Tips For New & Beginning Game Masters/Roleplay Admins
For those of you who are new (or new-ish!) at running a roleplay, here are some tips to help you out.
There are a few basic skills you should have down before trying to manage a roleplay. They're covered in Skills Every Good Roleplayer Should Have. If you don't have these skills, you're going to be a pretty bad - even useless - GM/RPA.
Know that there are going to be some significant differences between what makes for a good non-interactive story (EG, movie, book, etc.) and what makes for a good a roleplay. If you haven't already, check out Things Writers (And Everyone Else) Should Know About Running A Roleplay which goes into this. If you try to make your game's plot play out just like a book or movie, it's not going to work out very well.
Make sure your players have access to a set of rules/guidelines. You needn't necessarily make a huge, complicated list of rules, but players do need to know how the game is supposed to work and what they're expected to do. For more on drafting up a list of rules, look at Starting & Running Roleplays & Bringing In New Players.
Remember that first impressions are important. If new players meet you and see you acting cranky and snappish, they're very likely going to assume that this is just the kind of GM/RPA you are, which will probably discourage them from joining your game. Think about the kind of impression you're creating for your new players whenever you meet them.
Remember that players will be watching you for cues. They'll be watching what you do to figure out what they themselves should do - EG, what kinds of characters they ought to play, how they ought to play them, how they should format their posts, and what kind of behavior is acceptable OOC. They'll also likely be waiting for you to make the first post, or to tell them to go ahead and post.
Account for development/setup time. Figuring out even a simple, basic plot can easily take at least an hour, and developing one in depth can take days. Developing a fully detailed bio/profile can take hours to days - and any research players need to do will make it take that much longer. Whatever you're planning to do, take into account how long the development and setup will take, and plan accordingly - EG, don't demand elaborate bios if you want to get the game started fairly quickly, and don't try to get everyone to come up with a plot just an hour or two before people are going to have to leave (unless they're all right with leaving off and picking it up later).
Don't try to run games you don't actually have time for. If you start a game only to ditch your players after a few minutes of play, or if you're only ever around long enough to give them a quick update on your life and/or make a few executive decisions, then you're pretty much useless as a GM/RPA. If you end up with real life getting in the way, then (depending on what's possible or most practical), either postpone or end the game, or hand the reins over to someone else.
Never forget that the game should first and foremost be about your players' characters. Their characters should be able to explore, get into trouble, solve problems, and make discoveries on their own. You should try to never place the PCs into situations where they'll be helpless without the assistance of one of your own characters.
Help your players out. If they seem to be having trouble figuring out what to do, ask them if there's anything you could help them with. Answer their questions calmly and respectfully. If you end up with players asking the same questions a lot, write a FAQ to link them to. Link them to other materials or resources they might find helpful.
Don't be hard to talk to. You need to make it clear that players can take questions and concerns to you - and when you do, be friendly, open, and considerate. Don't act reluctant, apathetic, grouchy, or condescending when they're asking you about something, and don't treat their inquiries as trivial or foolish. (One of the worst things you can do is tell your players that they're welcome to talk to you if they have a problem, only to act like a jerk when they take you up on it!) For more advice on talking to your players, check out Dealing With Unhappy & Complaining Roleplayers.
Ask your players for input and advice. When you come up with plot ideas, ask them what they think about them and if they have any suggestions or think they need improvement. You might even see if you can get them on board with the worldbuilding - perhaps ask if they'd like to suggest any interesting locations in the setting. Not only does it take a lot of creative burden off your plate, but it gives them a personal investment into the setting.
Be willing to negotiate and compromise, and to help your players negotiate and compromise. Whether it's on matters of what goes on in the plot, matters of group policy, or anything. Hear your players out, listen to their opinions and suggestions, and try to help the group come to a decision that works for everyone.
If what your players end up doing on their own works, let them do it. Do your players end up doing or handling something a little differently than what you imagined or planned - yet the game is rolling along just fine and everyone seems to be having a good time? Then let them do it that way. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
Be decisive. As GM/RPA, you are in an executive position, which means that a lot of decisions are ultimately going to rest on your shoulders. If you constantly hem and haw over decisions that only you can make or often find yourself answering "I don't know" when people ask for your input, then you're not a very good GM/RPA. Check out "Should I Add Or Allow This In My Game?" - Help For Game Masters & RP Admins and Types Of Roleplayers You Don't Want In Your Game for some help with this.
Don't get involved in OOC fights. If you see an OOC fight going on or if someone seems to be trying to pull you into one, you should try to de-escalate it as soon as possible. If you don't know much on how to de-escalate a situation already, you can search the Internet for articles on it.
If you find yourself saying "no" to your players all the time, the real problem is most likely you. And most likely for at least one of four reasons: you did a bad job of making sure your players were right for your game, you didn't give your players a comprehensive and coherent set of guidelines, you're too finicky, or you're power-tripping. Figure out which problem/s you have, and deal with it.
Give people the benefit of the doubt. Somebody abruptly disappear? It's possible that person's Internet or power went out. Someone acting especially crabby? That person might have had a really bad day and might just need somebody to say, "Hey, are you okay? If you're feeling off right now, we can do this later." Yeah, some people really are just inconsiderate jerks, but don't simply assume that's the case if all you've got to look at is an isolated incident. It's a string of incidents you need to be concerned about.
Be encouraging. Compliment and praise your players when they do well, whether if it's in coming with a plot or character idea or in coming up with some clever in-game solution.
Be positive. For example, if a player asks if some idea or other ought to be used, don't simply just say "it's up to you" (which makes you sound bored and/or apathetic), but instead try something like "yes, that sounds good!"
Thank your players. Thank them for the contributions they've made to the game. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts.
Be prepared to mess up. It happens to every GM/RPA at some point. If something doesn't work out, apologize for any part you played in it - and then look back on the situation and try to work out where exactly things went wrong (Reasons Your Roleplay Might Not Be Working might be helpful!), and try to figure out a solution to fix the problem or prevent it from happening again. Also, consider asking your players for solutions as well.
Other pages you should look at:
Basic Tips To Create And Run A Good RP Plot
Why People Might Not Want To Roleplay With You
How To Spot & Handle Parasitic Roleplayers
How To Spot Self-Inserting Roleplayers
When A Game Master Or Roleplay Admin Might Be Power-Tripping - And What To Do About It
Basic Tips To Make Better & More Appealing Roleplaying Characters
Tips To Create & Write Better Non-Protagonist Characters (NPCs)
Tips To Write Better Roleplay Prompts
How To Roleplay Villains Fairly