I like PBEM as an RP structure: the asynchronous and unscheduled nature of it works well for me. But in my (admittedly limited) experience with it, it's got certain inherent disadvantages and I've been pondering ways to address them in my next game. Because why should I make the same old mistakes when I could make exciting new mistakes instead? >:)
One issue: the pace of action. PBEMs tend towards long discussions by the PCs about what they ought to do, and rather less of the PCs actually doing things. This is an issue in all RP, actually, but it's exacerbated by the slower pace of email. There's a tremendous amount of back-and-forth to get to the best possible plan and to achieve consensus, and in cases where the last isn't reached, the PCs are sometimes left taking no action themselves and waiting for whatever the GM does next instead. Which may well make all the previous discussions obsolete and require a whole new round of planning.
I love the discussions among PCs: they're one of the things that make PBEM work for me, because they keep the game alive and the players actve while the GM plans. If all the posts by players required direct GM response, the game would be less active and interesting. This said, spending several days and a couple hundred posts trying and failing to reach a consensus gets frustrating.
So I've been thinking about various ways to address this problem. Ideas I've had so far:
1) Solo. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, IMO, but having only one player would make intraparty consensus pretty easy to achieve. Also, I've had a lot of successful experience with one-on-one games on MUCKs, so it might be fun.
2) Similar PCs. Under this option, all the PCs would be designed to have not only the same goal but also similar ideologies and worldviews. The idea here is that it would take less time for three liberals to agree on a plan than it would for a communist, a conservative, and a libertarian. While the theory has some validity, I think diversity leads to more interesting RP, and also that people will find stuff to argue about no matter how similar their intent. I mention this more for the sake of completeness than because I'd really like to try it.
3) PC Party Leader. I've heard of these before, but I've never been in a campaign, as either GM or player, where the group had a de facto party leader. I've hardly been in any that had even a nominal party leader. So I don't know how well having one works in practice, but if nothing else it'd be different for me.
4) NPC Party Leader. I've never heard of this being done, but it's got some appeal. I wouldn't run an NPC leader who used his own ideas (I might as well write a book if I'm gonna do that), but the PCs could come up with ideas and throw them around for a while, then have the NPC step in and make a decision when the GM is ready to move on. I'm not sure if the NPC leader would decide at random, or based on whatever the GM thinks would be the most fun. I mean, I could decide based on whatever would be most successful, but where's the fun in that? >:)
5) Co-Stars and Supporting Cast. Under this model, two or three players would get "starring" roles and make decisions for their own characters or try to work with the co-stars. The other players would be the supporting cast: they could contribute ideas and RP, but would ultimately either go along with whatever the stars wanted or bow out of the plot. This idea doesn't resolve the consensus problem that well, as getting even three PCs to agree on a strategy can be a big hurdle. Still, it's an option between a free-for-all and the more restrictive party-leader method.
6) The Terrible Way. This phrase was coined in +terrible butterflies+, and referred to the decision by any PC to skip discussing ideas and just do whatever the PC thought best at the moment. This caused a lot of trouble, but it was also a lot of fun. Now, as aforementioned, I like discussions, but a game mechanic where PCs occassionally had to go with their ideas could be fun. Like "Roll d6, on 1-2: PC does it now, 3-4: PC talks about it but will do it anyway if PC still like the idea (even if everyone else hates it), 5-6: player's discretion." Also, having it as a built-in feature of the game might mitigate some of the IC animosity that this style of play can generate.
All of these options assume the setting and character concepts are integrated with the OOC plan. PCs bound by the Terrible Way will not be soldiers in a squad of crack commandoes, but ones with an NPC leader might be.
As the GM, I can live with any of these options. To find out how potential players feel, I will use the handy-dandy poll feature. I won't take voting as a firm commitment to play on anyone's part, but please only vote in the poll if you are interested in playing in my next game.
One final note -- I am (don't laugh!) going to try to make the next game "short". By which I mean, it will cover an IC period of hours or possibly a few days at most. I don't expect it to be quick in RL terms, but I'm hoping for a game that runs for a few months RL, as opposed to my usual time length best measured in years. So whatever the game goes with, no one's going to have to live with it for very long. :)
Under which styles would you be interested in playing in a PBEM I ran?
If you have any other clarifications (like you'd be interested in a "PC leader" game, but only if you don't have to play the leader), or if you've got favorites among the choices you're willing to live with, please leave a comment about it. Thanks!