Well, this certainly is a change of pace. Usually, writing the lead-off article or text spiel for an issue of PBM Chaos is the last thing that I do, or nearly the last. This time around, though, it's turned out to be the very first thing that I've started on.
I find myself torn, here in the wee early morning hours of a Sunday fresh out of the oven. Several more subscribers e-mail providers have interpreted these PBM Chaos mailings as "spam." And in at least one instance, part of these newsletters go cut off. Such misfortunes add up to me wondering whether to just go back to doing some kind of PDF document for my PBM stuff.
It's frustrating to actively, consciously try to stay within the rails, so to speak, only to end up getting derailed, anyway. If your issues of PBM Chaos are getting cut off, how do you know that the portion that you are receiving isn't the entire issue? And if you've been on the PlayByMail mailing list for a long while, and all of a sudden, your e-mail provider begins to auto-mark PBM Chaos as "spam," how do you then "follow along?"
So, while I'm not exactly brooding, as I sit here with darkness consuming the world right outside of my window, I am thinking and pondering and wondering to myself how to deal with these sorts of things in a manner that is effective?
It was at this point that I received new turn results for some of the games of Alamaze that I am currently playing in, and became distracted with that, ending with me taking time out to write a couple of forum postings over in the Alamaze forum here and here.
And now, here I am many hours later, with Sunday afternoon just getting its grip on the day. I've taken some time out, today, to share numerous old PBM advertisements from PBM games and PBM companies that are now little more than PBM memories. And for some of us, many of these really old play by mail games aren't even memories, because seeing them now, decades after the fact of their creation, ends up being something new for us. Not everyone alive today is as old as my buddy, Wayne "Watch Yer Driving" Smith.
Somehow in the mixture and brew of what this day, so far, has become for me, with PBM this and PBM that having a game of ping pong in my empty brain cavity, my PBM sanity has sought refuge upon the shore of quality. One thing that play by mail gaming could really benefit more from, these days, is embracing and utilizing quality as a driving force.
Of course, if you're reading this in a hastily tossed together amateur PBM digital "publication" called PBM Chaos, which tends to be little more than an over-sized e-mail seeking to saturate some of your senses with a burst of PBM stuff, you might be struck - and struck hard - with the Mallet of Irony. After all, who am I, of all people in the vast realm of PBM gaming, to lecture anyone about quality?
Even still, hear me out, if you will, because I think that it's a very important consideration, one that has a veritable truckload of significance. To be certain, there are PBM companies and PBM GMs that pride themselves on the quality of their service to PBM gamers. That remains true, even today, in the PBM year of 2023.
But how old, just how dated, is their menu of PBM offerings? The man who flew buffaloes (or something like that) is generally credited for having invented the commercial PBM sector. His name was Rick Loomis. He founded and ran Flying Buffalo, Inc. for a great many years. But tell me this (if you dare) - what was the last true blue play by mail game invented and brought to market?
Feel free to do your research on the Internet of things, and get back to me with what you think is the correct answer. Does anybody out there even know? Do you even have a clue? Boy, this is a tough one, huh?
If your name is Richard Lockwood, then just sit back down, because I don't think that you know the answer. And the rest of you PBM coots, be real careful not to embarrass yourselves by submitting the wrong answer. Right about now, my gut instinct tells me that Bryan Ciesielski is grinning real big, as he reads through this Johnny-on-the-spot PBM pop quiz. But it ain't like he knows the answer, either. Feel free to prove me wrong, Bryan. That fancy PBM ring of power that you're always showing off ain't gonna save you this time, pal.
How sad is it that the last PBM game of the postal variety that was designed, created, and made available to the gaming public for play so easily slips our individual and collective minds? Tsk, tsk, tsk. . .
Or maybe I'm wrong about this, and everybody and his brother were immediately able to recall what the last PBM game known to mankind was/is. Again, Richard Lockwood, just stay in your seat and drink that lager. And to think, once upon a time ago, you claimed to be an ale man. I have my doubts, Richard. I have my doubts.
So, skipping right along, what would it take for someone to create and publish an old style PBM magazine, as is rumored to have existed once upon a time ago? Well, standing in the very bottom of the Well of PBM Thought and gazing upwards, in order for it to be a quality PBM magazine, the first thing that you need to pull something like that off, realistically, is more than one person. It requires a group effort, to get it all done, and to get it right, consistently. For any one person, it's just a bridge too far, I think.
I'm not trying to sell anybody short, simply because I have proven to not be up to the task, but have you ever looked inside some of the old magazines, whether PBM magazines or magazines that routinely featured a good bit of PBM content? These were the handiwork of combined efforts of multiple different people. David Webber did not do it all by himself, and neither did Nicky Palmer nor Carol Mulholland, to name but a few.
Sure, they all took turns begging and pleading and persuading others to send them in some PBM articles to publish. There's just no getting around that, apparently, no matter what term that you use to describe this "necessary practice." Where would David Webber have been without all of his wife's (Elaine Webber's) help? How could he have gotten Paper Mayhem published all those many years, if people at the printers didn't help him to get it done?
But anytime that multiple different personalities are involved in such PBM-oriented undertakings, the chance and the risk of personality clashes becomes a reality. And even if clashes are deftly avoided, there are competing outlooks and visions that invariably weaken the underlying effort. Plus, too, the more people that are involved, the easier it is to lose people along the way. That's just the reality of it.
With Jon Capps having stepped away from publishing a resurrected Suspense & Decision magazine a few months back, I was always observing the issues that he published. All things considered, how much support from the wide PBM community did he receive? Would it have even filled a thimble?
From my perspective, that PBM undertaking failed, first and foremost, because the PBM community and the PBM industry effectively starved the new Suspense & Decision to death. Sure, it was a subscription-based PBM magazine, but so was Paper Mayhem, so was Flagship, so were other PBM magazine heavyweights from the past.
Why bring any of this up, now, though? Because it enters my head, as I am typing about the stuff that preceded its appearance in this article.
Even if a quality PBM magazine existed, today, what would it have to work with? An old, dated menu of PBM offerings that are older than some of our children or grand-children or, dare I say it, ourselves? Not everybody playing PBM games, today, are old goats, after all (no offense to the goat aficionados of the TribeNet community of PBM gamers, either).
Perhaps I am delusional to even ponder such. But then again, wasn't it just last issue that you all learn about a fellow who waited some forty-odd years to join a PBM game (Hyborian War)? So, clearly, a desire to try and to play PBM games still exists in the hearts and the minds of mankind. Yeah, yeah, so few, so few. I get it. I grasp it. I comprehend that the numbers are small - perhaps even infinitesimally small, compared to the overall gamer population at large. But even at the very height of its fame and popularity, millions of people didn't play PBM games, anyway (that I know of).
I have a theory. In truth, I have many theories, especially about PBM, but a new PBM theory came to me, just now, and lodged itself in my mind. But by the time that I finished writing those two sentences, it seems to have already flown the coop. Pah!
Oh, there it is, again! What it was is that PBM gaming needs greater acceleration, before it can take off, again. Right now, it's like an airplane before the Wright Brothers and others succeeded in getting their respective designs right. PBM can't fly high, today, because its ground-bound. Or said another way, PBM gaming forgot HOW to fly.
Play by mail gaming never got to where it was because a relative handful of people or companies created just a few PBM games, and then called it quits. There was this seemingly perpetual energy that came about, after Rick Loomis took his buffalo to the sky. Innovation ran amok, yielding all kinds of different PBM games. Hell, PBM companies and PBM GMs were actually competing with one another, back then. Heck, they had no choice to compete, or else, they would have been left behind.
And today, having failed to learn and to heed that core, basic, fundamental lesson, PBM as an industry and as a hobby finds itself where it is, today. It reminds me of how NASA seems to have forgotten how to get to the moon. Shitloads of new technology, and how many years, now, has NASA been piddling around with its head up its ass?
PBM gaming has long since ceased to have a quality approach to advertising. Sure, PBM ads that I created from time to time in today's era aren't ever gonna win any prices for aesthetics and originality, but is PBM gaming better off with no new ads being injected into the PBM scene on a somewhat-regular basis?
If PBM is dead, then how do you explain Forrest Aguirre?
More than forty years later, Forrest Aquirre finally takes the plunge. He made it happen. And perhaps worst of all (or best of all), he told me about it. And now, here I am, wielding his entry into PBM gaming decades after he first heard of it like Thor's hammer. Pardon me as I bash down a few PBM doors with this magnificent tidbit of fact.
Me? I think it's what the Internet of today calls a BFD - a Big Fucking Deal!
Yeah, yeah, I know. Watch the language. There might be...GASP!!...kids reading this. It might come across as just a bit too unsavory. It might shatter PBM's wholesome image of staleness. What a tragedy that would be, huh?
Good manners. Decency. Respectability. These are fine and wonderful things. But they are not gods to which I pray. Personally, I think that PBM gaming and the PBM industry and the PBM hobby should have a better menu of offerings than just stale bread. To me, having to choose between whose bread (whose PBM game) is the oldest and has the most mold on it isn't a real choice, at all.
Why don't more people try PBM? Well, why don't PBM companies and GMs offer them a much wider selection of PBM bread? In the old days, play by mail gaming was like Little Italy. New, interesting, and tasty gaming dishes came out of the game design ovens piping hot. And others who had never even head of PBM games before, much less ever tried them, soon began to catch a whiff of these new PBM dishes. The smell of them drifted into all kinds of different magazines. People's eyes became open to them, and PBM games were truly the forbidden fruit of their day.
Now, cast your eyes upon the PBM scene, and what do you see? What does PBM gaming smell like, today? Does it smell like a dead corpse? Maybe that's why so many people who have at least heard of PBM games think that PBM is dead. Who wants to keep company with the dead, and especially if the dead reek to high heaven?
Even the Amish know how to do a barn raising. How, then, is it that the PBM community can do a PBM barn raising? We have the tools. We have the know-how. We have the experience. What, then, do we lack?
The will? The resolve? The sense of urgency?
You tell me. The Internet didn't kill PBM. The Internet didn't make anyone stop playing PBM games. Rather, Little Italy moved to a different side of town, and it got a whole lot bigger in the process.
Creativity and design in gaming is bigger, today, than it's ever been. It ain't like PBM gaming can't have a bigger slice of the pie. Rather, PBM has grown content with the crumbs of yesteryear. PBM has grown complacent. It's grown stale. It's grown bland.
Hell, it looks plain anorexic to me, and I love it to death!
PBM needs to quit starving itself. It's main course, these days, appears to be excuses. No wonder PBM is starving right before our eyes.
Maybe I'll just start running obituaries, instead of PBM ads. Hell, more people would probably subscribe, if I did.
He dropped out as he's in a few games, and was struggling to find the time to get his orders in.
Thanks to your newsletter we have a replacement player, however.
Guess which PBM personality has agreed to do an interview for PBM Chaos!
The Three Sentence PBM Challenge Accepted
Mike Henderson rose to the 3-Sentence PBM Challenge presented in Isue #24 of PBM Chaos.
Strikes Sentences and I'm outta here!
GMShadows has started up a game of Far Horizons. There are some positions open; I encourage you to try it out. Far Horizons is one the games in the PlayByMail repository on Github. It's a final resting place for old PBM game engines. If you know of a game with source code that should be added, please let me know.
What's up with Wraith? It's been more than a year since the game debuted. The game fizzled out because of poor documentation. Starting players are faced with an overwhelming number of choices and poor choices punish the player almost immediately. It's quite disheartening.
TribeNet has the same issue and deals with it by encouraging new players to join up with a mentor. That is a great solution for the mentee, but it can be a time/energy/resource drain for the mentor. My solution for Wraith has been to rewrite the documentation. I've been doing that on and off for a year and I'm maybe a decade away from completing that because it is really hard to remember how a new player approaches the game.
Speaking of TribeNet, I've joined the reboot. There's a very active community on their Discord server. I've managed to accomplish very little in the first two turns because of errors with the order entry. There's a spreadsheet that helps but I'm human and determined to prove it to the system. Despite that, it's keeping me engaged. (And driving me to write something to read in the reports, build out a map, and help generate orders. Which pulls me away from the other coding I want to do.)
The Keys of Medokh keeps popping up. I'm continuing my research on it. I've read everything about it that I found on the Internet. Most of that deals with the implosion of Rampage. Their game engine was an early example of vaporware. There are some articles that mention the game design and how it was so original and engaging that it made players ignore the flames in the building and keep on playing it. I'm searching for former players to get their opinions on that.
TAKAMO Status Report11.17.23 Terran Standard Calendar (TSC)
Nicademus fleets have been spotted in Xorphrin Republic space and one of their fleets recently entered orbit around a Terraformed world of the Distan Colonies.
Kvizier and Megacorp continue their trade activities across their vast empires and naval operations against the cybernetic forces led by the evil Charon cybers, seem to have ceased for the moment. No one expects the pause to last long.
Rebels backed by Gorkhan VII cybers have prevailed against the rulers of a High Harvest Church world. A Gorkhan cybernetic diplomat and several million cybernetic troops soon arrived to welcome the planet into the empire.
Gorkhan VII starships also continue to travel to Charon meeting points to trade for military equipment and advanced cybernetic technology.
It is rumored that the insect race of the Apshain Federation is harvesting agricultural products on cybernetic worlds.
During a Grand Alliance general assembly, Terran officials questioned the propriety of a number of secret trade agreements between Astracorp Bionetics and an undisclosed empire.
During a deep space sweep, a Phantatwain strike fleet located a Nepenthes fleet of over thirty battlestars of the Marauder class. With little hope of victory, the Phantatwain commander ordered over a thousand fighters to attack the Nepenthes fleet. A handful of battlestars were destroyed. The Phantatwain have declined to disclose fighter losses, but this reporter believes that no fighters returned.
Each player starts the game of Far Horizons with a home planet. This is where their species evolved, acquired intelligence, and eventually learned how to travel among the stars.
At the start of the game, the only material resources available to a species are those of its home planet. These resources can be used to build units such as mines, factories, spaceships, planetary defenses, etc. As the game proceeds, a species can colonize other planets, and tap them for resources, as well.
Far Horizons is free to play. Join today!
NOTE: This game of Far Horizons has already started, but the game is still accepting new players.
Growth in a Complacent PBM World
Even trying to figure out what to title this article, before I actually wrote it, wasn't easy. But now that I have bestow a title upon it, let us now see if I can find the words to imbue it with some degree of meaning, substance, and persuasion.
Thinking back to a span of time that now lies buried several decades in the past, I ponder what that era of PBM gaming was like. Oh, sure, I was a part of it - a really tiny little part, and honestly, I didn't really spend any time, back then, trying to contemplate the bigger PBM picture. Fast forward to today, and it's a sharp contrast between then, and how much time that I've spent focusing upon the bigger PBM picture in recent years.
But is there really any point, at all, in even bothering with trying to figure out a better way forward for PBM gaming as a whole? Are countervailing forces just too strong to make progress against? And by countervailing forces, I do not refer to some dark conspiracy by any individuals or groups within the PBM sphere of gaming actively plotting to ensure that I fail, in whatever undertakings that I attempt to move PBM gaming to a better place, to slightly more advantageous ground.
No, I'm referring, instead, to things like complacency, which isn't really a planned thing on anyone's part. But complacency is not merely a countervailing force that's "out there," it is one of the biggest out of all countervailing forces currently impacting PBM gaming in such a way as to retard growth of the overall PBM player base.
Being neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but having long since taken up the mantle of realist, my tendency is to question anything and everything, in a bid to find some particular thing or things that can be exploited in favor of growth of the PBM player base. But is there actually anything, at all, that can be converted into an advantage in favor of PBM?
Now is as good of a time as any to quote PBM newcomer Forrest Aguirre, again, which PBM Chaos readers were introduced to in Issue #24.
"So, yes, all your writing and ads and beautiful stream-of-conscious ranting and raving has had an effect. At least one person, namely me, will be taking a plunge because of your efforts."
- Forrest Aguirre
PBM Chaos - Issue #24
Thus, at least part of what I am currently doing, and a part of what I have been doing for a long while, has proven to be capable of yielding positive results. Indeed, one of my guiding philosophies all along has been to literally try to tackle the the lackluster growth of the overall PBM player base by trying to persuade gamers at an individual level - literally, to try and grow the PBM player base by one new gamer at a time, if necessary.
In the case of Forrest Aquirre, specifically, he had also said that he had been reading my newsletter for a "year or two, maybe more." But prior to that, a seed of interest had been planted in him. By what, you ask? Forrest recalled that, as a kid, he remembered seeing ads for PBM games in some magazines (Dragon Magazine, Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society, etc.). In his own words, he was "always intrigued but never took the plunge."
In fact, for forty-odd years or more, this seed of interest lay dormant within him. Well, maybe not entirely dormant, but Forrest only burst through the Soil of Possibilities very recently, springing forth as a PBM-gamer-about-to-be.
Me? I may have caused a spark with my words in the "newsletter" that Forrest referred to, but clearly, the gasoline was initially poured by others long, long ago. Of course, Forrest Aquirre isn't the first person that I've given a verbal nudge to, and put a score on the PBM Player Base Scoreboard. In recent years, others have also been "nudged" by me to signing up for one or more PBM games.
And each additional individual that comes into the PBM fold is progress. Definitely progress. And some that I have succeeded in giving a "nudge" to have actually run into the equivalent of brick walls erected by the chose approaches of PBM companies - which ends up defeating the purpose of trying to drum up new PBM players in the first place.
But that tends to be the exception, rather than the rule, I think. At least, I sure hope that's the exception, and not the rule, because if it's the rule, then PBM gaming is in a LOT more trouble than I perceive it to be in, already.
From my perspective, common sense (at least, what I think qualifies as common sense) tells me that if those who currently comprise the existing PBM player base would simply share information and article written about PBM games and PBM gaming with others in their social media networks (plural, not singular, in many cases - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), then it should be possible to gain more new PBM gamers (or former PBM gamers who make a return to the PBM fold), and to gain them faster.
But the thing about living in a modern day complacent PBM world is that people are, in many ways, complacent. This is particularly true, I think, with regard to the PBM community (as well as the PBM industry). When complacency reigns, enthusiasm wanes. And if you're no longer actually playing PBM games, and haven't been for quite a while, now, instead of PBM having a dead battery, imagine PBM having hundreds (or possibly, a thousand or two thousand) dead batteries.
Anyone familiar with the Transformers line of movies may have heard of something called the AllSpark. I would ask you, what happened to PBM's AllSpark? An equivalent AllSpark for PBM would be something that is not possessed and controlled by any one individual. No single player, no single PBM GM, and no single PBM company would possess it. Which begs the question be asked, but what about Rick Loomis "creating" the commercial PBM industry back in 1970, I believe it was (feel free to correct me, if I am wrong at any point along the way)?
That's quite the curiosity, huh?
Of course, as with most any venture or undertaking, there's always a first. There's always a starting point. Which underscores what I am getting at - for a resurgence of size to sweep across PBM gaming, there has to be a first. In fact, there likely have to be multiple different firsts.
Rick Loomis "created" the first commercial PBM company, but for there to be a commercial PBM industry, other PBM companies had to be brought into existence, also. Furthermore, Rick Loomis did not create the British PBM industry, nor the Australian PBM industry, nor the PBM industry in various other countries, either. Yet, these things in different places in the world actually happened. To be certain, Rick Loomis player a role (he played several different roles, to get technical about it), but his timing, if nothing else, imbued what he did with a significance that should not be understated. It was historical, in fact, and in a very real and substantive way.
Being a realistic, I don't tend to gravitate toward the chance that existing PBM companies and GMs will likely change their own habits and approaches anytime soon. I believe (correctly or incorrectly) that most remaining commercial PBM companies still in existence are no longer innovative, and particularly where the creation of new PBM games (or new variants or new modules of existing PBM games) is concerned, with some few exceptions.
Middle-earth Games is already working on a new module for Middle-earth PBM that will be set in the East. Madhouse UK has a long, and even a fairly recent, history and record of coming up with new modules for their longstanding DungeonWorld PBM game. But what about other "major" PBM companies still in existence? What do they have that's planned, or that's already in the works, as far PBM stuff that is new?
What new PBM games/variants/modules are in the works or planned from Rolling Thunder Games? Or from Reality Simulations, Inc.? Or from KJC Games? Anything? Anything at all?
So, being a realistic, I really do think and believe that on the creative front, if there is to transpire a resurgence of note in PBM gaming, then it must, of necessity, originate in the hobby sector of play by mail gaming, and not from the commercial PBM sector. What's the lead time for a commercial PBM company to bring a new PBM product to market, from the point of inception as an idea on a drawing board? How many months - or years - would it take the current PBM commercial sector to populate the PBM scene with a range of new PBM games? What was the last PBM game that the commercial PBM sector brought into existence, and how well is it doing, player-count-wise?
Now, think about yourself, as an individual that is interested in PBM gaming. How long would it take YOU, if you set your mind to it, to design, create, and bring into actual existence a new PBM game? I'm not talking about developing and unleashing upon the PBM world the best thing since sliced bread. I'm talking about any PBM game, whether simple or complex? I'm not even talking about it being a commercial PBM game. It could be, or it could be one where players are able to play for free. Forget everything else but that it be a turn-based game, playable either via the postal service or e-mail or online, and that it be something new, or something that used to exist, but no longer does.
The capacity of a human being to do things is actually vastly beyond what the average person might be inclined to think lies within the realm of actual possibility. Human beings tend to be a species of doubters, by nature. We are both a hopeful species, but a doubting species. We each tend to be our own worst enemy, our own biggest anchor around our necks.
The historically much-maligned PBM hobbyists and greatly-denigrated small-scale PBM companies are where the bulk of any new PBM games will originate, if they are every to originate, at all. PBM gaming doesn't tend to be widely viewed as a profitable field, these days, and that mindset doesn't tend to attract capital and capital investments. Which means that garage-scale inventors, home office inventors, creators with an entrepreneurial bent - these kinds of small scale points of origin
- are where any real chance of substance resides, if PBM gaming as a whole is to enjoy a resurgence of note.
PBM gaming already successfully (I say, again, successfully) crossed the Rubicon of the Internet. Alamaze is playable, now, with a web browser. Beyond the Stellar Empire made the digital transition, and is playable via an online interface. Hyborian War allows players to send turn orders in to RSI via e-mail. Granted, it's a hybrid PBM game, but so is Alamaze (issue turn orders via a web browser, but is sends turn results out as HTML files attached to e-mails).
What PBM companies have long since learned is that that it is quicker and easier for a PBM game to make the transition to digital and online environments on the Internet, but that is NOT the same thing as successfully transitioning a capacity to generate large profits. These two very distinct and different things are well worth being and remaining cognizant of.
The underlying purpose of commercial businesses is to generate a profit - and generally speaking, the more profit, the better). Of course, if they were after major profits to begin with, it begs the question be asked why they ever entered the PBM field, at all? At one time, there were certainly PBM profits that were of a noticeable level to be made. There was the equivalent of a PBM gold rush, after all, way back in the day. In fact, Rick Loomis was well aware of it, as he would often see other PBM companies making money that annoyed him that he was missing out on. He was making money in PBM, but he knew that there was more money that he could be making from it. The same for a lot of other gaming related stuff that he and his company produced.
Yes, times change. Technology changes, The world changes all around us, every single day of our lives. PBM changes, also. It's changed numerous times, down through the years, and it's changed in a variety of different ways. And know what? It will keep on changing.
New PBM games can be created via programming, or via the wielding of one's imagination. Computers can be used, but so can hand-crafted materials. People will play in a game where they are only given as few as a single real choice. PBMville demonstrates that. SHOOT or MOVE?
Numbers can be refined, You can grow a player base, you can maintain a player base at existing numbers, or you can lose players. All three are actual possibilities.
Tell me this - what's the budget of all PBM companies and GMs, combined, for advertising purpose, in order to attract new PBM players? How much do YOU think is ACTUALLY spent on just the advertising component of marketing strategies for play by mail companies and GMs?
Beyond that, do YOU think that most existing PBM companies and PBM GMs even have an advertising budget, at all?
Advertising, in and of itself, does not just automatically work, and certainly not in the sense of persuading large numbers of individuals to change their habits and to take up a new habit, such as PBM gaming. I prove that with each and every issue of anything PBM-related that I publish. Granted, I reel in an occasional fish, but not enough to keep PBM gaming as a whole from starving to death, for a lack of sizable numbers of newcomers. Are there even enough new players coming into PBM gaming, reliably, to replace whatever number of players that PBM loses to players dying out or who just quit playing PBM games, anymore?
If PBM gaming eventually does die out completely, it likely won't be because I failed to ask enough questions.
But Charles, why keep on and on and on? Why keep on asking the same old questions? And why keep on trying to come up with new questions, or taking the same old questions and asking them a different way? Because I don't want to just accept at face value that PBM gaming can't be turned around into a new and better direction, from where it currently find itself.
I believe that making noise can sometimes matter and make a positive difference, even if not always. I believe that PBM companies and GMs are, by and large, too busy or too indifferent to make noise for themselves, much less for all of the other PBM companies and PBM GMs and PBM games that currently exist, much less for any new ones that we might be fortunate enough to partake of one day.
I also don't assume that everyone who reads stuff that I write (or type, as Wayne Smith might view it) actually reads everything that I say, or that they necessarily remember every last thing that I have written (or typed) of what portions that they have actually read in the first place.
When I intentionally place myself in darkness, and simply take moments out to observe the PBM landscape that stretches out far and wide across the Internet, these days, what I see are a number of different pinpoints of light. Some of these pinpoints of light are bigger or brighter than others, but if PBM gaming suffers from anything, it's definitely not from too much of the Light of Awareness.
If you were to place yourself in darkness, deliberately, and then deliberately and methodically begin to try and look for and to discern different sources of PBM awareness, how many beacons of light and brightness of a PBM nature can you locate?
Raven Zachary is a name that I continually come back to, time and time and time, again. He's a PBM gift that just keeps on giving. But even he knows the flavor of burnout. Even he has scaled back his efforts on the PBM front. Of course, he's also the fellow that now publishes Goat Digest, a newsletter for the PBM game called TribeNet.
Goat Digest is a source of PBM light. It's also a source of PBM noise. I am aware when new issues of the Middle-earth PBM newsletter get published by John Davis. That, too, is a source of PBM light and PBM noise. While I might be biased, I also consider PBM Chaos to be a source of PBM light and PBM noise. Granted, maybe more noise than light, but regardless, PBM newcomer Forrest Aquirre noticed. He took note. He followed along. He endured. And eventually, we reeled him in.
But I, standing alone, did NOT reel him in. Interest in PBM had already taken root long, long before Forrest Aguirre ever even know that I existed, at all. Thus, what I did was to magnify the light and the noise that already emanated from Hyborian War, and from magazines that no longer existed. Things that I did were, at most, merely final steps in a fairly long path, a rather extended process.
The way that mathematics works is I am but one voice. The more voices that PBM has, the louder the message can become, and the louder the message becomes, the quicker and the easier it is for awareness of PBM gaming to increase and spread.
Now, think back to the golden heyday of PBM gaming, How many sources of PBM light and PBM noise do you think existed, back then? As PBM companies closed and PBM games ceased to be, by the hundreds upon hundreds, the number of sources of PBM light and PBM noise decreased markedly. In a nutshell, I don't think that PBM gaming will benefit from a further increase in darkness and silence.
To turn the tide, including the recent historical tide, requires PBM noise and PBM light. Me? I'm out here in the PBM realm screaming bloody murder. I have no desire to go silently into the night, and to be quite honest with one and all, I have no desire for PBM gaming to go quietly into the night, either.
Thus, to me, each newcomer to PBM gaming in the here and now is a victory. Each one is a cause for celebration! I wish to stop the bleeding. I prefer that PBM gaming grow anew.
And also, I just plain don't like the sound or the taste of surrender.
The solution to complacency Is action. Absent action, complacency will continue to spread like kudzu. Inaction won't halt the spread of complacency. Inaction won't reverse the gradual decline of PBM. Someone has to act, and the more that act, the better. But these words, too, will likely fall upon deaf ears - because complacent ears tend to also be deaf ears.
As a starting point, I would offer up as a suggestion that PBM fans start at least one PBM game, this year, that they otherwise had not planned nor intended to start. Whether it's a free PBM game, or paid PBM game, I really think that all positive change starts somewhere, and that playing in a PBM game can be accomplished without it turning out to be a really time-consuming or unduly difficult process.
If you will, just think about it. And then, if you can and if you will, just sign up for a single PBM game, no matter which one it is. A new one, one that you've tried before, one that you've thought about at some point in the past.
And if you're the daring type, then consider sitting down and designing a PBM game of your own. Show the PBM world what YOU'RE capable of. You can even keep it to a simple and quick-to-process design. I know that some are already working on a few new PBM games, and others of you have at least been thinking about it. So, why not finally take the plunge?
At worst, you fail, but you just might succeed. And whether you succeed or whether you fail, I think that PBM gaming will be better off for you having tried.
Because when no one tries, progress doesn't tend to happen.
Mediterranean Diplomacy Game
Just need 2 more players to sign up!
Play By Mail Facebook Page
PBM Sign-Up List
This list was last updated on: 11/20/2023
Alamaze Game #5743
NOTE: This game needs a total of 12 players to start.
NOTE: This is a No Quit game.
Players/Kingdoms Signed Up:
1. Free Traders - Morgan Kane
2. Illusionist - Strongwill
3. Dwarven - Runigruth
4. Necromancer - Lord Garth
5. Giants - Milo007
6. Elven - Alexicles
7. Dark Elven - Eregnon the Black
8. Gnome - Acererak
Stefan Graf's PBM Chaos Game of Mediterranean Diplomacy
NOTE: This game needs a total of 5 players to start.
NOTE: This game will be played via PBM Chaos
Players Signed Up:
1. Darrell Lias
Transgenerational Starweb Death Match
Starweb Championship Match
NOTE: This game needs a total of 15 players to start.
Players Signed Up:
1. Jim Smith
2. Ian Holden
3. Kevyn Tyler
Alamaze Game #5742
NOTE: This game needs a total of 12 players to start.
NOTE: This is an Anonymous game.
Players/Kingdoms Signed Up:
4. Free Traders
NOTE: To join games of Alamaze, you will need to create a player account, first:
NOTE: To join the Mediterranean Diplomacy game or the Transgenerational Starweb Death Match, send an e-mail to: [email protected]
Some Final Thoughts For This Issue
I hope and trust that everyone had a really nice Thanksgiving, whether you celebrate it as a holiday or not. I was gonna publish this issue a few days ago, but there was so much turkey to eat.
As Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon plays in the background as I type, I decided to go ahead and try to finish this issue up. The PBM personality that has agreed, already, to do an interview for PBM Chaos is none other than Russ Norris. You may recognize his name. He's the fellow that retired, isn't he? Those who know him likely associate his name with Rolling Thunder Games. Now, if I could just come up with a list of questions for him to respond to, huh?
Another of my games of Alamaze has drawn to a close. Game #5684, the remaining game where I was playing the Underworld kingdom, processed its 40th turn, recently. So, I'm down to being in just four games of Alamaze, currently - one game as the Warlock kingdom, and three games as the Demon Princes kingdom. Alamaze is still free to play, and there are a couple of new games of Alamaze currently forming, if you feel the itch to give it a try.
Jon Capps informed me yesterday (11/24/2025) that the reprint of Ken and Carol Mulholland's PBM book titled Games Mastership: How to Design and run a Play-By-Mail Game is now available for purchase from Amazon. Here's the link. The paperback version will set you back $9.95, but you can also snag a copy in Kindle format for just $2.99.
Only one of the five individuals who I issued a 3-sentence challenge to in the last issue rose to the occasion. But one is better than none, and I would like to extend a special thanks to Mike Henderson for taking the time and and for making the effort to respond to that PBM challenge. It's most-appreciated, Mike! Thank you, my PBM friend.
I still need to process the turn results for PBMville for this issue, so I am going to end this, here, and go do that, so that I can get this issue of PBM Chaos in the e-mail stream, finally.
Until next time, enjoy some PBM gaming in your spare time!
Hondo ‘Lefty’ Rogers
Player: Ian Holden
Previous Location: Just rode into town.
Current Location: 12
Hondo was a cow wrangler for most of his adult life - until that night in the saloon when he saw someone hassling his girl Zelda. Well, he thought of her as his girl, even though he never worked up the courage of speaking to her. The truth of the matter is that she was a tramp, and it was all that she could do to remember poor Hondo's name. Anyway, some yokel hassled her, so Hondo followed the guy into the alley and stabbed him right in the back. The guy never saw it coming, but Hondo left town that night just in case, branded a coward for the treacherous way that he killed the man that Zelda was in love with.
Mississippi Dave Bastard
Player: Richard Lockwood
Previous Location: 13
People Killed: 1
Current Location: 36
Bullet #1 - Shoots at Frank "Nine Fingers" Chambers in 27. (Missed!)
Bullet #2 - Shoots at Frank "Nine Fingers" Chambers in 27. (Missed!)
Bullet #3 - Shoots at Frank "Nine Fingers" Chambers in 27. (Hits!) (Kills)
Bullet #4 - Shoots at Brendan "The Dirge" Weir in 29. (Missed!) (Shot his hat off.)
Bullet #5 - Shoots at Brendan "The Dirge" Weir in 29. (Missed!)
Bullet #6 - Shoots at Brendan "The Dirge" Weir in 29. (Missed!)
Corbin "Crooked" Calloway
Player: Stefan Graf
Previous Location: 21
Bullet #1 - Shoots at Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell in 7. (Missed!)
Bullet #2 - Shoots at Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell in 7. (Missed!)
Bullet #3 - Shoots at Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell in 7. (Missed!)
Bullet #4 - Shoots at Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell in 7. (Missed!)
Bullet #5 - Shoots at Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell in 7. (Hit!) (Wounds!)
Bullet #6 - Shoots at Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell in 7. (Hits!) (Wounds!)
Frank "Nine Fingers" Chambers
Player: Barry Robertson
DEAD OR ALIVE
$500 REWARD for killing Sheriff "Wild Bill" Hickok
Previous Location: 27
People Killed: 2
Current Location:Boot Hill Cemetery
Bullet #1 - Shoots at Brendan "The Dirge" Weir in 29. (Hits!) (Kills!)
Bullet #2 - Shoots at Brendan "The Dirge" Weir in 29. (Missed!)
Bullet #3 - Shoots at Brendan "The Dirge" Weir in 29. (Hits!) (Wounds!)
Bullet #4 - Shoots at Rowdy "Slim" McGraw in 24. (Missed!)
Bullet #5 - Shoots at Rowdy "Slim" McGraw in 24. (Missed!)
Bullet #6 - Shoots at Rowdy "Slim" McGraw in 24. (Missed!)
Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell
Player: Darrell Lias
Previous Location: 7
Keeps gun holstered. Missed turn!
Rowdy Slim McGraw
Player: Casey Link
DEAD OR ALIVE
Previous Location: 24
People Killed: 2
Keeps gun holstered. Missed turn!
Brendan "The Dirge" Weir
DEAD OR ALIVE
Player: Brendan Weir
Previous Location: 29
People Killed: 2
Current Location: Boot Hill Cemetery
Possession: Ace of Spades [1 Use Only] [Averts Death] [Used and Depleted]
Bullet #1 - Shoots at Frank "Nine Fingers" Chambers in 27. (Missed!)
Bullet #2 - Shoots at Mississippi Dave Bastard in 13. (Missed!)
Bullet #3 - Shoots at Shoots at Frank "Nine Fingers" Chambers in 27. (Missed!)
Bullet #4 - Shoots at Mississippi Dave Bastard in 13. (Hits!) (Wounds!)
Bullet #5 - Shoots at Rowdy "Slim" McGraw in 24. (Missed!)
Bullet #6 - Shoots at Rowdy "Slim" McGraw in 24. (Missed!)