Later on today one of the gaming groups I am lucky enough to be a part of is going to meet up to discuss what game we're doing next. One of the four GMs in the group, the one who normally runs that night, has a lot of demands on his time right now and so we're going to be swapping out GMs and doing at least a short run game before seeing where we go from there. This isn't my, or even this group's, first rodeo when it comes to these and they normally work out well. Today, I want to talk about how they normally go down in case it helps you and your group next time you want to choose a new game.
Step 1: What Do Folks Want To Play?
It seems easy enough as a first question. What do folks want to play? How do you want to spend your Friday evenings for the next few months? Do you want to be running around in a D&D world doing things? Do you want to be a sailor on the high seas during the golden age of piracy? Do you want to be a mecha pilot fighting off an alien invasion?
The problem with this question, at least with my group, is that often times no one will know what to respond. We're all happy to go forward with a large number of things. Right now I can safely say that at least half the group would say yes to all three of the situations I posited above, and of the three questions D&D - the most popular RPG in the world I believe - would probably have the least yesses for it just because of system concerns.
Step 2: Fine...We'll Decide On A Genre
When Step 1 fails it can be easier to go to step two. This defines things more broadly. Fantasy, Sci Fi, Mystery, Crime, Detective all can come out. Usually games fall into Fantasy (D&D, etc), Sci-Fi (Alternity, BSG, etc) or Urban Fantasy (World of Darkness, etc.) Other genres can, and do come up, but those are the big three for most games. Getting the group to vote on this is often easier.
Step 3: Narrow The Genre Until You Have Step 1
Once you have the genre you pull things out of it and narrow the scope. Say we choose fantasy, now the discussion becomes easier. Do we want High Fantasy with Elves and Dwarves and Dragons and wizards running around everywhere, or do we want low fantasy with mostly humans and while there are supernatural things out there they are often not in the PC's control? This is also where you can remove other things. I don't want to do anything on the high seas with this game, Susan is tired of the far east as a setting choice, Brian doesn't want guns to be involved.
Generally speaking removing things is easier as it gets rid of the things that people really don't want in the game. It is perfectly normal for a player to not know what they want to play, but to know they don't want to deal with dragons kidnapping princesses as a plot item at any point. With a group doing this, you can get a fairly specific game very quickly.
This is also a time where general rules can be made. For example, most times when I run a Super Heroes game I have a rule that people need to be heroes and their characters need to be heroic. For the Dresden files game I am a part of, we all decided that the PCs all needed to be good at heart and that the world needed to always have hope (as we wanted a palet cleanse from Warhammer 40k.)
Step 4: A Rating For Your Game
Most games the groups I'm a part of go for a movie rating equivalent of R. Sex can happen, violence can happen, blood and guts can happen, but never to the level of obscenity. To the level of absurdity, perhaps, but not obscenity. Other games though may go for a rating of PG-13, G, or whatever is felt appropriate. We use movie ratings because everyone has a general grasp of what they mean.
Don't blow this off. The rating of a game can have a huge impact on the tone of the game and how it is portrayed. Some groups are comfortable with Adults Only/NC-17 ratings for games all the time. Other times someone in the group wants it to be lighter and fluffier so they can defrag. Ratings gives a good way to discuss this issue.
Step 5: The System?
If your genre/setting/rating allow for multiple systems you want to pick one. Get one the group likes or is willing to learn. If the whole group is learning it, try something simpler to learn like Savage Worlds, FATE, or any of the other quick play systems. A lot of time the genre and genre narrowing will do a lot to get your system for you and that isn't a bad thing. The most important thing is for the GM to be comfortable with the system. And speaking of GMs...
Step 6: Who is GMing?
If you have multiple potential GMs still you need to decide who is running. Make sure the person is fine to GM before you just thrust it on them though. A reluctant GM is not going to have much fun and not going to run the most fun game.
Step 7: Discuss the PCs
Finally you can get down to planning the PCs, who they are, and what is going to happen. At this point, you're pretty much ready to play. Have fun!