Discover the Narrative Worlds of Play-by-Post Roleplaying

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Sometimes, our schedules are so hectic or weird—or we live so far away from other gamers with similar playstyles—that getting a good tabletop group together seems impossible. Other times, we are looking to roleplay in a specific kind of fantasy or sci-fi world, or within a TV/book/anime fandom that really inspires us. Perhaps writing a detailed character backstory is one of your favorite parts of the process. Or maybe you’ve felt that roleplaying would be so much easier if you didn’t have to fumble through speaking in-character but could instead take the time to write it out, penning your character’s actions, dialogue, and feelings with a novelist’s flair.

If this describes you, you might be the perfect target audience for freeform play-by-post roleplay, another type of roleplaying inspired by its tabletop RPG counterparts plus a hefty dose of fiction writing.

What is Freeform Play-By-Post Roleplay?

Play-by-post roleplay (PBP RP) typically uses web forums software to host a roleplaying game campaign, although Tumblr and other platforms are also used. Each thread is its own scene or episode in the greater story. Different players participate by describing what their characters think, say, and do in response to the other characters in one or more posts or replies. Unlike chat rooms, forums are designed to be asynchronous, so you can post whenever you have the time, and the other participants post their characters’ reactions whenever works for them, too.

An example of forum-based roleplay from UNBOUND, a writing-intensive Dragon Age roleplay that focuses on the events post-Trespasser.

Each character has their own account on the forum, so players know who is participating even if one player has multiple characters. An application process is typically required before a player can begin posting as a specific character, which results in a character sheet that contains important narrative information such as the character’s history, physical description, personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as the character’s relatives, rivals, and allies, many of whom are also player characters.

Over a series of threads, an overarching narrative emerges, similar to how a tabletop RPG adventure module or campaign does. Unlike tabletop RPGs, however, there are no dice rolled: players advance the story by consensus, or they use diceless mechanics like comparing relative stat values to determine who would win in a conflict. This is why it’s considered “freeform” roleplay. (Forum adaptations of tabletop RPGs exist—go check out Myth-Weavers for examples if you’re curious.)

Freeform PBP RP also differs from tabletop RPGs in that there is usually no game master. The players decide how the story will broadly unfold among themselves, and then they write out what happens, leaving room to be surprised by their own inspiration while writing. If non-player characters as needed for a given scene, the players will play an NPC for a time, all in the service of advancing each other’s stories. Since they aren’t tasked with narrating dice results, the forum’s admins and moderators usually determine and enforce the forum’s rules, while plot leaders are tasked with creating and initiating plotlines that will involve multiple players in a compelling conflict.

How Do I Sign Up?

You can try a Google search for concepts that interest you (just add “forum rpg” to your query), but you best bet are resources in the PBP community itself, including the many directories and collectives. Some active ones include RPG-Directory, Distant Fantasies, and FYRA’s Group Search, which specializes in Tumblr-based roleplaying.

The RPG-Directory is a collection of PBP RPG sites, so whether you’re looking for a specific fandom or a certain genre, you can find the perfect forum for you!

When you’ve found a forum that interests you, begin by reading through the rules and character application process. Follow the site’s specific directions for creating a forum account and submitting your first character application. Many sites have a new-player guide that covers exactly that in addition to providing additional information about the setting and its assumptions. You can make an out-of-character (often abbreviated to “OOC”) account and introduce yourself in the general or introductions sub-forum. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the forum’s cbox (short for chatbox) if they have one, or you can private message one of the moderators or admins for help.

Once you’ve gotten an idea of the expectations for the forum, such as whether there are word count minimums or content restrictions, involve yourself in one of the many plots taking place on the board! Many forums have “wanted ads” for specific types of characters that come with their own plot hooks, or “plotting” subforums where players can discuss possible storylines for their characters using their OOC accounts. Finally, it will be time to take the plunge and make your first post! Read some of the other threads to see what the style is like on this board. Find an open thread—or begin your own—and end your post on a cliffhanger that allows another character to react or respond.

You’ll have the most success on the forums if you can get to know the other players and begin collaborating with them on character concepts, ways to connect those characters, and epic plots! You might even forge new friendships in the process.

Have you ever done freeform play-by-post roleplaying before? Share your advice for people new to the format in the comments below!

Featured Image Credit: Canva
Image Credits: UNBOUND and RPG-Directory  (screenshots by Katrina Ostrander) 

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