This past weekend, I was able to DM a second session of my small Dungeons And Dragons fourth edition roleplaying game. This was a short afternoon game, only lasting about three or four hours, but it was already more successful than the previous game.
Not worrying about learning the system, I was able to run this game in a more traditional sense. I eased up on the number of skill challenges, using them in only a few specific places to add suspense. Other places, I left it as a single die roll or let them role-play it out, where appropriate. Also, I was more liberal with defining choice for the characters, giving them a couple clear directions they could go in any situation; when they came up with a choice amongst themselves that I had not thought of (such as a death-defying sled-based escape down the side of a mountain on a shield), I happily went with it, but by laying out two or three options, it reduced the "what are we suppose to do now" moments.
I was better prepared after the first game, learning from things that tripped me up the first session. I spent an hour creating a couple index cards with first and last names that I could crib from when the players inevitably ran into NPCs. Rather than the game coming to a dead stop as I fumbled for an appropriate name from thin air, I could grab my card and choose one at random. Much smoother, helped maintain the pacing during play.
Also, I had the players participate in vignettes . Like a television show, we occasionally cut away from the protagonists, instead running a small scene where everyone played some minor NPCs setting up a scenario. There was no character sheets involved, just a couple names and important details, but then the players were welcome to add as much personality as they wanted. This went over very well! There was two scenes total: first set up some a few characters being devious expecting our heroes arrival, and the second was them playing the same scoundrels after they had successfully pulled off their trap... and their poor demise at a mysterious third party. Meta-gaming never came up as an issue, as the players enjoyed the collaborative participation in the plot. As a DM, this was a great way to get story elements across without doing "NPC theatre".
Though there was about half an hour left, I ended it early because it was a perfect cliffhanger. Always leave them wanting more, someone once said, and it definitely works. Instead, all three of us used the rest of the time to discuss character motivations (both heroes and NPCs) and where the story would go next. I was getting more comfortable introducing more non-traditional DM methods and the players were having a blast having a say in what direction the plot was going.
All three of us are looking forward to our third game :)