Looking at PBM today, it seems to be played lhis; Input orders, Get a turn back, Arrange some diplomacy with allies/adversaries…. Then wash, rinse, repeat. I find this somewhat sad, as during the “Golden Age” of PBM, things were a lot different, making the whole PBM genre more enjoyable and exciting. How so? Read on…..
Having played through the “Golden Age” PBM, the hobby at that time, was much, much different that it is now. There was a thriving community, created by both companies and players alike, that is much different then there is today. Why? Well here, in no particular order, are some reasons as to why.
In-House Game Newsletters.
Almost every game had an “official” in house company newsletter, which was full of news – both in and out of game – interviews with key players, in game rumours, snippets of in-game info, stories, battle reports, news of big events in game and a place for players to boast about their – so called - successes, issue in-game threats, recruit players to their alliances and generally wax lyrical about their position in game.
For example, lets take Crasimoff’s World (CW) Newsletter 22, which is A4 is size and 20 pages long. On page one alone, there's info about the company (How you can get the new rulebook, get back issues of the old newsletters) and players’ competition results. A brief scan through the newsletter reveals a piece by GM Andy Smith about the game, GM generated Rumours (42 of them), News From the Front (GM reports of in-game happenings), pages of player messages, along with cartoons – one two pages long depicting a players clan experiences in game – player artwork, a game related crossword, a trading area – where players trade in game info/goods -a letters page and some info on new rules.
Games such as Saturnalia and The Hunting had similar newsletters, and they were packed with in-game info, details of up and coming games conventions, interviews with in-game players, player ranking tables, explanations of the in-game back history and the gods' background, a breakdown of how many players worshipped what gods and the all important Fame table.
Subscription to these newsletters was optional, as they came at an extra cost, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t have a 99% take up rate by the players: Why? They were a joy to read, full of info you may not know, hints and tips about the game, background lore, details of what the company itself was planning to do, and most crucially, a chance to meet like-minded players.
The in-house newsletters, although somewhat of a bane to put together, also generated a small, but welcome, source of income for the companies that produced them.
More recently, some games I have played have had free news sheets but they are just full of in game info and not much else, to be frank. It would be nice if old style in-house newsletters could make a reappearance, as I feel they give the game a certain “something” that players crave and miss – but that’s up to the companies, themselves.
Player Newsletters and In-Game Material
Another dead or dying art. Most games I played had player-based newsletters. I created one in Saturnalia on a quarterly basis for an alliance I had formed called the Renchu (the Saturnalian god of death) Liberation Army (RLA). Our tag line was “Death to the Living!” In it, we had a Death List of all the characters and NPC’s we wanted dead and some that we had – allegedly – killed. There were also battle reports, cartoons – mainly ripped off from 60/70’s USA horror magazines (because they involved a lot of death and were VERY gory) with the speech in the bubbles changed to reflect a pro-RLA position, insults, details of planned actions, deliberate disinformation and a lot more. These used to be sent to the GM, who sent them out with the appropriate alliance people in their turns, and for pure propaganda purposes, we asked them to “Slip” a few to the opposition!!
When I played CW, there was a group called Black Light and Teminus Est, and they were one of the most feared groups in the game. They had their own newsletter, and getting hold of a copy was a real achievement. I still remember the day I got one – it was a frightening read!
In some games, I had little business cards made up, which I sent to the GM and told them, in my players' actions, that my character was dropping them off at various places around town. I had copied a spy/assassin type looking over a wall (from a RPG book), and on the back of it was written “Are you next?” The GM would then place them in the turns of any player that was looking around town!
Another thing that was commonplace was to drop “Calling Cards” next to a character/group that we had beaten in battle. This was a pure rip off of the English football hooligans tradition, which itself was copied from the Vietnam War. I had one with a skull and “Death to the Living!” around it, which I had professionally printed by a mate who worked in the print industry. That got a lot of players worried!
Unfortunately, these PBM staples seem to be a lost art, and it doesn’t happen any-more.
These were crucial to the development of PBM in the UK and Europe. There were two main types: The Individual Company Pub-Meets and the Communal Pub Meets, the former tending to be arranged by the companies themselves, the latter by players. Companies such as KJC Games, Sloth Enterprises and DMC games used to do both. They’d have a meet for their own players (of all their games), and they would come to the Communal Pub Meet.
Players used to travel far and wide for pub-meets. I have seen people turn up at London based Pub-Meets from Norway, Glasgow, Cardiff and Cornwall. Every game seemed to have at least one pub-meet, even the smaller companies. For example, Professional American Football League, run by Nick Barnett, had an annual face to face “Player Draft” where a lot of the players turned up to do live in-game player trades – just like the real thing!
A pub-meet – of any persuasion – was a great place to pick up info, make in-game alliances, swap stories, brag about your successes, talk down your defeats and generally have a great time. But most of all, the PBM pub-meet was a place to make friends. I have life long friends to this very day that I met at PBM pub-meets decades ago.
Of course. there are many stories that I could regale you about relating to pub-meets, but as the old adage goes, “What happens at the pub-meet stays at the pub-meet!” In conclusion, I understand that it will be different in the USA. The vast distances between the players involved and time zones are just two barriers to having a pub-meet. But in this day and age, with the advent of Skype/Zoom/Teams etc., it should be possible for both players and companies, alike, to arrange some kind of “game chat” at a time that would be suitable for all players?
I have a regular chat with people from all around the globe for another activity of mine – why can’t we have a similar one for PBM games?