Jim’s Blog – How To Run A Play-By-Post

In my blogs where I detail my quest to create an Accessible Mega-Dungeon where Roleplay is the focus, I keep them short and concise.

This blog will be a longer format to provide lots of advice and tips on how to run a Play-By-Post (PBP) Tabletop Roleplaying Game (TTRPG).

When I first wanted to begin PBP’s I found little tangible advice for Game Masters that was helpful. This blog intends to give you detailed advice on how to successfully run a PBP.


This blog post has 15 more headings. Below is a list of those headings, with brief descriptions of what is under each heading.

  1. What Is A Play-By-Post?: An overview of what play-by-posts are.
  2. Accessibility: Detailing how play-by-post games are accessible to most players.
  3. Recruiting Players: Tips for finding suitable players.
  4. Establish Rules: Why it is important to set guidelines and what those rules often are.
  5. The Golden Rule: This section explains how you must keep a consistent posting schedule.
  6. Advancing Narrative: Keep the narrative flowing.
  7. Communal Description: Give narrative control to the players.
  8. Options: The balance of providing freedom and options.
  9. Clarify: Make sure to clearly clarify when communicating.
  10. End Scene: The tool used by players to hand control back to the Game Master.
  11. Combat: How to approach managing combat.
  12. Calendar: Using in-universe calendars.
  13. Discord: How to setup and run a game via Discord.
  14. The Downsides: Acknowledging the negative aspects of play-by-posts.
  15. Want More?: If you want more advice on running a play-by-post.

1. What Is A Play-By-Post?

PBP is a style of playing TTRPG’s that is conducted through text-based posts online, such as on a forum, Discord, or even an email thread. Game Masters and players describe the world, characters, actions, and events through text-based posts. These style of games can be played using almost any TTRPG system. It offers a flexible way to play for individuals with limited time, as participation does not require a weekly time commitment. Additionally, PBP has several advantages in terms of accessibility.

2. Accessibility

There are many more aspects of PBP that lend to inclusivity and comfort for disabled players. Honestly, I could write an entire blog just about that aspect. In the interest of keeping this already long blog as short as possible, here is a brief overview.

The text-based nature of PBP often leads to increased inclusivity for hearing impaired players who struggle with interpreting voices in live games, but it offers many more accessibility benefits. The slower pace of PBP provides individuals with print disabilities more time to read the rules and access reference materials, which may not be feasible in a live tabletop setting. Additionally, the written nature of PBP makes it easier to understand social cues and emotional expressions, as they can be clearly described and detailed in the narration.

3. Recruiting Players

When recruiting players from a large online community such as Reddit, it’s common to receive a large volume of interest. To ensure that you find the right fit for your game, create a Google Form for potential players to complete. The form should include questions that will give you insight into their suitability and interest. The effort a player puts into filling out the form is generally a good indicator of their commitment.

Additionally, it’s important to request a writing sample and provide a writing prompt related to your game in the Google Form. The sample will show you how the potential player interprets the prompt, their in-game presentation, and their writing style, allowing you to make a more informed decision about whether they are a good fit for your game.

4. Establish Rules

As the Game Master in a PBP, you will bear the majority of the responsibility and workload. To prevent burnout and frustration, it is important to establish clear expectations and guidelines from the outset.

This includes communicating to players upfront that if they do not adhere to your rules, you may need to address the issue and, if necessary, request that they leave the game.

Having clear rules in place not only plays a major role in maintaining the momentum of the game, but are also important in respecting your own boundaries to help prioritize your mental health. Establishing and enforcing clear rules can ensure a positive and sustainable PBP experience for everyone involved.

Some common rules to consider are:

  • Posting Frequency: Set expectations for how often players are expected to post.
  • Absence Policy: Outline clear communication procedures for when players need to step away from the game.
  • Roll Timing: Specify a deadline for when players need to make a roll if one is called for and who will roll if the deadline is passed.
  • Post Length Limit: Set a limit for how long each post can be.
  • Player Responsibilities: Outline expectations for character and resource management.

5. The Golden Rule

In a PBP, as in any TTRPG, the style of play, availability of players, personalities, interests, content, and choice of game can all influence the way a game is run.

However, there is one rule that applies to all PBP games: Consistency. Regardless of whether you post once a day, once a week, or once a month, maintaining a consistent posting schedule is crucial to keeping the game’s momentum going. Interruptions or delays in posting can cause the game to lose steam and eventually grind to a halt.

6. Advancing Narrative

As Game Master in a TTRPG, your primary responsibilities are:

  1. Answer questions.
  2. Advance the story.

Every time you post, aim to make progress in the narrative, rather than solely answering questions. A successful PBP relies on the sustained momentum of an unfolding story, so it’s important to keep the narrative flowing. While it’s great when players also drive the story forward, it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to be familiar with the principle of “Yes, and…” or the dynamics of maintaining a PBP.

7. Communal Description

In a TTRPG, the focus should be on the player characters, not the world created by the Game Master. This holds true for both live games and PBP games.

Encourage players in your PBP to provide descriptive narrative elements, as many players are likely aspiring writers and the medium naturally lends itself to a focus on storytelling. Embrace the opportunity to delve deeply into rich and imaginative descriptions.

Do not be afraid to hand the reigns to the players and enjoy the ride.

8. Provide Options

As a Game Master in a PBP, it is important to balance the desire to give players complete creative freedom with the need to provide structure and direction to keep the game moving forward. While giving players too many options can lead to analysis paralysis and slow down the game, providing no options at all can leave players feeling lost or uninspired.

In order to strike the right balance, it can be helpful to provide options to players when it feels appropriate. This can help alleviate the pressure on players to come up with solutions on their own, freeing them up to focus on other aspects of the game. However, it is important to note that this does not mean that you should be controlling every aspect of the game or dictating exactly what players can and cannot do.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more open-ended game where players have complete creative freedom, it is important to clearly communicate this expectation to players. Encourage players to take artistic liberty with the situations, locations, and characters you present, and give them the freedom to come up with their own solutions. By doing so, players will feel empowered to take ownership of the game and drive the narrative forward.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide players with a positive and engaging PBP experience, and finding the right balance between structure and freedom is key to achieving this.

9. Clarify

Do not assume players know your intent from an in-game description. Players will often need you to clearly define what is happening. Running a PBP teaches you to anticipate certain questions and then begin answering them, before they are asked. Common clarifying questions from players often include:

  • Am I in this scene?
  • What time is it?
  • Which NPC’s are here?
  • How much light is there?
  • Are they hostile?
  • Am I in danger?

Define key information and anticipate common player questions to improve and streamline you responses. This can be achieved by writing actions in quotations and providing clear, bullet-point explanations underneath for clarification.

10. End Scene

TTRPG’s often run in ‘scenes’. During a PBP it can be difficult to read the room and understand where a scene should end. In these instances players can elect to “End Scene”.

“End Scene” can be a useful tool for advancing the story when players are unsure of what to do next. If players agree to end the current scene, it gives the Game Master the opportunity to take control of the narrative and move the story forward.

11. Combat

As the Game Master, it is important to set clear guidelines for combat in order to keep it running smoothly and efficiently. In a PBP setting, it can be easy for combat to drag on without a clear structure in place. To avoid this, you should define the timeline for making decisions and taking actions, as well as clearly communicating the battlefield situation and the distances between characters and targets.

Establishing clear rules for what happens if a player misses their turn is also important, as this ensures that the game continues even if one player is unable to make a move. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that combat runs smoothly and efficiently in your PBP.

I create an ‘encounter template’ for my games, so that each encounter is communicated similarly and players know where to look for information each time. This follows the ‘Golden Rule’ of maintaining consistency.

12. Calendar

You should be using an in-universe calendar in any long-term TTRPG campaign, but especially in a PBP format. Keeping an in-universe calendar, where you track events on a daily basis, can greatly aid in your overall game management and provide a sense of temporal location for your players.

Use a calendar in one game and you’ll feel the benefits. I use a calendar for my current Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay PBP, which I share with my players. There’s a link to it below for you to check out.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Calendar

13. Discord Setup

I run my PBP’s via Discord, so here’s a some advice to effectively run a PBP game on Discord.

Starting with channels, the following are typically used:

  • Story: This channel is dedicated to in-game descriptions and interactions between characters.
  • OOC (Out of Character): This channel is used for discussions between players and the game master that are related to the in-game events or game rules.
  • Dice: Having a separate channel for rolling dice helps to keep the Story channel uncluttered and more focused on the narrative.
  • Resources: A channel for sharing character sheets and other game-related resources is helpful for players to have access to all the information they need in one place.
  • General: A general chat channel allows players to bond and build relationships by discussing non-game related topics. This can improve overall retention and engagement in the game.
  • Private: A private channel for each player can be useful for players who may have questions or concerns they do not want to discuss publicly, but do not want to message the game master directly.
  • Game Master: This channel is for the Game Master to take notes, track events, and keep organized as they run the game.

Roles in Discord can also be used to track in-game conditions and effects. By assigning roles to players, the game master can quickly and easily keep track of their status and conditions. Additionally, if the group is sighted and not color-blind, colors can be assigned to the roles to visually indicate a player’s status. This allows for clear and efficient communication within the game.

14. The Downsides

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the downsides of running a PBP, so that you can be prepared.

  1. Longer Gestation: Being text-based it takes longer for players to find their groove within a group. So give it time, lots of time. Try to gently engage with players, between posting narrative content, to build a stronger group dynamic. This will lead to greater player retention.
  2. Dropouts: Be prepared for players just randomly disappearing. It’s easy to ghost people you communicate with in a text chat and that’s what happens. Folks will stop engaging or disconnect from whatever service you’re using, without warning. Don’t take it personally, but also don’t invite those players back.
  3. Maintain Momentum: A PBP can easily grind to a halt or have players lose interest if no one is contributing. Game Masters need to stay motivated to post consistently, include clear rules to ensure progression and be aware of what is happening. It’s a lot of responsibility and note-taking.

15. Want More?

I kept each section of this post brief, to ensure it didn’t become a book in a blog. If you want greater detail on how to effectively run a PBP, let me know!

If there is interest I’m happy to write a future post with greater detail and specific examples included.

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