Play by Mail Games Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Welcome to! This is a newsgroup for discussing play by mail games, both ordinary mail and electronic mail, and both wargames and non-wargames.

There is a PBM WWW homepage at:

1) Why play by mail?

PBM stands for "play by mail". Since this IS the Internet, we use it to mean both ordinary postal mail and electronic mail. Games like Diplomacy have been played via postal mail for many years. The US commercial PBM market was started by Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo in the early 1970's. Now there are commercial PBM companies all over the world. In addition, there is some activity in role-playing games via mail.

Why play PBM games? Well, even though the commercial games are expensive, they offer some things that some people have a hard time finding face to face -- good opponents, convenient playing times, and games with lots of hidden information. Non-commercial games can offer the same benefit, as long as the people running it are dedicated.

How do PBM games work? Generally you mail in orders to a moderator, human or computer, once a week, and they mail the results back to you. A PBM game can be as simple as a human running an ordinary Dungeons & Dragons game, or a 45,000 line program moderating a fantasy strategic/role-playing game with 50 pages of rules.

2) What games get talked about here?

Many postings on this group will have a game name mentioned in the subject line. If you post, please mention the game in the subject so that others who are interested in the same game will actually read your postings. Some frequently mentioned games are:

Adventurer's Guild (AG): a commercial fantasy arena combat game.
                         It has its own FAQ posting.

Arena: a free PBeM written by Scott Turner; fantasy arena combat.

Atlantis: a free PBeM by Russell Wallace; a strategic fantasy game.

Duelmasters (DM): a commercial fantasy arena combat game.

Galaxy: a free PBeM written by Russell Wallace, with a space setting.

Legends: a commercial D&D-type simulation in which 200 players
         wander around a large map trying to become more powerful.

Middle Earth (ME-PBM): a commercial strategic simulation of J. R. R.
                       Tolkien's fantasy universe.

Monster Island: a simple commercial game in which player characters
                wander around an island farting and hitting on each

Olympia: an open-ended commercial fantasy PBEM game.

Quest: an open-ended commercial fantasy PBM game.

In addition, other PBM games are discussed in separate newsgroups:

Core Wars: a game of battling programs. An email server is available
           for an ongoing tournament. Discussion about Core Wars
           generally takes place in

Diplomacy: a boardgame often played by email. Discussion for this
           game generally takes place in the group

Detailed information about all these games is in the PBM List, which is discussed in question (3).

3) What other games are there?

The PBM List is a list of all PBM Games on the planet, pretty much. It has details about all the free games that I know of, plus a paragraph each on a bunch of commercial games, plus a list of all PBM Games on the planet courtesy of Flagship Magazine.

The PBM List is available for anonymous ftp on If you need detailed instructions on ftp, see question (9). The PBM List is also posted twice a month.

4) Are there any mailing lists for pbm games?

The commercial game Duelmasters has a mailing list. To join, send mail to

The free game Galaxy has an automated mailing list which announces game openings. FTP & read the rules before you join -- see the PBM List in part (3) for details about this. The mailing list has an address of "" -- send it email with the word "help" in the subject, and it will explain how to join the list.

The commercial game Kingdoms has a mailing list. To join the list, send your request to

The commercial game Middle Earth (ME-PBM) has a mailing list. The human who runs it is

The commercial game Monster Island has a mailing list with about 150 players on it. The list is run by a human; his address is

The commercial game Quest has a mailing list. To be added to it, write to

The commercial game BSE has a mailing list, covering both the US and UK versions of the game. To subscribe, write with the following words in the body in the message: subscribe bse-list

5) What if I can't FTP?

For those of you who DON'T have ftp access, Frits Kuijlman has the Squirrel mail server installed at his FTP site. This mail server can be used through email or interactively via telnet, but all replies will be sent via email. To get the help file either:

    telnet 2001
    MAIL <your mail address>   (e.g. mine is
    HELP        (for small help file)
    SEND HELP   (for big help file)
    INDEX       (for the index)

or mail to (not ftp.cp...) with the following body:


6) I'm a student and lose email access over the summer. Help!

If you live in the USA, you can sign up with any one of a large number of nationwide commercial services that provide excellent Internet email connectivity. In particular, GEnie, America Online, and Delphi all provide email to the Internet at no extra charge. Compu$erve has an extra charge, and I think Prodigy does also.

In addition to these, there are a lot of smaller, some local, services that provide Internet email. You can get a list of these services via ftp from VFL.Paramax.COM:/pub/pubnet/nixpub.long or via email by sending email to with the body of the message containing:

get PUB nixpub.long

The nixpub list contains 125 sites in the USA and 14 outside the USA.

In addition, there is a separate list of services which are directly connected to the Internet, so they will have faster email links and also might provide ftp and other services. You can get a list of these services via ftp from VFL.Paramax.COM:/pub/pubnet/pdial or via email by sending email to with the body of the message containing:

send PDIAL

7) I read German. Do I win a prize?

Yes! There is a newsgroup with some interesting things going on, but it's all in German. Some German-language games are included in the PBM List mentioned in section (3) above.

8) Is commercial advertising allowed here?

Usenet is traditionally a non-commercial place, because many people who read the Net are actually paying to receive articles. Posting an advertisement is somewhat like sending them junk fax. However, there are three exceptions to this rule:

A) There is an entire hierarchy of commercial groups, called "biz.*". These groups allow advertising. But this group isn't in that hierarchy, and biz.* isn't well propagated because no one wants it.

B) Traditionally, a _single_ tasteful fact-filled (not hype-filled) advertisement for a product will be favorably received.

C) Most groups, like this one, have some informational postings which will list, in one place and in a consistent format, commercial information. In this case, the list is the "PBM List", mentioned in section 4 above, which is posted twice a month and is available via WWW and ftp.

So if you are a commercial company and wish to make information about your game available on Usenet, (C) is your best bet. Send email to and I'll tell you what information I need to put you on the list.

Other than posting basic information about your game, supporting your game on the group is encouraged -- if folks have questions, post and answer them. It's only repetitive hype-filled postings, or perhaps repetitive answers of the same question, that will tick off Usenetters.

9) How do I ftp that list of all PBM games?

% ftp
Connected to
220 FTP server (Version 6.16 Thu Nov 5 10:24:57
PST 1992) ready.
Name ( anonymous
331 Guest login ok, send e-mail address as password.
Password:                                     (here I typed "guest")
230-Welcome, archive user! [...]
230 Guest login ok, access restrictions apply.
ftp> cd pub/pbm
250 CWD command successful.
ftp> ls
200 PORT command successful.
150 Opening ASCII mode data connection for file list.
226 Transfer complete.
91 bytes received in 0.0098 seconds (9 Kbytes/s)
ftp> binary
200 Type set to I.
ftp> get PBM.list.gz
200 PORT command successful.
150 Opening BINARY mode data connection for PBM.list.gz (14925 bytes).
226 Transfer complete.
local: PBM.list.gz remote: PBM.list.gz
14925 bytes received in 2.6 seconds (5.6 Kbytes/s)
ftp> quit
221 Goodbye.
hydra ~ % gzcat PBM.list.gz | more

Note that the file PBM.list.gz is in compressed format. You will need access to the gunzip or gzcat command in order to read it. These utilities will probably already be installed on your system if it's a Unix system, or if you are using MS-DOS, an executable is available from this same ftp site.

10) How can I generate trustable dice rolls?

Many boardgames and other self-moderated PBEM games need lots of dice rolled. One good way to do this is to use an email server: you tell it the address of your opponent, and it rolls dice and sends a mail message to both of you. This way, both sides can trust the answer.

One such email server is "". Send it mail with "help" in the body of the message, and it will send instructions.

If you think of other useful topics for this FAQ, please send me mail at If you're tired of seeing this posting, add the subject line to your kill file.

Greg Lindahl (