Last night's game went smashingly well. They fought flaming topiaries, stole a Lamborghini, and got their Captain stuck in a hospital under heavy guard.
Two factors: one, I pushed on them hard, and they pushed back. None of this "we have five missions, how can we do as many of them at once?" nonsense. None of the wandering around, waiting for me to do things that typified some of the earlier sessions. Not that they weren't fun, but it was beginning to stress me out.
No, this time, the conference room they were in exploded, they had to fight their way out, and suddenly it's all schemes and plans. They do something, I react, they react to me, and everyone's happy. And I think I struck a good balance between "giving them stuff because it's cool" and "arbitrary challenge" -- I did a fairly good job of responding to their plans with problems, but not such serious problems as they couldn't overcome.
The second factor was the absences of the player who up until this time has dominated the game. He's a Duke, he's the Captain of the ship, he's the most experienced roleplayer, he normally GMs, and he's got a fairly forceful personality even outside the game. This was the first time the rest of the gang has been in charge of making the plans, which was a very good thing, and produced a much more balanced pattern of involvement than we've had so far. Hopefully, their newfound confidence will continue even once he's here again, but otherwise I'm going to need to talk to him about toning it down a bit.