6 Tips to GMing a Successful Roleplay


Draconic Administrator/Mentor
Nexus GM
6 Tips to GMing a Successful Roleplay

We've all seen roleplays come and go, seemingly in the hundreds. The number of roleplays that make it past their first month are only a fraction of those being created, and the number that last even a single year are even fewer in quantity. It can be depressing, especially from the end of a GM who has to abandon their work to start anew as roleplay after roleplay fails. It can be discouraging for players as well though as they become jaded at putting effort into joining a roleplay only to find it abandoned a few weeks later. This article is geared towards targeting several key components that I have personally seen contribute to the fall of many roleplays over my years of administrating and staffing on various roleplay forums. It is my sincere hope that sharing these observations will see more roleplays through the long haul, and far fewer falling into obscurity before they ever begin.

1. Personal investment and interest in your story

The only thing that a roleplay requires to survive and overcome any obstacles it encounters is one person with the will to see it done. Ideally that person should be you, the GM. To me this is the most important factor in seeing a roleplay thrive and prosper, and it stands above all others. If you go in with a wishy-washy attitude, or a penchant for throwing in the towel at the first obstacle, your RP is already doomed. There will always be adversity and complications when it comes to roleplaying. Unlike traditional writing, there are numerous variables beyond the control of any one player or GM, and you need to be ready to face these down. This article is geared towards helping you overcome complications in your roleplay, but every point here on after will be of no use if you don't possess the drive and dedication to make your RP succeed no matter what. In short, make sure you’re really behind an idea before you run with it.​

2. Have a good attitude

Healthy attitudes and outlooks are infectious. Carrying yourself with confident enthusiasm will make your roleplay far more appealing to players. It is your confidence and how you present your ideas that will sell them on the belief that your roleplay not only can, but will succeed. A poor attitude will quickly warn players off that your roleplay isn't going to last. After all if the GM is already talking about how all their roleplays fail, and why should they even bother trying, the players are going to pick up on that as they wonder why they should even bother trying to join. The situation becomes self-perpetuating.
3. Hook your players early and get them invested

In the same vein as my earlier point, you want your players invested into your story also. Don't just bring them into your story, but make them a part of your story. The more they contribute into it, the more value it will hold for them personally. It's easy to walk away from some other persons RP when the only time that has been put into it is throwing together a character sheet and tossing in a post or two.​

You can accomplish this in many ways, but a personal favorite of mine is to hook their characters into something directly. Find something in their character history that you can tie to something in your story and run with it. Don't just leave it in the past. The more threads you lay to connect their character to elements of your story, and the more entwined into your world their character becomes, the more they begin to feel like the story is as much theirs as it is yours. It's something to be valued, and protected rather than discarded indifferently.​

4. Talk to your players! Keep them happy!

Another key component to a thriving RP is happy players. Roleplaying is at the end of a day a hobby. If your players aren't enjoying themselves they will simply find a new hobby. If you approach your story with the goal in mind to make the experience enjoyable for your players, you're already miles ahead of your fellow GM who simply sees players as a production line of machines and a means of writing their personal story for them. Each player is a person, and each person is unique. If you take the time to get to know each player and find out what it is they're looking for in your roleplay you can better cater the experience to each individual.

This is especially crucial at the start of a roleplay. We've all seen roleplays with seemingly indomitable potential simply fizzle out at the door due to a simple lack of communication. Often times the GM will blame the players for not posting rather than themselves for not finding out why their players aren't posting. In extreme cases many resort to harassment tactics that don't address the actual source of the problem, and often times actually makes it worse.

The reality of the matter though is that more often than not it can be something as simple as a player not knowing where to start and lacking the initiative to take point. If you take the time to get to know your players, you'll quickly learn which players are comfortable taking the initiative, and which ones need a little help getting eased in. You'll learn which players like diving in headlong, and which players are uncomfortable in large groups. If you put in the effort to understand your players and meet their interests, your RP will prosper for it.​

5. Pace Yourself!

Over the years I have witnessed many GMs and subsequently their roleplays fall into the same trap over and over again. They have a brand new idea revving to go, and it sparks off like wildfire. Players pile in and interest is high! What can go wrong? Success is marked by how many players are interested in your story, right? Two months in the RP is dead in the water. What happened?​

I'll fall back on an old and well known proverb 'slow and steady wins the race'. Despite our best efforts there will always be elements of a roleplay that we can't control. This article is geared towards helping you overcome any one of these elements should they strike, but too many too fast can destabilize and cripple a roleplay. If you start out with five players, and lose one of them you can easily continue your story with a bit of ingenuity and creativity. But if you have fifteen players, and lose five of them in your first few weeks? The effect begins to cascade. More players are impacted, morale can take a dive, and your fixes start to look less clever and more contrived as you're trying to patch too many holes at once.​

I have always likened a roleplay to a race. Start strong, start steady, and build momentum. If you go at it full throttle from the starting line, your roleplay runs the risk of burning out before it can ever reach its full potential. A strong foundation of a few reliable players that you can expand over time is infinitely more stable than a mountain of players up front who just joined up on a whim.​

In short, don't be afraid to tell people that your roleplay is full, but that you will be bringing more players on in a few weeks if they want you to take their name and get back to them when you have more room.​

6. Be flexible, and be adaptable

Few things will bury a roleplay faster than a rigid GM who is unwilling to compromise the direction of their story to account for unexpected variables. The most damaging example of this is a GM being too invested into building a story around crucial characters only to have a key player disappear. If there are elements in your roleplay that will destroy your game if you lose them, then you're gambling the success of your RP against pure luck. Does that mean you can't have these elements? Not at all. It just means you need to step back and exam them more thoroughly, and to think outside the box when it comes to asking yourself "what will happen if I lose one of these elements?" The best way to safeguard your roleplay is to have contingency plans in place for these crucial points! I can't stress this enough. And sometimes you might be surprised to find that these contingency plans can give birth to surprising and fun directions in your story if you need to fall back on them.​

The options available to you are so infinite that I couldn't even begin to outline them all. Each situation is a unique set of variables that births countless possibilities. Recasting crucial characters into the hands of other players is always an option, but it can prove difficult to find a player willing to pick up where someone else left off, or who is capable of portraying the character accurately to how it had already been written up to that point. Killing off the character in a meaningful way that drives the rest of the characters on can be a poignant and powerful option as well. But what if your entire story hinges around that character? Certainly you can't just kill them off... or can you? One popular television series 'Charmed' lost one of its main actors in season 3. The entire basis of the show was the mystical bond between three sisters. Surely the loss of one of them would spell the end of the show, but no. The series ran for another 5 seasons,as well as two additional seasons in comic form. They accomplished this through the introduction of a previously unknown fourth sister, that the mother had concealed the existence of as an infant. The direction of the story was forever changed, but the loss of the original character became a catalyst for all new story.​

In short if you approach every obstacle in your roleplay from the perspective of "How can I move past this," rather than "Why did this have to happen, my RP is now ruined," you will find that you can carry a story far with a bit of ingenuity and flexibility. And should you doubt my words I urge you to look to a well known and popular book series 'A Song of Ice and Fire' by George R. Martin (a series notorious for violently killing off its main characters) and tell yourself this: “No character or element is so great and so indispensable that my story cannot carry on without them.”​


Grand Master of the Jedi Order
Great job writing this, it is very informative and well written.


The Nobody in particular
I found no. 5 most useful, I think that's what I tend to do.. Thank you for spending time on this helpful guide ^_^

Chris Lang

Well-Known Member
Thank you. Some very well-written words of advice. Being flexible and adaptable especially is good advice.