Today, it's this, a thread about prep. The basic gist of the original post is the realisation the poster has come across that prep isn't really for him; I identify strongly with this, in that - as I've posted on several occasions - I like to blitz preparation before the start of a campaign and set it up in such a way that it more-or-less runs itself once it has started. It is helpful to imagine a campaign as being a large, circular rock sitting on the edge of a somewhat steep slope, with me, Wily Coyote-like, fashioning a lever out of a large tree branch (the prep) which I then use to shove the rock into movement and let it be carried by its own momentum to a messy, destructive and unexpected end.
But shortly into the thread there is this post, which set me thinking:
The 'Illusion of Preparedness' is critical for immersion; allowing the players to see where things are improvised or changed reminds them to think outside the setting, removing them forcibly from immersion. Whenever the players can see the hand of the GM, even when the GM needs to change things in their favor; it removes them from the immersed position. The ability to keep the information flow even and consistent to the players, and to keep the divide between prepared information and newly created information invisible is a critical GM ability.
I've thought about it a lot, and the less I think I agree with it. Or, perhaps to put it more accurately, the less I think I can envisage it.
First, I don't know about you other DMs out there reading this, but I'm surely not alone in that I make mistakes all the fucking time, which just means that, sometimes, I have to backtrack to make changes. Example: in last week's session my group were walking from a village to the nearby city, and they said something like "when we're an hour from the town, we'll send X ahead to let them know we're coming" and for some reason I interpreted that to mean an hour after leaving the village, rather than an hour before arriving at the city, which it turned out was what they'd meant - and they let me know this with howls of indignation and anguish when it became important later on. This forced me to retcon things a bit and fiddle around with what was happening. So DMs are only human, and we make errors of judgement; expecting the players to never see any seams is more than a little unrealistic.
Secondly, I'm not entirely sure how well a DM can mask "newly created information" and keep it indistinguishable from prepared information in reality - unless we're talking about Al Pacino. A game in which players have real agency is always going to throw up a billion situations in which the DM just doesn't have a ready-made answer, and while he can makes guesses and riff on his setting if he knows it well enough, it's difficult to do that and fool the players with any consistency.
And thirdly, I'm dubious about lying to the players anyway. Maybe my DMing style is incredibly Brechtian without me really realising it, but I'm going behind the fourth wall all the time when I run a game. I leaf through rulebooks and my folders, I roll all my dice in the open, I have NPCs make tongue-in-cheek and self-aware remarks, I involve my players in decision-making, I sometimes ask them their opinions on what would happen in the situation at hand. I think this adds to the fun of playing a game, even if it isn't immersive and probably actively works against immersion. It might not make the players feel invested in what is going on at a personal level, but I think it makes them feel invested in the game as a game.
Which isn't to say that developing a very deep, detailed setting isn't its own reward, and nor is it to say that players get much more out of a campaign if the setting seems coherent, interesting, and alive. It's just to say that a lot of what gets talked about in game forums often sounds idealistic and quixotic to me, and I'm intrigued to know how close to those ideals other DMs' games become.