This post will contain no information about kegs, proper music, venues, or how to get girls to come to your party (though you SHOULD have some girls in your adventuring party, and we can talk about that later).
The Steampunk group is shaping up. We’ve got a lot of players (somewhere in the 6-9 range) and that can be a challenge. Keeping players engaged, keeping a modicuum of sanity to myself, and making sure that the spotlight shines on everyone is difficult. I’ve got a head start with the PDQ# system–it always takes a little while to explain, but once players grasp the core concepts they intuitively get it and can move quickly.
The trick is to be friendly but assertive. I’ve had the most success when I move from person to person, making sure they feel important when it is their turn–that their actions matter and drive the story. But if they start to bog things down with details, or just take more time than works for the group as a whole, give them a clear sign that you need to wrap up their action. Encourage players across the table to think about what they’re going to do and remind them when their turn is imminent. Make sure that most encounters have something for every player to do, a challenge to which their strengths are particularly suited.
That’s how I plan to address the actual table time issues, but there are a few other elements at play–an unfamiliar system with a lot of flexibility, for starters. I really like narrative, free-form systems–while I haven’t played too many tabletop games myself, I spent way too much time on free-form roleplay sites like Legend of the Green Dragon. There weren’t too many rules there, aside from 1) Everyone gets to decide what happens to their character and 2) You can only get away with what your peers will let you get away with. That was an excellent experience for figuring out how to portray a character as talented but not Mary-Sue esque (you will hear the crap out of this stuff later on), and it also helped me get good at trying to include diverse characters in a single plot.
A lot of folk are uncomfortable with the amount of choice–there’s no list of feats or skills to pick from! I’ve decided to start by asking people to come up with a concept and throwing a bunch of inspiration sources at them. As long as they have a cool idea, we can bring it to life.
Which brings me to the last challenge–experience. In most of the games I’ve run over the years, 50% of the players have little to no experience. I firmly hold that it is the GM’s job to know the rules and prevent them from getting in the way of fun. Not by ignoring them (though Rule 0 holds true) but by managing them behind the scenes until the players are comfortable and interested enough to learn them themselves. It can get old waiting for someone to figure out how to calculate their attack bonus for the twentieth time, but patience and compassion here can be the difference between introducing a great new player to the craft and driving yet another person away from the clubhouse.