Beyond the game, what’s involved in an ideal setting?
There’s lots of things that are important to a great setting, but the absolute most important thing is preparation. A good GM should have a solid plan, and the players should have a solid grip of what’s going on headed into the game. Of course this still kind of falls into the realm of the game, but there’s items here that don’t. The play space should be organized, materials needed where they can be easily reached, drinks/snacks nestled away in safe areas away from the actual play space, and more.
Of course this won’t always be the case, but when it does all come together it can make an already great session sublime. I can’t say I’ve ever played an RPG where everything was setup perfectly and things went without a hitch, but I’ve been involved in some sessions that have come close.
Of course sometimes it doesn’t even matter. Sometimes it’s just a good vibe that settles over everyone, and everything works out without any prep at all. It’s those rare sessions that are truly amazing, and are the ones we talk about for years after. I remember a pickup game of Vampire we played on night in college in a friend’s apartment. It was all so rushed. Characters quickly made, story made up on the spot, and nothing was planned. Still. Everyone was super chill, and had an amazing game, even though the actual story/play wasn’t on point.