I was fortunate enough to work at CompuServe in the early 1990s.
There I was, a gaming geek moving away from his gaming group to a new city, to work at a company that provided online services. For anyone who doesn't know what CompuServe was, it basically provided a for-pay environment where you could join forums, play games, chat with others, etc. All the things that the Internet provides, but keep in mind that this was before the Internet came around (back in those days we had Gopher, but that's another story).
I discovered forum based role playing on CompuServe's RPG forum, RPGAMES.
At that time, the idea was revolutionary to me. I could post my moves when I was online, and the GM could post responses when he was online. I had a bit of an advantage in that, being an employee of the company, since I had a free account and was online all during the day. But still, for someone who had just lost a regular gaming group, this was great!
I played in a number of hugely fun role playing games on RPGAMES, including a time travel romp, and a science fiction game that explored what happens when a galaxy spanning empire breaks apart. I also ran my first forum based RPGs there, a Call of Cthulhu-esque horror game involving a summer camp reunion, and a pulpish time travel game.
In the mid-1990s, the Internet as we know it today started. The first web browsers were nothing compared to what we have today, but compared to the text based interfaces of CompuServe and Gopher, they were amazing. Yet the Internet was largely static in those days, providing pages that changed only when a human edited them.
And so forum RPGs continued on CompuServe.
When I left CompuServe in the late 90s, the Internet had become more dynamic. Discussion forums had popped up that provided much the same functionality as CompuServe's forums. It was inevitable that role playing would start on these forums, especially as CompuServe was purchased by AOL and many forums, including RPGAMES, were either shut down or changed considerably.
In early 2000, a forum called Dream Lyrics started, housing mostly refugees from CompuServe's RPGAMES. The forum has continued to host role playing games since then. An annual fee supports the forum's servers, and was well under what you'd pay for CompuServe in those days.
Today, many more opportunities exist for forum based RPGs, including free ones. We have our own forum here at BellaOnline.com where we run games, and there are many forums that provide support for either a specific game, or host games in general. Dream Lyrics continues to be a thriving community, which can be a great way to play in different games.
Those looking for forum based RPGs to play have no end of choices!
More info on what happened to CompuServe's RPGAMES forum can be found here.
Dream Lyrics forum