1. Start with a theme. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you're going to gather up more than a handful of players, you probably want a reason for them to gather. It doesn't have to be an elaborate, complicated storyline, but you should have a nominal excuse for so many characters to get together.
Some good examples of roleplay event themes include:
- A birth, marriage or death. These are the same reasons people gather in real life, and there's no reason to think our characters wouldn't also get together for these events. The downside of a birth, marriage, or death related event is that most attendees should be related or associated to the "main character" in some way. This is going to be a relatively limited event, that way, and should mostly be used for Guild gatherings.
- A coronation. Holy public affair! Perhaps the good Knight Dudeguy has finally killed Onyxia, and King Wrynn is rewarding him with an official lordship. A coronation is a good way to get new players into your roleplay circle, because you really only need a very light excuse to attend. Simply being a member of the Alliance or Horde is enough to attend such an event.
- The Villain is dead! (Alternate: The Villain needs killin'!). Imagine that your roleplay event took place at the opening of Northrend. (If we can pretend that Kel'Thuzad doesn't come back from the dead and get ganked daily, we can probably pretend a group of characters are just getting sent to Northrend for the first time.) Imagine those characters gathering at the docks of Stormwind, ready to ride the boat in a heroic glory. That sounds like a great opportunity for character interaction and drama doesn't it? This event can be yours, complete with weeping children watching their parents ride off to war.
The opportunities for roleplay events are endless. Your event doesn't even need to be this lofty. My Guild recently had a crafting bazarre, where we parked our butts in front of the Ironforge bank and barked our wares to one another and the Alliance at large. Storytelling circles are very common, especially if your group wants a long-running, intimate affair.
And while the world's your oyster when it comes to creating an event theme, the important part is to make sure that a theme does exist. It makes roleplay much easier.
2. Pick your date and time wisely. If the roleplaying community on your server tends to raid on Wednesday nights, plopping your event down in the middle of that won't net you huge attendance. For that matter, it's been my experience that roleplay events during "prime time" don't pull in a huge number of people.
It's not that folks wouldn't want to attend. It's that after a long day at work or school, WoW players usually want something to show for their time. A little bit of rep, a shiny new epic, or maybe just a mount. And while roleplaying can be a full-time vocation for many roleplayers, if you want to pull in a big crowd -- aim for when people can attend en masse.
Try early the evening, or an hour or two before you log off for the night. These "book end" timeframes often net big numbers because there's nothing else going on right then.
The week or two before patches to be tough, for similar reasons. People are either trying to squeeze in those last, few objectives before the new raid hits -- or they're just not playing due to ennui. You want to schedule your event somewhere in the middle.
3. Advertise, promote, and remind! This is probably the single most important part of getting people to show up to your event. Post on your official forums. If you're really shooting for the moon, aiming to get lots and lots of people to show up? Drop a note to online news sites like WoW Insider. If your event is well concieved and detailed, folks are usually happy to help you with a quick article.
More often in the last few months, I've seen Guilds put out machinima trailers to drum up interest. While I wouldn't say that's mandatory, it's certainly seemed successful. Maybe a promotional poster will get the same job done for you, if you can link to it from your Guild's web site.
The point here is to try to make people aware of your events. If I don't know about it, I can't attend. Right behind "promote" though, is "remind." Even up to the hour before your event, try to remind players that it's about to happen. Everyone's busy, nowadays, and if you don't make it easy for your roleplayers to make your event a priority, they'll simply forget about it.
4. Have an agenda. Okay, so at this point, you have a theme for your event. You've planned it to take place early Sunday night. You've posted about it on your realm forums, and they event mentioned it on WoW Insider. But now's the tricky part.
What are you actually going to do with all these people? "Stand around and talk in-character" is fine for a lot of people. Hell, I enjoy it myself. But you're only going to get so much mileage out of it.
Dances, archery contests, and in-game hunts often work. This is where you have to get creative, though. You need to have something for all these people to do or see. Maybe a "Hero's Auction," where participants bid on lucky "bachelors" to run alts through dungeons. There's a lot of opportunity here, but you need to take time to make sure people have things to do. That's the secret to fun: doing something.
5. Follow-up. If you've run one successful event, you might want to run another. Take the time after your event to contact attendees. See if they had a good time, and what they liked or didn't like. Use that information in crafting your next event.
Different strokes for different folks. Maybe your roleplaying circle really likes storyline-based events. Maybe it wants more competition. When you follow up after an event, you'll get the opportunity to craft further, more specific events based on what you now know. Lastly, people will respond to the dedication and caring you're showing to your event. They spent time showing up for you, and will feel gratified that you took their presence seriously.
Obviously, there's a lot more to be said about how to host an event. This is just a "high level" glance at five things I think are most important to getting started. What do you think is important to starting a roleplay event?