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Play-by-Post Combat and Forum-Based Dueling

Let me preface this by saying that this originated from a collaboration between Pseudosyne and me (Alias) on RPGForumsOnline.com in the form of a dueling class. We later worked this into a seminar to share our thoughts on dueling and to garner input from the RPGFO community. This finalized form builds on some concepts developed by Vøices øf Xenøn.

Duels and Fights

There are many different styles of internet dueling, many of which revolve around hit points or speed. On forums, however, the most applicable style of roleplay dueling is called Turn-Based Textual Combat, developed by Vøices øf Xenøn. A re-conceptualization of forum-based play-by-post dueling is discussed below.

  • Open Ended Prompting:
    The real content of the turn-based duel post is an open ended prompt, what most refer to as just an “action”. It is called a prompt because it requires for the next player to answer: swinging one’s sword at another’s torso requires for the opponent to react to the sword swing. It is termed open-ended because, as in this example, it is a swing, and not a connecting hit. The opponent, responding to the prompt, determines if the hit connects, is blocked, is dodged, or any of the in-between possibilities.
  • Advancing Action:
    A duel post in which a prompt is not answered and a new prompt is not produced will break the flow of the roleplay. Every attack must be accounted for (answering the previous prompt), and then followed (in the “turn”-based theme) with an open-ended action as well. The consequences of not answering a prompt are dire: an attack is effectively ignored, and no one knows what its’ effects were. Similarly, by not producing an action, there is no prompt that needs to be answered, and the duel can easily stagnate because neither player knows what to do. It is imperative that the cycle of prompting is maintained until the end of the duel.
  • Careful Reading and Consistency:
    When responding to the previous post, a duelist MUST read and understand every detail before forming their reaction and action. Every bodily movement, strike, type of magic used, environmental aspect, etc, requires some sort of response, whether explicit or implicit. It is necessary that the setting and character of the duel are consistent with the initial state and all subsequent changes. Directions and orientations are incredibly important, especially because duelers often face each other and have converse orientations. If a branch falls on the ground, it cannot magically reappear back on the tree. If a quiver is ripped off of a character’s back, they cannot nock an arrow until it is retrieved. Players must pay close attention to what facts have changed since their previous post before they attempt to reference them in their new post. Poor reading leads to contradictions, and when a character opens a gate despite the fact that the gate was destroyed three posts ago, neither player is ultimately satisfied.
  • Courtesy and Metagaming:
    As all actions are open-ended, the receiving play determines their effectiveness. As such, in the spirit of dueling, the goal is to write beautiful combat, not to have one character necessarily win. So all attacks neither can nor should be blocked or dodged. In avoidance of Godmoding, no character should be impervious to damage or immensely powerful. Not only is this not fair, but it is not interesting to read or duel against. Most importantly, Metagaming should be avoided in duels. Such actions as matching a character’s strengths against another character’s weaknesses, or inexplicably having a character discern another character’s plan of attack are considered poor etiquette on the part of the player.
  • Dueling is Roleplaying:
    While dueling seems like it own separate concept, it should be treated as no more than roleplaying with the aforementioned guidelines imposed upon it. There is still a plot, a setting, characters. There are still personalities, motives, weaknesses. As such, dueling does not have to be its own separate venture, and can easily be tossed into a regular roleplay, so long as the flow is not interrupted.
  • Adaptation:
    Adaptation is the act of accepting what another player has written, and working from the state of things that includes the other player’s changes. Truly, roleplaying (and by extension, dueling) already involves adaptation. However, adaptation can be a conscious effort, especially in light of a contradiction. If the sky is described as sunny by one player, and cloudy immediately afterward by the other player, the first player can adapt to this error, and explain by what circumstance the clouds so quickly appeared. Even discrepancies with the time of day can be explained through eclipse. The ability to adapt to contradictions often makes a duel only more interesting, and reduces the possibility of frustration that can arise due to contradiction. Players should still inform each other in the case of contradictions, and whether they are adapting to them or they want the errors fixed.
  • Perception:
    There is a strong distinction between the facts of the setting and situation and the perceptions of characters of the setting and situation. Most duel posts are written from a limited third person point of view, following only on character, and thus only accounting for that one character’s perceptions. So, empirical (and infallible) facts are often mentioned only through characters’ perceptions, and perceptions can be wrong. In the case of some contradictions, a player can adapt by referencing the other character’s perceptions as skewed, causing them to see and believe what the other player had erred. If a character determines that there are birds in the air, the very next post may refer to a volley of ribbed and winged projectiles that the first character perceived as birds, with neither player guilty of a contradiction.

If you are interested in seeing others’ thoughts on this article (in its seminar format) and completing optional assignments that help cement the concepts divulged here, see it in Duels, Fights, Battles in the Roleplaying Academy on RPGFO.

Those concepts, in unison, make for well rounded, exciting, and fun to read and participate in duels. If you already employ these concepts, then reading this should have made you more aware of them. If you are new to roleplay combat, then keeping these in mind will help take your duels up to high quality. Please comment here (or email me) with your thoughts, insights, successes, and additions.


2 comments for “Play-by-Post Combat and Forum-Based Dueling”

  1. A very good article, thank you. Whilst it outlines what I feel is only common sense, I am also reminded all too often of the old adage that “common sense isn’t all that common,” especially when dealing with online, turn-based textual combatants.

    This article outlines the basics of a duel, and outlines the factors important even before such things as fighting technique, tactics etc etc, which are uselessly engaged when missing the points you highlight here.

    Thank you. Hopefully people will read this, and take it into real consideration and apply it as they learn; or be reminded of it should experience be greater.

    Posted by Effectual Immortality | September 30, 2008, 6:40 pm
  2. [...] last is the mode of conversation: open-ended prompting. I wrote an article on Play-by-post forum-based dueling for the Role Play Academy, and started it with Open-Ended Prompting. The premise there was to keep [...]

    Posted by Communication, Confidentiality, and Open-Ended Prompting « Thick with Issues | October 8, 2008, 10:57 pm

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