PbEM Solo Campaigns: Artha, Trait Votes, and Resources

So, I’m running a solo campaign via email. It’s going great! I’d like to say, the Hub and Spokes mechanics are perfect for PbEM. We’ve only been playing for a little over a week, but have already torn through two scenes by email, with an additional introductory scene in a face-to-face session. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a PbP game move so quickly. I’m sure the fact that there’s only one player has something to do with it though. I may never go back to GMing PbP groups again. ^^

Anyways, a couple questions, related to PbP/PbEM games:

1. Artha Awards
According to the RAW and the AdBu, Artha is to be awarded at end of session, in order to limit in-game access to this currency and promote meaningful usage. However, in PbP games, there is no end of session. The story just goes on and on until it finishes. So, when should I award Artha?

I’m leaning toward just awarding it at the end of every scene. We’ve been going through the scenes pretty fast, so this would mean Artha awards every few RL days. The reason I am considering this is due to the slow nature of PbP. If I set up much longer intervals between Artha awards, we run the risk of: forgetting the cool RPs that deserved Artha; losing the feeling of Artha being an award; never, ever seeing an epiphany taking place (unless the game drags on for five years or something). What do you all think of this? Also, should I raise the OBs to compensate?

2. Trait Votes
Similar to the Artha question, when should I call for trait votes? If we waited as long as suggested in the RAW, we might not get trait votes for a whole RL year. Should I just have traits develop naturally during play?

3. Resources

My next question relates to our campaign specifically, rather than the nature of PbP gaming. In our campaign, the PC is the 19-year-old son of a noble, who spends half his time at home in his father’s castle, and the other half wandering around the wilderness, hunting the “beast” that will lift his family’s curse. The PC’s effective Resources exponent is zero. We’ve established that his father is sort of a poor marcher baron. He has a little wealth, and some villagers and farmers who pay tribute to him.

Anyway, this has led to a bit of confusion pertaining to the lifestyle maintenance check. Although the PC’s Resources exponent dictates that he is impoverished, he avoids this fate by mooching off his dad. What should I do? How should the maintenance check work? Removing his father or the castle from play is not an option at the moment, as they’re both pretty important to the current story.

I’m considering just having his dad give him a 2 or 3 die fund, and sending the PC out to collect taxes. Failed tax-collecting would not only lead to the PC’s Resources starting to dwindle away, but also affect his father’s economic state. In such a way, they really might lose the castle if things get bad in town.


Since there’s no concept of “session” in PbP, we’re forced to drift slightly with this stuff. I’m about to run a PbP and I asked myself the same questions. Here’s how I’m going to do it:

  1. Award Artha as it’s earned. This is BWR rules, but it just makes the most sense. I’ll try not to reward the same BIT more than once per scene, but generally that’s not even an issue; once they’ve done enough to earn that point the story has usually been pushed to another scene.

  2. That’s the easiest way I can think of to gauge that distance is measuring with Artha. Something like a trait vote coinciding with a Deeds Point. Or maybe a trait vote every n points of Artha awarded, where n is some number that makes sense to the two of you.

  1. That works. I think I might keep the Artha awards for the end of the scenes though. Keeps the focus on the immediate present a bit better.

  2. Interesting. I’d never thought of that. Could also time it by linking it to how much Artha has been spent fighting for your Beliefs. That might be the best way.

Well, if he’s actually living as a noble, he should have a relatively high lifestyle maintenance test. Yeah, if he has few resources of his own, it’s going to be a really tough test (although with B0 Resources, there’s really nothing to lose, although the GM might start having people the noble owes money start hounding him). If he’s a moocher, let him mooch–but do it in character. Make Circles tests and Persuasion tests to convince somebody with money to help him out.

Well, that’s the thing. He only mooches off his father, so there’s nothing to make tests for there. His father just provides for him. I let him basically have a castle for free because he had an interesting story he wanted to tell. We discussed the setting and the story hook at length before the game started. His father is a poor noble, but he has the means to lead a decent life and provide for his family and a small retinue of castle servants. The castle itself is in disrepair, with unused portions crumbling in decay.

In some ways, I am tempted to just ignore the Resources mechanic for the time being. The relationship with his father and the mystery of the Beast curse is a more interesting story to persue right now. However, the player placed great emphasis on how decrepit his castle is, which implies that Resources should be relevant at some point.

I see two avenues, then:

  1. Ignore the Resources mechanic because it’s not really relevant to the story. It’s in the Rim, after all; and if it doesn’t drive the story forward it’s just getting in the way. If it’s established that he lives a noble lifestyle despite his Resources and there’s no interest in determining how he manages that, go with that.

  2. Don’t make mooching off his dad automatic. Maybe he was always successful in the past. Just because there’s a Relationship doesn’t mean it’ll always be a Say Yes, though. He still has to persuade his dad to keep mooching off him (mechanically, his father has probably been giving him non-repaid Loans, Cash on Hand, Funds, and providing Helping dice). If the relationship with the father is important to the story, this may be a way to drive the story forward, actually–does the father actually mind the fact that his son is a mooch? Maybe he’s always bridled a bit that his son shows no desire to provide for himself. Maybe the father has decided a little tough love is in order, and his son needs to learn to make his own way in the world.

Some good advice. I think I’ll probably end up doing both. Keep Resources around, but on the back burner for a bit. Things are gearing up for tensions to escalate between the two of them – that’s when I can break out the tough love. And if the PC inherits the castle later on, he’ll have some truly challenging Resources tests to make if he wants to keep his inheritance. Should work. Thanks.

Edit: Ah, wanted to ask if anybody else has suggestions for the Artha and trait votes.

Something I’ve noticed in The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm is that they’re dividing the game into episodes. The first episode was a day, and I haven’t caught up on the second episode yet. Most stories have mini-arcs, though. When one logically seems to end, you could simply call it a “session” and count that way, even if play is continuous. Some “sessions” could be one day, as in the Ballad, but I can conceive of whole journeys taking place in one episode, too.

A different way to establish session-length with “artha as you go” is inverting the recommendations for artha rewards, which say that if both players and the GM are engaging with the system, each player should be getting at least one Fate point and one persona point per session. Turn that around, and it means that every 1-2 fate points and 1-2 persona points, say it’s the “end of a session.” That will give you an idea of how many “sessions” in you are, and give you a point at which you can review and decide what y’all thought was most awesome and make a note of it in a sort of recap. Gotta know where you’re coming from to know where you’re going, right?

The “favorite moments of the episode” bit is something I particularly love about the way the Ballad is being done, so I’m biased towards a system that maintains break points where the player and GM can high-five each other and talk about both what’s great and what might need work. There is no good time for feedback without break points, and one of the most crucial elements of any game is making sure the GM knows what the player is liking and disliking and the player knowing what the GM likes and dislikes, so they can adapt to each other more quickly.

I think this is an excellent guideline for determining when to do Trait votes. We can throw in a Trait vote anytime it would be reasonable to break from the game, and all PCs have earned somewhere between 6-12 Fate points and 6-12 Persona points. If a Deed point is earned, probably a good time to do a Trait vote too, regardless of the totals. Nice and easy. I like it. After the Trait vote, just reset the “counter”.

One interesting thing about playing online is that it’s possible to have these “break-points” running simultaneously with the game itself. Just start a new thread for the break-point, and keep going with the game in the game thread. Artha/Traits can be earned whenever the break-point is finished – after all, is it really a necessity that they be earned before the next scene begins? Some might say yes, but I think most would agree that while break-points are important, playing the game itself is more fun.

I would increase your fate and persona point totals. One fate and one persona artha per session should be the absolute minimum. People will rack up a lot more than that in practice. I would possibly go so high as twenty fates and fifteen to twenty personas, because trait votes can make characters so much more powerful, and fate flows like water - play an Instinct, drive the action with a Belief, play a trait to the hilt and divert the course of play, etc. After all, it’s usually an end-of-adventure thing - wouldn’t want trait votes to happen too soon even in an online game.

It even provides an extra incentive. If the GM is solidly challenging all beliefs and instincts, and the players are playing them up and achieving their goals and causing trouble, they’ll get to the trait vote faster! It encourages good play.

Also, without measuring sessions in some fashion, there’s no guidance about when a call-on trait can be used again. Usually it’s once a session.

You could count die rolls, taking a lead from Burning Empires. Eg up to 3 die rolls per “building scene”, 3 building scenes per player per session. Which is way more die rolls per PC than you get in BE, but then this is not BE.

A harem slave can live in idle luxury with no lifestyle maintenance test. All that luxury is at someone else’s discretion.

For very different reasons, the same is true of the noble son. He has no resources of his own but what his father grants him. If he breaks with his father, he loses everything but what’s on his back and in his pockets. If he were making the test, he would be independently wealthy enough to live like a noble. Maybe you can just say yes to daddy paying for everything now, but make sure the player knows that it’s all someone else’s wealth. It’ll add some tension to their falling-out.

Part of how immediate and pressing the lifestyle maintenance test is depends on your resource cycle too. If you cycle monthly, this issue is going to be coming up all the time. If it’s every 6 months or yearly, you can get a lot of actual play in before that 1 year of game time is up (depending on how you play, of course). The situation may have completely changed by then, enough to make it obvious (or a moot point).

If it were me, I would be inclined to “say yes” to the lifestyle maintenance test for as long as his father is willing to maintain his son’s day-to-day expenses, especially if how exactly they are making ends meet isn’t the focus of the story. Obviously if the son needs to use resources to acquire anything outside of basic lifestyle stuff, then it’s time to start breaking out the persuasion rolls to get people to give him money, and there are plenty of ways to make B0 resources hurt without requiring lifestyle maintenance tests. I also might be inclined to be a little more… restrictive on what can be rolled into lifestyle if someone else is footing that bill.

Obviously if he and his father have a parting of ways, the free ride (“say yes”) stops, but at that point the son’s lifestyle is probably going to change pretty drastically too… Perhaps he’s now living on the road, looking for a way to redeem himself in his families eyes, or maybe he says F*#$ them, I’ll make it on my own. Either way, he’s responsible for his own lifestyle check, but it’s probably also going to be a much lower obstacle.

I like the idea of a fund, it would get him some initial contests to life his own resources, but would deplete slowly. Lets just say that it is his share of the tax revenue from the local plebs. If he over taxes the locals, he looses out on his share, but he has to be able to pay his dad at the end of the day, so his dad’s share doesn’t shrink. I like fund’s so much that I think resources like businesses should be set up instead like a fund, that if you draw to heavily from them, they shrink in capacity, like selling off a chunk of land to raise fast cash, you get what you want in the short term, but in the long term you may well loose out as your wealth is whittled away.

I’d get the young noble to make resource rolls when he is on the road, away from his father’s support, fending more for himself out there. He can build up his resources slowly then. Then, of course, there will be a time when brigands might steal a tax shipment, and he has to make up the shortfall…