TwitteRPG Challenge

Social media posting presents an interesting challenge – how do you capture a reader’s attention and convey sufficient information to get the point across in a limited space? And can you use these limitations to make interesting play-by-post games? There is certainly a bit of a magic formula to make it work, but the rapid-fire nature of the short report fits perfectly in certain kinds of RPG’s. It may even hone your descriptive skills for other roleplaying games!


Studies show that online readers skim and scan pages, either seeking out a particular piece of information or they just absorb the headline and move on. For an online article or long-form post, only about the first fifth of it gets stared at and retention rates are dismally low. Play-by-post games that rely on article-length descriptions and responses might suffer similar pitfalls, save for the fact that players and GM’s are more invested in a game than a wall-of-text news article (we hope). But as the saying goes: Brevity is the soul of wit. So, how do we take the fun of play-by-post and Tweet-Face-aGram™ it?

Social media companies like Twitter have made a multi-billion dollar industry out of little snippets of pseudo-reading by limiting user input to 280 characters (up from 140 characters in 2017, although it should be noted that most tweets remain under the previous limit and certain languages are still subject to the old boundary). Other companies only show the first chunk of a post and force you to click if you want to read the whole thing. Why are they successful? If we’re only reading and thinking in 140 character bursts, then limiting a post to that range means you can store that packet of data in your brain, muddle over it for a hot second, and OH LOOK, it’s a reply button! The Twitter model works by only giving you enough space for a single thought, theme, joke, or message. And then it lets users reply to that message with a similar, short counter-message. Just enough room, say, to describe a room in 140 characters:

“The shadowy parlor is laced with cobwebs and moldy sheets covering shapes of untouched furniture. You see doors to the east, west, and south.”

It’s a tight fit, but the limitation forces the writer to only include the most critical elements of the room. Doubling the limit would allow the GM to add perhaps some more descriptions of sounds and smells, a staircase with ruined carpet, or a sideboard that might contain a clue. Forcing the account into a small parcel of easily digestible data leaves much to the imagination of the reader, but still provides things in the room that can be manipulated or interacted with, much like an old-school video game with limited storage-memory.


Correspondingly, constrained player actions must be as blunt as a cleric’s weapon from 2nd Ed. (that’s an old-school joke – feel free to ignore it if you still have your youth). The advantage here is that you can give the play-by-post player more freedom to embellish because they’ll be naturally limited by space:

“Zem quick draws daggers from her belt, flinging them into the faces of the flying imps. She tumbles beneath the wagon for cover from the air.”

It’s just enough room for the activation of a special ability, an attack with an announcement of targets, and a bit of maneuvering or movement. In this case, the player highlighted her quick draw feat in bold, but you could use whatever word-processing conventions make it easy for your group. If you require die rolls, you could have the player post them separately, have the GM roll and then respond with results, or ramp up the difficulty and have them as part of the character limit.

GM’s will probably need something like two posts for every one by the player – a post to set up the scene and a post to reply to the player’s action. But larger groups could benefit from allowing all the players to take one “round” of actions and then have the game master reply with a single situation report at the end of everyone’s turn, followed up by what the surviving baddies do next. Some flexibility may be required to make everything clear or to answer questions.


What if your gaming group doesn’t Tweet? What if they don’t like meticulously counting characters? No problem. In fact, you can design the game limits around the app in question. Instead of character counts, do line counts. For example, you only get two lines of text in the full-screen version of Discord or four lines in WhatsApp on your phone. You could designate certain symbols or emoji to serve as shorthand for game mechanics like “critical hit,” “botch,” or “make a sanity check to avoid the existential horror of things best left unknown.”

Plain old text messages would suffice, but you could also change up the formula and allow or even require a picture or music to accompany the post. Alternately, you could raise the bar even higher and force everyone to rely completely on pictures to describe the situation and the actions taken. For short-video apps, you could allow the players to take as many actions they wish as long as they can fit them into 15 seconds of footage. Bonus points for dressing and speaking in character. In fact, if anybody dresses up as a wizard and speed-reads their spellbook, I want you to send me the video because that would be hilarious.


TwitteRPG’s and their ilk would work perfectly for many types of games. Roleplay-heavy campaigns or who-dunnit investigations fit the theme because they already rely on text conversations. Imagine a game where the players are all hackers working a job and can only communicate via text to accomplish the mission. Or how about a game of dark age spies that can only send short snippets of information with carrier pigeons?

Games that favor short surges of back-and-forth action also mesh well. Swashbuckling duels, gunfights, and classic sword-and-sorcery battles benefit from brevity. Vehicle combat – anything from a tank to a mech to a starfighter – is also perfect. Quick decisions separate those who survive and those who explode in a barrage of missiles.

So channel your inner Hemingway and break out the thesaurus! Challenge your players to a rapid-fire romp into the pursuit of precision play-by-post!

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