I was having a discussion with some fellow players in a Play-by-Post (PbP) game I’m in about what makes a PbP game work well (or not). So I thought I’d document my ideas on that here.
Having a good GM is key. If a GM doesn’t keep up with their posting rate and doesn’t keep the action moving, it can be a slog, and people will drop out due to boredom. So key ingredient #1 is having a good GM. If you play for a bit on on a given platform like GamersPlane.com you’ll eventually get to know several of the GMs and then be able to say ‘Oh, I want to get in that game because that person is a great GM!’
The anonymity of the way PbP is oriented has some pros and cons over face-to-face gaming. A pro is that the act of writing makes you consider and double-check what you’re posting before it goes live. You can even edit something you regret. And if you’re a trouble-maker or not keeping up with the expected posting rate, it is easy for the GM to reach out, have a private conversation, and deal with the problem, kicking them out if the issue isn’t resolved (and this is easier that kicking someone out of a face-to-face game who’s sitting right there next to you). So my experience is that people tend to be on their best behavior, and it’s easier to police bad behavior than in face-to-face games.
The con of anonymity is that you can more easily ghost a game without much fear of consequences. I’ve seen multiple GMs and multiple players through the years just drop out of playing (or running) a game without any notice. Life can always disrupt your ability to play in a game, but it is very uncourteous to ghost someone when a simple ‘Hey, stuff came up and I need to bow out’ would be so much more considerate.
I’ve found the other big make-or-break issue in games is a mismatch on posting rate expectations. Some players would happily post 5 times a day, whereas another player may have only time for 3 posts a week. If this isn’t clearly communicated (and to some extent, policed) it can lead to frustration for the slower posters who have trouble keeping up. In games I run I tend to have a posting minimum and maximum (e.g. ‘Post about once a day during weekdays, but no more than two times a day.’). I’ve been in games where the posting rate wasn’t communicated at all, and players were posting 10 times a day, and I could not keep up and had to drop out, which all could have been avoided.
Here is a PbP best practices blog article I wrote on my own personal GM style in running PbP games which has some interesting considerations: https://dicehaven.com/play-by-post/guidelines/