I wanted to take a moment to post a review of playing Dungeons and Dragons in the “Play By Post” format, since I have been actively playing since this post.
My group and I have been playing Adventurer’s League via play by post since April and have, as of writing, completed 3 modules in tier-1, and have begun another module from Season 2 (Elemental Evil). Our characters are all level 4. Each module has taken about 4-6 weeks to completed at our current pace in play-by-post. So, a back of hand calculation means that a 4-hour module takes about 4 weeks to complete.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed this experience and I really like my PBP party. However, as for play by post, let’s talk about pros and cons so far.
Pros: The pacing really helps busy folks enjoy their periodic fix of Dungeons and Dragons, especially us parents who can’t realistically block out 4-6 hours a week. I love being able to play a little bit every day, or a few times a week, and still feel that sense of progress. Once I got used to the slower pacing than a typical sit-down game, it’s been a nice background in my life.
Another big pro, particularly for Adventurer’s League, is that you can spent more time on the role-playing side of things. Normally, when you are playing AL modules, the time is fixed, the story rail-roads a little bit, and you don’t get to always delve into inter-character role playing as much. It’s nice to have the same 3 characters in our party get to know one another, and develop distinct personalities.
Finally, the Avrae bot really makes PBP work. It takes a while to get used to the commands, and you should have a command cheatsheet bookmarked somewhere.
Cons: The biggest challenge has been the combat maps. Avrae does a good job of keeping track of combat initiative, spell status, hp, etc. However, keeping track of position on a map, especially a 3-dimensional map, really requires some careful Theater of the Mind. Maps definitely help, but even then players forget where they are because they can’t see it. And if there are delays (more on that next), then it’s easy to lose track of player position vs. monsters. The Theater of the Mind issue is partially solved by being less stringent on distances and such, such as this helpful article explains, but it requires careful vigilance nonetheless. That doesn’t mean combat isn’t fun (it has been!), but depending on the map, things can get hairy.
The other issue is delays. PBP naturally has a slower place than a sit-down game, but sometimes life happens and players may not respond for a while. In some rare cases, they may not be able to respond for weeks. We had some incidents in the past months where a player had a genuine commitment or family issue that arose, and the adventure simply can’t continue without that player. For shorter delays, a little extra role-playing can tide you over, but this will eventually run out.
However, one can also argue that this is also a strength of PBP: when our missing players would return, we just picked up right where we left off without losing momentum. PBP can definitely tolerate downtime and interruptions a lot better than a committed, set campaign between friends, but you also have to learn to tolerate life interruptions, and a willingness to support fellow players who have genuine reasons why they can’t play. I am thankful to have a circle of players who have been mutually supportive, but then again every good campaign is built on mutual support.
Having a PBP campaign in the background of your life, especially the Pandemic Life, is a nice way to keep enjoying D&D, even when you don’t have an active campaign in the meat world.