They're Role Playing Games and they're online. How cool is that?
These aren't MMORPGs like World of Warcraft or EVE Online. They don't have fancy graphics. Instead, they rely on the imaginations of the players. Quite simply, you're taking an online bulletin board and you're running an RPG on it. Some are free-form, others use systems like D20, or GURPS (or create their own system based on one of these).
If Dreaded Real Life takes the GM into its dreaded clutches, depending on what manner of game it is, the game may survive. If it's an open-ended world, then the players will just play, with the players enforcing the rules (so long as there isn't a Small Name, Big Ego running a massive crime organization/cult/paramilitary group amongst the experienced players; he gets his way) and disciplining the newbies who break them. Also, you have the benefit of being able to ignore their posts if they refuse to change. Alternately, someone else might take over as the GM.
However, if it's a set story with a predefined goal or you're in combat with the Dragon Guardian of the Lost Treasure of the Order of High Knights of the Crown, and the GM disappears, then you can pretty much decide that the game's done until he comes back.
Postal gaming predates both computers and role-playing games, incidentally — long-duration play-by-mail chess is an old tradition going back at least to the medieval origins of modern chess, if not further, making this at least Older Than Steam. If you ever see an old movie with a rich guy standing next to a mid-game chessboard with no opponent, he's probably got a postal chess game going with an unseen character. Play-By-Email (PBEM), obviously, is the electronic version of Postal Gaming, and is easily as prevalent as Play by Post games using bulletin board software.
See also Journal Roleplay, which is essentially the lovechild of Play by Post with Character Blog.
In addition to all the various Tabletop RPG tropes, you see a few others prevalent in Play-by-Post Games, including:
God Moders and Munchkins: Since Play By Posts are more likely to have informal or diceless systems, or sometimes no systems at all, godmoding (using out-of-character knowledge to make in-character decisions, or calling the actions of something controlled by another player) can pop up at times. Playing on a poorly-regulated forum RP is one of the few times you'll wish for Min-Maxing - since on some forums, there's no minning required.'
These terms mean very different things in these games. A Munchkin tends to be a Heinz Hybrid or a God-Mode Sue in games where numbers don't matter. God Mode is when a player writes the other character as reacting in a certain way or acting in a certain way without their consent. The former is bad writing, the latter is a breach of etiquette.
The Global Guardians PBEM Universe was begun back in 1994, and continued until 2006. You can count the number of these games that have lasted twelve years on one hand, and you'll have fingers left over.
If you thought nine years was impressive, try Aelyria.com forum boards (previously known as Alleria). The game was formed back in 1989 and since then has crossed between three different boards to keep up to date. It now has its own site and is still running strong twenty-one years later.
'Souls RPG has been going since 2001, through no less than four different forum software types. 'Souls is a play-by-post, post-apocalyptic werewolf and werecanine game set in Maritime Canada.
Halcyon Days(Site Here) is a Bleach RP that has existed in one form or another for almost 8 years. Though both the name, the website, and the people in power have changed, it is still running strong, with new and returning members coming in frequently, despite the lack of any canon characters.
Engi No Jutsu is a hypothetically Naruto related roleplay quickly approaching ten years old as of this writing, having been first made in 2004 and continuing strong to this day.
US Gov Sim is a long running game based on American politics. The game originally began on AvidGamers before moving to its own IPB Forum. It has been running continuously since the early 2000s and is in its 8th "reset", or round.
Dino Attack RPG, hosted on BZ Power.com, ended on December 21, 2012 after seven years of a single continuous story. More remarkable is the fact that it was inspired by a half-year Lego line and was kept alive by less then a dozen players.
Haven City Born from a site called Shinya, Haven inherits members and staff from a site that has existed since 2008. For five years this forum has existed before finally moving to a new location for a fresh start. However, the community is still welcoming to new members.
Orphaned Series: Online GameMasters seem a lot more prone to dropping their campaigns without warning than people who game in person; or perhaps its simply that records of the dead games persist in forum archives. The average lifespan of a Play By Post game is around three months. The lucky ones last a year. A tongue-in-cheek guide to creating a Pbp forum stated, "Once you get your first post in an IC [in character] area, it's time to close up shop. Be sure to blame the members for being annoying and unfaithful."
Webcomic Time: after a fashion. Face-to-face RPGs tends to be played for several hours at a shot on a regular basis; Play By Posts usually get much shorter updates whenever their players and Game Masters are available. A six-second combat round can take weeks if someone doesn't log in regularly.
Regular Roleplaying (i.e. Safe for Work Content)
Blurring the Line Between Reality and Fantasy is a multiverse-setting RP community (with like 3 players), and is essentially a massive crossover between many universes. Including: Bleach, Naruto, Kim Possible, Pokemon, the Soul Series, Elder Scrolls, DC/Marvel comics, Kingdom Hearts, and some original worlds....and the list actually goes on. And on. And on.
BZPB started out as a simple turn-based game on the website BZ Power on March 31st, 2008. However, the players' imaginations really got to work, and it became a full-blown space epic within a year. After 200-something pages, the topic was locked by an admin for breaking the subforum rules (Role-playing games weren't allowed in that subforum, but all the other mods had ignored it seeing how big it had become). It continued immediately on the BZPB Wiki before moving to its own site here. Now approaching its sixth anniversary, it has enough content to warrant its own Tropes page, and all this time it has had a constant of around only ten players.
Engi No Jutsu Is a vaguely Naruto roleplaying board set 100 years after the events of the manga. Many villages have independent forums, communities and stories, and the community takes pride in their high quality writing.
Hidden Village is a warm, active RP community for NON-CANON Naruto-based role-play. All level role-players are welcome! Besides Naruto, we have games running in Fairy Tale, One Piece, Tenjou Tenge, Bleach, Air Gear, and so on. Come in and hop onto the chatbox to get to know a few of us before you make a commitment to the forum. The site has its own massive jutsu database, __ of the Year awards, marketplace system, and much more. The admin team is very welcoming and wants to make you feel comfortable. Come on in and have a look around. Note: broken URL is fixed! Sorry about that, we're still around!
Darkness Incarnate An active community with Dungeons and Dragons style characters. What sets it apart, are the requirements for each class, and the importance of combat (it is the main part of the game)
Coloholics Anonymous is a large play by post RP forum where the roleplays are divided into massive RP forum worlds separated by genres such as Anime, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Nation-Building, and Modern and Miscellaneous. The name "Coloholic" comes from "Colosseum-oholic", meaning people who are fans of roleplaying.
A New Dawn is a forum with an entire section devoted to RP'ing, although the rest of the site is a regular forum, mostly of friends. It has a wonderfully creative Space Opera going on called Beyond the Stars that borrows liberally from Mass Effect.
Age of Intrigue is an historical RPG set in Restoration England, specifically 1676, at the Court of King Charles II, the Merry Monarch. It's relatively small but with active mods who give a good deal of personal touch to the game, and give players a wide array of NPCs to interact with. It's highly active and has been running for about two years at this point. The roleplay is for 18+ only, but so long as one is in that age range adult themes can be avoided per member request.
AJJE Games AJJE Games is a role-playing community offering a unique play-by-post system and a wide range of genres, ranging from Sword & Sorcery to Star Wars and Stargate, as well as member-created sims. Started in 2005, the club offers a rich and deep role-playing experience.
Ongoing Worlds is a community of roleplaying games in a wide range of genres, many of them bespoke.
Disney World of War is an RPG that features, you guessed it, Disney characters. The RPG focuses on a war fought by three armies: The Heroes who are led by Simba, The Animal Villains led by Scar and the Human Villains led by Frollo.
Code Masters. Take on different forms and abilities as you fight for fame or for power. Will you be conceited and care for only your own benefit or will you protect those around you. Will you join those who hunt the innocent or the guardians of the helpless. Will You Stand alone to obtain the power that is Code Eve.
The UCaG, a land on the forum of Artix Entertainment that attracts all kinds of roleplayers, you can find a game from a FSG (Forum Stratagy game) To an A&R (Action and reaction, like roleplaying without dice.)
The Vast Empire is a Star Wars based RPG set in the Thrawn Era, and one of the better quality Wars play by post ones. It has a sizable community, a IRC channel, and a video game subgroup.
The Star Wars RP is a freeform role-playing site founded in 2005, with over 5,000 registered members and over 1 million posts. It is in its fifth role-playing era, "Star Wars Legacies," set over 1,000 years after Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Past timelines have included: Great Territorial War (set 30 years after Knights of the Old Republic) and Great Sovereign Crusades (set 100 years after Knights of the Old Republic), and two Prequel stories called Alsakan Crisis (set 13,000 years before the original Star Wars) and Great Hutt Wars (set 12,970 years before the original Star Wars). All five timelines are part of one continuous Myth Arc.
Star Wars RPG Star Wars roleplaying set in approximately 22 ABY. 8 Years Old in at least current incarnation.
And last but not least, we have Jedi vs. Sith. Originally stemming from a Facebook app, the site wound up popular enough to warrant its own space on the Internet proper. Like The Gungan Council, there is no set timeline (mileage varies site-wide as to whether this is good or bad), and the site features an entirely player-driven economy and faction system. Lacking the longevity of the other sites, however, it is still plagued with problems despite the best attempts of the moderators; powergaming is a common occurrence, godmodding slightly less so, and the site is rife with Expies (not all of them bad). On the bright side, the community spirit is near-unmatched, and for every bad RPer, there's at least one stellar one.
Rolestuck A small forum made specifically for roleplaying Sburb sessions, such as the ones found in the popular webcomic Homestuck.
NationStates is not itself one of these, but many player like to play them using their nations, either on the official forums or on the numerous forums created by players for various regions. And, amongst very vaguely and distantly similar lines, Never Ending Stories at the CivFanatics forum.
Steve Jackson Games at one time ran a BBS on which a number of such games were played, including the free-form no-rules roleplaying forum which evolved into GURPS Illuminati University.
There is an entire site devoted to this known as RolePlay Online, or RPoL. It has a built-in software dice roller, among other features, allowing one to use dice in such a game seamlessly; however, quite a few of the games run there are still freeform.
Many of the GreatestJournal players have moved to InsaneJournal.
The Giant In The Playground forums, for the D&D-based webcomic Order of the Stick, feature a fairly large section devoted to PBP games. The board, like RPoL, even has its own dice roller. Some games have individual pages further down.
Muse Academy. Only readers of Muse Magazine understand half of what happens, but it's the special crazy sort of randomness that comes from having no real GM.
The Birthright campaign setting for AD&D and D&D has a large number of games running. The PCs of Bithright campaigns where not adventures but rulers. A given party might consist of The Duke, his Court Wizard, the High Priest, the Master of the local guilds etc. As well as normal adventuring stuff the game system had domain rounds, where PCs administered various holdings, collected taxes and fought wars. Which translated quite straightforwardly to play by post play in which most if not all of the different kingdoms are take by PCs. As well as the default campaign settings the 'engine' has also been used to run similar games set in Fantasy feudal Japan, post Arthurian Britain, etc.
There was an impromptu one on the GameFAQsMega Man Battle Network 5 Team Protoman board, reffed to the Battle of Light and Darkness. A fight broke out and turned into one of these.
BZ Power has a Bionicle-themed roleplaying forum, it being a Bionicle fan forum, but don't expect to just walk in and make a new RPG-only three RPGs besides the BZPRPG can ever be occurring at once. They have to place 3rd or better in a polled contest every three months to even get started, and to avoid being closed they have to enter the contest again and place 3rd or higher again. Thankfully, there is an official planning topic to refine RPGs and RPG concepts.
There are also a few RPGs active in Lego General Discussion and Completely Off Topic forums, including Dino Attack RPG, which ran for over seven and a half years. While more than three can be active at once, the former requires approval from an LGD forum leader (who acts as a quality control for incoming RPGs), while the latter requires 7 RPG judges, and Sisen, the RPG Leader, to approve the RP (which acts as a more strict quality control.) Thankfully for COT, there is ALSO an official planning topic for refining COT RPGs and COT RPG concepts.
Indeed, there are quite a few sites dedicated to forum Mafia, which, given the nature of Message Boards, are much longer and involve much more detailed analysis than other formats. MafiaScum is perhaps one of the best known sites devoted to the game.
Mafia is also known as Werewolf. There's a very active Werewolf PBP forum on BoardGameGeek.
Also, eRegime is a similar site but run by the creator of the forum variant of Balance of Power himself.
Time To Pretend, an Academy RPG where characters have the spirits of Disney or other fairy tale characters.
Online-Roleplaying is yet another site, most active with D&D gamers but willing to host anything. It also has its own dice roller.
Super Hero Rpg is a rpg where you can design your own hero/villain/regendgae. It constantly updates and goes through Chapter Arcs. There have been 4 so far, but it's easy to come in the middle of one too.
Characters from the forum have even appeared in this comic, and a good few of the moderators are tropers.
The Gaming Steve Forums have one: The Gaming Steve Universe. The game itself can be found here. While the individual creations' pages can be found here. This is actually an offshoot of a Spore 2005 Fan Fic; when Spore failed to live up to the expectations of the universe that was created, Origin became its own story. Especially notable are the Nauceans, a race so well-built that Will Wright himself CANONIZED them.
Oberon and Salvation are two linked games, each following one of the eponymous ships in the Firefly 'verse. Like several examples listed above, these games emphasize writing as well as roleplay, and a general outline of the plot for each "episode" is worked out in advance, although there is a great amount of flexibility in the outline and deviations are generally accepted if they lead to good story.
Neverending Struggle RPG, a massive crossover RPG with an unfortunatly low number of players. The story is about a war between 6 factions composed of characters from fictional media but the plot is pletty loose and it has no specific rules.
Keeping with the subject of Persona, Persona Heaven is a friendly casual RP environment which welcomes all new members.
And still on the subject of Persona,Midnight Masquerade is a brand-new RP set in Iwatodai that centers around the return of Apathy Syndrome, Tartarus and the Dark Hour.
Island Eight is an RP based on the titular Island, a place where creatures of myth and legend are thrown into along with humans who can use magic. It's rather new, and is looking for members to come and join.
Thar Shaddin is a fantasy freeform PbP RP, known for its relatively high standards of literacy and commitment.
Struggle Against Mecha Insano: A long running free form game run on the Spoony Experiment Play by Post Forums. It concerns a resistance group fighting against the evil Doctor Insano (Yes that one.) It spans over twenty years in game and has several generations of the family fighting against Insano. Is known for large time skips lots and lots of drama and intense violence, putting characters through everything imaginable.
Hogwarts Extreme (also known as just HEX) is a rather popular Harry Potter forum-based RPG. It also works as a regular messageboard and general online networking community for Potter fans. Each individual roleplay thread is stand-alone, so it's a good site for beginners who don't feel ready for a more traditional Play By Post site.
Multiworld Madness is a "derelict flagship" of the Roll To Dodge game type. Having recently "celebrated" its second anniversary, spanning three mini-universes as of this writing, with six more to come, this action epic has pretty much drove the Roll To Dodge games forward, causing their explosive growth within the confines of the Bay 12 Games forums and being influential in their spread across the internet. Although progress in the game has slowed from two updates a day to one update a week (at most), it still remains the largest Roll To Dodge forum game on the internet.
Gallega is a new Sci-Fi RP with a small but dedicated group. The RP focuses on user made content while the staff design most of back story. The RP itself follows the story of a crew exploring unknown space. Of course players can easily start their own stories.
Totally Awesome Random Robot RPG the mechtalk story that took on a life of it's own. Pilot a massive mecha of your very own for either the Mighty Fandom or the Determined Earth Sphere Union. Lots of Gundam and other anime influences collide in the titanic struggle for the Earth Sphere.
Transformers: Deadzone is a multiversal Transformers RPG where Transformers from different universes and times are being pulled to the in-game universe for a currently unknown purpose. The Cybertron of said universe has been destroyed, Unicron's running loose, and it seems that no-one knows of the Transformers as a race. Very highly active, and has been in action since early 2007. No Megatron, and the only Optimus Prime is the most untested one. To go with one of the most-used taglines, "It's kind of like Lost, but with giant robots. And no, we don't know what the hell's going on, either."
Shared Worlds on AlternateHistory.com bears host to several RPGs and collaborative works (such as stories); more often than not, they tend to converge. The works themselves. however, vary, from NationStates-esque fare to Mecha RPs, Red Dawn "sequels" and even stuff based out of Axis Powers Hetalia. It's split into Large Games and Sandbox folders.
Naruto Creation is a Naruto RP that has a dedicated playerbase, and is recovering from a population decrease after the forum switched boards.. A lot of the players have a thinly-veiled distaste for the series, and it tends to deviate from the series at times.
Star Wars Universe Rpis a Star Wars RP with very loyal member base that is still going strong. This is the second incarnation of the site and averages anywhere from 40 to 60 active members a day. Their shortened version of the plot is:
3602 BBY. The galaxy has been thrown into upheaval as the forgotten Sith rise from the ashes of their ancestors. No one is safe from the effects of this political unrest as the Republic is forced to take the defensive against this dark tyranny.
Dimensional Clash is a multi-series crossover RP that takes place on an island in another dimension. There's no overarching plot, and much of the individual RPs on the site are about the interactions of various characters from various franchises.
The Tandy Arena: An arena-based Play-by-Post game set in a town called Tandy.
Overclocked is a story-heavy roleplaying game inspired by Persona 4, Yume Nikki, and The Drifting Classroom. Set in a small town in Japan, players assume the role of highschool students whose investigation into a fortune telling rumor leads them into a strange parallel world that might be future Tokyo. In addition to tradition public roleplaying on the forums, there's also the private message "cellphone calls" players can receive, containing information they can share, keep to themselves, or blatantly lie about. The game is currently looking for players.
Aeterna Roma is an alternate timeline ancient Rome RP set in about the 50's AD. The plot revolves around (what else?) the tumultuous lives of the people living within Rome's reach, specifically focusing on the inner workings of Rome itself. While a wide variety of main plots are made available, the game is generally player-focused - meaning that members can worry about their specific character's (or characters') plot(s) without needing to dive into any major site plots. Ae Ro, as it is affectionately known, has been running since 2008 and has an active and friendly member-base.
Along with a thriving Mafia community, Smogon has Create a Pokemon—Anime Style Battling, using both official Pokemon. While there isn't any sort of universal plot of any type (there ARE smaller roleplays within it that have plot-like structures, though,) it can be played with either a roleplaying combat mindset or a more strategic combat mindset.
Wuality Clob is a roleplay using characters from any fandom you want. Most of the fun comes from the IC Livestreams they do. Notable for the fact that anything goes
Santharia is a fantasy world-building site with two separate forums: one where the Dreamers help develop the world, and the other focused completely on Roleplaying within Caelereth (the world created). Recently there has also been development of an interactive game.
Star Wars: Rebuilding of Empires is an ongoing Star WarsAU taking place after the reborn Emperor Palpatine and virtually every major character in the series was killed in action above Coruscant, forcing Imperial and New Republic planets to form their own interstellar powers in order to survive. Each player leads an interstellar polity with a stable of characters. Highlights include politics, Loads and Loads of Characters, epic conflicts of Dark and Light, and philosophy. The game is an example of Long Runners, with thirty years of in-game history, and has been ongoing since 2004.
Sonic: Darkness Eternal Zone is a Sonic the Hedgehog RP set years after Dr Ivo Robotnik, in a final act of cruelty, dropped the Space Colony ARK on the Earth setting off a nuclear winter. The old heroes are dead but new ones have risen to defend the only remaining vestige of civilisation, the Teams of Neo-Tokyo. They are faced by the numerically superior Gangs of Osaka. Taking Sonic, injecting a large dose of Grim Dark and Fallout this equates to one hell of a setting. On its third revival, the original incarnation was so good it was plagiarised!
Virtual Warrior World is an active Warriors RP that is for all roleplayers, from beginner to intermediate.
Requiem of Ages is a Fantasy RP set in an original world known as Pax. Players take on the role of humans that have died and become immortal thanks to being chosen at the moment of death by the Goddess of Darkness or the Goddess of Light, Known as Taint and Purity respectively. There is a plot that is largely run by the Admins and Moderators but characters are free to act as they wish for the most part and create their own stories completely unrelated to the plot if they want.
Einsteinian Roulette: A recent and running Roll To Dodge game based on the Bay12 forums, it focus on the lives and violent deaths of the convicts living in the Paracelsus' Sword, a ship dedicated to housing people enrolled to a punishment worse than death: completing a series of deadly missions for the dictatorial government of mankind in a future where humans have already colonized several worlds and are a spacefaring civilization. It mostly runs on Black Comedy and Character Development, with an original universe created by the Game Master.
Invite RP is a roleplay on Gaia Online. Players invited to the RP send original characters through fictional worlds like Series/Firefly, The Hunger Games, The Legend of Zelda, etc in an effort to get back to their homeworlds in a game show run by the Slender Man.
Dimensional Chess is a relatively small science-fiction roleplay. It is entirely text-based, only has a few players, and is generally not very well known.
Malkavian Madness Forum is a small forum devoted primarily to both the old and new World Of Darkness, though other games are hosted on the site as well.
Lost And Found of The Multiverse is a freeform roleplay hosted on the Bay 12 Forums. It has an unfortunately small amount of players, most of the old players having left the game for various reasons, but has a dedicated group of three-four players.
Digimon Tribute A Digimon RP with elements from nearly every franchise. Set during the second season, but with Digimon Tamers happening alongside. There are original plotlines going around the world too.
The Ninja Forum is a Naruto based Roleplay, set in the continent of Seichi, the Sacred Place. Separate from the Continent that the Manga/Anime takes place and the individuals within, Seichi currently has five great Elemental Nations, the Lands of Fire, Frost, Sun, Water and Wind, as well as the independent Nation of Safe Haven and the desolate lands of Silence. With a dynamic Lore system, your plots and actions can have lasting effects across the entire continent.
Haven City Features the exploits of the residents of the Nurikabe Estate. Borrowing from Josei and Seinen Anime and Manga this site is a very free form rp allowing for a wide variety of characters and events. From action to romance to comedy, this site has strong sense of location and community.
Fabled Albion - A literate, extensive roleplay based on the Fable games - now into its second season with a welcoming community-base. Everyone seems to love everyone here.
Ten Thousand Rads is a more-or-less freeform site with multiple roleplays based on franchises ranging from Pokemon and Star Wars to The Elder Scrolls and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though its community is quite small.
Mythril Aces, an original Real Robot RP. Focusing on the Conflict between the Earth Federation and the Centauri Confederacy, players can be either a Federation Ace, or a Centauri Knight, piloting an Armored Mobile Frame in the war to conquer the planets of the Lambdadelta sector, in search of the precious material known as Mythril. note Think Gundam in DEEP SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACEEEEEEEEE