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  #1  
Old Apr 19th, 2020, 12:54 PM
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How Would You Design an RPG System for PbP?

The RPG systems used in PbP aren't designed for PbP. We use designed to be played in-person, with a shared play-space (such as a battle map or theater of the mind), with initiative and action resolution systems that assume the longest real-time delays between rolling a die and knowing the outcome would be a few seconds of checking numbers against a chart. Adapting these systems to electronic forms of play has a history almost as long as the hobby, itself. There are a lot of interesting and impressive innovations made in streamlining TTRPGs for PbP use.

I was thinking about what an RPG specifically designed for PbP would look like. It would need to make good use of the inherent nature of the medium and highlight the strengths of the play-style. It would also need to avoid some of the pit-falls of TTRPG design that don't translate well to PbP.

I figured that a community with thousands of collective person-years of PbP experience would probably have some pretty cool ideas on the topic.

Ideas discussed thus far:
ConceptCategoryDetailsAttribution
Contingent ActionsAction EconomyLimit or eliminate if/then actions that complicate subsequent postsUnko Talok
UGHnitiative!Action EconomyStandard tabletop initiative orders don't work in PbPEveryone?
External ToolsFunctionalityNon-forum tools can enhance the system, but not be requiredUnko Talok, orcbane
Passive ChecksAction EconomyUse of mechanics like 5E's Passive Perception can speed up PbP gameplaytelcontar
XPCharacter TraitsKeeping track of standard XP is not fun in PbPruffdove, Unko Talok, HotsuSama
Best PracticesTechnicalInclude guidance for PbP post construction and folder usageruffdove
Combat ZonesSubsystem MechanicsUse of "Combat Zones" instead of maps/gridsUnko Talok, HotsuSama
Quick Turn-around ActionsPlay MechanicsPlayers/GMs know the TN before rolling. No multi-step actionsInuvash255, HotsuSama, Nasrith
Simplified EnemiesSubsystem MechanicsEnemies run on easier or similar mechanics to charactersInuvash255
Progression ExtremesCharacter TraitsEither little/no character progression or RL-oftenInuvash255
Squad Init/ReactsAction EconomySquad-based actions could present occasional reaction possibilitiesHotsuSama
Many/Strange DicePlay MechanicsRolling any type of amount of dice is easyorcbane
Playstyle?Best PracticesWhat types of stories are best played in PbP?Inuvash255
Narrative FocusSocial ContractPbP lends itself to telling a story, not winning a game, opening up mechanical possibilities. See: Quick Turn-around Actions and Simplified EnemiesNasrith, Wishkamon
Maintain Forward Momentum?Best PracticesImportance of maintaining forward momentum in PbP gamingScimmy, Atalla Wanderer, Scimmy
Player ExpectationsBest PracticesMeet, exceed, or subvert player expectationsAtalla Wanderer
Combat LengthAction EconomyPredetermined # of combat roundsScimmy, Nasrith
Don't!Resistance"designing a system with PbP specifically in mind isn't a good idea"Marshmallow
Field 1Field 2Field 3Field 4


Last edited by orcbane; Apr 25th, 2020 at 10:32 AM.
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 02:12 PM
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I don't think I could give a full run-down of what would be most helpful. I think the question is complicated by all the tools / innovations that have come along that are helpful in this format. Even if they weren't designed for PbP. For instance, I find that Excel is great for maps, and imgur is great for hosting them. But neither was designed with PbP in mind. I've seen other DMs use Google Drawings, etc. Should we assume the use of those tools for what is best for PbP? That has implications for the design, particularly in combat.

I think one thing that really complicates / slows down PbP is having a lot of contingent / reaction possibilities. E.g. "If an enemy hits you, you can immediately expend your reaction to X". It's something that either requires a lot of planning and creative thinking on the part of the player, or assumptions on the part of the DM, or can really slow down the game as the Player and DM sort things out.

Similarly, determining the order that actions are resolved in can be more challenging for PbP. So having some kind of easily resolved and consistent rules for that would be helpful. That's present in most systems, but can often be broken in edge cases. E.g. Legendary actions in DnD5E, or reactions (as mentioned above) in many systems, or complicated combat systems where some creatures/characters can act more than others (e.g. Shadowrun for characters that have very high initiative results, or Mythic Pathfinder where some creatures get to act twice in a round. These things can easily get snagged by a player or DM that's not extremely quick in responding.
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 08:09 PM
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I was thinking along the lines of a system that assumes players will only have access to RPGx, and the tools available to them here. Threads, secret text, dice, embedded images, etc. External utilities could be used to ease/enhance play, but not be a required aspect of the design.

In-turn and inter-turn variables present a PbP problem. Same thing with individual reaction/initiative order. I'd imagine that a PbP-based system would need to make reactive powers be very straight-forward so that if an action triggered it, the GM (or other players) would know that they were triggering it, what dice to roll, and how to apply them. One of the strengths of PbP is the option for inserting explanatory text in a way that doesn't bog down gameplay. Of course, assuming an exhaustive degree of post-reading and comprehension could be a mistake, so such reactive rules would probably need to be a brief and explicitly-stated as possible.

Very good stuff!

What else? What are some other PbP-intrinsic strengths and weaknesses?
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 08:19 PM
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I think defaulting to a Passive Check in most cases also helps.

In 5E, for example, most players are already familiar with Passive Perception, which is 10 + Wisdom bonus (+ Proficiency bonus, if the character is proficient in Perception). But really, almost anything could have a passive score. Passive Athletics. Passive Stealth. Passive Deception.

Soooo, if your player offers up a dice roll on their Skill, all well and good. You take the roll offered. But if they don't offer up a dice roll, you don't just automatically ask for one. Instead, you refer to their passive score for that Skill. If it's good enough to beat the DC you were thinking of, then there's no need to ask them to roll. (Edit: And you could add +5 to the passive score for situations where you think the character would have advantage.)

Only if the passive score of the Skill is not good enough to beat the DC would you hold up play and ask for a roll.

Do this well enough, and players just think you're defaulting to a more narrative style of play.
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Old Apr 20th, 2020, 01:06 AM
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Honestly, I think the answer to your question largely lies in looking at how GMs at RPGX modify the rule sets themselves.

For one, I've never seen an RPGX GM try to keep track of experience points for level advancement. Given the pace, it would take far too long and advancement by GM fiat just lets things transition smoothly. So if I was designing a system for PbP, experience points would be out. GM decides when he's ready for more powerful PCs.

Another thing: simplify initiative. Just let the best roll on each side stand and then have one side go and then the other. It's too cumbersome to wait around for whoever is next in the initiative order to go. Further, the GM only posts 1/round, not "Goblins go, then the PCs, then orcs go."

Also cover some best practices in terms of post construction ad handling threads in a game forum. That would be advice a lot of people could use.

Last edited by ruffdove; Apr 20th, 2020 at 01:07 AM.
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Old Apr 20th, 2020, 07:41 AM
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Fully agree with Ruffdove about initiative. I (and many) do something slightly more complicated, but generally just not having "the party" broken up much by enemy actions is a good thing.

If we're not using outside tools, that means maps are out. Sometimes, it's easy to handle combat and the descriptions of relative positions narratively. But if you're looking for *slightly* more structure in the system, going with the mechanic of Zones from the Fate system could be a great way to get around the lack of maps. It rules out some crunchier tactical combat, but I think that a PbP-optimized game system already does that! Here's an article about adapting Zones to DnD5E.

RE: Experience/Advancement. I mostly agree with ruffdove here. I've found that in the games I've run, tracking experience is much more a chore than anything else in PbP. But I also think that depends on other factors, e.g. how the rest of the system works, what style of campaign is being run, and just GM and Player preferences. But I think that Mutants and Masterminds3E has an advancement system that's pretty well-suited for PbP (not that the whole system is...) It's essentially built-in milestone leveling. But it's also well-suited to how character advancement works in M&M3E.
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Old Apr 21st, 2020, 05:09 PM
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Were I making a PbP focused system, I'd want to feature:

- No initiative at all, if possible. It gums up everything, and creates a divide between normal play and encounter situations. Instead, I think it'd work better to have all effects and damage kind of "go off" at the same time and set the stage for the following round.

- No need for a battlemap, because PbP and battlemaps have never mixed well for me.

- No reactions or interactions. Ideally, no opposed checks.

- Leaning more towards skill checks, where the player/gm knows the outcome as soon as they roll, and knows the difficulty without too much negotiation... all without needing to cross-reference too much.

- Either simplified enemies, that do simple narrative moves like in Dungeon World; or enemies that are built kind of like PCs; but with most of the non-essentials left off.

- Either low/no progression (characters who are handy toolboxes to solve RP problems with) or What might end up being a "level up" a month in real time, but would be like a "level up" an hour at a physical table.extremely rapid progression (so you don't feel stagnant).

Re EXP: I like using EXP, mostly because I really don't like the hand-waveyness of milestones.

Aside: For a while now, I've wanted to make a system where it's like... you can kind of take a level in "anything", where the concept of a "class" was really open ended. It might get a bit gonzo, but that would kind of be the fun of it.

Last edited by Inuvash255; Apr 21st, 2020 at 05:09 PM.
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Old Apr 21st, 2020, 08:41 PM
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I've been curious about this, as I've been dabbling in design myself. My initial thoughts (might add more later):

- initiative works if it's 'squad-based' rather than individual. Something I've been tinkering with myself with a 'sequence' system in one of my alphas but there's probably plenty of other examples out there (ship combat in Stars Without Numbers comes to mind, if you take out the captain's role in setting order of effect)

- reactions can work in this context if they form part of the 'squad' actions, but they need to be kept to a side possibility rather than a main draw card.

- skill checks is good. Definitely no moves that require too many multiple steps or checks.

- XP is fine if it's used as a point buy system - you get points for doing things of significance which can then be invested in skills or general advancement.

- Zones in Fate is a great way to abstract conflict areas while allowing for nuance with ranged/melee combat. Imo it's one of the best possible options, if not top tier.
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Old Apr 21st, 2020, 10:22 PM
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These are all excellent points being made! I think I'm going to update the main post with a summary.

What are some other weaknesses of PbP that could be overcome with PbP-focused design? What about strengths of the PbP format that could be designed toward?

I know one thing that's been kicking around in my head for awhile is the fact that PbP dice aren't in any way limited to polyhedral conventions. For example:
Dice Roll:
1d7 2
Dice Roll:
1d63 40
Dice Roll:
63d7 5, 5, 3, 2, 4, 1, 2, 4, 1, 1, 5, 4, 2, 7, 7, 1, 5, 3, 4, 5, 4, 7, 1, 5, 7, 3, 1, 1, 3, 6, 6, 1, 7, 3, 2, 5, 6, 7, 2, 2, 5, 1, 4, 1, 5, 7, 3, 3, 1, 6, 2, 2, 2, 5, 5, 2, 7, 6, 3, 5, 7, 1, 3 Total = 236


Therefore, a PbP RPG's design isn't limited to the physical limitations of dice. This means that any d(value) can be rolled with ease, and any number of dice can be rolled with equal ease. There seems to be plenty of opportunity for potential "crunch" without it being nearly as cumbersome as it would be at the table.
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Old Apr 21st, 2020, 11:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Inuvash255 View Post
Aside: For a while now, I've wanted to make a system where it's like... you can kind of take a level in "anything", where the concept of a "class" was really open ended. It might get a bit gonzo, but that would kind of be the fun of it.
I've tried this halfway using the Class Feature Exchange (CFE), but what I'm toying around with now is changing the costs from gold to xp, and then trying to figure out the right way to pace awarding xp so that people can grow at a steady pace. My "plan" is to try to map out how much xp it would cost to level through the CFE in PF1e for each class, and see if there's a common range to work with. Pathfinder simply because that's the system I'm the most familiar in.

And then there's the other half of it, since the CFE just covers abilities and not skill points - which are great for PBP, I think - and feats, and all the rest of leveling. I really want to work out building out "classless progression" though, that way people can create truly unique characters. Then again, everyone might just min/max their way to victory. I don't actually know what would happen.

 


Important Note: I'm not claiming credit for this beauty alone. Gath and Scimmy probably put more work into making it happen, they got the math down, I was just the DM crazy enough to run it.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2020, 12:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unko Talok View Post
I've found that in the games I've run, tracking experience is much more a chore than anything else in PbP.
The chore aspect is part of it, but two other factors are more important:

1) Advancement by GM fiat changes how players play. Freed from concern about what will net them XP, they can play truer to the character they created. The story/game dynamic tilts toward story in PbP and eliminating XP facilitates that.

2) It allows the use of published adventure paths. PbP games have no chance of completing most published advenure paths without significantly culling the amount of combat. But if you cull the amount of combat, then PCs won't advance fast enough for the AP using XP. To use the example of my first and to date only GMed game on the site, I'm using the Dead Suns AP for Starfinder. So far, I actually have used all the combats because the early part of the AP's first mod is heavy on investgation and RP (red meat for PbP), but the latter part of the first mod is more conventional with lots of fighting. I will be cutting probably 6 of 9 combat encounters from the module because it would just hopelessly bog down the PbP game. Pick the best (or most narratively necessary) fights and drop the rest to keep your story tight enough for a one-post-per-week format.

Don't get me wrong - I like the game aspect of RPGs and I love playing and running combats in PbP, but because of the round structure, too many combats would quickly overwhelm PbP and get dull I think. It would also make the story take forever and thus increase the incidence of drop outs.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2020, 12:32 PM
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Quote:
And then there's the other half of it, since the CFE just covers abilities and not skill points - which are great for PBP, I think - and feats, and all the rest of leveling. I really want to work out building out "classless progression" though, that way people can create truly unique characters. Then again, everyone might just min/max their way to victory. I don't actually know what would happen.
There are a fair number of classless systems out there. GURPS, Savage Worlds, Mutants and Masterminds, etc. I think that one of the biggest / most common criticisms of them is exactly what you point out. They seem to be easier to break. But breaking the game is common across all systems, so I wouldn't be too worried about that. You might check out those systems to see how the mechanics work with what you're going for.

@ruffdove , I fully agree on the additional advantages of not tracking experience. Alternate ways of handling this are tying experience to quest completion (or degrees of quest completion), however goals are accomplished. But I think that's really just leveling by GM Fiat with extra steps! When designing my own adventures/campaigns, I try to set it up such that the party levels up between chapters. M&M3E recommends that the party receive such-and-such points to spend on their character advancement between chapters/issues. I think it's a good game design overall.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2020, 12:45 PM
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Something I'm also curious about is - what would be the best sort of gameplay for PbP? Obviously, RP is a big part - but what structure would work best for a PbP game? Dungeons like D&D? Heists like Blades in the Dark and Shadowrun?

@orcbane: The dice system is definitely somewhere where PbP has an advantage. You could potentially tune the percentages in a weird and particular way if you wanted. Perhaps even make some kind of narrative dice system like the Fantasy Flight game - but one that works a little better for the dice formatting we have here.

@Atalla Wanderer: Reminds me of other classless games I've played a little, like Shadowrun. I would say that usually, classless systems tend to draw out min/max tendencies in people; unless for some reason a "jack of all trades, master of none" is more advantageous than a character who can do one thing at reality-warping levels.

Last edited by Inuvash255; Apr 22nd, 2020 at 12:47 PM.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2020, 04:57 PM
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On Combat -

One benefit of PbP I see is how willing people are to tell a story, to avoid metagaming, and to play for the sake of the game, not for the sake of the win. That opens up A LOT of options for combat. I have two examples. One is a game I played in 3 or 4 years ago on the sight. On top of maps, the GM gave us all the information we would ever regarding our opponents. Then they said (more eloquently, of course) "You know the rules. Go to town." We as PCs controlled the enemies as well as our characters. We made their rolls and took their moves. We knew when we broke their armor class and when we didn't. It was a little like playing chess against yourself. Ultimately we wanted our players to win, but we also weren't going to let our opponents roll over without a fight. It took a lot of pressure off the GM in combat.

The second example comes from a similar vein. I've recently started playing Gloomhaven with some friends, and all of that combat is player-led. There are guidelines regarding what the enemies will do, the players just have to move them. Streamlined, I think a system like this, where players can and can be trusted to take more ownership over combat, has the ability to significantly streamline the process. It has the added benefit of allowing for more narrative storytelling in combat, one of the places it is easy to lose the PbP's storytelling feel.

Last edited by Nasrith; Apr 23rd, 2020 at 04:57 PM.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2020, 05:02 PM
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Bringing up Gloomhaven is an excellent point. There's an excellent D&D-like game, GM-less too!
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