How to Link Board, Miniatures, and PBEM together

Written by  r6751

Boardgames or miniatures play do not have to be isolated any more. Play your games and link results to a whole war system. Miniature gamers can unite with board gamers and share results. Battle does not even require actual games, since my rules can be used alone to resolve action.

This information discusses boardgames but miniature play will work the same way. The concepts also work for those playing by email, whether my game or not. My game is called Conflict WW2 and is a free set of rules for recreating the war in detail for one or many players.

A single boardgame can depict a battle or a series of battles in a campaign setting. The method to set each into the Conflict WW2 game (or any linked group of games) is the same although the bigger the fight represented by the tabletop play, the more considerations have to be taken into account.

If a game plays out a single battle, there might be a single Tactical commander for each side, more if the game includes air units and/or naval units. There would be an Operational Commander for each side.

The tabletop game has a time-frame within a bigger war. Using my rules, a national leader for either side may have had additional combat units built, transferred, or added to the Front being depicted, before the battle starts. This would alter the force ratios and require an adjustment to the setup units on the table.

Previous to the start of the tabletop game, in game terms, one side or the other may have called for a Storm that would effect the play. Aircraft are grounded in storm. Even if the storm is called in an adjacent Front, it might effect the game being played out.

Either side may have previously been successful in either Research or Intelligence die rolls at Strategic level. These two items cause an advantage for the side for either type of success.

The players setting up to play a boardgame or miniatures battle will determine the number of TAC headquarters and OP commanders need to be involved for each side. He then asks the human player opposing to provide the IDs of enough NPC officers with their individual command values.

(My game uses non-player characters when no human is available.) The end result of a calculation will be that you play the board game with a possible die roll modifier for combat in the board game.

Each Non-Player Character (tactical or operational ) has a number of command points to use in his specific battle(s). The Operational Commander can lend points to his TAC commands to assist. The side with the most such points, in a local battle, earns an advantage for the game play.

It will be noted that I didn’t say they win a die roll modifier. More advantages are earned for conditions, supporting units, force comparison, weather, and so on.  It is the side with the highest “total advantages” that gets the die roll modifier. Each local battle may have different advantage-winning conditions. Command points are used once per game turn.

The above references concepts used in my game but the ideas can be used for players who want to play their own games. For instance, using the board game World in Flames for the overall strategic and others like The Hunters for submarine play, Down in Flames for air battles, and perhaps miniatures for land battle.

The idea of Command & Control points for each player or NPC commander reflects the attention paid by higher command on specific actions or campaigns. Successful officers win points and the losers pay points.

Another concept from my rules is using advantages to win battles. Advantages could be weather, terrain, training, experience, research, supply status, and so on. Before fighting each player adds up the advantages that he can claim. The two sides compare and the high side earns the die roll modifier. (In my game rules the high side wins the battle.)

The rules set for Conflict WW2 can be used to play out the war without any table top games. This means that those who prefer not to play out the naval actions can resolve things quickly. On the other hand, naval players can realistically play out land battle without setting up any units on a map board or table.

Rules can be downloaded for free:

Learn from your old PBEM posts

A good way of learning and improving your writing skills is to go back and re-read your old PBEM posts. On a PBEM game where the story always flows forward at a steady pace, where posts comes in from your fellow players every day, it can be difficult to find the time to reflect over how you are doing. This makes it very easy to get stuck in the same writing process and the same mindset. Remember, getting a lot of posts out is good and all, but it is even better if those posts are of great quality!

Taking an hour or so once in a while to sit back and read selected parts of your PBEM posts or just think about what you contributed to the story can help you achieve even more writing skills.

Some things to consider:
Were there any posts I wrote that I feel are bellow par in terms of quality?
Read those posts again (yes, it can be painful but it will be over in a second or so) and see what exactly makes you see them as bad posts. Did you rush through them? Did you focus too much on your own character? Did you make any misstakes with the story?

Then do the same thing with the posts you felt were the best you produced during the same time. What was it that made them so great?

Now would be a good time to write down a few notes, comparing the two categories. I did this with a bunch of old posts of mine, and I will share with you a few of the notes I made:

Bad posts:
Used only my own character to find something
No feelings
No open hooks for others to follow up on
Boring language

Good posts:
Described a lot of the surroundings
Left a really good hook for another player
Made the story go forward

As you can see, based on these short notes I can come to a conclusion about what I need to think about in the future. Next time I have a moment to do the same thing, I can see if I improved any.

Journal gaming guide for PBEM players

By Ginger Stampley

Journal games tend to involve one journal per character and one or more communities where play is conducted, plus an out-of-character community where players can communicate, plot, and post absence notices.

Most journal games are moderated rather than GMed. This means the game has one or more moderators who play PCs but also handle administrative tasks, set game rules, approve plots, etc. They may also have final arbitration rights over disputes among players. Moderators tend to lead by persuasion rather than by authority; while they have the power to remove players from the game, they often don’t have a lot of power without resorting to that, which leaves them leading through social acumen if they can.

Most games seem to include a conceit of journals or blogs. A game set in the present day might say that the journals are the characters’ actual livejournals or blogs, where a Harry Potter game may describe them as magically linked books. Characters can write in the journals in first person and get responses in first person from other characters. This is, I’ve found, the hardest concept to get across to email gamers.

In addition, there’s actual roleplay. I’ve seen journal-only games, but most games also include the option to roleplay in either storybook (third person, past tense) or asterisk format. Asterisk format is very different from anything I’ve ever seen in an email game. The dialogue is written without quotation marks and actions are enclosed in asterisks.

Here’s an example of play written each way:

Storybook (actually written present tense because I stole it from House of Cards)
She nods. “Did we mention the mess with her affine? With all of the excitement concerning Meg, I think that might have been overlooked.” Lilly thinks on it a moment. “If we are traveling past Ygg, it might become important. Dealing with that thing will take more than finesse and steel.”

Martin shakes his head. “If you did, I missed it. Fill me in.” His voice is resigned.

Lilly: *nods* Did we mention the mess with her affine? With all of the excitement concerning Meg, I think that might have been overlooked. *thinks for a moment* If we are traveling past Ygg, it might become important. Dealing with that thing will take more than finesse and steel.

Martin: *shakes his head* *resigned* If you did, I missed it. Fill me in.

As you can see, the two styles are very different, and I suspect they work out to have some implications for how the game is played that are beyond the scope of a newbie introduction.

Roleplay in journal games generally occurs in one of two ways. First, a player starts a post and play proceeds in the comments to the original post. Second, play can happen over an instant message service and end up posted as a log. Many journal gamers come from chat-room gaming (think Elf Only Inn) and are very familiar with instant message play. Again, the choice to play in one medium or another has implications for play style that are out of scope for an introduction to the style.

Which sort of play goes in which location is up to the individual game. I’ve seen several different implementations, each of which has pros and cons. Most common is putting the roleplay threads in the community and the journal entries in the individual character journals. This allows players to clean out and reuse the journal if the game fails or the player leaves.

Rules in journal games tend to emphasize cooperative play rather than mechanics. Most games are rules-free by tabletop or email standards because they don’t require mechanical adjudication most of the time. Conflicts are mostly social. It’s a form of bad play never to let yourself lose.

The lack of adjudication brings up one of the most difficult concepts of journal gaming: god-modding. God-modding is defined a number of different ways, but the common denominator is one player forcing another player’s character to act in a particular way. Writing an action for another player’s character can include things like the results of a combat action: for instance, that a punch lands instead of stopping with throwing the punch and letting the other player decide whether it’s a hit.

While it’s generally obvious whether someone is god-modding at the micro level, at higher levels, people argue about what the term means. Avoiding consequences that a player doesn’t like is generally god-modding. But some people define characters discussing their PC in a way they don’t like (e.g., lying about the character, suggesting the character for plots that don’t interest the player) as god-modding. Since god-modding is universally reviled, the accusation of god-modding is a method of short-circuiting whatever action the accusing player doesn’t like.

(God-modding is also a bane of moderated email games, in my experience, although it may not be called by that name.)

Journal games have two main strengths over open list email games that I’ve noticed.

First, it’s easy to manage large group events by having one post for the event and everyone commenting in subthreads underneath. Compared to the nightmares that I’ve had running scenes with 20 characters in email, almost every social event I’ve been involved with in a journal game has gone very smoothly.

Second, it’s much easier (for me, at least) to manage large quantities of game material. If you prefer your game material coming to you by pull, not push (and I mean those in the technological sense, not the gaming jargon sense), you’ll love journal gaming. It’s also great for people who prefer to read completed logs rather than reviewing as people play, or who (as many do) prefer to ignore things that don’t affect their characters.

They have some downsides, as well.

First, they’re sprawling in a way that’s not conducive to traditional tabletop/email GMing or to rules-based adjudication. Journal games almost require near-freeform style and limited adjudication.

Second, while it is possible to play asynchronously, journal gaming culture discourages it. While the immediacy can be positive (as it is in email games), it makes it really difficult to run a thread with a player in Australia, one in Europe, and two in the US (one East Coast and one West Coast), to cite a real example I’ve been involved in. I’ve played threads like that in email and it’s been much easier for me to manage.

Last, but not least, one item that’s neither an advantage or disadvantage: compared to tabletop or even email gaming, journal games are highly female-oriented. I’ve seen games with no men in them at all. This tends to skew the types of play to heavily social games and put a heavy emphasis on relationships (romantic, friendship, and familial). There’s a lot more slashiness than I’m used to in email games, although I’ve heard of heavily-female email games that have a lot of it. That may also be due to age, which, in the circles I play in, at least, skews younger than a lot of the email games I play in.

Written by Ginger Stampley
House of Cards
Posted here with permission from the author.

Report from SciWorld 2007, Day 2 and 3

The SciWorld Online convention continued two more days with more interesting seminars and exciting chats.

The second day of SciWorld Online 2007 started with a very interesting discussion about using blogs as a way to share your posts in a game. Instead of IRC simming where you are required to show up on a set time, Email game where you receive a ton of messages or forum games that can often be complicated to follow – using a blog is a good way to keep it simple and easy to follow. A blog is also a good way to keep visitors and members up to date about what is going on. While the discussion tended to be a bit tech-heavy, it was very informative.

At the same time in another chat room, there was a seminar about running a club for long-term success. Hosted by a organization that was founded 1991 and moved to the internet in 1997, it provided a list of things that can help a group. The discussions covered: Their Academy, a place where new members learn how to play the game. The library part of their website where documents are kept, sort of an institutional memory. And finally the importance of having a community. This group had a chatroom and also held offline meetings every year.

The second day of SciWorld Online 2007 started with a very interesting discussion about using blogs as a way to share your posts in a game. Instead of IRC simming where you are required to show up on a set time, Email game where you recieve a ton of messages or forum games that can often be complicated to follow – using a blog is a good way to keep it simple and easy to follow. A blog is also a good way to keep visitors and members up to date about what is going on. While the discussion tended to be a bit tech-heavy, it was very informative.

At the same time in another chat room, there was a seminar about running a club for long term success. Hosted by a organization that was founded 1991 and moved to the internet in 1997, it provided a list of things that can help a group. The discussions covered: Their Academy, a place where new members learn how to play the game. The library part of their website where documents are kept, sort of an institutional memory. And finally the importance of having a community. This group had a chatroom and also held offline metings every year.

The third day opened with a discussion about different simming genres. Most people attending the seminars come from a Trek background, but a lot of new TV shows and even books are making it into the RPG world. It was said though, that players from different genres kept within their own community and seldom crossed over to play other genres.

There was also a discussion about alternative universes and how they can improve the creativity since the boundaries set by the original show are not as strict.

The last seminar of this year’s SciWorld online was about different types of simming. More aimed towards game hosts than the players, it covered the advantages of IRC over using IMs (such as AIM) or AOL chat rooms. It also mentioned message board games.

Overall, the convention was well visited and the quality of the seminars was very high. Some of the material was used in several seminars are they shared almost the same topic. I am already looking forward to next year, with hopes of more diverse topics

Report from SciWorld 2007, Day 1

The 2007 SciWorld Online convention took place in online chat rooms April 3 to April 5. It focuses on online role playing for PBEM (Play By Email) games/Play By Message board games and online chat sims. This is what happened during the first day.

The 2007 SciWorld Online convention took place in online chat rooms April 3 to April 5. It focuses on online role playing for PBEM (Play By Email) games/Play By Message board games and online chat sims.

The convention started with a very exciting discussion about trends in simming. Hosted by Chas Hammer of Trek Online Sims & Games, it brought up some interesting points about what is hot and what is not in online role playing today. Some of the attendees mentioned how MMOs and PBEM/sims competed, but concluded that play by email games or play by message board games always attracts people interested in writing. Chat games on the other hand, is harder to recruit for.
Another interesting point brought up in the discussion was all the new games taking place in the universes of all the new popular TV shows such as Firefly. As Chas put it, “It’s safe to say that Trek is no longer the king.” The general consensus was that these types of games helps keep online role playing alive, even though the games themselves may not go on for as long as some trek games.

A bit later in the evening, CaptWarp of the Starfleet Legacy Alliance took the floor and held a seminar about “Keeping it fun”. One of the problems identified was the struggle between keeping true to the TV show the game is based on, keeping it canon, and the players that instead wants to continue to build on it in new directions. Some of the suggestions on how to handle such situations were to keep separate games for the two types of players. Another solution would be to bend the rules of the game, but still stay true to the show, allowing for some creativity but still stay within the limits of the universe.
New players in a game can feel lost if they are thrown into a storyline, especially if it is of the more creative kind. Encouraging them to work closely together with a senior player was suggested as a very effective way of keeping it fun for them.

Ending the first exciting day was FSF Starla of the Federation Sim Fleet with the topic “God Mode”. The concept of God Mode is something most games encounter eventually. It is when a player writes his or her character as something more than what it really is and by that ruins a story by solving it too fast or not leaving enough room for other to join in.
While this seminar focused on chat games, some of the conclusions can be used in PBEM games too. For example ignoring them, write their character as being hurt and send them off for treatment. Starla also suggested talking to them in private, explaining what they did wrong.

Character vs. action driven posts

One, of many, ways to categorize PBEM posts is to see if they are driven forward by the use of characters or by action. While both types are perfectly valid and accepted, players often find themselves being more comfortable with one of them. They do, however, present different possibilities and problems.

It is just like when comparing movies. Some movies, often European, are strongly centered on a character and the camera follows it around. Other types focus on the action and let it bring the story forward.

They are just using two different ways of telling the story in the PBEM game. Whichever you prefer, or whichever you use yourself does not matter as much as the way you use it. If you feel more comfortable with, or are better at, writing for example very character centric stories that is what you should do.

Characteristics of a character driven post:

* Often very clearly shows who the main character is.
* The plot always includes that character.
* Everything that does not include, or concern, the character is not included in the post, or is only briefly mentioned.
* Often emphasizes on relationships, interaction with others and feelings.

Characteristics of an action driven post:

* It is not as obvious who the main character is.
* Even if the character is not present, the post continue describing the story
* There are often many other characters included, either belonging to other players or as NPCs.
* Feelings, emotions and relationships are secondary, often not included at all.

The difference can often be very subtle, but over time problems that can arise from using one way of writing more than the other.

Problems with a character driven story:

* The story moves slower.
* If the story becomes too dependant on one character, if the player behind the character stops posting there is a risk that the story stops too.

Likewise, there can be problems with an action driven story too:

* The characters never evolve.
* Without emotion and feelings, characters and stories can be flat and dull.
* The variations in story ideas can sometimes be smaller; feelings and interaction between characters are great ways to make sub-plots.

So, go back and re-read your own posts and see if you have a tendency to use one type of writing more. If you do, try to remember it next time you write a post.

Describing the surroundings

Describing the surroundings to the reader is more than just putting words on it. To describe something as “beautiful” is not enough to get the reader understand how beautiful something really is.

It can perhaps get the reader to understand that the character feels something is beautiful, but it does not convey that feeling over to the reader.

Word like “beautiful” or “scary” perhaps describes the scene in broad, general, terms, but in order to write better the player needs to show the reader what it is that has these properties.

“While the sun climbed on the sky, its light made the grass, still wet from the morning dew, sparkle further and further in the meadow. The ground was like a thousand stars as Miranda slowly walked towards the tree line, admiring the beauty”.

You have to agree that do sound better to you as a reader than a simple:
“The meadow was beautiful, Miranda slowly walked through it as the sun climbed on the sky”.

It can, of course, be too much. No matter how beautiful something sounds, filling page after page with descriptions just gets too much. To compensate for the lack of a few, clear descriptions that convey the feeling, with paragraph after paragraph with words hardly help the reader. Like strong floodlights, they do not enlighten but dazzles.

In conclusion, what is it that makes a description good? Try to say as little as possible about how the reader should feel and experience the surroundings. Instead, describe what it is that is so beutiful.

Keeping the players entertained

One of the many pitfalls with running a PBEM game is to make sure the story keeps going forward and evolve. For this to happen, the players need to be kept entertained by the story.You would not keep watching a TV series if it was not good enough to keep your interest up, would you? The sme thing goes for a PBEM game. if you do not manage to keep the players’ interests up, they will stop posting or even leave the game. It is not an easy task, mind you. Remember there are very few TV series that keep going for several years, just as there are few games that manage to keep going for that long.

The game most often rely on the players to write posts that keeps the story going. If there players does not post, the game does not move forward and eventually fall apart. Therefore, you need to keep your active players interested in continuing the game.

What can you as Game Master do to keep the players interested in the PBEM game? Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

You can start by setting a good example yourself. If you are actively posting in the game and bring the story forward at a steady pace, it gives the players more opportunities to post.

Keep feeding them ideas. You have to take an active part in encouraging your players to write posts and participate in the game. If you are one step ahead, you can help them come up with things to write about if they are having problems.

Take care of the players. If you take good care of the players that actively participates in the game, there is a better chance they will stay on. One way of doing that is to offer incentives to be active. For example, promotions (if applicable) or give them a chance to greater influence the choice of future stories/adventures.

Make sure the stories/adventures are fun and interesting to their characters. There is nothing more uninspiring than to not be able to post just because there is nothing to post about.

Report from SciWorld 2006

The SciWorld 2006 Online Convention was held on March 29th-31st 2006, it covered chats about a wide range of subjects relating to online roleplaying.While I did not have the opportunity to attend in person due to being in a different time zone, I have received reports from friends as well as read the logs collected during the convention.

The discussions
Most of the discussions and open games were originally about live action games, such as roleplaying in online chat rooms and virtual-reality worlds. However, the discussion topics could easily be used in PBEM games too. With one of the sponsors, the USS Wyvern game, being a PBEM game many of the visitors came from a PBEM background. This helped turn the discussions towards that side of roleplaying.

The chat discussions hold by various sponsors ranged from discussions about NPCs to how to start and run your own game and to relationships in and outside of games.

The website for SciWorld 2006 can be found at

Day 1
Wednesday featured, along with an open chat room for general discussions and two open games, a discussion about NPCs. A lot of different opinions and ways of using NPCs came up. For example, how NPCs can be considered the property of a player. The attending guests shared stories and memories such as their all-time favorite NPCs.

Day 2
During the second day, a gaming group showed their game in the virtual-reality world Second Life. Alongside these games, trivia sessions were held in another chat room. The day’s topic of discussions concerned starting a new game and the history of simming.

One major point in the discussions was how games need to work together nowadays to attract new players. With chat rooms becoming more and more uncommon and popular recruitment websites such as being offline, there needs to be new places to find players.

The discussion also covered the change in how gaming groups are organized. Years ago, there were massive organizations with several gaming groups under one flag, united for administration and recruitment purposes. Nowadays, they are no as common.

Day 3
The third, and last, day of SciWord 2006 featured several interesting discussions as well as the usual open chats, open games and trivia sessions. The first discussion was concerning useful resources on the Internet that can be used by games or players. It covered the use of message boards, blogs and easy ways of building and maintaining a website for your game.

The second discussion for the evening is probably the one that was geared the most towards PBEM games. It covered several topics ranging from the basics of roleplaying by email to the role of being the Game Master for such a game.

The evening ended with two discussions that turned into one long discussion about relationships and genders in roleplaying games. Stories were shared about how games have brought together several couples, but the effects of couples in games were also discussed. One interesting topic was about players playing characters of a different gender than themselves.

The convention was very successful; many people from different gaming backgrounds joined in to share their experience with online games. I look forward to next year’s convention!

Planning ahead

Once you have started to get to know your character, the game setting and your writing is flowing, it is time to start thinking about what your plans are for the future.

A PBEM game can continue for several years, so if you do not plan ahead from the start, you may very well be painting yourself into a corner. Just like with us, our characters never stay the same. They have a life of their own and their lives tend to take the most unlikely directions. In what direction do you want your character to evolve?

A character, just like a real person, can change during the years. Traumatic experiences but also other, more common, experience changes the way we see the world. Do you want your character to, over time, turn into for example a bitter person fighting his inner demons? Unless you want this change to occur over night, you will have to set it up for a long time. Gradually introduce a new behavior and new emotions and give your character a reason to change in that way. It will also give you more to post about if you let these changes happen over time. Imagine a series of posts, over perhaps a year or even more, where you describe and add small parts of the character. It is a perfect opportunity for character development.

If you start thinking now about where you want your character to be in a year, you will not only be able to focus more but you will also get plenty of opportunities for posting. Are there are any special events you want your character to experience? We all go through some defining moments during our lives, occasions that forms us as individuals and that shapes us. A special event does not necessarily need to be a defining moment; it can also be more commonly experienced things like graduating, being promoted or becoming a parent. A child does not happen over night and being promoted usually requires some hard work.

So again, you need to start thinking about where you want to take your character maybe a year from now in the PBEM game.