Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Play by Email: A Summary

Figure 1. Necromunda rulebook cover by
Geoff Taylor (from Priestley, Johnson & Chambers, 1995)

[I've been flailing away at the keyboard typing up my thoughts on a second article from National Geographic, but I'll never get it finished tonight. (Trust me, it's worth the wait!) Instead, here's a brief summary of some play-by-email musings that will no doubt be expanded in future into yet another series of overly-detailed posts...]

One of the major hassles of being a geek abroad in a city like Bangkok for the past fifteen or so years, is that you tend to leave your hobbies behind. Friday night geekery becomes playing pool at the local bar, or band practice, or pub quizzing, or footy training, and before you know it, you can't tell THAC0 from HD, or whether the Fimir made it into Warhammer 4th Edition or not. Something therefore that I have done occasionally to bridge this gap and stay sane, is run or participate in play-by-email campaigns with the "old gang" from back home. What follows is a quick look at two favourites that have burned up the inbox and caused me to waste a lot of time in idle thought and semi-pointless book-keeping:

1. Necromunda. (Priestley, Johnson & Chambers, 1995). Games Workshop's cult miniatures battle-game of gang warfare in a future dystopian Warhammer 40K hive-city!  I'd been living in Bangkok for nearly a year and saw this in the toy section at a local department store. Having spent the entire previous year in the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Laos and parts beyond, I was in severe need of a gaming fix and bought it immediately. After a few battles against myself I forgot about it for a bit (though not long enough to buy Outlanders (Chambers, 1996)!), until, on a visit back home, some mates suggested getting some sort of PBEM action going (email being a newish concept back then as we'd previously corresponded via this archaic means of communication known as 'writing letters'), and Necromunda raised its ugly head...

So for the next year and a bit after that, I ran a Necromunda campaign for a large number of different gangs, five of which were 'owned' by my friends, while the others were all 'NPC' gangs either using official rules or stuff I'd swiped off the 'net that looked cool (Wyrds, Chaos Covens, Ash Nomads, Pit Slaves, and so on...). The actual process was simple and fun, though rather time-consuming:

  1. Determine who was fighting who for that month(s).
  2. Get them to submit some sort of battle tactics.
  3. Set up each battle on a card table, and run through it taking copious notes on who did what to whom and how and where.
  4. Write the whole mess up as a semi-coherent battle report.
  5. Collate all the battle reports and results, and summarise them as a monthly/bimonthly tabloid that read like a fatal pile-up between White Dwarf (the 'bad' post-100 issues) and one of Rupert Murdoch's trashier bin-liners.
  6. Repeat.
I think I only managed to get through seven or eight tabloids and it was already starting to get ridiculous - we had Lords of the Spire mini-leagues, Top Ten Killer/Sniper charts, lists of guns for hire and obituraries for slain gangers, and so forth and so on. Because of this, when I was offered the chance to play bass in not one but two bands as a night job, I jumped at the chance, and the Necromunda campaign unfortunately fell by the wayside. Fun times though, and I may even dig some of it out here if the blood-spattered prose isn't too embarassing.

Figure 2. Cover detail from
 Cities of Gold and Glory
 by Kevin Jenkins
(from Morris & Thomson, 1995).

 2. Fabled Lands. A few years later, the bands had both split up, as is the ephemeral nature of expatriate existence in Bangkok, and I was supposedly enrolled in a Masters course in International Journalism. As is normal for me when contemplating tertiary tedium, I started casting around for any sort of digital distraction. Before this, I'd liberated all six Fabled Lands books from storage at home, carted them back to Thailand, and completely deconstructed them into their basest fragments.

'Hey,' I thought. 'Let's run them as a campaign for some mates!'

So for about a year or maybe two, six of my friends chose six different professions, and started wandering about the lands of Harkuna. Altogether they covered most of The War-Torn Kingdom (Morris & Thomson, 1995), quite a lot of Cities of Gold and Glory (Morris & Thomson, 1995), and bits from Over the Blood-Dark Sea (Morris & Thomson, 1995). Most of them travelled solo, and you'd have these strange awkward encounters between PCs when they found themselves occupying the same patch of road between Caran Baru and Trefoille, which reminded me of facing the Thief from Zork I.

Needless to say, their exploits were varied. The rogue sided with the Marlocks, and the warrior with Nergal Corin, so Sokara got fairly messy very quickly, while the mage helped Oliphard the Wizardly and transformed herself into a warrior-sorceress of some power. Two others joined different colleges in Dweomer, and one of these (via a mistaken visit to the master of their college) then assassinated Amcha One-Eye. Again, good times, although they eventually petered out when the book-keeping became too much...

One of the reasons I'm talking about these here, is that I intend to start up a new PBEM campaign, and this blog serves a useful space to thrash out some ideas on how to run it, and more importantly given my previous misadventures, how to make it last a bit longer. As always unfortunately, more will be revealed at a later date...


Chambers, A. (1996). Outlanders Rulebook. Nottingham: Games Workshop.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995). Fabled Lands: The War-Torn Kingdom. London: Macmillan.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995). Fabled Lands: Cities of Gold and Glory. London: Macmillan.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995). Fabled Lands: Over the Blood-Dark Sea. London: Macmillan.

Priestley, R., Johnson, J. & Chambers, A. (1995) Necromunda Rulebook: Nottingham: Games Workshop. 


  1. The Necromunda sounds intriquin, if ye runs it lets me knows, I does the solid Orloks

  2. I'd like to join a PBEM event. I'm part of a couple of FF games on forums at the moment and I enjoy that.

  3. @Xarcht: I'm not planning on running a Necromunda campaign now, or not yet - it's just an example of one I did a few years back...

    @Stu: If I ever get it together enough to set something up, I'll let you know for sure!