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Be sure to visit our new PBM Facebook page!

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Hail and welcome to Issue #37!

Since I'm not sent much in the way of news, perhaps the big news is that I have begun the ritual of resurrecting PBM Unearthed from the dead. Here, see for yourself. Take a quick look below.

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Will it prove to be the right decision? Who knows? Who cares?

After all, the only way that we will likely ever make any progress around here is by taking the PBM bull by the horns and doing stuff.

But isn't PBM Chaos sufficient? Sure. But so what? I'll have to figure it all out, but why not do that on the fly, pretty much like everything else? Let's just roll the dice and take a chance. What say you?

Will there be enough content to do publish PBM Chaos and PBM Unearthed? Probably not, but hasn't that always been the story of PBM publications? Short on staff, short on articles, short on time. Sounds like the perfect time to go on the attack!

It's been a little over a year, since I last published an issue of PBM Unearthed.  I have to relearn how to do certain things certain ways, again. Layout issues take longer to resolve when doing PBM Unearthed, compared to doing PBM Chaos. That's just the way that it is

Be sure to join me over at the new PBM Facebook page. It will become my new base of operations, and I could use your moral support, if nothing else. Most won't, though, so all the more important for you to do so. Thank you for your consideration!

The Hyborian War gang over at the Road of Kings forum site have come through, once again, with some new episodes of the Hyborian War Question Series. It's some good stuff. Check it out!

My man on the PBM street, Richard Lockwood, has begun a series of PBM interviews, and the first of those is stuffed into this issue of PBM Chaos. Several other such PBM interviews are already in the works. Neil Packer gets grilled in this one, and Rob Harper goes under the spotlight in Issue #38.

The notorious Duel2 and Hyborian War player, Wayne "The Consortium" Smith sent me an article out of the wild blue yonder. It's included in this issue, also, and it's on the subject of Duel2, a PBM game run by Reality Simulations, Inc. Thank you, Smitty!

And if you like The PBM Maze, a new installment of that game is waiting on you in this issue. Players have begun dying in The PBM Maze. But even dying can be entertaining, when it's just a game. All things considered, I think that this turned out to be a pretty interesting turn for our Maze Rats. The PBM Maze, for those of you who don't know, was sealed, when the game started, so no other players can join, at this point. That nasty flood continues to spread inside of the Maze. Wow! I'm not sure what these players are gonna do. They had better do something, though, since that Minotaur is closing in on them.

I'm really tired. I need more rest. But in the Realm of PBM, there is no rest for the weary. I hope that you enjoy this issue, but if not, help me to make the next issue better. Others will appreciate it, I'm sure.

Until next issue, happy PBM gaming and happy PBM reading!

Oh, and don't forget to subscribe!

Charles Mosteller

Editor of PBM Chaos

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Duel2 image ad for Reality Simulations, Inc.

* Duel2 is owned and operated by Reality Simulations, Inc. © 1984, 2024 Reality Simulations, Inc.


T.C. (The Consortium aka Wayne Smith)

The battle axe swings with awesome cutting power!

The Grim Lord is hit in the chest. It is an awesome blow!

He sinks slowly to the ground.

Gambit has learned a riposte action and achieved advanced expert in riposte.

Black Lung will fight at Champions in the next tournament.

Veteran Mercenary is dangerously stunned and cannot keep fighting!

It is a proud Day for Lady Warriors as Colestah has ascended the Duelmaster's Throne.

Red was butchered by Longbow in a one minute mismatched challenge!

Duel2, the play-by-mail (not play-by-computer, nor play-through-internet) game (originally known as Duelmasters), is just plain fun. It is so good that there have been three published books written about it! It must be great, then! Do you want to have the fun and pleasures that hundreds of other managers before you have experienced? Can't blame you! I, personally, have been enjoying Duelmasters-to-D2 for over 35 years. Perhaps this article will assist or simplify your introduction to this game and speed up your enjoyment process. It goes something like this..............

ACQUIRE A D2 ROLL UP team sheet from RSI. (Reality Simulations Inc., P.O. Box 22400, Tempe AZ 85285-2400, ph. 4809677979) The first sheet/team is free. Subsequent five-warrior teams cost $5. (Same prices are charged by RSI as they did 30+ years ago!)

Later, after your introductory 10 turns in the Noblish Island (DM93) arena, you can transfer your starting team to another arena, or you may find you want to start up new team/s in other arenas, or both. Actually, you can start new teams any time, even while going through your learning process in DM93; but you may want to "learn the ropes," first.

FILL OUT THE ROLL UPS and send the sheet to RSI. Other than the normal personal information, the most important things to decide are: Team name, Manager Name, and 5 individual warrior designs. Let's discuss each of those briefly. Team name and manager name can be anything you like that fits you. (RSI will edit inappropriate naming.) They can be gladiator driven, silly ideas, great play on words, or whatever. The warrior names can be closely tied to the team name, or not. My very first team was: Bulldogs (note: they are still running in DM11), manager Kennelworth, and names like Tiger Lily, Sir Smythe, Wild Wayne, and Flash, etc. A team name I admire in the game is Azure Clouds, manager Slugbait, warrior names like Black Bile, Violent Orange, Blue


We could spend hours and hours on warrior designs, (Where to place the 14 points on the fixed 70 points and what style to choose?) and there are many articles available examining design, so I will offer only a few basic comments:

* Offensive styles are easier to learn for a newbie. (Or anyone, for that matter)

* Gender does not matter at all in the fight process.

* Usually, fast & quick or brawny & strong rule the day. I said usually.

* WT (wit) and WL (will) are the most important stats.

* There are reasons to design to odd numbers. (Exclude CN from that statement.)

* Read newsletters, especially past DM93 newsletters, for regularly posted design reviews You have received your 5 warrior profiles "overviews" back from RSI. Time to fill out DUEL II STRATEGY FORMS and send them in to RSI. "Goodness!" you say; "I wish I had a lot more information about weapons and strategies and what the warrior profile means, and...

Here are a list of places and methods for getting additional info:

* "Put on your newbie outfit." Ask RSI, or better yet, diplo the teachers/coaches in

Noblish Island (DM93), the "starter's arena" and ask for information provided there.

If you are already in Noblish Island, ask RSI to make sure you get the free CIC or

"fact sheets".

* "Go electronic." The best information in the game is available at reality.com/dm, or

Terrablood.com, or Assur's site or even try chatzy.com as DMers chat there from appx

9AM to 2AM EST. and they definitely seem to welcome inexperienced questions.

So, back to the strategy sheets. One for each warrior you plan to fight. Write

legibly! You would be very disappointed to have a code inputted improperly because

your scribbles were not so discernible. The basic stuff like warrior name and ID, or

game # and account # don't need discussion. But weapon selection, strategy, armor and challenging do.

Weapon choice is your chance to select a best weapon against the opponent's probable armor. Bigger weapons are probably needed against heavy armor. Some weapons do especially well against certain armor types. (Hmmm; that information mentioned earlier would help.) The most common weapon arrangements are a single primary weapon and a small backup primary for offensive types, and a primary/secondary (secondary could be a shield) and zero to two backups for defensives/finesse warriors. That, of course, begs the question of which styles are offensive? Generally, basher (BA), lunger (LU), slasher (SL), and striker (ST) are offensive. Generally, parry-lunger (PL), parry-riposte (PR), parry-strikers (PS), and total parry (TP) are defensive. Wall of steel (WS) and aimed blow (AB) are generally finesse warriors. But, really, anything goes, as you will find defensive bashers and offensive total parries and other mutants in this fun game.

Strategy is more difficult to decide. Offensives usually start "hot and heavy" and

then slow down, as they will wear down/tire due to weight being carried and a high

activity level Defensives tend to run moderately, but current arena defensive warriors

can be found fighting anywhere from "hot and heavy" to very slow. The desperation

strategy is important, because if your warrior is nearing defeat or exhaustion, you

may want to do something different in a last-ditch effort to pull out the win.

Armor is really a matter of preference, but like every other choice in the game, there

are trade-offs. Heavy armor, while providing more protection, can slow down and wear

down warriors. Naked or light armor may be less restricting and faster but offers

little protection. It is easy to think, "I need lots of armor.", but over encumbering

a warrior greatly impacts (diminishes) his fighting ability.

Training is simple. The most common training is "skills", but stats can be and are

trained also. In general the amount of skills learned is based on your WT (the higher

the better), but it is also impacted by the knowledge of the warriors you fight. (And

other things) Stat training is very highly dependent on WL, as the odds of getting a

first stat train of a stat type are 5% times the WL. (E.g. a WL of 15 = 5%x15 or 75%

chance.) There can be a luck roll impact also as is common almost everything that

occurs in Duel 2. Attempting to get a 2nd stat raise in a certain stat is halved.

(E.g. a WL of 15 = 5%x15x 0.5 = 37.5%)

Challenging and avoiding are very strategic components of the game. There are quite a few managers who do not challenge or avoid or both. You can use that to your best advantage. Challenge warriors (the warrior ID number) and avoid teams. (The team ID number.) Several points about challenging/avoiding):

* Challenging and avoiding do not work until after the warrior has fought his/her

first fight in the arena and is listed in the newsletter.

* Challenge warriors or styles you think you can beat, or who will teach you well, or

to attempt to advance in the rankings.

* Avoid those teams who have warriors that can probably beat you, or who are likely to challenge you.

* Remember: challenge warrior ID numbers (not names) and avoid team numbers (not


* Some arenas, usually Andorian, frown on down-challenging. (Usually defined as

challenging someone with fewer recognition points that oneself.) Beware of the arena

environment, history, and politics.

You have the option to use an alternate "special strategy" either (or both) when you

challenge someone, or when someone challenges you. You can use this alternate to

prepare a specific strategy for that challenge you just made, or surprising an

opponent who will likely challenge or blood feud you. To use these alternatives, "x"

the proper box or boxes and fill out the strategy info on the back of the strategy

form. This alternative strategy will not be used unless the conditions you selected


That was easy, wasn't it!? After sending in your strategy sheets, (in plenty of time

for the due date -- or last minute via fax; no internet submitting allowed) the

computer utilizes everyone's' inputs and the fights proceed. A few days after the

arena run date, the actual fights and arena newsletter will arrive in your mailbox.

(Actually the newsletter can be viewed on line three days after the fights.) Before

submitting the new warrior strategies for the next round of fights, there is much a

manager can/should examine and review. Here are generic things that this old-time

manager evaluates:

* Have I collected/recorded all the information I want from the fight so I can access

it quickly? (The Noblish Consortium manager and his Consortium cronies record this

for every fight: opponent's name, stable, arena and ID number, size, handedness,

record, style, armor, and weapons plus his warrior's train results, armor, weapons,

swing info (criticals/swings/extra value hits), W or L, how many minutes,

recognition points, and political point status- if any. Also recorded are who, if

anyone challenged. This is manually recorded on a sheet with my warrior's name, ID,

and size, handedness, plus style.

* Did each warrior fight as I expected from the strategy? Do I need to adjust or

change any strategies?

* Did any warrior act over encumbered or tire faster than I thought? Do I need to

adjust strategies, armor, or weapons?

* Did each warrior fight well with the weapon? (e.g. hit when he swung and had

critical hits -- which are strongly stated weapon hit statements compared to the

norm) Do I need to change weapon selections?

* Did another warrior out jump me when I did not expect it? Do I need to adjust

strategies or weapons?

* Did the warriors learn what I expected and learn well? (e.g. earn lots of skills) If

not, what can I do about it? (Switch to learning stats/skills? Challenge a very

experienced warrior?)

* Do I know anything about the arena warriors that I can challenge? (Have I and my

friends accumulated style and other information on opponents?) Should I challenge or

take the luck of the draw? (Remember: challenge warrior #'s.)

* Likewise, is there someone within range I just do not want to fight? (A warrior that

has beaten me before? A warrior with lots more experience than me? A team that has

my number? Should I avoid the team with that warrior? (Remember: avoid team #'s)

* Have I written some personal ads or a spotlight to add to the enjoyment of the


Then it is time to turn in those strategy sheets again!

Duel 2 is a game of gladiators, comprised of knowledge, strategy, and a little luck.

Above all, it is fun. See you on the sands!

-- T.C. (The Consortium aka Wayne Smith)

Note: RSI has something special with Duelmasters that few, if any other, PBMs can offer. Twice per year, for many years, voluntary Face-To-Face Tournaments are held, opening up the competition from all arenas of D2 play. Managers from near and far gather for a fun-filled and very busy week-end of competition. The winter version is held in RSI home town Tempe, AZ (Phoenix) while the summer location varies in location east of the Mississippi. (Recent ones in Arlington, VA (DC), Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Kansas City; this July 12-14, 2024 it will be in Minneapolis.) Great competition and a fine chance to meet other managers and the RSI staff.

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Hyborian War Question Series - Episode 5
ROKer Joe Wheeler

Q. In your considered opinion, what things or challenges about Hyborian War seem to give experienced players the most difficulty, in terms of grasping or being able to overcome, and what have you learned from your own first-hand playing of Hyborian War over the years that you've been playing it that has enabled you to feel has equipped you to deal with and overcome those very same things about the game that continues to plague other players,even today?

There are a number of areas where I could point to specific challenges; I'm targeting one that lies at the core of player interaction. Back when the game was in its infancy, the biggest challenge (and part of what made it the most fun) was the lack of knowledge (fog of war) and reaching out via snail mail to create alliances, taunt your enemies, and exchange information. Now, the curtain has been pulled back, and much of what used to be a mystery is captured in black and white on multiple websites for ease of use. As far as interacting with others, now you can reach out and have a response in a matter of minutes. This has led, in my opinion, to a lessening of understanding and communication. We've gone from well thought out and comprehensive missives to "hey, you want to ally in the next game?". No, this isn't opining for the "good old days", but more representative to the challenge of clear communication. When combining the general availability of information, which reduces the need for interacting with others outside of a specific game, with messaging, chat, email, DM's, etc, which tend to encourage shorter verbiage, we end up with less communication and shorter interactions.

This brevity leads to alliances or other accords being agreed upon without both parties ensuring that they have the same understanding of what that agreement means, with corresponding anger and frustration when someone doesn't act the way someone else thought they had agreed to act. My solution, no matter how closely I have worked with someone in the past, is to clearly state my understanding of what is being agreed upon so that neither party has any misconceptions.

Q. There are 36 different player kingdoms that players of Hyborian War can choose from to play. That's a lot of players all playing in the same game. From what all you know and can tell and discern about the game, what do you think are the things that are most likely to make or break a given player's ability to maximize the amount of fun that they can extract from a game of Hyborian War? And does it differ for experienced players versus newcomers to the game?

Honestly that depends a lot upon the player. Winning is always a favorite but as you gain more experience with the game, what makes it fun becomes much more nuanced. Some players prefer the interactions more, and enjoy playing kingdoms where their court allows them to pull the proverbial strings, while others go for straight up military action and look for strong armies. It ultimately depends on what that player enjoys the most. That variety is a large part of what makes this game, and (shoutout to Crom) the organized games so enjoyable (and frustrating). Want to play a game where you don't have to interact with other players outside of the in-game mechanics? Go with a total privacy game. Want one where you can plot with any and all players, go with a regular game. Ultimately, it's up to the player but the sheer variety of available player kingdoms, with their unique strengths and weaknesses, when combined with the organized game options, mean you can have a game where your idea of fun can be realized.

As you become more experienced, you may decide you want to see just how many provinces a well-played Amazonia can take, or if you can relocate Argossean navies to the eastern ocean, of if you can kidnap the monarch of every other played kingdom in a single game. The Hyborian world is your oyster - find what makes it fun for you, and roll with it.

Hyborian War image ad for Reality Simulations, Inc.

* HYBORlAN WAR is owned and operated by Reality Simulations, Inc. ©1985,2006, 2024 Reality Simulations, Inc.

Opportunities, Possibilities, and PBM

Charles Mosteller
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Which links have PBM Chaos readers clicked on in Issue #36, thus far? Here, let me share that with you.

In each issue, I typically include a range of different links, just as part of the ordinary mundane task of trying to share information and raise awareness. In any given issue of PBM Chaos, most readers don't tend to click any of the links available, no matter which issue it is.

Why the link to this PBM Unearthed Facebook page warranted 5 clicks is anybody's guess.

I suspect that, somehow, one of the keys to growing the overall size of the PBM player base is to grow the number of times that links to PBM-related websites or information get clicked on. In reality, it's a tad more complicated than that, but I've no doubt that there is a correlation. Indeed, when people browse the Internet, they routinely end up clicking on all kinds of different links. The World Wide Web, for example, is awash in hyperlinks, also know more affectionately by the masses as links. Thus, to get from place to place on the Internet, links play a critical role.

Even if PBM Chaos readers click on links that lead to PBM games, there's no guarantee than any visit made possible by the click of a given link will result in a PBM company or GM "sealing the deal," and an individual who is a browser or reader of PBM information will then take the additional step of actually giving a given PBM game a try. It's quite the challenge grow the PBM player base.

If one were to actually take the time and make the effort to conduct an extensive and in-depth analysis, what one might likely find would be a process that is fraught with all kinds of different obstacles - many of which are of the self-inflicted variety.

Generally speaking, to gain new players requires awareness of PBM's existence, as well as awareness of one or more PBM games, specifically. I suppose that PBM Chaos plays a small role in helping to establish and to raise awareness of play by mail gaming. Once initial awareness has been established, what then? There are many different ways in which a prospective new PBM gamer can get lost on their way to joining and playing a PBM game, much less several different PBM games.

Even though I publish PBM Chaos, and before that I published PBM Unearthed, and before that, I published the original Suspense & Decision magazine (all three of which are or were PBM publications), I've never even managed to succeed at selling myself on playing lots of different PBM games. And it can't be because I'm not aware of their existence.

I talk about a lot of different things, just in the course of fiddling around with this PBM advocacy stuff over the last couple of decades or so. But I probably OBSERVE a lot more than I actually end up WRITING about. And from those observations that take place over an extended period of time, I tend to draw what I think are lessons that the PBM scene, as a whole, have either poorly learned and failed to take to heart, or which haven't actually been learned, at all.

Since PBM gaming as we know it, today, first came upon the gaming scene, how many PBM gamers have died? If I had to speculate, I'd say hundreds, if not thousands. And how many more were lost to PBM for every other reason, combined? Tens of thousands would, I feel, be a fair guess. Feel free to come up with more accurate figures of your own, by all means.

Why should any given newcomer to PBM gaming play Hyborian War, instead of Middle-earth PBM, or vice versa? Why should newcomers to PBM play Alamaze, instead of Galac-Tac? Why should PBM newcomers play Star Fleet Warlord instead of DungeonWorld?

I could give many such comparisons and choices, but how many PBM newcomers are similar to Raven Zachary, and end up trying all kinds of different PBM games? Of course, how many different PBM games did individuals like Raven Zachary try, but then later on quit playing? This isn't about Raven, per se, but rather, it's about PBM gaming having a lot of different exit points, any number of which are always ripe for the choosing.

Is what the modern, current PBM scene offers the gaming public at large tempting enough to be realistically likely to tempt or to persuade non-PBM gamers to become PBM gamers? Or is PBM gaming suffering from a lot (and I mean a LOT) of missed opportunities? All things considered, I am inclined to think that it is.

I don't have access to all of the numbers, nor do I have access to most of the numbers. I do, however, have access to more than enough numbers to conclude that the PBM industry is missing out on more potential new players than one can shake a proverbial stick at.

Do I think that PBM companies and PBM GMs make things harder than they have to be, where growing the size of the PBM player base is concerned? Oh, absolutely! Positively. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But am I any better at growing the PBM player base than they are? Of course not. My efforts only supplement their own efforts, at best, and collectively (I use the term "collectively very loosely, here), all of our efforts, both individually and combined, net us what we are all witness to, today.

Like it or dislike it, love it or hate it, it's true. It simply is.

Whether I exist or cease to exist, and PBM Chaos along with it, DungeonWorld, Middle-earth PBM, SuperNova, Hyborian War, Duel2, Star Fleet Warlord, and numerous other PBM games will continue to exist and to carry on. But when I observe how a recently-created forum discussion thread about Forgotten Realm: War of the Avatars in a Hyborian War forum has caught the eyes of numerous individuals who have been Hyborian War players for years or for decades, and which has managed to catch even my own eyes, I can't help but to ponder anew about how many possibilities and opportunities to grow the size of the PBM player base have been missed over the last several decades. My gut instinct tells me that PBM as a whole has missed what I would be so bold as to describe as a GARGANTUAN number of opportunities and possibilities!

But what do I know, right? I'm just some PBM loon talking to the wind, and who is utterly clueless about any of us. That's me, right?

I had a guy ask me just a couple of days ago, "Have you played Star Fleet Battles Online?" And my reply to him? "I have not."

But he asked me. In a long, roundabout way, I had a Hyborian War player of many years suddenly inquire of me, out of all people, about one of Paul Franz's PBM games.

Now, what prompted this individual who I have known for many years to ask me out of the blue about this particular PBM game? If I had to speculate and to venture a guess, I would say that he probably had saw a PBM ad for the game in Issue #36 of PBM Chaos.

But why thirty-six issues in, did he ask me that question about that PBM game? Again, if I had to guess, I'd likely say that he probably had never actually read an issue of PBM Chaos, before (though I could certainly be wrong about that.

In a separate message that he sent to me, and before he asked me about whether I had played Star Fleet Battles Online before, one thing that he said to me was this, "Appreciate you doing stuff like this for a larger community. It's like social work for PBM gaming."

The stuff that I was doing, in this instance, the Hyborian War Question Series initiative, was something of very recent vintage - but which is something that could have been done long ago, but wasn't. Certainly, it was a possibility that could have manifested years ago, if not decades ago. But it took until the PBM year of 2024 for this particular PBM initiative be be thought of and implemented. What all else have we missed out on and deprived ourselves of, PBM-gaming-wise?

Issue #37 of PBM Chaos will see more of the fruit of this particular PBM effort accessible by PBM Chaos readers (and others, as these episodes/installments get posted elsewhere besides just within the pages of PBM Chaos).

The truth be told, honestly, I don't think that PBM gaming has ever had a truly comprehensive effort to maximize its potential for growth of the PBM player base. Granted, there have been initiatives launched in the past which may have envisioned some semblance of such, but I have never actually it seen with my own two eyes, nor have I ever encountered such during my many years of exploration and research. The Play By Mail Association (PBMA) certainly doesn't qualify.

Think back, for a moment, on something that Rick Loomis, a true PBMA believer ansd member, said, once upon a PBM time ago. "Last summer I announced an attempt to form the Play By Mail Association (PBMA), I was immediately jumped on by a bunch of people who thought I wanted to (a) control the PBM industry, or (b) tell everyone else how to run their businesses. Well, (a) the idea that anyone could control this industry is laughable on the face of it."

What did he get jumped on by? A BUNCH of people - as in, a whole bunch! Apparently, the PBMA wasn't exactly the most effective of communicators for PBM gaming, if Rick Loomis' words from the past are to be taken seriously. A good concept, this PBMA, perhaps, but how should we of today rate and assess that organization's demonstrated effectiveness (or lack thereof)?

When Rick Loomis first wrote those words for Space Gamer magazine Issue #75 in 1985, I had never even heard of PBM gaming before, much less ever played so much as a single, solitary play by mail game.

Comprehensive is a nice sounding word (sort of). On its face, it seems like a word with a lot of built-in potential. On paper, though, many things sound nice or seem worthwhile. And could a comprehensive approach, or at least a more comprehensive approach, benefit PBM substantially and noticeably? Maybe. Possibly.

But the devil, you see, is in the details. It's always in the details. The PBMA never lived up to its full potential, because not enough people agreed on the details. And so the PBMA, by this point in time, has become little more than a historical footnote swept under the sands of time.

How would PBM gaming, in today's day and age, go about adopting a more comprehensive approach to growing the size of the PBM player base? Well, lots of different ways, perhaps, but what I'm thinking about, right now, is that a comprehensive approach to this issue is not something that you quickly cobble together, and voila! The real world and life are both far more complicated than that.

I think that it requires communicating, but more importantly, both a willingness to communicate effectively and the capability to communicate effectively. To a very large degree, the bulk of the PBM industry doesn't really strike me as communicating very frequently with one another, much less communicating effectively with one another. In this day and age, who has time to communicate, right?

But that's just it. How does the PBM industry achieve a more comprehensive approach to growing the size of PBM player without communicating? Is such a thing even possible, at all, without effective communication within and across the existing PBM industry becoming the norm, rather than the exception?

It's been said that there's strength in numbers. Any truth to that maxim? Anybody know?

Once upon a long time ago, the PBM industry was much better, vastly better, about communicating than it is, currently. These days, not so much. If they are, where is the actual evidence of that? All of the many things that the Internet documents, tell me, where has the Internet documented that communication within and across the PBM industry is either frequent or effective? You'd think that there would be some evidence of such. Well, at least, that's how I think about it.

From my perspective, everybody's pretty much just sort of doing their own thing in their own way. Which is all fine and dandy, but how well is that approach working, currently, as far as growing the size of the PBM player base is concerned?

You tell me.

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Hyborian War Question Series - Episode 6

Anonymous ROKer

SCENARIO: You are tasked with making Hyborian War an even more exciting game to play than it already is. You can tweak just three game rules or mechanics, you can delete just one rule or mechanic in its entirety, and you can add just one new rule or mechanic. Provide a list of which rules or mechanics that you would tweak, remove, and add, with those limiting parameters in mind. If you will, please take the reader inside of your head, and explain to them what about those particular tweaks, deletion, and addition matter so much, and what positive differences that Hyborian War players could expect to see from your suggestions being implemented by RSI.

Tweak 3 Rules

The suggestions that follow are essentially based upon suppositions. I do not know the code or how the code is written. Changing rules assumes that I know what the rules do. I have some idea, yes, but I don’t know fully and exactly what they all do. Despite the declarations of some, I don’t think anyone knows this anymore, not even the current owners. For me, that is a big part of the allure of the game. After decades of play, I still see things occur in this game that I have never seen before. With that said, it should be known that my suggested ‘tweaks’ are essentially subjective, based upon my own experience, and are not grounded in precise knowledge of how these rules actually work in the program.

Rule 1:
Negotiate Peace is a way that players can obtain peace treaties against other players (and also against non-player kingdoms). This keeps the target (the one ‘peaced’) from being able to invade the kingdom who ‘Negotiated Peace.’ The player who obtained the peace treaty can, if he wants, break the treaty and invade the one he obtained the treaty against (assuming that player did not get a peace treaty against the first player). What sometimes occurs is that a player will get a peace treaty and then invade (breaking the treaty) and then get another peace treaty again, effectively stopping a counter invasion by his opponent. My tweak would be to make this process progressively more difficult, so that each time a peace treaty is obtained against a given opponent within a set of turns, the process becomes progressively more difficult with each attempt. Does this already occur? It does not appear so in my many years of experience, but one cannot know for sure.

Rule 2:
This is more like a meta rule. I think there should be some degree of policing on the part of the owners of the game to make sure that players are not cheating. This is what I mean by cheating: 3 players get together and take 3 kingdoms. They do this in multiple games (usually with different kingdoms). We will call them A, B, and C. They decide that in the first game player A will win. B will win in the second and C will win in the third. Does this guarantee wins? No, but there are ways to enhance the chances of wins. Here’s how: In the game where A wins, B and C will do everything in their power to ensure that victory. Much of those efforts are fine by me. Helping A by sending money to his kingdom or by making invasions to help him or by defending him against the invasions of others, all fair game. Here’s where it goes wrong: at one point, B and C essentially cede their kingdoms to A. They move all of their troops to advantageous locations, get peace treaties against as many other opponents as they can and then let A cannibalize their kingdoms. At some point B and C drop. Usually A obtains a significant advantage this way. Does this happen every game? I don’t think so, but it happens a lot. How could it be policed? I don’t know if it can, at least not without putting in a lot of time and effort by the owners – time and effort for which they derive no payment at all. This game is already run on a shoestring budget with a narrow profit margin (I believe). Consequently, the owners are unlikely to implement such a

Rule 3:
This is a tough decision between (1) I would increase the affect of economic strategy in certain respects. Kidnapping, for instance, could see a much greater affect on one’s treasury when ransoms are paid. I think that would add an element of fun to the game; and (2) I would enhance the affects of many battle magic spells as well. There are many spells in this game that are cast during battle but which very rarely seem to have any affect. If I could, I would increase the frequency of some of the spells in terms of whether they are successful and I would implement a mechanic that increases the affect of the spells on a variable basis.

Add a Rule

If I could, I’d implement a rule that one kingdom could steal from another, say by sending an adventurer to a capitol with an instruction to (B)urgle (T)reasury of (Kingdom Identifier). Such an action could make use of the abilities of Heroism and Intrigue (and possibly Personal Combat) in ways similar to the Rescue missions that characters can be sent on.

Delete a Rule

I would delete the rule(s) that govern the mechanics of naval battles and make it so such battles could be conducted in a format similar to the set piece format that land battles sometimes see. In HW, a land battle can be conducted open field or set piece. The set piece version involves much more input by the players in terms of the placement of troops, the selection of additional spells that can only be cast in set piece (as opposed to open field) battles, the assignment of individual leaders to lead portions of an army and the use of tactics. I enjoy that level of detail and would like to see it applied to naval battles as well.

Q. How long have you played Hyborian War, how would you rate yourself as a player compared to the competition that you have played against, and are there any things about Hyborian War that continue to bedevil you and/or get the best of you?

Background information

If I were to rate Hyborian War Players on a scale of 1-5, I would give a 5 to the best of the best. These are players who have won 5 or more games and who have done so against opponents through to the end of the game (as opposed to going against computer run kingdoms because players have dropped). Such players are very rare. In my estimation, there are less than 10 of them.

I would give a 4 to players who have won games and who are consistently in the top 5 finishers. These would be players that finish 75% or more of the games they start. Again, that is a rare number. Many players drop, for various reasons. I would include in this group those players who have studied the code to the extent that they can estimate the likelihood of outcomes of various maneuvers with a fairly precise level of accuracy.

I would give a 3 to players who have won a game or two and who generally do well. They might be adept at one aspect of the game but not all aspects. For example, a player might have a deep understanding of the game mechanics but he might only be average at the inter-player diplomacy that is so very important in this game. Even that – the inter-player diplomacy – has sub-aspects to it. Some are coalition builders, some are expert bargainers, some advance through intimidation, some play carrot and stick diplomacy, others play win-win diplomacy. Rarely, though, does a player employ all of these aspects, and that’s just one part of playing the game. Other skills that help include the ability to engage in predictive play (knowing the move other players are likely to make), information gathering, sound decision making, and risk management. The vast majority of players are level 3 players.

Level 1 and 2 players in varying degree usually simply do not know the rules the way they should. The don’t put in the study time necessary to excel. They are diplomatically clumsy. They quit easily.

On this scale, after playing off and on for three decades, I am a 3. In some games, I am better and in some I am worse. Another great part of the game is that one cannot predict so many, many events that can occur, in part because of the code, but also because of the moves of the other 35 players. So where everything might seem to go in one’s favor for a game or two, don’t count on this being a consistent trend unless you dedicate yourself to the mastery of this game.

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A PBM Interview With Neil Packer

[Interviewed by our PBM man on the street, Richard Lockwood]

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Neil Packer is one of the co-founders of Saturnalia, the UK's biggest SCHMRPG, and boss man at Sloth Enterprises, who ran various other games (as described).

Here you go!

Thanks for still being there Rich - PBM has an important impact on a LOT of people, even if they don't necessarily recognise it

PBM Questions…

Where are you at the moment, and what are you up to?

When  the bottom fell out of the economy for about the third time during my time in PBM, I switched to becoming a maths teacher.... which kind of mentally exhausted me (and still does). I still live in sunny Southampton and can afford things I never thought I could when I was PBMing for a living... such as wine and Sainsbury's Taste the Difference products.

How did you first get into PBM, and can you tell me a bit about the first game you played? What was it that hooked you?

I saw an ad in White Dwarf for Crasimoff's World. Signed up. Had a blast and realised somebody was doing it for a living.... The hook was definitely that feel of receiving mail with stuff in that was interesting. The big fat envelope which means you may have dropped a prop.

Did you have "real life" friends who played, or was it a solo start?

I was the only person I knew who played any PBM games - but the newsletter indicated people from all over the world played, so I thought this was obviously a hobby industry with potential reach.

So, from there, what other games did you play? Mainly commercial games, or did you play any of the "hobby" games that fleetingly showed up in the small ads of various magazines (White Dwarf being the prime example)?

I played a couple of free turns of Its a Crime, but nothing else until after launching Saturnalia on the world. After Sat started, I played a handful of other games - Tribes of Crane, the Hunting (and the Hunting 2), AEs spring to mind - as well as that game Further into Fantasy which very wrongly got the blame in some newspapers for the Hungerford massacre. I also played En garde - and still do!

What persuaded you to start you own game, and how did you go about it? Both in the way of game design, and in a business plan?

Laziness and a dogged conviction that I could make a game better than Crasimoff's World by making it a single player RPG rather than group. "They" said it would never work, because killing a character would turn people off the game, but not killing characters would take away the jeopardy and turn people of the game. I think "they" misunderstood the mentality of roleplayers.

The year before I left university, the wicked Lady of Grantham introduced something called the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which basically paid anyone starting their own new business 40 quid a week for free. That was more than I would make on the dole and more than I was getting from my student grant, so it was like being paid to play games for a year. With my intrepid partner, we had 80 quid a week, allowing us to invest quarter of what Maggie paid us into the business and still just about live.

We spent the summer months June-September 1984 designing and testing the game, then formed the business which officially started trading in October.

Looking back, what was more fun? Running games / writing about games, or the actual playing?

I've always preferred playing to running games.... but somehow always end up being the GM. I like trying to find the cracks in the game system - that's my idea of fun.... which is why I try make sure my own games don't have cracks (even though they always do).

While you were running games, did you mainly develop games in house, or did you buy the rights to games that were already running? How did that development process work, or how did you find the licencing process?

We developed our own first game, which led to having a healthy player base. We were passed on the rights to some other games by people who thought we could do a good job with them - these included Kings of Steel and The Enchyridion (formerly the Challenge), before moving into licensing games from overseas and within the UK.

Saturnalia always remained our biggest player based game, but Gameplan, Heroic Fantasy, Continental Rails spread our stable into other genres and allowed us to mostly survive the various economic instabilities of the late 80s and whole of the 90s.

Since your PBM days, have you been involved in writing in a similar vein, or have you just given up on the idea, and gone for a day job? (This isn't an accusatory question!) Or, if not entirely, how have you incorporated that in and around your current career?

If I could have both GMed and been a teacher I probably would have continued. When we were young thrusting PBMers, we thought that bubble would last forever, I guess - or that this time next year we'd all be as rich as Cropper. (I mean Croesus.) I do get to use my gaming knowledge, dice and story telling as a regular part of my day job - and there are actually a few out of the thousands of kids I have taught since 2001 who tracked down the dodgy Wikipedia page dedicated to Saturnalia who then fire off impertinent questions that need delicate answering! I also still GM my D&D campaign which is now in its 43rd year, and am working on rewriting some of our old freeform murder mysteries that we used to do at various conventions in the 80s and 90s.

What do you remember about the social side of PBM that was very active in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s? Conventions, pubmeets, that kind of thing. And any amusing / disastrous stories? (I want details here!)

London pubmeets, Brum pubmeets, Satmeets, Crasimeets, OTTs, Gamesfairs and Dragonmeets, the London PBM Convention and Manorcon. Hours spent on trains getting to and from places. It's a massive "everything blurs into one event" feeling despite it lasting 16 years but here are some details I remember.

Other people drinking to excess (never me, I was virtually teetotal). The most Famous player in Saturnalia flying down the stairs at a London Pubmeet - and effectively crowd surfing to break his fall.

Playing 3s and 5s and drinking plenty of mild at the pub by the old post office near New Street in Brum.

A total of 52 people (we counted them) all crashing out at the former student house I shared in the red light district in Southampton.... 48 Alfred Street. There were people sleeping on the stairs, 12 people crammed on the floor of my room. One Sat player slept in the bath - he later became one of our most successful GMs.

One player who claimed great martial arts skills after drinking too much in the Victory near Southampton Central showing us his reverse punch to a fruit machine, a reverse kick towards a parking meter and then reverse peristalsis into the gutter.

A Satmeet in London when the pubs used to shut between 3 and 5pm. Wandering around the East End and a whole crowd of people following behind me as if I knew where I was going. I was like the pied piper. I crossed a road and this snake of people writhed across the road behind me... I crossed back for a laugh and they all followed again.

The Corgul song!

Being on a stall at a Dragonmeet next to Games Workshop. They packed up early and left before us on the Sunday, leaving behind a bingbag full of plastic Warhammer figures. Dwarf with raygun remains a favourite monster figurine in the aforementioned D&D campaign.

Starting Manorcon with Nigel Matthews - and turning it into something of a success, including the boardgame team challenges (I still have the "Sloth Enterprises A team" T shirt) and the murder mysteries.

The Swear Box at Gamesfair in Reading - which collected a hideous amount of money from those present. Oh and the first meetings with our Norwegian players (Sindre, Njal, Anders etc) at Reading - and their largesse as they seemed to think beer was incredibly cheap at UK prices.

What were your views on the PBM-centric magazines and fanzines that seemed to proliferate in the late 1980s / early 1990s? I'm thinking the likes of Flagship, PBM Scroll, PBM Monthly and Interactive Fiction. And also the PBM coverage in more mainstream magazines. Here we're looking at C&VG, GM, and GMI.

Obviously the main thing I feel about the PBM centric magazines and fanzines is the sheer LOVE the people that ran them had for PBM. They deeply understood the excitement of that latest turn flopping through the letterbox. Nicky Palmer, Carol and Ken Mulholland, especially - what amazing people they were, and so important to the whole industry.

I was lucky enough to be asked to do some writing for C&VG, GM and GMI - although I didn't get paid for all of my articles, but so it goes. These definitely helped the industry reach a wider audience, but they didn't ever manage to crack that particular hurdle of making PBM a mainstream hobby.

Why d'you think the UK PBM scene pretty much died out in the 1990s? How much of a factor was the rise of the internet, and more immediate gratification from online games?

The recession at the end of the 90s was a killer for me. People cut out luxuries like their PBM games. Postage went up. Companies cut workforce or went bust. Cut workforces meant longer turnaround. This could not compete with the rise of the internet. I'm not sure that receiving turns in an email is ever going to be as gratifying as getting the big fat envelope thudding onto the mat, so it's not the gratification.... but it is the time delay and the cost.

When push comes to shove, what is/was your all-time favourite PBM game, and why? And which other games would you love to see resurrected?

As already mentioned - I never really played many other games. I think our best game was Saturnalia, and that's my favourite - but of course, I never played it. Definitely the game I enjoyed playing in-house or at convention weekends was Continental Rails.

I want to see Saturnalia resurrected - I have a dream to write a novel or set of short stories when I returned from teaching which are set in Saturnalia.

Who (apart from your good self!) embodied the spirit of PBM more than anyone else? (You only get to choose one person!)

Paul Evans (aka Pevans) - and he still does! I still play his En Garde game Les Petites Betes Soyeuses (although I choose the cheap email version).

Do you still play PBM, and if so, what games are you playing?

See above! That's the only one though.

What are you doing non-PBM gaming-wise these days? And what form of gaming do you prefer now?

D&D, and computer games - my go-to game at the end of a stressy day is Diablo 3.

Who have you kept in touch with from the PBM "scene"?

Scarily, many - I suppose that social media is responsible for allowing us old folk to get back in touch with those we know from past lives! Lots of my good friends were original playtesters of Saturnalia, so they're the people I'm closest to from then. If I name names, I'll end up missing someone off the list and they'll take offense!

Whose round is it?

Liz Truss's - she owes the whole country a stiff drink!

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Death comes for thee!

Jim Smith has met his demise in the PBM Maze. Poor Jim! I had such high hopes for him, too.

Alas, 'twas not meant to be. Such a pity, actually, as he quit sending in turns, and the water just kept on flooding through the maze.

And just so that you know, missing the turn, again, weakened Jim, but it did not kill him. It was the water that killed him - Drowned him like a rat, it did!

Which is what he was. A maze rat.

Our beloved Stefan continues to wind his way through the PBM Maze, even as player java flies like the wind through the Maze's passageways.

Ah, the gift of extended maze vision! It has served java well. Poor, pitiful Stefan!

You'd better step it up, Stefan, for Death stalks one and all in the PBM maze.

The infamous Undeadlord appears to be in quite the conundrum. Tsk...tsk...tsk...

Whatever shall he do?

Is he doomed? Is he destined for failure and an early demise? Was it where he started his journey through the PBM Maze that turned out to be his greatest shortcoming?

Is player java fleeing with wild abandon though the PBM Maze? Or does he know where he is headed to?

Could it be that he missed something a few turns back?

Or is he in a rush to go nowhere fast?

It's been some time, since Jef Tonelli last sent turn orders in .

Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink. For some, water is the plight, but Jef has none in sight!

He may have given up the fight, but at least he's in no immediate danger of drowning. But his life bar is continuing to drop. Nothing quite like a slow death, eh?

My, oh my, oh my!

Perhaps mhender has escaped the onrush of the flood, but Fate is a cruel master, at times.

He has come face to face with the Minotaur!

Whatever shall he do, now?! At least he's not in one of those awful Saw movies.

And last but least, whatever is our greatly admired and poorly missed Lockwood doing?

He appears to just be piddling around, acting as if he has all the time in the world.

Silly players!

They're not dropping quite like flies, yet, but they are dropping. Will any of them make it out alive, though?

Do you ever wonder why they just didn't turn the water off?

Let the gnashing of teeth be your orchestra of death!

1 - Stefan

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Starting Position - 1

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Ending Position - 1

4 - Jim Smith

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Starting Position - 4

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Ending Position - 4

6 - java

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Starting Position - 6

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Ending Position - 6

8 - mhender

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Starting Position - 8

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Ending Position - 8

5 - Undeadlord

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Starting Position - 5

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Ending Position - 5

7 - Jef Tonelli

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Starting Position - 7

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Ending Position - 7

10 - Richard Lockwood

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Starting Position - 10

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Ending Position - 10

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Is PBM's approach to teaching broken?

Charles Mosteller

For all that's ever been said or written about the learning curves associated with newcomers to PBM games, or with PBM gamers of one game trying to tackle a different PBM game than the one(s) that they have already familiarized themselves with and accustomed to - which is actually one of my favorite topics in all of PBM gaming, today, I found myself falling into a rabbit hole of understanding.

Or said another way, a somewhat different perspective began to illuminate itself to me. It was really an unexpected adventure of PBM-related thought in a field of PBM thinking that many would no doubt consider to be quite boring, indeed.

What if I told you that, to a rather large degree, the PBM industry, PBM GMs, PBM hobbyists, and even PBM editorials seem stuck in archaic and antiquated thinking in their/our approach to the issue of how to reduce player drops and the initial transition part of the overall process to onboard newcomers into our long beloved PBM games?

For the very reason that newcomers to PBM are newcomers, and hence, routinely poorly informed or even uninformed in totality about the PBM game(s) that that have taken an interest in learning, the historical approach to tackling this "problem" has been to focus upon the newcomer's lack of knowledge, lack of grasp and understanding of the game's rules and mechanics, and their wholesale lack of familiarity with whatever PBM game interface and processes are at issue.

But what if I told you that it strikes me as a glowing example of the blind leading the blind?

What if PBM has long been hamstrung by its chosen path(s) to attempting to tackle the solving of problems? What if, day I say it, PBM's learning pyramid has been inverted the whole time? What if those with all of the knowledge grew accustomed to an upside down pyramid of learning that they simply grew familiar (and hence, comfortable) with a long, long time ago?

If those with all of the learning associated with their favorite PBM games are so smart and know so much, then why is it that the issue of player drops from PBM games has proven to be so resilient in the face of all efforts made, to date, to make things quicker and easier for newcomers to ease right into PBM games that they haven't ever tried before?

Before the sun even rose in my dark little corner of the known world, this morning at 5:06AM (which is when I quietly glided into the Tribe Talk Discord server, just to browse, it was just a few short minutes before Dave B. (102 Nexus) extended a brief and courteous greeting to me.

This greeting, in turn, gradually evolved into a discussion, which got me to thinking deeper than I had intended to, this morning.

It covered numerous different topics in the brief amount of time that I participated in it, stretched over the course of several hours at a rather slow pace, none of which was planned or foreseen by those participating, myself included.

It's always interest to read what others post on a given topic. Trees comprise forests, but then we, as a species, have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for not seeing the forests for the trees. And many times, it can be chalked up to simply standing too close to the trees.

The designing of a game is an entirely different breed from writing of rules to accompany the game that the rules are intended to accompany and to become an instrument of learning for those who catch wind of a game, and who then develop some degree of interest in taking a closer look at said game, some of which then go on to actually make an attempt at learning said game - only for them to encounter all kinds of obstacles which, to said new player, immediately or gradually manifest themselves as all too obvious and all too real.

I certainly agree with TribeNet player and mentor, Jeff Perkins, when he says that every player has an individual learning style.

Ironically enough, our formal education system grasped this core fact long, long ago, even as it simultaneous tends to adopt and embrace approaches to teaching and inculcating young minds in a lump approach to teaching. People often get set in their ways (I certainly have my ways, even if they do change, sometimes, albeit incrementally rather than in one fell swoop, in many instances).

If you were to take a long, hard look all around you at the PBM scene at large, do you supposed that you might sometimes get a nagging feeling that PBM companies and PBM GMs are set in their ways? Déjà vu all over again, huh?

Maybe the newcomers to PBM (the learners, or candidates for learning) are less of a problem than the PBM industry has been inclined to think. What if the way that the PBM enlightened seek to teach is part of a bigger problem, overall? What if PBM is still not connecting the dots correctly?

Whenever I set individual personalities aside, and look at things from a standpoint of process scrutiny, the inefficiencies of the creators and the teachers of PBM games begin to glow brighter than the Northern Lights. Tell me, though, have you, yourself, ever seen this PBM Borealis? Why do so many fail to learn what so many seek to teach, where PBM is concerned?

The brighter that the PBM Borealis shines and glows and flutters in the PBM heavens, the more that things remain the same (i.e.: our deeply-entrenched misperceptions on the dynamics and nuances of the teaching-learning conundrum).

Is it a mission impossible that the PBM industry faces? Are modern era gamers incapable of learning - or simply unwilling to learn - the ins and outs of old PBM games that hail from yesteryear? Or is there more afoot?

To achieve rapid integration of newcomers into PBM gaming, a sector of gaming deeply rooted in both the past, generally, and in past practices and habits, specifically, efficient and effective processes are imperative. Otherwise, what PBM gaming and the PBM industry default to are inefficient or less efficient processes. That is, where there's any real process in place, at all.

Since everyone doesn't learn in the exact, same way (and that also applies to PBM gaming, by extension, specifically), then it stands to reason that maybe the established way of teaching may be overdue for revision.

Rulebooks and other forms of PBM documentation are passive forums inculcation. Human mentors, by comparison, are active forms of inculcation (ahem!). With both active and passive forms of inculcation, there can - and do - exist inefficiencies. That is the natural order of things, the reality whether we like it or not. All PBM documentation is not equal, nor are all PBM mentors equal.

The strengths and weaknesses/shortcomings vary widely, where both are concerned, depending on which PBM game and its corresponding game community are concerned, as well as from game to game and from game community to game community within the overall PBM scene.

Over the years, the PBM industry has adapted to the omnipresent challenge that is inculcation (inculcation is the instilling of knowledge or values in someone, usually by repetition) by embracing flawed processes, time and time, again, in a seemingly unending bid to capture the inculcation lightning in a bottle. Yet, the underlying problem remains as real and as broadly entrenched, today, as ever, seemingly defying the best efforts of PBM mice and PBM men, alike.

If the PBM industry were actually focused on the right thing(s), then it would seem to reason that a solution should have been found by now to this persistent, vexing problem. Yet, a definitive and lasting solution seems to continually elude the PBM industry as a whole, and individual PBM companies and PBM GMs, alike.

For my own part, individually, mentors have never been a particularly effective inculcation methodology for rapidly integrating me into PBM games. If I had to venture a guess, I'd probably speculate that a central part of it has to with the fact that I'm either not wired to learn that way, efficiency-wise, or that perhaps somewhere along the way of my life, I transitioned to what I feel is a more efficient methodology for learning new things, by me, personally.

This is not mocking mentors, for most assuredly, mentors do play a key part in the overall scheme of the inculcation process. Rather, it is simply an affirmation that individuals tend to receive inculcation - and hence, acquire learning - through a wide array of different methodologies, techniques, and paths of learning.

For my own part, it has been my first-hand experience over the years and decades that neither rulebooks nor mentors have proven to be the Holy Grail of PBM Inculcation, for the fairly simple reason that both tend to be what I would characterize as a cobbled approach to a problem. The right tool for the job tends to work better than any number of other different tools that one might try to throw at a given problem.

There is no one size fits all for what ails PBM gaming and its ongoing battle to improve its approaches to transition newcomers to PBM into die-hard, long-lasting players, with quick and lasting success.

Inculcation, in the PBM context, requires the consumption of information. Much of the PBM information that newcomers to a given PBM game encounter tends to be heavily laden with inefficiencies.

How information is transmitted and received invariably either undermines or undergirds the chances of success for turning a newcomer into a reliable and enthusiastic PBM gamer, one that is good for both the bottom line and for growth of note for the size of the PBM player base. If a thick PBM rulebook is boring to read, and daunting to even look at, then that's already two strikes against any PBM company or GM which chooses to go that route. And this is just the starting gate for a "race" that sees many fall by the wayside, before becoming effectively integrated to the point where they think more about staying than they do about leaving.

In my scouring of old PBM magazines and modern PBM websites, forums, and Discords, I have encountered far more scattered opinions on the subject than I have encountered hearty, robust, and in-depth analysis of PBM gaming's acquisition and retention of PBM gamers, from a process-oriented inquiry and perspective. PBM's continued over-reliance upon inefficient approaches and practices is likely to doom the PBM industry to endlessly repeat the cycles of failure that they've grown accustomed to.

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"There is a point that I would like to bring up and that is that there is no staff writer for Paper Mayhem. Yes, there are several people who do a lot of writing for me, but they are not in the staff. Elaine and I are the staff with the support of those of you who like to write about the PBM games that are on the market. So please feel free to write about your favorite PBM game."

- David Webber

Paper Mayhem Issue #71 - March/April 1995 Issue

Where We're Heading. . .

Editor's Note: The more that things change, the more that they remain the same. Paper Mayhem in the PBM year 1995 had a staff of two. Twenty-nine years later, PBM Chaos has a staff of one. Little did David Webber know how good that he had it, back then, on the staffing front. When was the last time that you wrote an article for a PBM publication?

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Hyborian War Question Series - Episode 7

ROKer Olorin

Q. Opinions can - and do - vary widely on Hyborian War, as they vary widely on most all things in life and in gaming. However, it is your opinion that this question seeks to illuminate for one and all on the subject of Hyborian War. In your considered opinion, what are the Top Ten things (be they rules,mechanics, atmosphere-inducing, etc.) about Hyborian War that Reality Simulations, Inc. (RSI) got right about the game, when they designed and created it, and which have stood the test of time? If you will, please elaborate a bit on each of the ten things that you list, so that readers on the outside looking can can better and more fully appreciate the angle that you come at it from, and your thought processes on each one. Help others to understand not just what your Top Ten for such a list would be, but to also understand the why behind each of your ten choices for this list.

Limit myself down to ten. Got it. There are a number of concepts that RSI used that I really enjoy. Yes, there are caveats that some of those were not fully thought out before implementation or that they ended up having unforeseen consequences. The fact is, though, that the concepts and ideas were good.

1. One of the better ideas they had was to limit the number of Kingdoms. A lot of games had either only a few players or an almost infinite number. Games with too few players tend to be overly repetitive and/or predictable. There are only so many combinations you can do with 4 players, for instance. Having too many tends to either make the organizer work too hard or make each player take too many things into consideration. In my experience having between 12 and 50 players is optimal for most large scale wargames. This is enough to give room for expression of the players while not creating pure chaos.

    In most games concise areas, as kingdoms or whatever, have approximately 7 or fewer neighbors whose actions the player must take into account. Then there are usually their neighbors' neighbors, which add another 10 or fewer. Whose actions will influence the player's immediate neighbors and with whom mutual interests can be established. Along with an outside ring of diminishing relations. The idea here is to have enough players to interact with and balance against. With a 'world conquest' type of game, you want enough victors from the various areas to make up a large enough contingent to be unpredictable in the end game, roughly 12 or so.


    2. Having each Kingdom have differing goals for their victory. There is still a generalized goal of conquering the most provinces but each Kingdom has separate goals they are trying to achieve. This allows a competition between differing sized Kingdoms that feels fair. It also means some Kingdoms have completely different goals so they do not really conflict as to how to win. This also means the various goals gives you many different ways to play. So you can find a Kingdom with goals that are compatible with the way you play or test your skills at one that does not.


    3. There are a number of special units in the game. From the more mundane chariots to flying reptiles, there is an attempt to keep the flavor of Hyboria in the time of Conan. There is the Black Legion and other individual unique units mentioned in the various books. There are mammoths in the east, undead units in Hyperboria. Even the ghouls show up as a non-player unit.


    4. The concept of Imperial Goals. These are goals separate from the Victory aims. A particular group of provinces that will grant another set of troops and an extra army. These goals may or may not be related to victory. Just something that the populace of your kingdom would consider proof that you are ascendant. This was a brilliant concept, as it pulls you in yet another possible direction. Do you go for Imperial? How about Victory? Maybe something different but then you pass on the rewards.


    5. Wandering Heroes. Including Conan, who wanders between Kingdoms during the game. Others are often from the various Kingdoms, including yours. This is both good and bad from the viewpoint of the players. A wandering hero protecting your court is great, having your hero wander away and protect somebody else's court when you needed them is not. The heroes do go and do heroic things besides just desert you at critical points; kill evil mages, plunder wealth, fight other characters, etc. Nonetheless, the concept matches the atmosphere of Conan's stories and makes interesting reading.


    6. The very concept of a court. One of the ongoing arguments in historical circles is the 'Great Man' versus 'Inevitable Forces'. In a nutshell, the Great Man theory holds that whether or not a particular person is born in the right circumstances makes all the difference to what happens. Inevitable Forces hold that events bring about the change and that people are just swept up into the position. You will often see someone complain about how their court is lame or bad. The whole point here is it gives both credence to the Great Man theory and potentially refutes it, by the means of having a court. The court is composed of a limited set of people [from 2, the absolute minimum, to as many as you can keep alive, say 60 to 100 maximum] who can undertake missions for your Kingdom. Their actions have the potential to change the whole flow of a game. Or do nothing at all.


    7. The balance of economic strength versus military spending. This is in a 'black box' type set-up so it is hard to see. A lot of games in the day were point-based, you were given a certain amount of points you could spend on troops and that was that. Here, they created an expenses versus income system where you gained funds from trade, taxes and harvest. And the amount produced is usually not enough to sustain warfare, so warfare slowly [or quickly] drains the royal coffers. This was a very nice system both for the time and even now, as it really works for showing the economic drain of a war.


    8. How to refill the coffers for warfare. The big problem when you create a realistic income system is that the players will run out of money and the warfare peters out as no one can afford to continue. This was solved with the Peace Years concept, which also allows changing the courts. The PY lets everyone rebuild their Treasury. It also allows the game to age out some characters in the court and add new ones. In essence, it becomes the Hundred-Year War as the court characters age and are replaced with a variable number of differently skilled people. Adding the PY allowed them to attach various mechanisms to it, like a province levying troops.


    9. People are going to hate me for this one. Peace Treaties. The concept is good. That a person from your court using whispered words and bribes, or brilliant oratory skills, got some potential invader to turn their attention elsewhere is a perfectly reasonable image for Hyboria. The problem is not the concept but the implementation. This is one with unforeseen consequences in play, both in how it is used and the results during play.


    10. The map. Several things are great about the map. One of the first is the avoidance of squared off, or hexagonal spaces that most used during that time. The provinces are squiggly things like how a lot of European provinces from the Middle Ages looked. Movement is from Province to Province so the route for an army is a little more work to figure. Second, that each Kingdom was divided up into a number of Provinces that were then used to decide how many armies that Kingdom could support. And they took the time to give the provinces names from the books. Every Province could have just been numbered but they have NAMES. Besides the kingdoms being in about the right places for Howard's hand-drawn map they added a lot of flavor by using place names from the books for the various provinces. You can find Xachotl on the map, gleefully say to yourself, 'I am invading Shadizar!' A lot of atmosphere is added by a good map, and they designed one that is fun to play and evocative of the setting.

    PBM Did You Know?

    That the Machine was the name for the Stellar Warlords' turn processing engine, and that it got its name from the Pink Floyd song called Welcome to the Machine?

    Hyborian War Question Series - Episode 8

    ROKer Kulalo

    Q. What do you see as the Top Five strengths and the Top Five weaknesses of the Kingdom of Turan?


    CAVEAT: I have not played Turan, so this is based on observation and playing against Turan.


    - Location:
    surrounded by NPKs which allows quick, easy expansion early in the game; Turan can get quite huge before the first Peace Years.

    - Troops:
    Can have half their troops be Heavies, either Heavy Cavalry (Troop types 1 and 2) or mixed with up to 25% as mercenaries which are Heavy Cav or Heavy Infantry.

    - Court:
    A large, 18 character court with a wide range of skills covering all areas. They start with 1 Superior, 2 Excellent, and 2 Good diplomats and a Diplomacy spell. They have 2 Superior Intrigues and a prophecy spell and decent Magic including Black Death, Firewall, and Reincarnate.

    - VCs:
    They are an Economic Victory kingdom, which generally means they make good victory progress from the start. They also have access to lots of easy to secure trade routes which will boost their economy and victory progress.

    - Location part deux:
    They have 4 good natural allies in Brythunia, Hyrkania, Hyperborea, and Zamora which can give them a secure northern border allowing them to focus their efforts to the south. Turan will need to make peace or form alliances with at least one of these in order to do well in the long term.


    - Location:
    Turan has some strong, natural competitors in Khauran, Iranistan, Stygia, and Vendhya. Khauran is smaller but has a strong court and can raise an army of mercenaries quickly. Iranistan has the same number of Imperial armies and only slightly lesser troops. Stygia's army starts out on par with Turan. Vendhya starts with 4 IAs to Turan's 2 and has more troops. An alliance of any 2 or all four of these kingdoms will make life extremely hard for Turan.

    - Troops:
    At least 50% of all troops need to be Light Infantry Archers, Medium Infantry, or Medium Cavalry Archers. The Mediums are ok against NPK troops but don't fare so well against the heavies and mercenaries of other PCs in the region.

    - Court:
    While the court is large and diverse it is lacking in both Military Command and Rulership. Turan only has one Superior and 3 Good MC court members which will affect combat, especially against other played kingdoms. They also suffer from a lack of rulership (only 3 Good rulership characters); which impacts both wealth production and loyalty among a large number of provinces.

    - IGs:
    Both Imperial Goals are distant from Turan and will be hotly contested making it a challenge to go Imperial and get your Imperial troops. Secunderum is 3 provinces away and threatened by Iranistan, Kosala, and Vendhya; The Naked Desert is 2 provinces away but contested by Khauran, Stygia, Punt and potentially Koth and Khoraja.


    - Location part deux: The Vilayet Sea, while providing a fairly peaceful eastern border also heavily restricts movement. Turan has to either fight their way north over the top or south around the bottom to expand. The three provinces to the south (Colchian Mts, Iranistan Steppes, and Yuetshi) are a crossroads contested by Turan, Iranistan, Kosala, and Vendhya which can be costly to conquer and hold.

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    In PBM Space: What Size is The Right Size?
    Charles Mosteller

    The old PBM game called Stellar Warlords, which was moderated by GM Brad Lampl many years ago, was a galaxy was billed as having over two million star sectors. See here.


    For comparison's sake, Galaxy: Alpha, which was also a space warfare/space conquest type of PBM game from, players started out in a galaxy with thirty million star sectors. See here. If it were still running non-stop from way back then until now, do you think that any player would have explored, much less conquered, so much as a single galaxy? Did I mention that it had 16 universes? Maybe they were expecting a lot of players.


    A while back, I had managed to dig up an old copy of the Starforce Battles rulebook - a fairly early version of it. With the help of some trusty assistants, I created Starforce Battles. In browsing through it, tonight (05/19/2024), an old copy in print format that would have been printed on a Panasonic KX-P1124i dot matrix printer, I am reminded that at that time, Starforce Battles had a playing area of one thousand quadrants. Saying that the playing space in my PBM game was utterly dwarfed by the much more massive two million and thirty million galaxies of Stellar Warlords and Galaxy: Alpha would be an understatement of cosmic proportions.


    Those two space conquest games were designed to accommodate a much larger player base than what I was aiming to accommodate. I mention it, now, though, because I find myself wondering what size of playing area in a PBM game is the most conducive or better conducive to facilitating player-to-player interaction. If you're playing a space warfare or space conquest type of game, and you want to just go out and start blasting away at alien races, then you need to find them, first, don't you? How many weeks, months, years, or turns in real time do you want to play in a game, before your empire actually encounters another empire in the game?


    In Galac-Tac, it's possible (thought perhaps not always likely) that your empire will stumble upon one or more other empires within the first few turns of playing. In the real cosmos, I think that vast amounts of stars and galaxies make a lot of sense. After all, that's how the real universe is that we are all a part of. But in a space warfare/space conquest game, at least as it relates to first encounters between space-faring races, Galac-Tac's approach strikes me as perhaps a better approach. But once you start playing Galac-Tac, the size of your playing area begins to "feel" smaller than it may have felt at the beginning of the game.


    The Takamo rulebook informs PBM gamers that seventeen thousand, five hundred and seventy-six sectors comprise the galaxy, which may be divided into 474,522 subsectors. Doing a little more research, Galac-Tac features a galaxy composed of a few hundred stars. There's probably no one single "answer" to the question of what is the right amount of playing space to provide to PBM games in a space conquest type of game. Starweb, for example, is a game with a playing space of 255 worlds. Such a dramatic difference from the PBM space games that utterly dwarf it, in terms of playing space.


    The reason why I am going back through this old print copy of the Starforce Battles rulebook is to see what I can learn from myself. Specifically, what can reading back through my old rulebook written by a younger version of myself teach the current version of myself about PBM game design? Over time, the mapping system in Starforce Battles changed from quadrants and sectors, to quadrants, and finally to stars, but I don't have a more recent nor an older version of the rulebook handy, at the moment. Lots of stuff was lost on old computer hard drives that quit working in past years.


    The rulebook that I have though is divided into different sections, with three of them being Mapping SystemMovement, and Exploring The Galaxy. Each of those three sections is a paragraph long, with the Movement paragraph being about twice as long as either of those other two sections. If I were to rewrite this old rulebook, today, then these rulebook sections would likely end up being significantly shorter - maybe no longer than a sentence or two.


    Rather than fiddle around with calculating distance that starships could travel, were I to do it all over again, I would be far more likely to just imbue all starships in the game with the equivalent of unlimited movement. If damaged, they probably would not be able to use any form of warp drive, star drive, hyper drive, etc. effectively stranding them at whatever star location that their starship is currently at. If fully repaired, then I would be more inclined to just let players pick any star that they want their starship to move to, and it would arrive there at the end of their next turn.


    Why? To better promote and facilitate player interaction. Yeah, your homeworld might get discovered in a few turns, maybe even in one turn, but if so, then there's less time for boredom to take root and grow.


    And instead of starting all players in an unknown location, what if all players were immediately aware of where some - or even all - other players' homeworlds were, as soon as they entered the game? And when they entered the game, what if players already in the game immediately became aware of the newcomers' homeworlds' existence?


    Easy prey? Maybe. Maybe not. It just depends upon other factors of the game's design. Or what if they were aware of your empire's homeworld, but other players weren't yet strong enough to set off conquering their fellow players' star-faring empires right off the bat? For other empires to know where your empire is induces a sense of vulnerability, and vulnerable players likely value defense more than empires that aren't really perceived to be vulnerable, at all. The deep void of space tends to be a good place to hide in - but what if it wasn't?


    Or what if your empire starts out hidden, but as soon as a ship warps to another star, other empires in the game pick up on that? What if Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire, or some variant thereof, was even more focused upon space conquest and warfare than the current version?


    There's no single, right way to design a space warfare/space conquest game. There were tons of them, back in play by mail gaming's heyday era. Me? I'm just sitting here thinking aloud, tonight, so I figured that I would make an article about it. Maybe it will get some other PBMers thinking, also, or maybe it won't. Nothing's lost, either way, as I see it.

    A Look Back At Some PBM Growth Numbers

    Charles Mosteller
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    From Issue #29 of PBM Unearthed (29th Withering Issue), dated March 13th, 2023 (It's been more than a year now - does it seem that long, since PBM Unearthed turned out its last issue?), comes Page #23.


    How much have various PBM gathering places grown or shrunk or stayed the same, since then?


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    * PBM gaming could use some more metrics to measure growth with. In the absence of PBM companies providing such metrics (they used to, back in the old days - typically when they were bragging in PBM magazines), we have to do the best that we can.

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