This campaign is a play by email (PBeM) game set in Columbia Games' fantasy setting Hârn. The game begins with a party formed around the goal of recovering a stolen religious artifact. The characters will also have other goals set by the players who run them. The players, as a group, will also develop their own goals for the group of characters as the events of the campaign unfold. My goal is to have fun while helping to create and write the story that develops, and to help the players enjoy themselves while taking part in that process.
Each player creates and then controls one character. Character creation is a simple but important process that sometimes takes a bit of time to do well. To begin play, a character must have a name, a background, a solid reason for getting swept up in the campaign, and a personality. The character should also begin play with at least a couple of goals (preferably many, both long and short term) which the character wishes to achieve. All of this is worked out between the player and the GameMistress in an interactive process that creates the character's pre-game history and the attributes that define the character.
I cannot over-emphasize that my campaigns are heavy on intrigue and problem solving and light on the "hacking and slashing" that characterizes many other games. This campaign will have a fair share of violence but the emphasis is on interaction between the characters, and between the characters and the inhabited world around them. It is a game of people, people with lives and personalities. If you want to kill hordes of monsters or wander the known world raiding caravans, this is the wrong game for you. If you want to develop a character while pursuing rational goals in a role-playing environment that is a vibrant, changing world, then this is (hopefully) the right game. This is a game primarily of interaction. The intent is that the PCs, for whatever reason, will spend much of their time talking to each other and to the NPCs. Actions, while very important, play a secondary role to this interaction. This game has no time limit and it is hoped that the players take advantage of this opportunity to really develop their characters. In shorter games there is a temptation or even encouragement to reach "the end" without any consideration of other factors. This is not the case with this game, where there is time for characters and relationships to develop fully.
The game operates by those involved sending e-mail messages to each other. Without this, nothing would happen; it is largely up to the players to talk to the other characters and keep the game moving along. As a general rule, so that we can all enjoy the story as it develops, all messages are sent to all the other players and to the GM. There are three types of message that are used in the game.
Setting the Scene: Generally, a "turn" begins with the GM sending a message that describes a change of setting or introduces a particular situation. These messages usually involve a combination of action on the part of the players and non-player characters and dialogue by NPCs. I try to write these messages in such a way that they end at a point where the players are likely to want their characters to react to the events described in the message. At times, however, a player may want her character to react to an event that takes place at an earlier point in the message - this presents no real problem and there are conventions in place to allow this.
Player Character Reactions & Conversations: Players react to the GM's scene-setting message by sending messages containing dialogue with the other characters and which describe their character's actions. These messages are the real heart of the game. They are the means by which players communicate with each other, speaking as though from one character to another (i.e.-the conversation should be "in character," as though it is the character, and not the player, speaking). They are also the primary means of moving the story forward - the actions and conversations of the characters will shape events and, ultimately, determine the direction in which the plot unfolds. Generally, there will be several exchanges of player-reaction messages, working out several related series of events, before the action develops to a point requiring another scene-setting message.
Out-of-Character Messages: These are generally to pass on some bit of background material or other information to selected players, advising them of knowledge their characters would have. These messages are the usual exception to the everyone-gets-every-message rule and will usually only be sent to those players with characters that would have the information in question. This then allows the player to introduce the knowledge to the other players via his character at the appropriate point in the story line.
A Note on Messages (or, Speeches vs Conversations): One of things that makes PBeM different from face-to-face play is the unavoidable time delay in communications among the players and the GM. To minimize the effects of this delay, it is helpful if players craft their posts in the form of speeches rather than conversations. That is to say, it is not very helpful to send a post that reads:
Snip watched the maiden approach, greeting her as she came within hearing, "Good morrow, young beauty! How are you doing this fine day?"
And then waiting a day or two for an answer, which might be a simple and curt, "Just fine, thankyou."
Instead, it is more useful to craft the posts in such a way that the conversation either moves the game forward, or they let the game move forward around a conversation. This, for example, is a better posting:
Snip watched the maiden approach, greeting her as she came within hearing, "Good morrow, young beauty! How are you doing this fine day." He fell into step beside her as she continued to follow the dusty path. "The road ahead is not safe for those that travel alone; perhaps we can travel together for a while." He paused in the hope she would reveal her destination, then continued in his usual cheerful voice, "There have been tales of gargun swarms in the hills that lie yonder," he waved towards the north, "and folks hereabouts are rightly concerned they will spread."
This approach allows the PC playing the maiden to learn most of what Snip wanted to get around to telling her eventually, yet allows her to respond to the conversational bits, adding in her own as part of character development, without un-necessarily delaying the game. For example, her response (which includes bits of Snip's original posting) might read:
>Snip watched the maiden approach, greeting her as she came within
>hearing, "Good morrow, young beauty! How are you doing this fine
"Well enough," Tavana replied, swinging the braid of her blonde hair over her shoulder with a disdainful turn of her head.
>He fell into step beside her as she continued to follow the dusty
>path. "The road ahead is not safe for those that travel alone;
>perhaps we can travel together for a while." He paused in the hope
>she would reveal her destination, ....
"You presume to take my measure, with nary an introduction?" Tavana looked amused. "I've traveled the road to Parnam often enough to know what lies ahead, and to know what I can handle on my own, thankyou." She gave Snip a sidelong glance to gauge his reaction to her deliberate snottiness. "But the road is the King's, not mine; you're free to travel where you will. Perhaps your chattering will help to pass the time."
>...then continued in his usual cheerful voice, "There have been tales
>of gargun swarms in the hills that lie yonder," he waved towards the
>north, "and folks hereabouts are rightly concerned they will spread."
"Aye, I've heard. I carry news of a gargun attack on Edre to the Council at Parnam, seeking their aid. We have rumor another is to occur on the night of the next Soratir; we hope to meet it with steel!" She gave Snip an appraising look, "Perhaps, if you're business in Parnam allows, you'll come back to Edre with me. We could use another strong arm." Tavana's brisk pace left her winded but as they walked she shared tales of Edre with Snip, and asked for news of his own homeland and the gargun attacks there.
Players (and their characters), as a rule, enjoy free-will and the ability to attempt and usually accomplish routine actions without consulting with the GM. (e.g. a player desiring her character to leave the inn and travel to the toll house need only post a message describing that action) All non-trivial actions, however, are adjudicated by the GM. (e.g. a player cannot assume his character's attempt to render an NPC unconscious is successful until so informed by the GM)
We are using Columbia Games' HârnMaster rules, with some house modifications. For the most part, however, players need not be familiar with the rules as the GM will handle all die-rolling and rules arbitration - the player's interaction with the mechanics of the rules should be nearly invisible, allowing him to handle his character's action in a narrative, story-telling approach.
Game time will proceed much more slowly than real time, but there is no fixed schedule of how much game time will pass with each turn, or how much real time we will spend on each turn. My expectation is that all players will be able to post messages at least twice per week; anything less frequent has other players delaying their own action while waiting for the silent player to "catch up." If your real-life schedule does not permit you to devote to the game an hour or two of your time, over the course of two or three nights per week, please do not join. Players who expect to be temporarily inactive should so inform the GM who will make provisions to handle the player's absence. Inactive players who do not make other arrangements with the GM will be dropped from the game.
Things to note are: 1) how players keep their knowledge separate from the knowledge of the characters; 2) how players sometimes "interrupt" the GM's post to have their character take action or introduce dialogue before the ending point of the post; 3) how players keep the story moving forward by carefully crafting their posts; 4) how the players write their posts in narrative, story-telling form rather than as game-playing instructions to the GM; 5) how the GM is free to edit the players' posts to reflect the actual (vs desired) outcomes of the PC's actions; 6) how the GM allows the players to retain control of their character.