting archive

I think these are important for the following reasons:

Find out how this game is played

There are many types of text-based online role playing games, and these can be played in many different ways. Either by email, forum, or real-time chat. I want to know which type this game is. I don’t need a lengthy user guide explaining in great detail how to play, but I do need to know the basics.

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Nobody cares about the Captain

This article is about trying to avoid waffling in your *Action* posts, and cut to the chase.

I’ve seen this a few times in Sci-fi PBEMs, especially Star Trek ones, but of course it could exist in any. GM’s write an *Action* post which is really heavy with dialogue from the Captain. Maybe the Captain is talking with his First Officer, or with an Admiral, or a diplomat from an alien colony.

What happens is that the entire post sets up the scenario where other players can get involved. So for example the Captain could argue with his First Officer and make a bad choice that leads the crew into a dangerous situation, or with the Admiral he is ordered to take his ship and check out some unexplained phenomenon, or talks with the alien diplomat break down and they end up attacking the spaceship.

All these scenarios are very common in an *Action* post. Now you might be looking at the title of this post and wondering what I’m getting to. You might be thinking that I’m being overly harsh on posts that have too much dialogue with the Captain, and I’m about to say that he’s not important, and that only the players are important.

Captain Picard

You could write a convoluted reason for why Captain Picard is in a bad mood to explain why he gives an irrational order, but this is a lot of reading for your players. Be concise in your *Action* post and focus on what your players need to know. Explain in a separate post all about the Captain's feelings

What I’m saying isn’t that. Also I’m not saying that giving too much explanation is a bad thing either. It is actually very sensible and worthwhile to show the reasons behind why things happen in your game. Without this, the story could be too rushed, and you end up starting a story with no explanation of why anything is happening, only that it DOES. Your players might start to disrespect you for not following the laws of common sense, or start to follow your lead of not bothering to write an interesting story. If you don’t, why should they?

So what I am saying is that you shouldn’t get too carried away when creating your *Action* posts. The Captain is the leader of your crew, and therefore he is a great driving force for your story. But, it’s very easy to get carried away when using him to go into a lot of unnecessary dialogue, with the idea of setting up a story which isn’t that complicated.

For example if the Captain is talking to the First Officer, he might invite the First officer into his office, sit down, offer a tea or coffee, have a little chat about life and “how’s the kids/wife/cat?” before getting to the important bit that sets up the story. If the Captain is talking to the Admiral, he might be friendly at first, then get awkward when the Admiral starts telling him what to do, and argues back unnecessarily. If talking to the alien diplomat this conversation could go on for ages talking about their political situation, racism, the alien’s right to defend themselves, etc before getting to the important bit of the story. You don’t have to show every single little decision that the Captain makes.

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Snipping in a PBEM game

Often in a PBEM game you’re going to have lots of story threads going off all at the same time. This is okay, soap operas and TV programmes have several stories running alongside each other anyway, and as Humans we’re perfectly capable of remembering what’s happening in each story.

 

Jack Bauer in 24 - they recap what's happened at the start of the episode

Jack Bauer in 24 - they recap what's happened at the start of the episode

 

In a TV show, there is normally only two stories, an A-Story and a B-Story. Soaps can have more as the scenes are often shorter. However, in a PBEM game, depending on the amount of players you have, there could be loads of stories all running separately. Often it’s really easy to loose track of what’s happened in a story, so it’s really handy to have a short summary at the start of the post, just like in the TV series 24 when they spend the first 5 minutes showing what’s happened so far.

So in a PBEM game you use what is called a <snip>. This allows you to insert the last few lines or paragraph from your previous post. If you left your last post on a cliffhanger then this is especially handy, or other players might have to go and find your older post to see what the hell is going on.
The idea is that you put the word <snip> before the paragraph, and <end snip> underneath.

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Design Brief for OngoingWorlds

I’ve been working on the OngoingWorlds website quite a bit lately, I’ve been focussing on the functionality of each page first, but sooner or later I’ll need to apply a design to the site so that it looks like a proper website. I’ve already created some mock-ups to show the bare-bones layout of what certain key pages will look like. This shows where important things will go on each page, but obviously doesn’t show the final colours or look-and-feel of the website. This is about as far as I feel comfortable going with the design, as I’m not the world’s best designer, and would rather recruit the help of someone who does it every day for a living. I’m lucky enough to have the luxury of knowing a good designer so have employed his help.

 

Mockup of the OngoingWorlds page: "Game Homepage"

Mockup of the OngoingWorlds page: "Game Homepage"

 

However, with a project that’s this close to my heart, it’s very hard to describe to the designer what I want the site to look like. The mock-ups are essential to demonstrate the layout, this will allow him to see where important page content needs to go. However, describing what type of look-and-feel I have is not as black and white.

So what I have done is created a “design brief” which outlines important things I need to communicate to the designer. This will include the purpose of this site, what it needs to achieve so that certain areas could be designed to be more “eye-catching” than others, and also it includes the audience of the site, so that the designer knows who to design for.

Here is the design brief of Ongoing Worlds website below:

Purpose of the site
To allow users to setup a text-based role-playing-game, where they can invite members to contribute to an ongoing story. Visitors to the site should find it easy to see examples of existing games, and view the game’s posts. Users should be able to create a new game very easily, or join an existing game.

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18 ways to spot a Mary-Sue in your PBEM

So you’ve got a PBEM game, and you’re recruiting for new members. You accept members based on the character biographies they’ve provided to you, but how do you know that these players are going to be any good in your game? Well, you can’t really tell until you see them post.

A Mary-Sue character is a stereotype of RPG games

A Mary-Sue character is a stereotype of RPG games and fanfiction

There is a stereotype character called a Mary-Sue. This is normally a female character who is so perfect that she’s annoying. She resembles all the many character stereotypes all rolled into one. A Mary-sue character is normally a player’s first character, when they don’t realise that they are creating such a stereotype.

Mary-Sue’s aren’t always female, as male characters can have all of these stereotypes too, as well as some more of their own. A male Mary-Sue is sometimes called a Marty-Stu.

The name Mary-Sue comes from a short Star Trek fanfiction story, written as a parody of fanfiction.

Look at the points below to see if you have any Mary-Sue stereotypes in your own game. Maybe your character is one and you didn’t even realise! Take each of these points with a pinch of salt, some of the points mentioned actually make good character traits on their own. But a typical Mary-Sue will use them all.

Character’s Name

1. The character is named after the player, this could include their nickname, first name, last name or all of their names.

2. The character’s name is a noun or word that isn’t normally a name. (Angel, Moon, Chaos etc) This could also be a name of historical/mythical significance that doesn’t relate in any way to the character or the setting of your game.

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Creating a sitemap for Ongoing Worlds website

I created a sitemap of all the pages I’ll need inside the Ongoingworlds PBEM website. I used a piece of free software called MindMap which was very easy to use.

I’ve listed the main pages, obviously there will be more than this, as each form page will need a conversion page to say “thankyou” or to highlight what needs to be done next.

I’ve numbered each page for my own reference, this relates to the mockups I’ve done. Some in Balsamiq like I’ve posted here before, but some just exist as a very rough sketch in my notebook. So far everything is in the layout-only phase, and doesn’t reflect the actual web design, I’m hoping the actual design will just slot easily over the top and not affect the layout of items I’m placing on the pages.

Sitemap of the Ongoing Worlds website

Sitemap of the Ongoing Worlds website

I find that working like this gives me a focus and a goal. I could go on endlessly tweaking this website and never making it live. But at least seeing all these pages is like a list of things I need to get done. Once I’m happy with these pages I’ll make the site live, and think about adding any additional functionality as a phase 2 thing.

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Website Mockups for Ongoingworlds.com

I’ve created and attached some wireframe images (using Balsamiq) that show what I want and where, so that the designer knows what to design. It looks basic at the moment (as it’s a wireframe!)

Homepage

Muck-up of the homepage

Mock-up of the homepage

The first (and one I’m least happy with) is the Homepage. A lot of designers start with the homepage first, mainly because clients always want to see that first. I actually think the homepage is the least important design, as it’s the one you’ll be looking at the least. Maybe your first visit to the site it exists to promote the site and encourage you to go further. But after that, it exists as nothing more than a landing page with a username and password box to login.

Anyway I’ve tried to show what the site is for without too much explanation, hoping that people will work it out from seeing examples of other games. Something I hate about lots of RPG or PbeM sites is that they don’t really tell you what’s what on the homepage, you have to go into a separate section to see the game posts.

I want to show on the homepage the most recently updated games, so that people don’t think it’s one of those RPG sites that died in 1998 and has been static ever since.

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5 tips for someone joining a PbEM game for the first time

Joining a PBeM game for the first time can be quite confusing, here are a few tips for the newbie.

  1. Get an idea of how frequently you’ll be expected to post. Some games are strict on this, and will remove you from the game if you don’t post after two weeks, and some will be more relaxed and allow you to post as much as you want. Don’t join a game where you’re expected to post more than you can handle.
  2. Take notice of the GM’s posts. In every game there will be someone who takes responsibility for the storyline (this is most likely the GM), otherwise there will be no story, leaving your character with nothing to do. Make sure you take notice of what the GM is posting, as it will contain important story that relates directly to your character.
  3. Take notice of everyone else’s posts. Other members in the game are contributing to the story too, if you post something that conflicts with theirs your game will loose continuity and you might offend other members.
  4. Leave a cliffhanger at the end of your post. This doesn’t have to always be a dramatic life-or-death cliffhanger, but it’s best to finish your post at a point where someone else can take it further.
  5. Communicate with other players. Email other players with ideas about what you could do next, and see if they mind you using their character in your post. Most people will love other people using their characters, but some are protective about their characters and want the courtesy of you asking first. This prevents surprises and other players getting annoyed if you’re stepping in and changing the story from what they had planned.

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Poll – PbEM or PBeM?

Lately I’ve noticed that I’ve been writing “PbEM” instead of “PBeM”. Making the “b” lower case because it’s the insignificant word “by”. But I’ve noticed that when other people use the acronym, they make the “e” small, for “e-mail”. I’m not quite sure when this convention came about, and why certain letters deserve to be uppercase more than others. But I wondered enough about it that I wanted to create a poll to see which was the most popular.