I live in a medium-sized town, and as a a result, I have to make my own fun. Sure, there's other fun to be had that other people do, but if I really want to have some good-quality fun, I pretty much have to provide it myself.
In October, I started a Pathfinder game. For those of you who write and haven't played one of these, a good RPG session is like four hours of brainstorming with freinds. There's laughter, creativity, the wildness of bouncing ideas off each other, and the satisfaction of getting problems solved. It's partially an excuse to get people into the house, because most of my social time has been at at my retail job, and thus poor-quality. I'd been playing minis games (Warmachine, Warhammer) for the past couple of years, and the competitive nature of the games makes them less enjoyable to me than the collaborative process that is RPG playing. And there's the opportunity to not only buy a bunch of books, but the expectation to pore through them for hours on end. And that tickles the bibliophile in me.
I've mastered a fair number of games over the years, and there's a couple of ideas I'd like to share.
1) Fun. Everyone is there to have fun. As the Game Master, its important than the players understand and buy into the premise of the campaign. In my Call of Cthulhu games, it was the opportunity to face overwhelming odds and have stories to tell about how the characters got killed. In a later Over the Edge campaign, it was the chance to enter into strange conspiracies and experience massive weirdness. If the players aren't interested in the premise, then the game master and the players will be at odds as to what the game is about.
That said, different people have different ideas of fun. I once devoted about half of the run of an entire game to screwing a player's character as hard as possible, in game. He loved it. Because he was getting attention, and his character was obviously special. He could see the light at the top of the very long drain I had dumped him down, and looked forward to climbing through the slime towards the light. Interestingly, we both had fun doing this. Me by dumping on him, and him by keeping his eyes on the prize.
My current game is based in Fantasy Egypt, combining Hamunaptra with the Paizo's own Osirion. I pitched it to the players as mummies and tombs, and some social campaigning in between. This gives me the freedom to hand them dungeon crawls and time to prepare and do other stuff in between as they establish a base of operations. This allows them to not be murderhobos, but gives them a sense of place and belonging. This also helps the players care about their characters as people, rather than wargame miniatures. This leads to more fun.
2) Collaboration. No one person should be responsibly for everyone's fun. That would be very difficult. I work best as a Game Master when I am more of a coach than a dictator. Give the players some freedom, as well as a structure that involves them in the overall campaign. Give them a reason to be involved in the plot, rather than just assuming they'll want to go along. The Pathfinder RPG provides a good one, the Pathfinder Society, which serves as a warehouse of information and opportunities. I took a slightly different approach, because I didn't want a reliably good-natured sponsor for the players to rely on as a moral center. They were all prisoners comdemned to die... and I thought of this before Skyrim! In a strange land, the characters must provide their own moral guidance, especially as they gain in power and prestige, becoming more enmeshed in the local politics.
3) Perparation. This was a giant bugaboo for me. I've got work, my current book, and other things I want to do. Pathfinder, unfortunately, requires a lot of work if you want to customize an enemy. The advantage to the Pathfinder rule set is that you have a tremendous amount of freedom to build exactly the sort of enemy/individual you want. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and work. This was beginning to worry me before I found the Dingles Games Pathfinder NPC Generator and Perram's Spell book which allow me to create an NPC and equip them with a quickly-referenced spells. These applications are tremendous time-savers, allowing me to concentrate on plot and story ideas, rather then mechanics problems.
And it's working. I'm definitely more consistently cheery, and I look forward to every Tuesday night. The players are having a good time and don't mind telling me. While this takes a little away from my writing, I think that in the long term, it will keep my mood up and stimulate my creativity.
And hey, fun!