Thankfully, Pichalite was able to talk me up to 0.7.3, now we're trying to get up from there.
I used the one-click install on Digital ocean, because why not, and have the URL working properly for the wordpress site using https, but when I try to install nodebb I can't seem to access the forum even using the ip:4567 . Anyone have similar issues? I ran it on it's own server and it works fine. It has something to do with Apache I'm sure, maybe my dns settings, but I haven't figured it out yet.
Apache will not interfere with NodeBB in any way unless you have set them to share ports, which neither does natively.
So what I ended up doing was converting from Apache2 to Nginx and created a server entry for nodebb with SSL. I'm thinking it was primarily the SSL and lack of server block for nodebb causing the forums.example.com to redirect back to example.com
no need for a server block if they are running independently. I wouldn't recommend both on the same server for other reasons, but there is no reason for them to conflict.