So, say you have generated the resolve to run a PBEM. Where do you start?
It starts with a concept. You have two options. The first is creating an original game, which may or may not be inspired by a work of fiction, or non fiction, or even your feline overlords and how one wakes you up in the middle of the night by repeatedly nudging your shoulder with her paw and then looking down at you as if you should know exactly why she woke you the hell up for…
Any game based on that probably would not be a very fun game to play.
Now, I say “inspired by”, not based on. When I mean “inspired by” I mean you look at a work of fiction like Star Wars and decide you want to create what is essentially a fantasy adventure in space, complete with magic rules, glowing melee weapons that can cut through just about anything, an evil empire, etc. It is not Star Wars but it certainly has similarities. Or you like comic books and decide to create your own super heroic universe.
Creating your own can be time consuming and if the game fails you might find yourself standing there with all that hard work and nothing to show for it. So, what is your other option? Creating a game in a pre-existing universe, such as Star Trek, the aforementioned Star Wars, the Buffyverse or DC universe or Marvel universe, or any of hundreds of pre-established universes. Games taking place in pre-generated universe are easier to start up because a great deal of the background information is already in place. I do not think these games are necessarily better but I can understand the appeal, and I have played in plenty of Star Trek PBEMs so I know they can be fun if worked right.
(Something important to keep in mind, then, is how many games are like the one you propose, and if there are what makes your game different from the others? Remember, for a game to work you need players. To attract players your game must interest them. And to interest them your game must be unique in some way. I may elaborate on this in a later article.)
So step one, decide on what sort of game you want to run. Step two is determining if you can run it.
This is based on several factors; do you have the creative chops to create plots that will interest players? Do you have the time to maintain the game? Do you have the skills to provide players with game background? Above all else, do you have the patience to deal with problems when the game goes off the rails. Because it will, believe me. Players disappearing, players throwing fits, players not getting along with other players, and the big one, players proving they are smarter than you by throwing you a creative curve ball you did not see coming.
Do not think it is only players who cause the problems. Acknowledge your own faults and shortcomings and seek to overcome them. Are you short tempered? Do not take criticism well? Easily distracted by bright, shiny objects? If you wish to become a good GM then you must realize that you are not perfect.
So you have the game concept down, and you have decided you have the stones to create engaging plots. And you think you are ready to handle the worst players may throw at you and see the faults within yourself. Now what?
Now you start world building…