My ideal session is made up of things that complement the game, since I roleplay to play the game. It’s all about the right people, the right atmosphere and the right time.
The right people are, generally, people I know well, since roleplaying is about being comfortable enough to let yourself be someone else and thats hard to do if you aren’t at ease with your fellow gamers. It’s more than that though, its about the right people for the game that i’m playing. I have certain friends who detest anything to do with Lovecraft and so playing Call of Cthulhu with them is the wrong choice and i have others who hate having to do background reading or minute resource management and so Shadowrun, at least the way I play it, probably isn’t for them. Likewise an anime game like Big Eyes, Small Mouth isn’t for me, I just don’t get the themes.
The right atmosphere links with the game and it’s one of the most important things to make a game work properly. For something like Shadowrun I like to use emails for contacts, tablet computers to send maps to players and generally as much technology as possible to try and reinforce the hi tech theme of the game.
For Call of Cthulhu I play by candlelight, with no books on the table, no tablets, no phones, just paper, pencils and characters along with whatever props and handouts I provide. I find that this helps build the slow paced and intense atmosphere that Cthulhu needs to properly work.
The right time links with the atmosphere but it also relates to how my players are feeling, what pop culture items have piqued our interest and even what time of year it is. If my players are obsessed with a particular sci-fi TV show then a sci-fi game is probably appropriate, if everyone is playing a cyberpunk card game then a cyberpunk game is appropriate. As for what time of year it is, well it’s not worth starting to play call of Cthulhu in the height of summer, you can’t build up horror why it’s blazing with sunshine.
Roleplaying is all about the game for me, I see my friends socially at other times and catch up with them then and so when it comes to game time I want to play. So, for me, the ideal session is made up of all the things that complement the game and make it great.