How to Get the Game You Want
No one should feel they have to play in a bad game. I'm sure you've heard the story as often as I have. "I have a crappy DM, but I have to play in his game if I want to play at all." Here are three basic steps to getting the game you want: pick your players, pick your game, set the stage. Get the game you want.
No one should have to play in a bad game. I'm sure you've heard the story as often as I have. "I have a crappy GM, but I have to play in his game if I want to play at all." It's one thing to decide it's too much work to put together the ideal game, that's understandable. It's quite another to think there's no other choice.
The most important step in putting together a good game is to get good gamers. Don't game with people you wouldn't otherwise socialize. Gaming is, after all, a social activity. If you're invited to join a group of people you don't know, get to the first session on time, and stay a little late afterwards. Make small talk while you're waiting for the game to start, during the breaks, and afterwards. Make friends. If you find that you can't make the social connection, or if the people rub you the wrong way, consider finding another group.
It may seem callous to disinvite someone, but a poor social fit is going to do more harm than good.
If you're pulling together a group for the first time, arrange to meet anyone you don't already know before the day of the game. Chat about what you like about RPGs, current events, anything that feels comfortable. Again, make friends; if you can't, consider holding back that invitation. It may seem callous to disinvite someone, but a poor social fit is going to do more harm than good.
When considering who to include in the game, play style is a very important consideration. Does this person strongly prefer first-person over third-person play? Does he find the interpersonal parts boring, something to wait through to get to the action? Does he value a character with a rich backstory over one with optimized stats? None of these styles are any better than another, objectively, but incompatible styles around the table will decrease the fun for everyone.
Sometimes it's hard to find compatible players for face-to-face games, not just because of the small population of players, but also because of the limited channels of communication for finding them. Modern technology has eliminated most of these problems, and believe it or not, there are more people playing RPGs on a regular basis now than there ever have been. There are also dozens of options for online play... message boards, instant messengers, IRC, MUDs, and proprietary software provide opportunities of play for a wide variety of tastes. They also allow you to easily overlook some of the problems that face-to-face games engender. On the internet, there's no B.O., no nosepicking, no crimes against fashion.
Play style isn't just an aspect of a player. Rulesets also have styles, too. There are games, like Primetime Adventures, where a whole action scene is decided from one roll of the dice, and there are others, like Dungeons & Dragons, where it takes dozens of rolls to resolve a fight. Picking a ruleset to use that fits the play style of the players is almost as important as picking the players. You don't want to be three sessions in, and thinking, "You know, this game would be a lot more fun if we had used GURPS."
Last, it's important to lay out groundrules and houserules before play starts rather than after. If the GM has a series of urban adventures planned, he needs to tell the players before Jim spends three hours crafting the perfect druid. If the group wants to impose restrictions on metagame talk and out of character movie references, then everything will run smoother if it's understood up front. If the GM is permitting free multiclassing, Joe will feel cheated if he only finds out about this after having spent all of first level with a human character in order to get this benefit.
The importance of consensus in this process can't be understated. Every game has a social contract, but if the important aspects of it are negotiated up front, there's a lot less acrimony when it gets enforced. Sometimes the consensus boils down to, simply, "What the GM says, goes.", but if that's the social contract, a lack of consensus on it will create friction sooner or later. Some groups find a formal method of resolving disputes quickly, such as a majority vote or negotiated veto power, gets groups through the hurdles of actual play a lot faster.
Pick your players. Pick your game. Set the stage. Get the game you want.