Roleplay History – Play By Mail
With my nice new stack of thirty year old magazines at my fingertips I have learned so much about the way we played in the late 1980’s, the way things have changed, the different attitudes and the ways in which technology has improved our gaming experience, and at the same time how it has left gaming styles behind.
Play By Mail
Every magazine in the stack had dozens of adverts for Play By Mail roleplay, and strategy games, covering a wide range of genres, fantasy, sci-fi, organized crime, warfare, even sports.
The set up is simple: players send away to the GM for a rulebook, a guide on how to set up their characters and a down-payment on their first few turns (these things are a business after all). With the character made, the player inducted into the setting and their first turn sent back, usually in the form of a Turn-Sheet, a simple form that players fill to simply detail their actions to make it easier for GMs to read, or to make them readable by computer. The GM then collates all of the moves taken, and mails back the results.
These games often support hundreds of players, and turnaround of moves is expected to be quite regular and rapid, so GMs are usually teams of people working in an office. PBM format supported many large companies thriving on the mass collective gaming experience that the style offered, and even formed large events and supporting material, including books on how to start your own company.
The British Play By Mail Association held an annual convention for players and companies alike that supported an award ceremony for best games, best companies and even an award for best GM. It’s fourth event was held on the third of June 1989 at the University of London, eight hundred attendees, easily the equal of some of the biggest conventions in Britain today.
How Things Have Changed
With the rise of the internet and the MMO scene, surely playing roleplays by snail-mail is as dead as disco. Well actually, much like disco, PBM has survived, diversified, and lurks in corners of the internet you might not necessarily go looking round.
It’s a Crime was amongst the most popular PBM games at the time, an organized crime strategy managed by KJC Games. Imagine my surprise when I went poking around and discovered that It’s a Crime is still operating, not only as Play By Mail, but now includes an e-mail option. Not only that, but KJC also run many other games in various other genres. Their prices have dropped, but their model has expanded and includes a lot of facilities that make their job that much easier.
And they are not alone. Play by mail, email, or in-page form are still wide ranging around the internet, simply proving that so long as a market exists, the internet can help creators find it. The internet age may have registered Play By Mail technologically defunct, but it could never destroy the fun that players have playing them.
Play by email is a rising trend, but every form of communication supports various types of RP and strategy games. Forums, message boards, and chatrooms all have their RP groups, public and private, some of which even support as many players as the old PBMs. In short, gamers always find a way. The PBM maybe a diminishing scene, but the format remains alive and well.