Play By Mail

About a month ago, Oengus needed to take some time off from the regular weekend game we've all been engaged in. For better or worse, I volunteered to step in for a week or two and run some ad-hoc one-shot sort of thing. Of course, I immediately leaned on my Southern Cross mythology.

The core premise is that the players are all kids in the early 1990s, and an old widow in a big spooky Victorian in the neighborhood has just died. Of course, rumors of witchcraft and treasures abound, and the intrepid young investigators are off to conquer the unknown.

I had planned all sorts of - to me - interesting mechanics. First off, the entire game is constrained by Christmas vacation, limiting the time available and hopefully providing some sense of urgency. Second, my thought was that the kids would spend their days planning, going in to town for necessities like batteries, and would then sneak out and challenge the house after dark. I did the research on battery costs in 1992, costs for walkie talkies, and so on.

The setup - character creation, mostly - took a few weekends. Even though we were using Fate, the players were pretty new to TTRPGs in general, and completely new to the system. We also only had about 2 hours per weekend.

On week three, we got to the game.

Well, immediately most of my careful plotting went right out the proverbial window. Fate is a pretty story-oriented game, and as it happens, all of the kids decided to have access to flashlights, batteries, and even walkie-talkies right from the start. Then, with no issue at all, they all snuck out on night one.

Well, I thought, there's still the matter of getting in. In Alexandrian spirit, I had been making sure to leave three clues, allow ample paths for the players to follow, and so on. The easiest method of gaining entry to the house would be the cellar storm doors, which appeared locked - but the lock was broken. I didn't expect them to check it right away.

Shame on me.

Luckily, after describing their first view of the basement, we had to call time on the night. But I was tripped up - I hadn't managed to fill out the rest of the house yet, and at the rate they were going, they'd be done with it in a single session!

Enter the play-by-mail system - sort of.

I explained to my players that I hadn't counted on them progressing nearly that quickly, and that I was having difficulty filling up the rest of the house in a manner that fit their charge-ahead style of play. Instead of running weekly two-hour sessions, I proposed using the chat channel to run the game "by mail."

I can't go in depth about how well it works (or doesn't) as they've only passed one turn so far (about one in-world minute, based on their action). But as the game progresses, I'll surely return here to document the successes and failures.