A few thoughts, sort of in order:Rule 0 - No game can make a person have fun if they don’t want to
Most of the time your players want to have fun, but you can still stack the deck. Think about meeting at a time when people will be relaxed, reasonably rested, and able to concentrate. If its a work day, allow time to unwind before hitting the dice. Pick a place with minimal distractions. That means limit the noise, don’t have a TV on, definitely don’t have a game consol handy, and don’t have too many toys out that aren’t part of the game. Comfort is important too, both in seating arrangements and having drinks/snacks.
Consider a planned meal break (do not mock the meal break!). Its a fantastic opportunity for you set a cliff hanger then assess the in-game situation and come up with new schemes that make you look like a total storytelling genius
. Fifteen minutes of not being on the spot as the GM can do wonders for your poise and confidence. That it gives you a chance to nom some pizza is pure bonus compared to that chance to catch your mental breath.
If somebody is obviously out of sorts, play, but don’t push for extra innings. They may come around and remember it as an exceptionally good night because it was so much better than the rest of their day, but be aware they’re starting at a little bit of an energy deficit. You don't have to pander to them, but don’t kick a player when they’re down, for realsies.Rule 1 - Its a group activity: all characters MUST be able to fit into a team
This is my only ABSOLUTE
rule during character creation: PCs have to be able to work together. There is a UNIVERSE of difference between “the guy that backstabs his allies” and “The guy that people worry might backstab his allies.” You can do some great things over time with characters granting grudging acceptance. Its kinda the core of many buddy stories. But Lay Down The Law that deliberately screwing other players or anything malicious or intended to generate bad blood will not be tolerated. “Chaotic asshole” is fine, as long as the rest of the players can expect them to be “our chaotic asshole”.
You can move things along in this direction by making the players set up a relationship web for you - every player has to pick two other PCs and explain how or why they are connected. “Our fathers worked the same mine”. “We met at a faire as kids and got into all kinds of trouble but he didn’t rat me out.” “We were enemies in the war, but he showed me great honor.” Whatever is appropriate to the setting (more on that as a moment). A little bonding up front goes a looooong way.Rule 2 - Say ‘No’ early, but not often
Character creation is a great time to establish you are not a complete push over. There are going to be times when you are going to have to make snap rulings and table debate until end of session to move things along. Get your players used to the notion that you must occasionally exercise narrative authority for the good of everyone’s enjoyment. Things aren’t set in stone yet so character generation is a chance to work with your players and explain the setting to them if they aren’t super familiar with it. Even if they are you’re probably picking out a specific starting place that can and should influence what people play. Exercise a little ‘conservation of weird’. If a player wants to do something really out of place, say ‘no’ now, not later. They are already going to be outliers because of how damn amazing all PCs are in Fantasycraft. Being the child of three gods and coming from another universe (or even simply running counter to every cultural norm they know about) are generally not needed to create a satisfying badass. Teach them to pick their battles and negotiate (same as you will have to do).Rule 3a - Ask each player what they’re thinking
There is nothing wrong with having each player explain to you what they’re up to when they’ve picked that Origin, Class, Feats (and to a lesser extent attributes and skills). If they are putting all their resources into some elaborate combo, its better to know before dice start flying - and not so that you can screw them, but because it lets you know what kind of situations you should feed them from time to time. There’s little less satisfying that building a character around a stunt you think will look awesome and it never comes up.Rule 3b - Ask your players what they aren’t thinking
This is where you get players to hand you the tools to make them want to do what you want. Ask things like are their parents alive? Do they have siblings older or younger? Do they have a pet at home? Do they have a favorite teacher/mentor/patron? Do they have love interests (current or past)? What are their ties to the world? Letting them create their roots makes you look so good when the critical news comes from a patron they chose, or a sibling brings the much needed help or maguffin. They also make handy hostages, but honestly that’s too easy. Making players glad they have some roots is much more useful than strangling them with them.Rule 4 - They’re telling you how they want to succeed... and how they want to fail
You’re going to have to know the PCs stats pretty well (not as well as the player, since you have lots of things to keep track of, but well). Rule 3a is intel gathering. Rule 4 is stockpiling. For each character you need four boxes to jot notes (one scratch page per box per character works well if you are keeping a campaign binder):
* Desperate plights: Ways to ruthlessly exploit a gap or weakness in the character’s build. This is all the dirty tricks for when a character needs to be beat down before being rescued by an ally (or other player) or making their own way out through remarkable creativity or luck. This is your darkest before the dawn arsenal.
* Narrow misses: Chances for the player to see how they could have been screwed badly, but dodged the bullet either because of luck, foresight, or the timely intervention of allies before getting hammered. Also useful for foreshadowing later major beatings.
* Time to shine: Ideas for how you can set up a character to do what they do best. Like narrow misses, the challenge is limited, but it’s the PCs own abilities that bring about a positive outcome - including rescuing someone else from their plight or narrow miss.
* Rise to the occasion: Ideas for how you can challenge a player in an arena they are used to dominating. This is where rivals and big bads contend with the player strength for strength and exceptional play or rolls or coordination of the whole party are required to avoid a stinging defeat.
The first two are of course about character weakness with the last two being guided by their strengths. The first and last are challenges and likely dramatic scene fodder. The middle two are exposition - chances to reveal a character without testing them. All of them are tools that let you focus attention on that player when they need a little time in the lime light.
When you have these boxes, you can dump ideas into them between sessions whenever your creative juices are flowing. And then dig into them later as planned events or not-quite-improvisational tools when the action needs a kick up or down.Rule 5 - Don’t sweat it.
Players worth having know GM is demanding. They’re on your side. They want you to succeed because that’s how they have fun. If something does blow up - a snap ruling you regret, a foot stepped on, even a plain old rough night because of bad choices or evil dice, keep and share a positive outlook that there’s more to come next time. Your craft will improve, which means every session starts with you a little more experienced than the one before. GMs get XP too