A few weeks ago I had become curious about “play-by-post” RPGs. For those of you that don’t know, play-by-post is a way of playing an RPG where everything: narration, resolutions, descriptions, player actions, etc. is conveyed via written messages. I decided that rather than looking up how they typically work and what kinds of accommodations are necessary to play this way, I would just try it! So here are my experiences with playing D&D via text.
I invited a group of friends into a Facebook group chat and hit them with a few important points (paraphrased):
- No messages in the chat outside of game actions.
- Create a character concept (not actually rolled up on paper, just a concept).
- Don’t worry about the specifics of stats/abilities/skills, that will all come as we go.
- This will be really slow, be patient.
From there, I hit them with my initial hook followed by simple instructions…describe yourself!
𝘈𝘧𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘢 𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘨 𝘥𝘢𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘱𝘶𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘥 𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘯𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵, 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘥 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘣𝘰𝘥𝘺 𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘦𝘹𝘩𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘥. 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘮𝘢𝘥𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘸𝘢𝘺 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦𝘥 𝘢𝘭𝘮𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘭𝘺 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘭𝘪𝘱𝘱𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘢 𝘥𝘦𝘦𝘱 𝘴𝘭𝘶𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳. 𝘚𝘭𝘦𝘦𝘱 𝘤𝘢𝘮𝘦 𝘰𝘯 𝘴𝘰 𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘤𝘬𝘭𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘥𝘪𝘥𝘯'𝘵 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦 𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘶𝘥𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘦𝘮𝘦𝘳𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘭𝘺 𝘧𝘭𝘰𝘸𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘸𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳, 𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘥𝘰𝘸 𝘰𝘧 𝘢𝘯 𝘪𝘯𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘤𝘩 𝘤𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘯𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘣𝘺. 𝘈𝘴 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘴𝘭𝘦𝘦𝘱 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘰𝘥𝘥 𝘪𝘮𝘢𝘨𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘥𝘳𝘪𝘧𝘵 𝘪𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘥. 𝘐𝘵'𝘴 𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘴𝘱 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮, 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘮 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘧𝘭𝘰𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘭𝘢𝘻𝘪𝘭𝘺 𝘣𝘺. 𝘈𝘴 𝘴𝘰𝘰𝘯 𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘱𝘢𝘴𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘨𝘰𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘯 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘥𝘢𝘳𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴, 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘪𝘯𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘦. 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘰𝘱𝘦𝘯 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘦𝘺𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘥 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘧 𝘴𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘪𝘯 𝘢 𝘭𝘢𝘳𝘨𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘰𝘮. 𝘏𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘢𝘸𝘰𝘬𝘦𝘯, 𝘰𝘳 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘮? 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘶𝘯𝘤𝘦𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘯. 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘰𝘮 𝘪𝘴 𝘢𝘥𝘰𝘳𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘷𝘺, 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘬𝘭𝘺 𝘤𝘶𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘸𝘰𝘰𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘧𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘪𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦. 𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘯𝘰 𝘵𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦𝘴, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘺 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘴, 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘪𝘳𝘴, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘭𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘦𝘴. 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘰𝘮 𝘪𝘵𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘧 𝘭𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘺𝘦𝘳 𝘰𝘧 𝘢 𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘰𝘳 𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘴𝘦, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘥𝘰𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘦𝘢𝘳 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘢 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘯𝘵 𝘥𝘰𝘰𝘳. 𝘞𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘦𝘹𝘱𝘦𝘤𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘢𝘪𝘯 𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦, 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘴𝘦𝘦 𝘰𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘢 𝘭𝘢𝘳𝘨𝘦 𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘵. 𝘈𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘰𝘮 𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘸𝘰𝘰𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘳𝘤𝘢𝘴𝘦, 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘢 𝘣𝘦𝘢𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘧𝘶𝘭 𝘣𝘢𝘯𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘢 𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘸𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘰𝘯 𝘦𝘢𝘤𝘩 𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘱. 𝘏𝘪𝘨𝘩 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘷𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘢 𝘥𝘪𝘮𝘭𝘺 𝘭𝘪𝘵 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘳, 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘤𝘳𝘺𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘭𝘴 𝘳𝘦𝘧𝘳𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘥𝘢𝘻𝘻𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘯𝘴 𝘢𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘴. 𝘈𝘴 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘦𝘺𝘦𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘥𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘯𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴 𝘰𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘴 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘴𝘶𝘥𝘥𝘦𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘢𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘰𝘮 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘺𝘰𝘶. 𝘌𝘢𝘤𝘩 𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘦 𝘢𝘸𝘢𝘬𝘦𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘢 𝘥𝘦𝘦𝘱 𝘴𝘭𝘶𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳. [describe the physical appearance of your character]
Let there be descriptions!
And so we were off! My players quickly dove into descriptions of their characters that became more and more elaborate. Once introductions were complete they were given an opportunity to explore the room. As an added layer of intrigue and excitement I gave the players an additional power: they are allowed to make simple observations that I have not stated. This granted my players some amount of ability to influence and shape the world I threw them into.
The thing that has jumped out at me the most about this experiment is the quality with which players describe their character’s actions. Where at the table people would often say something along the lines of, “I investigate the portrait”, in the experiment I’m getting things like, “… She walks quietly over to the portrait. Her feet making the quietest “swish” on the carpet. … Putting on a pair of black leather gloves she begins to run her hands over the ornate gold frame.” Players are no longer simply telling me what they want to do they’re adding flavorful descriptions to their actions. As a DM I frequently describe and narrate actions in greater detail than given to me by my players, but it adds an extra layer of player agency when they’re doing it for themselves. It also gives the players better control over the way that their characters are viewed by the other players and suddenly we’re weaving this tapestry of imagery together rather than a series of statements and then descriptions controlled by me.
I found this to be an extremely rewarding shift. I’ve spent some time thinking about how to carry this I’ve into my regular games, but it’s something that is very dependent on the players and the style of play they prefer. Several of my players have started making the effort on their own and it has been a significant boon in my opinion.
What I’ve Learned
Outside of the quality of descriptions I’ve learned a variety of things from this experience:
- Play by text is even slower than I’d imagined. This is not a criticism, but an observation.
- Each of the players are involved every event rather than just a few.
- At first my players were not certain what to do with the freedom I offered regarding descriptions and observations, but they did eventually start using it to add to the world around them. This is not specific to this play style and something I may consider bringing to my table in the future. It helps to give the players more agency and ownership over the world, much like the “I know a guy” house rule.
- Players adapted surprisingly quickly to the lack of structured character creation. (This will not be typical of all play by post, just a part of my experience)
- Players have required far fewer reminders than I expected. Player responses vary between hours and days after I post a section of narration but thus far there has not been any real need to prod and remind people.
- There are a lot of things I don’t know yet, I will need to keep learning along the way.
More to Come
I’ve found this experiment to be hugely rewarding. The quality of the descriptions has been fascinating and they are really helping to forge this idea into a living world. Each player is writing the story of their character as events unfold. We have yet to run into a complex combat or social interaction. It will be very interesting to see how this system holds up when events become more complicated. I’m really looking forward to continuing this experiment and seeing how these things unfold.
Have you ever played a text based RPG? What did you like/dislike about it? Do you have any suggestions from your experiences? Tell me about these things in the comments!