(My opening sentence in the very first Dimensional Patrol RPG campaign email)
Around 1992 or 1993, my teenage role playing group that started in 1980, finally dissolved. By 1993, my friend Jim and I were in our 20s, and life's pressures and responsibilities finally caught up with us.
He shortly got married and moved away to another city. My other friend Craig no longer wanted to RPG either, and the other 4 guys were long gone as well. I myself had my own responsibilties. Still, I was interested in the hobby, but not at the feverish pitch that I had in the mid-1980s. So I bought the occassional Gurps sourcebook, read it and discussed it with Craig but that was about it RPG wise.
Fast forward five, six years to the Christmas season of 1998. I finished grad school and was working as a professional. After many many years of grueling study, I finally came up for air and - perhaps nostalgicaly - was interested in playing over the internet.
I read an article that year about PBeM RPGs which I found intriguing, called "Running a Successful PBeM Campaign" "Copyright 1996 by Harrigan" and thought about doing an RPG by PBeM (play by email).
My friend Craig did not have a computer and/or email in 1999 if I remember correctly, and my spider sense told me he was not interested, so I don't believe I asked him. I emailed my other friend Jim in late December 1998 a proposal to revive our old WEG Star Wars campaign from 1987-1993 (off and on). To my astonishment, Jim accepted the PBeM proposal. (As an aside, I did a similar gaming proposal to Jim about 10 years later on boardgaming, which he also accepted. I keep underestimating his interest in gaming in general for some reason.)
Harrigan had some good pointers in his article, as his table of contents suggests:
a) What are PBeMs?
b) If You Are New to PBeMs
c) What Works; What Doesn't
d) Choosing a Genre and System
e) Choosing a Format
a) Deciding What to Look For
b) Player Information
c) How To Find Players
d) What To Ask For
e) What To Watch For
f) What To Watch Out For
g) Guest Stars
h) Know Thy Players! And Their Characters!
a) Starting Up
b) Keeping It Rolling
c) Encouraging Player Interaction
d) Plot Hooks
e) Planning and Consistency
f) When Things Go Wrong
g) Turn Lengths
h) Tardy Players
a) Character Development
b) Character Driven Plots
d) Dealing With Problems
a) Why the Web?
b) Putting Your Game On The Web
c) Encouraging Player Involvement
I was a Gurps fanatic since 1986 but reading Harrigan's post made me realize Gurps was not going to work through the drips and drabs of PBeMing. He writes:
c) What Works; What Doesn't
This is pretty straightforward. Since the turns are coming out at *best* a few times a week (and more likely once every week or ten days), it's fairly easy for people to forget exactly what's going on. It's this reason that combat- intensive games don't come off well on the net. Games like GURPS, where a combat round is one second, can take FOREVER to play through email. This is certainly not to say that you shouldn't have combat (god forbid; it seems about 90% of gamers want to kill stuff) or play GURPS on the net (Steve Jackson's game remains my favorite system). Keep the combats short and intense so you'll have the players attention, and things don't get bogged down because 32 more 8hp Deep Ones have just arrived. I try to fit several combat rounds into each written turn, so things move along at a more even pace. Some PBeMs have the players send in responses for each and every combat round, but I prefer to have a "set" of actions a character can perform. I'm getting a little ahead of myself, but this is where knowing the players characters and how they would react in particular situations comes in.
WEG Star Wars on the other hand, is a lot easier mechanics-wise than Gurps. Unlike Gurps for instance, it takes 2 minutes to make a WEG character. Jim was and is a big Star Wars fan, and besides, he never tried Gurps, so WEG it was or nothing.
Anyways, in early January 1999, I found myself back again as a GM after about 6 to 7 years being out of practice. This time, it was not to be face to face, but by email. I had no experience in non-face to face play, but somehow, I wasn't daunted by it. Email per se did not bother me. I was on the internet since I joined Compuserve in October 1993, so the internet email thing was getting old hat by that time.
Old hat in one respect, but still a bit of new ground in other respects. I heard of people playing chess, and saw ads for playing a "Hyborian War" wargame by snail mail, but this was RPGing, which is a lot more dynamic and fluid. We were weren't going to be licking stamps and sending letters to each other like young ladies from finishing school, but instead through quick turnaround emails.
But I didn't have anything to fear. To my surprise, our PBeM RPGing lasted all the way
to November 2006.
We did 3 WEG Star Wars adventures and 2 WEG D6 Dimensional adventures (virtually identical rules). I GMed all but one of them.
You might be asking how did 5 adventures last about 7 to 8 years. Well, for one thing, each of these adventures lasted about a year each surprisingly enough. Then there were moves to another city, getting a job, etc. PBeMs are part-time endeavours, suited for adults, so there are drawbacks not for the impatient types, but there are pluses in PBeMing.. Lots of pluses, namely rich role-playing.
One year per mission is a long, long time and it introduced a new experience for us face-to-face gamers. In the old days, an adventure would be over in two to three sittings and then quickly forgotten once the experience points were divvied up. Now, with thoughtful posts and counterposts, the RPG experience was richer strangely enough, than it would have been face to face. PBeMs emphasize story telling and less about the mechanics. Something neither Jim nor I expected out of it, but were pleased to experience.
As I said, the drawback is the time it takes to experience it, and if you're a munchkin, the agony of waiting to level up. Unlike 2 or three weekends, you only get your experience points a year later at the end of the adventure, so expect sloooooooooooooow character growth.
For WEG Star Wars, we resurrected our 1987-93 "face-to-face" characters: Jim's minor Jedi Knight James Lancer, and my smuggler, Kelly Dukes.
The Dimensional Patrol campaign focused on Jim and his team opening up alternate-Earths for the benefit of Earth-Prime...
For the campaign, Jim rolled up a new character, James Spectre (an old name he liked to use) and I resurrected two NPCs I built for this campaign years earlier for fun, Jim Kelly and Elaine using the Gurps rules.
There were some back and forths with Jim explaining the alternate Earth setting and Dimensional Patrol campaign. Jim and I even did S.O.P.s for the Patrol.
Some further work on my part explaining the interdimensional cartography of what was out there was also need to be done prior to the campaign. I pulled some ideas from Gurps and Fringeworthy, as well as the TV show Sliders. I never settled however on the numbering system (use Earth #s, do it like Stargate "P2X 153" or like Gurps, "Gotha-12") before the campaign ended.
Original Emails to Jim:
The Interdimensional Jump Belt idea I got from a Marvel short story which fired my imagination as a kid in the 1970s.
The main villains of my campaign I lifted off the TV show Sliders.. the Kromaggs.. who conquer and plunder alternate Earths. Excellent villains that I milked for all they were worth.
|Kromagg Dimensional Hopping Ship|
The adventures (all ad libbed) were:
WEG Star Wars - The Collector - about a mad collector who wanted to trap a Jedi Knight (Jim's character) into his permanent collection. This was our first adventure and both Jim and I greatly enjoyed this one.
WEG Star Wars - Crisis - An adventure GMed by Jim for my smuggler Dukes, who finds, like usual, his reputation preceding him in the underworld of the Star Wars universe.
WEG Star Wars- The Argovia Strike - Jim's minor Jedi Knight infiltrates a secret imperial base that is testing a phantom zone device as part of dealing with its prisoner problem.
D6 Dimensions- Declaration of War - Jim's Dimensional Patrol crew on a routine alternate Earth scouting mission are the first to encounter and be taken prisoner by the Kromaggs.
D6 Dimensions - A Fistfull of Droids - Jim's jump belt malfunctions and he finds himself on an uncharted old West alternate Earths with descendents of Alien Greys and Robots who crashed on Earth centuries ago and are oppressed by the people of the 19th Century.
Harrigan's post was light on details on the day to day mechanics of RPGing by PBeM.. Do I number the emails? Does Jim number them back? How much of an rpg scene per email do I type? Do I colour-code some text when I am speaking not in GM-voice? What about the die rolls? This was stuff that Jim and I worked out in short order, with practicality being the guiding principle.
We tried at the very beginning with each of us numbering our posts and replies, but it got confusing, so we developed protocols that worked well for the next 7,8 years. The GM would number all posts and the player just responded and not renumber.
Thus, I would title an email
SW: The Collector - 43 to indicate this is the GM's 43 email on this.
Jim would not renumber it, but just simply respond. The GM would have to keep track of the numbering of the posts and continuity of course.
I found the plain text at the beginning needing some pizzaz, so I started to make and put headers on every post, like these for example. (See the bottom of this post for all surviving PBeM headers)
We didn't bother with some of the gimmicks. I saw this CD-software for instance, on a store shelf and it promised that you can role play over the internet. It was called GRIP and emailed Jim about it.
I bought the software I think for $20, but somehow, it seemed awkward and we never seriously considered it, even with custom templates found, like for WEG Star Wars or Traveller.
At first, I would break the dialog and ask Jim to send me a die roll and then wait for him to send it to me to see what happened and continue the dialog. He would go to a secure website, where they would send me encrypted die results by email so we can both be assured that the roll was above board.
But we found this method too slow, so eventually, Jim would then send me batches of rolls which I would then mix up blindly in an excel spreadsheet and then use them in order.
When I was in GM speak, I would use one font colour and when I was not I would use a different colour and put it in brackets typically to indicate I was talking to Jim and not his character. Jim would usually put his dialog in a different colour.
Mass combat and or an importance of where the character is standing can easily be done by PBeM with a map.
Pictures were routinely put into the dialog to help the player.
Example of a video opening request:
Email RPGing can be very rich indeed, in terms of audio, video, wordsmithing, etc. Jim and I were pleased how it went and it lasted 7 years. Seven years of slow RPGing catered to our adult busy lives in comparison to the 13 years of face to face play (1980 to 1993) that started off intense for the first seven years and then off and on for the other six.
Erratic or slow and steady? That is the question.
All in all, I can say that our PBeM experiment was a success.
25, 26 years was a good run. As I wrote in my PC character retrospective post, when we ended the seven PBeM years.
The Final Header: