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Play-by-Post: DnD / Pathfinder aren't the best options

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One of the things that mystifies me is the prevalence of DnD 5E and Pathfinder games here. From my experience as a PbP GM, I strongly feel that any system that has too much combat is especially bad for play-by-post. Specially, 5E and PF2e are definitely not systems that I would use for this medium. In contrast, any system that emphasizes long and detailed roleplaying and interactions is best suited for PbP. From my own experiences, PbP is second to no other system for rich and immersive RP because participants are essential writing parts of a story. But, PbP really grinds to a glacial pace with any combat. As 5E / Pathfinder combat grows longer as the PCs advance, it is not inconceivable for combat for a mid level group in the Forgotten Realms to last a month or longer. In short, PbP is not suitable for the most popular TTRPGs that people play today unless the players are exceptionally patient. What I don't get is the dearth of RP heavy and combat light games on this site. Can anyone give me some thoughts?


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It's not so much the systems as it is the stories. I've been running a PF game here for years and I think the last die roll was like a year ago.

It's incumbent on the players and GMs to determine how much combat there will be and how much, if any, will be hand waved. Same with skills and such.

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Off the top of my head, here are some reasons I think that D&D 5E and Pathfinder are so prevalent here:

1. They are the two most popular gaming systems*. As the two most popular systems, they have the most games.

2. Rules availability. All of the rules and character options for Pathfinder are available online for free. That isn't the case for some of the more combat-light systems.

3. Comfort level. If you don't feel comfortable GM'ing a system that's more combat-light and RP-heavy, but feel very comfortable GM'ing 5E, you'll probably choose to run a game in 5E.

4. Some people don't want to do heavy RP, they just want to roll dice and fight monsters. If they have a hard time finding a reliable gaming group in person or using a VTT, PbP may be their best - or only - option.

On a personal note, I will add that nothing says that you can't run an RP-heavy, combat-light game using 5E or Pathfinder. While the rules and player-facing options are largely geared towards combat, they can be used for a less combat-heavy adventure. Also, in my mind, the quality of the RP comes down largely to the story being told and the level of RP the players are interested in/capable of, regardless of the system. My first forum RP experience (admittedly almost 2 decades ago) was purely freeform, with no mechanics or die rolling whatsoever. I ultimately don't think the system determines the quality of roleplay, even if some systems better facilitate roleplay.

*While Powered by the Apocalypse/Forged in the Dark can encompass a wide variety of systems that, collectively, could be as popular 5E/Pathfinder, I don't think any individual RPG that uses those systems is as popular as 5E/Pathfinder.

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Same reason why 'zero to hero' mega-campaigns that claim to take PCs from level 1 to 8 or 12 or beyond are popular in PbP, probably the slowest format for playing any RPG, ever. It's the dominant paradigm, and although you are very reasonable to question it, you are, I am afraid, in the minority. And so am I, for that matter :)

There are probably other reasons but, disappointingly, I think this is one of the biggest ones.

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23 hours ago, Phntm888 said:

1. They are the two most popular gaming systems*. As the two most popular systems, they have the most games.

3. Comfort level. If you don't feel comfortable GM'ing a system that's more combat-light and RP-heavy, but feel very comfortable GM'ing 5E, you'll probably choose to run a game in 5E.

These are the obvious answers.

They are the most popular systems around and as such the most likely to get enough applications for the GM to choose their players. There's lots to be said about the advertisement process on Myth-Weavers, but I'm firmly in the camp that believes that a cut list is good for a game. Whenever I see an advertisement only get enough for everyone to be auto-accepted, I just assume the game is going to not make it very long. My experiences on the site don't contradict this notion.

As for comfort level...a GM who's comfortable with the rules is also more likely to interject some of their own. A player comfortable with the rules isn't going to stall in their posting while they good luck up a rule to make sure they can even do the action they want to do. A game on MW doesn't require X amount of rolls per post and that means you can go a very long time without needing to actually interact with some aspects of the mechanics. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I'm always hesitant to do a freeform (or super rules lite) game on MW because most of the people here are strangers and we may not have enough commonalities to make the game a successful vibe.

The mechanics of D&D, PF, and SWN (lumping this in here so that Powderhorn has to put a dollar in the jar) are good ice-breakers for a group of strangers to come together and tell a story. It's effectively a secret Expectation -big E- that certain parameters will be in place for the duration of the campaign. It's that hidden language that links everyone together. If an ad says 'We're doing PF with Mythic classes' there's context in there that tells potential players how to shape their concepts. A zero level funnel gives them another idea of how to proceed with their application.


I think the more direct topic for this forum is just how often people run D&D or PF modules without removing some of the filler combats in the books. The modules are meant for a live session where people will be playing for chunks of time and a combat/plot balance is more important. Even then, if the group is having fun with an imbalance, then who cares? In PbP, balance is only important when there's a noticeably drop in posting rates.

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Look, end of the day, pretty much any system that doesn't have a hard physical component can and does work in PbP. I've been playing Pathfinder 1e around here for ages. I've even ran a semi-successful Lancer campaign, and that sucker is even crunchier and more tactically focused than PF2e! Sure, it takes forever to get through a single combat, but if everyone is up for it, who cares?


THAT SAID - preferences and tastes will always be a major component to what works for you.


Personally, I find crunchier systems to work best in PbP because everything tends to be very laid out. Meanwhile, lighter rulesets, especially those that require a lot more back-n-forth like those of hte PbtA and FitD domains, tend to be rough unless you can quickly and easily hash things out. But that's been my own experience. And my experience is very far from the universal truth.

Play and run whatever you want. There are no right or wrong choices. Nothing is perfect, there will need to be adjustments made regardless of systematic choice, but it's all good regardless. Have fun.

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On 6/25/2024 at 7:16 AM, Phntm888 said:

I think that D&D 5E and Pathfinder are so prevalent here:

It also comes down to money.

Most of us already have one, or both, if these.

Buying into a new system of rules just to create a character for a PbP game that you might not even get picked for can become a drag. Especially after the third or fourth time.

Yes, you do not always need to buy-in. But people are more comfortable with a system they know. There is a tendency to only apply if you already have familiarity with the system. Copyright compliance on the forums do not allow a GM to put up rules for their unfamiliar system.

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1 hour ago, Yamazaki said:

Meanwhile, lighter rulesets, especially those that require a lot more back-n-forth like those of hte PbtA and FitD domains, tend to be rough unless you can quickly and easily hash things out.

That back and forth is definitely an issue. I've run PBP of the old Victory Games James Bond and the chase system is a bidding system, so it can take 2-5 posts just to get to the rolling... and that's per turn.

That's when, as a GM you can go outside the rules. In the above example I would say chase is starting give me 5 rolls and a framework of what you want to accomplish and then write it up based on that. Yes it takes a little creativity out of the players hands, but takes an encounter that would take weeks and make it a few days.

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  • 2 weeks later...

IF you don't want to RP, there are tons of open games continuously being posted on the official DnD and Pathfinder discords that may much better suit your tastes. There are so many online groups and games that it is hard to believe that you will not find at least one that fits your requirements. Moreover, most guys who play online with a VTT care only about tactical combat, stats, rules and rolling dice so you will be with like minded people.

From my experience as a long time PbP GM, PbP's pace and speed is slowed to a glacial pace with any combat, and any game system that revolves around tactical combat like DnD / Pathfinder/ etc. is really poorly suited for PbP. But, there are incredible advantages to PbP. What are they?

Imagine you want to play in a serious and immersive Call of Cthulhu game. If you play with an in person group or play with an online real time group, a lot of banter will be out of character and your vision of the cosmic horror campaign turns into a running Monty Python show. There is nothing wrong with this - gamers want to get together, roll dice, kill monsters and get treasure. Most TTRPG gamers fall into this category, and if you're also like this, you and the typical gamer will have a lot in common.

Now, imagine that you really want to enjoy a serious and immersive Call of Cthulhu game and want to game with a group that values RP, developing interesting characters with distinct personalities and most importantly crafting an amazing engaging story about grappling with the great known. In person, you may be shy or may not have the best "acting" abilities to bring your character to live. However, the written word opens an entire wondrous universe of possibilities for your PC. Because you are only limited by your writing ability (not your physical talents), you can become practically anything.


For example, suppose our friend Bob is a mild mannered middle aged man who works as an IT manager and loves playing TTRPGs in his free time. He is not a natural actor and doesn't have a good voice and is shy in person. Because of his perceived physical limitations, he may feel like he can't really play the incredible characters the way he imagined. Bob dreams of RPing memorable heroes and villains. In the past, Bob even tried to seriously portray dark serious characters. At one game, he wanted to play a Sith Lord for a Star Wars game. In his mind, he imagined being like James Earl Jones but his buddies at the table said he sounded like David Prowse the original actor.

Bob wants to play and really RP a street tough for an exciting new 1920's era CoC campaign. How easy would this be to pull off in an in person or real time online game? It is possible but Bob will balk and just default to safe behavior and just roll dice because no one else wants to RP.

With PbP, however, all of these limitations fall away so our friend Bob can become that character from a fictional 1920's world and do so convincingly through the power of his writing. There are a myriad other examples. Bob, if he wishes, can also vividly and entertainingly portray a professor, a detective, or even a sexy female jazz singer! He is only limited by his writing ability.

Now Bob doesn't consider himself a great writer, but he has read a lot of great sci-fi and fantasy and has a great memory of all the characters and writers he admires. Although at first, Bob's writing is a bit childish by his evaluation, he steadily improves over time. Using what he knows and applying his natural affinity to improve, Bob's writing gets better and better. While Bob felt that there were RP limitations for him at his in person game or at his online game, the PbP medium has allowed him to soar. After time, when you read his posts, you can see Bob's PC alive in full color.

For the GM, moderation is much easier and he is able to maintain a gripping atmosphere that is genuine to a fantastic Call of Cthulhu campaign. Because of the discipline imposed by keeping the main thread In Character (IC), the main story can flow with a strong narrative force that is hard to replicate in other media. With a bit of effort, discipline and consistency, the main game thread will actually read and feel like a Lovecraft-esque story over time.

Gamers are free to play PbP however they like. If you want to play in a PbP game with a lot of tactical combat and no RP, that is your choice. My contention is that there are better options than PbP if that is the case. Using PbP for a tactical combat oriented game like DnD / Pathfinder is akin to using 5.25" floppy discs in this day and age. If you want to play DnD / Pathfinder, are mainly interested in tactical combat and don't care for RP, you will have a much more rewarding experience with an online game using a VTT and Discord.

If, on the other hand, you want to experience great RP, deeply develop a character and help craft a wondrous fantasy narrative, then there are few game media better for you than playing a RP heavy and combat light game via PbP.




Edited by GM Spiral
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On 6/26/2024 at 7:26 AM, Michael Silverbane said:

I've found the opposite, that it is quite easy to keep players engaged and posting during combat, but that it grinds to a halt as soon as combat ends.


I may be another minority here as I have had so many D&D games dissipate during a combat. Either a player has to be skipped because they are the current initiative, or the GM has to retcon an action because someone acted out of turn, or the the players are waiting for a response to a rules question from the GM before they can post. And I get it, if everyone is dialed in, the combat and the posting can be quick, but one slow combat can kill an entire campaign.

On the flip-side, as a GM, what happens if you make really tight rules about posting and then the majority of your players start taking "too long" to make a post, do you TPK and start over? Or do you loosen those rules and watch as the posting rate in your game slows to a trickle?

For my money and time, there is no better way to play PbP than with a narrative driven/rules-lite system or even freeform. To drive home this point, I have great memories of the entire games in my freeform games. In D&D (and other tactical rules-heavy) PbP games, I have very memorable characters that rarely (actually, perhaps never?) see the end of the campaign.

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On 6/25/2024 at 4:18 AM, GM Spiral said:

Can anyone give me some thoughts?

You asked for thoughts there are so many D&D/PF games on the site, and people have given their thoughts on that. Your second post reads more like you want a debate, which I am not interested in.

I have one more thought on why there is a lack of RP-heavy games: Writing is hard, and a lot of people will get intimidated by someone who is clearly better at it than they are. Bob may have chosen to stick with it and have his writing get better, but not everyone will. They'll just post less often, drop the game, or avoid RP-heavy games/systems entirely. They definitely won't run one.

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I've played rules-lite systems in PBP and rules-heavy systems in PBP. Everything from Kids on Bikes to Lancer. My primary game these days is Pathfinder 2e and... I'm sorry, the original observations just feel silly to me and could be solved with a few tweaks to the games in question and then having good communication skills and laying out expectations clearly.

All it takes is three relatively minor modifications to standard gaming to make PF2e (and similar somewhat tactical d20 systems) really work for PBP. The first is implement block initiative, the second is provide the enemy's basic defenses as something the players get to know for free, the third is use a discord for quick conversations and some record keeping. This allows the PCs to take actions in combat in any order when it is the party's turn, reduces the amount of time they need to reference the GM for successes or failures and even lets them rolls saves for the enemies as needed, and provides a method of snappy conversation between players and the GM. The games I'm currently in and the one I'm running averaged two full turns a week during combat with something like six players.

It really seems like the problem is that a fair number of random players on any PBP site are not going to be terribly engaged. That's just the nature of the beast. I managed to luck into a group of good players who are largely invested in each other's characters and put in the effort to engage both in combat and out of combat. We regularly start up side threads just to have opportunities to have our characters interact without bogging down the main thread.

This really, really just feels like a repackaged Stormwind Fallacy.

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Across the last 15 years of pbp, I've found any system that relies on dice, regardless of what's on the dice, works in pbp if the game has dedicated players and a dedicated GM (or facilitator if it's a GM-less system). Certain things have to be adapted for. Yes, combat slows things down. That's true for 5e, for PbtA, for FATE, for Cypher, and for GURPS. Combat is an inherent part of many systems, and very few combats go seamlessly, instead requiring adaption and remixing.

I've found systemless RP similarly gets bogged down in combat, and that's not a problem of system or dice, that's merely a problem of interest and segmenting your posts to let other people shine. Collaboration requires us to carefully adapt our actions, expectations, and rules of engagement. That's true on forums, on chats, and in emails, which I have fortunately very limited experience with. I imagine play-by-mail was similar in make and model.

Now, you can have preferences about what systems you like to run. People often do. I've had the most success with PF, 5e, and similar systems, but that's me running them. I'd love for a long-lasting story-focused PbtA, but I haven't run that yet. I might even do Fabula Ultima. I won't do GURPS because I hate the system regardless of edition: but that's my preference. It is not a reflection of how GURPS works for pbp.

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I'm also trying to figure out the purpose of this particular topic. Why are you suggesting people move away from the site -that's been around for a long time- and take their games to the linked discord channels? There's been hundreds (thousands?) of games on the site that have had various levels of success using all kinds of systems. Since d20 systems are the most popular, they do tend to have the most games posted...which in turn means there's a larger pool of games that fail. But that doesn't mean that all d20 games on the site fail.

In baseball, the first week of the season there are hitters that have amazing 1.00 batting averages and there are players with 0.00 averages. Professional baseball players with 0.00 averages, can you believe it?? They should be cut from the team already! Bring in the next guy since he got a hit on his first At-bat. He's the All-Star. But the real batting champ is crowned at the end of the year when he's proven that he can have the best batting average while also coming to the plate 3-5 times a game, all season.

If you're not interested in using the d20 systems, then don't apply to those games. It's a pretty simple solution.

If what you're trying to do is convince people to branch out to other systems, then you're going about it the wrong way. Instead of punching down on one system you should be lifting up another one. The mention of CoC is fine, but the whole post still reads like a holier-than-D&D rant that doesn't sell CoC nearly as well as the previously mentioned neg on d20 systems.

Edited by Basil_Bottletop (see edit history)
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