on a galactic scale
Roleplaying is both an art and a science. Keeping a roleplay active, interesting and friendly requires careful thought, mainly for the GM (that is, the Game Master) but also for the individual roleplayers.
The most critical issue that a GM must deal with is thread death. Threads most often die due to deadlock, which is when roleplayers wait for each other to post and therefore never post. To remedy this, a system should be in place to prevent deadlocks.
One possibility is to set a post order. If one roleplayer knows he must post before anyone else does, he will not wait for other roleplayers. In the extreme case where he really has to wait, he will make an OOC post. Threads should never die due to deadlock with this in place, but they do slow down, which some roleplayers might not like.
The other cause of thread death is simple abandonment. If one roleplayer in a critical position quits visiting the roleplay, it will most likely die. The standard remedy for this is to PM the person who has left, determine whether he is dead or busy and take over the character if the roleplayer is truly gone.
Other possibilities exist. A simpler method requiring less commitment would be to set a time limit to posting – players must post within a certain time or suffer some penalty. This penalty may be another player taking over the character or, in the frequent case that no one feels confident about taking over the character, the character can be killed or dropped out of the action.
Plot design can help prevent thread death. Keeping the characters active and in separate areas will reduce the chances of deadlock and prevent the whole thread from dying if one part dies. Giving the roleplayers direction will keep them active, provided they are free to be creative. As a rule of thumb, start with a developed plot and expect it to be changed.
90% of all roleplays die, and 9% simply go on and on (not real statistics, just ballpark figures). It's a rare roleplay that comes to a satisfactory conclusion. But then, most roleplayers prefer that it go on and on, because they enjoy it.
Conflicts can ruin a roleplay. Disputes between roleplayers can degenerate into an endless argument, a deadlock or an argument that one roleplayer wins (causing the other to abandon the thread). Roleplays need a fair set of rules and good moderators to remain active. Play-by-Post roleplaying has worked for years on a simple set of rules that govern what a player can or cannot do. A player can say his character attempted to do anything, anything at all; a player cannot say someone else's character died without express permission. A player can describe actions that have definitely occurred; a player cannot say another player's character does something that that player did not specify. If two players contradict each other in some non-player description, whoever posted first is right. These rules prevent the sort of deadlock where no one can agree on what just happened.
Sometimes, power regulation can get annoying. You want your character to do something, but that something is impossible or doesn’t make sense based on what other players have said. In most models, the player who wants the past changed appeals to the player who made the troublesome statement, and that player can take it back if he wants to. However, in the wiki system, anyone who wants to add anything new just does it and others judge whether it was a good idea. Finally, changing the past becomes necessary when contradictory statements are discovered long afterwards. In these situations, the wiki model works better, allowing one person to clean up the entire mess in the simplest way possible.
Roleplayers must not contradict each other, and each must contain a description of everything in the area. Not describing the situation events usually leads to time uncertainty. To remedy this, posts must include full detail, and all posts must be checked for accuracy by the other posters. If any two posts conflict, one (usually the most recent one) must be changed.
A roleplay needs a theme. Different themes appeal to different players, will succeed in different places and require different handling, but in essence they are all equally good. The theme can be anything the GM chooses, but most themes can be divided into six categories: Medieval, Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi, All-Inclusive and Mixed.
A pure medieval theme restricts the roleplayers to medieval weapons and armor. This is very restrictive, but some roleplayers like the simplicity and long character lifespans that result from this. In a medieval roleplay, character development is the driving force. There are no good or bad characters in a medieval roleplay – there is only a good or bad job of portraying them.
A fantasy setting is the same as a medieval setting except for the addition of magic. This is still geared toward character development, but it offers something for creative-ability roleplayers as well. The GM should decide beforehand how powerful the characters should be. Fantasy characters can range from the power of medieval characters to near gods, and characters that are too weak will be left behind.
Roleplays set in modern times are easy to relate to and progress quickly. Character development and ability creativity are less rampant than in fantasy play. A good modern character should fit real modern characters closely, possibly matching the roleplayer for easy play.
The major consideration for sci-fi is an interest in science and spaceships. Sci-fi can end up like any of the other categories, depending on what sort of technology dominates the roleplay's background. A sci-fi roleplay is characterised by a detailed background and space travel. Good sci-fi characters must fit the background closely. Sci-fi roleplaying is very intensive.
An all-inclusive setting is one in which all character types are welcome. This requires an excuse for WWII veterans meeting even wizards – the most common trick is a form of time travel that brings all the characters in from their respective times. A universal theme is meant to free the imagination, and the driving force in an all-inclusive roleplay is inventive superpowers. Good characters in this form of roleplay will have a wide variety of abilities tied together with a common theme and some predetermined character development.
Sometimes the GM will choose to mix several themes. For example, in one roleplay, the GM placed fantasy characters in modern times for a balance of character development, creative abilities and easy play. Good characters in a mixed roleplay must be good characters for all the included themes, which often means that the character leads a double life to fit each theme individually. Mixing roleplays becomes more confusing as more themes are added, because the roleplayers must keep every theme in mind.
Starting a roleplay can be difficult, and there are many failures, while for others it comes naturally. Learn from those who have gone before, and know your roleplayers to make good plot choices. Most of all, a writer is a roleplayer is a GM, so you should get the hang of it fast.