There’s no catch-all guide for starting a forum roleplaying game (yet…). There are a few things you can do to be a better RPG administrator, however. They are simple and effective no matter the type of community you hope to create in your online RPG.
Don’t Be a Bad RPG Administrator
Avoid being a bad administrator. You’ll make a Bad Roleplaying Game.
Don’t Give Up
Running a roleplaying game isn’t easy. It’s time consuming. It’s hard. Sometimes members seem like they’re purposefully trying to make your life difficult. Sometimes people can be really nasty to one another. Sometimes something breaks and you spend hours tearing out your hair trying to figure it out. Sometimes half your members leave in a night and you only have three consistent players anymore… and on and on.
Don’t give up. One of the most concrete pieces of advice about being an RPG administrator: establishment, longevity, and your dedication are the biggest keys to RPG admin success. Closing your forum and walking away to start over shows a lack of dedication — especially if you’re doing it because membership dipped or someone made drama or something technical went wrong. When the going gets tough, not sticking it out shows an obvious lack of dedication. Doing this over and over again just makes you look like a game-hopper.
Sometimes, though, it requires adjustment of your expectations as to the definition of success. If you can’t get online more than an hour a day, you simply don’t have the time to administrate a big game (especially not on your lonesome). The thing to do in this situation is to make yourself okay with a small game. Small games, with a small group of awesome roleplayers, can be really fun. Their maintenance, drama, and problem concerns are also much lower, as everyone is probably friendly with one another. It’s not the exact same thing as you running a 1,000 member forum — but it’s a success, all the same!
Respect Your Roleplayers
It’s hard to be respectful sometimes. Joe has asked this question three times before and has gotten wonderful clarification from yourself and four other members, yet here he is — same question. But instead of berating Joe for repetitiveness, try this:
Hey Joe! I appreciate that you’re being so dedicated and careful in adhering to our rules. However, we have answered this question for you a couple of times before. If you can’t remember the answer, maybe you’ll want to bookmark this question? You can do so in your browser (usually by by pressing CTRL and then B on your keyboard) or via the forum software, using X feature…
Joe is being really careful about the rules. Yeah, it sucks that he keeps asking the same thing — but he is genuinely showing a desire to adhere closely to your roleplaying game’s rules. That’s a really great trait for a player to have! Give him a nod for that. Then, deliver your correction — straightforward, but gently. You don’t want to berate Joe. You’re also offering a suggestion that may directly prevent this question from being re-asked.
Your aim with this message to Joe is to make him feel respected, but also let him know that he has to do a little legwork himself, too. You don’t need to disrespect and berate him to get that point across. Respect and gentle direction (where appropriate) are key to being a successful RPG administrator.
Remember You’re Not Perfect, Either
Some of the best critiques come from the players of your forum roleplaying game. They know it best, after all. It’s not a drive-by random guest just passing through. The critique is coming from someone intimately familiar with your RPG’s world, setting, and rules. If a roleplayer points out that Rule A conflicts with Procedure B, respect them enough to at least listen! Maybe you have an issue with your content, after all. That roleplayer has also just proven themselves attentive and forthright — potentially someone to consider for future RPG administration themselves!
Be Respectful of Roleplayers’ Content
Never, ever, ever delete or remove content that belongs to someone else — roleplay, profiles, whatever. The only exception is if the person stole content from somewhere else. Even then, keep a copy of the stolen content in your private admin-only forums. If you close your forum, allow existing logins to keep coming to the board for their stuff. It really sucks to lose your writing and hard work. If you do this to people intentionally, it reflects badly on you as an RPG administrator. If you absolutely must delete content, e-mail it to the member so they still have a copy.
Use the PM System
Respectful RPG administrators deal with things privately whenever possible. If someone breaks a rule, PM them about it. Reprimanding someone in public is embarrassing. In an office setting, the boss should pull you aside to issue a correction, not shout it for everyone else in the building to hear. The same principles apply to forum roleplaying games.
Using a PM system has the added benefit of opening lines of communication between RPG administrator and roleplayer. The roleplayer may not feel comfortable asking you a question about their rule infraction in public, but they may comfortable via PM.
Except When It Has to Be Public
Conversely, don’t sweep things under the rug. If two members are brawling with one another in a public forum, reply with a brief note, lock the topic, and plan to move it in an hour or two. Example:
Hey guys, this behavior is really not appropriate for the forum, especially in public. I’m locking this topic and will move it into a private forum shortly. I’ll be contacting both of you regarding this incident over PM. Please don’t start or reply to any new topics concerning this subject.
Chances are, your other members may have seen their drama — if it disappears without a word, they may find it a little disconcerting. By issuing a reply, you’re letting the rest of the board know you’re an attentive RPG administrator. It has the added (hopefully, anyway) benefit of keeping the members who are fighting from continuing.
Be A Flexible RPG Administrator
Be accepting of change and suggestions. Flexibility and adaptiveness are great traits to have in general, even outside of roleplaying game administration. If you’ve only ever wanted a small town roleplay but there’s a poll wherein many members voiced support for expanding to a county — you should probably expand. If you don’t want to do the work, turn it into a contest. When your members are that eager for something, they’re probably going to participate and contribute! This also reflects well on you as an RPG administrator because you’re allowing others to help you craft the world, too, not just the characters in it.
Advertise Your RPG — Constantly
If you want to be big and have a lot of roleplayers on your game, you need to get the word out there. It can be really time consuming bouncing from forum to forum posting your RPG’s advertisement. You may not know what to say on a Twitter account or even how to use one. You don’t know if anyone will care about a Tumblr blog — but use them, they’re all forms of advertising.
Caveat: don’t spam. Ever. Seriously. Don’t do it. It annoys people and they won’t join your RPG. It can also get you in trouble with your free forum host or your paid web server. You shouldn’t be using automated or programmed means of sending e-mails or posting links, and you should also advertise where it’s sensible to do so (posting a link at random in an irrelevant and inappropriate place just to advertise, even if done by a human, is still spam).
RPG Administrator Technical Knowledge
Have it, get it, or otherwise secure a way to reliably operate your forum. Period. No one wants to play on a game that’s constantly going down or fundamentally broken. If you can’t host your own board, get a hosted board somewhere where you have good support. Hire on another RPG administrator or a moderator with technical expertise.
Document and Back-Up Your Game Information
Absolutely do not ever keep just one copy of your game’s rules, your game’s procedures, world information, whatever. Keep several copies — one on your web server, one on your hard drive, one on a USB key in a firesafe… okay, well, maybe don’t go that far. But have at least two copies of your game information handy. It really helps if you accidentally delete or remove something you shouldn’t have.
If you can download a copy of your forum’s MySQL or other database, that’s great. Do that. Do it again every few weeks. You’ll have a copy of everything that has happened on your forum — which is great if you experience data loss, host shut-down, or any number of other issues that can come between you and your RPG.