Let’s make things clear. I’m not talking about fantasies on Tumblr. Savvy?
What I’m going to talk about is my experience on running, taking part of and closely following rpgs played on our private forum. Since gaming time is an issue for grownups playing via forum might become handy every now and then.
From the starters I’d say everybody needs to chill down and see the game as it is. Playing on a forum is not relative to playing live around a table. Some users are slower to react and not all users are online 24/7 though some seem to be. Relaxing about expectations about forum gaming is a mandatory thing.
Closely following after that is keeping things simple. It helps to think forum games as convention scenarios. You can try to make them extraordinary and awesome but most of the time it pays to keep them small. Closed environment (in the game) is a bonus that works well as does a simple goal.
An example – I have started a number of forum based campaigns but most of them fall apart when the players have to share their attention to a large number of details. At one point I had an ambitious plan of running a pulp epic but the players lost interest after the intro. Their reasons might vary but in essence there was just too much to do.
As a better example – We have ran a few successful Werewolf games on our forum (no, not the WoD kind of Werewolf, check the link). In short we agree on a theme, everybody comes up with a character and a moderator distributes the roles. The goal of the game is simple: kill or be killed. As with convention games most players seem to enjoy this approach and those who don’t just do not participate.
No one from our gaming society brings up the first example. Ever. Why? It wasn’t that good. I’m sure it would have worked as a regular campaign but for forum it was just too complicated. On the other hand: those werewolf games? Players were so into them that we actually spent time thinking about strategies outside the game and even speculated false information about who might be the werewolves in real life events. There was a huge difference in the level of commitment with them.
Apart from the successful Werewolf games we tried two different D&Dish games last year. They were aptly named “Nameless dungeon bash” (numbers 1 & 2). First of these games went well and we the players managed to finish it. The second just dried up and was left unfinished. And the difference between them? The level of complexity.
While the first game took place in a small dungeon where the DM just gave us pieces of the dungeon floor plan the second featured a larger castle with elaborate infiltration plans and whatnot similar to Thief-games. Though I enjoyed the second game it just did not advance in a way this kind of game should to keep the players interested.
I am not saying that other kind of games could not work. As a matter of fact I have ran successful campaigns on a table and augmented it with a forum game. The players who wanted could engage in social encounters on the forum and just pass time between sessions but those who had no interest in such things did not suffer a penalty for not participating.
Gaming on forum can be fun and entertaining. As long as all players remember what they should expect from it and what not.