Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Game's The Thing: Play By Email Strategic Roleplaying Game

As I often do, I’ve gone on about the principles of a Play By Email Strategic Roleplaying Game (PBEMSRPG, or P*S*R) without actually explaining what it is.

A typical turn of a P*S*R would have a player receive an email. It’s a piece of fiction, in-character communiqué, or a bare-bones description of events in the universe. These events could include a new issue that’s arisen worthy of a leader’s attention (either mild unrest, an invasion, political maneuvering, an intelligence report on enemy activity, etc.), the results of an ongoing project/storyline (like an update from the front in a war, the latest success in an intelligence war, or details from an economic revitalization effort), or a communication from another faction (like a message from another player's character).

If a player so wishes, they can also contact the storyteller with an idea for a story they want to run or a plan that their character is going to enact. Together, they can work out a set of events for the character to respond to or a get the character starting on setting their own machinations into action.

As the game progresses, players and their characters respond to the events that unfold around them, whether its war, politics, or even peace. That ability for characters to affect their surroundings should be nigh infinite and only impeded by other players and larger NPCs.

In the end, the players haven’t helped create a single story in a larger world, but have helped craft an epic history of that world. That’s one reason I’m interested in collective setting creation. If players are familiar with a location, they’ll automatically be set up to understand its physicality. Then, they can begin to craft—with their own actions—its history. After that, there’s a world with an understood geography and history that other stories can be told within.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not just suggesting a game where we play at a level above our regular scope, I’m suggesting a dynamic, collective storytelling exercise that organically shapes the history a reusable, familiar world for use in perpetuity, a large world whose powers have their own rationales and dynamics that subsequent characters can live within.

Example of Play:
“It’s the Duke of Caselraugh of again. As you know, last month’s tax breaks for the tank building industry heavily benefitted Caselraugh’s longtime rivals in the Duchy of Yam. Your men in near Caselraugh report that some of the local nobility near The Duke have started talking about the unfairness of policy, militant attitudes…all the usual things one tries to stir up before getting the courage to do something fantastically, politically stupid. Like start a rebellion or try to replace one leading family with another via the nation’s Right of Noble Recall.”

The player might then respond in a number of ways:
A) “I grow weary of Caselraugh’s meddling. He’ll never see the throne, but if he’s willing to tear this nation apart over getting his seed in the big chair, I’ll marry one of his daughters. Does he have a hot one?”

B) “Ugh! Right of Noble Recall! Suspend the constitution and get me my Sith Vodka. This monarchy is now *sunglasses*…Absolut.”

C) “Well, order more tanks from The Duchy of Yam, send the secret police in to start rounding up dissidents, and put every spare division on the border with the duchy. If Caselraugh causes a problem, he’ll learn an important lesson in tax breaks, bad breaks, and high explosives.”

D) “Poll The Gallery of Dukes. If I have enough votes to win a recall, then he’s up to something else. See if he’s been in contact with our old enemies, the Cantohugenots. Whatever two divisions are in The Duchy of Caselraugh get redeployed immediately and I want them replaced with three of our finest. If the Duke asks, tell him it’s in response to classified reports of Cantohugenot aggression.”

E) “Interesting. It could be a smokescreen to tip our hand about our men inside his circles. For now we wait, old friend. We wait.”

Each choice a player makes can have a variety of results, starting your nation down the road to civil war, unity, political unrest, economic ascendancy, military decline, international partnership, or almost anything else that could happen to a nation. Now, none of the responses here would result in a serious problem. War, important character deaths, major political upheaval, or the like should only happen as a result of either a long series of decisions with a clear direction or as a result of a firm commitment to a very impulsive decision intended to cause that result.

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