6: BE FLEXIBLE A) Don’t script. Players will do the unpredictable. And that is that. You want north they go south. You have the old gypsy with the legend they visit everyone but. When that happens, punt. If an encounter is important, it can be fit in elsewhere. Only you know how the scenario is assembled. No one will smite you if you shuffle the parts. If the Vicar has the legend and not the Gypsy you don’t loose GMing points.
B) Let go. You are not in control, you were never in control and you will never be in control. The game is not about you the GM or your NPCs. The Player Characters are the Stars. Anything you do to derail that is bad, and anything you do to enhance it is good.
Most Important, have fun. The game is played for fun. If everyone is having fun, you are a successful GM.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” good advice from Muhammad Ali. I can’t stress this one enough. Stay off the Railroad tracks, physically and figuratively. Nothing frustrates a player more than railroading the plot. This is indeed where you must float like a butterfly. When the PCs go off were you didn’t consider you need to think fast. Think fast enough and you can reorder the plot to where they went. See above, no GM points lost.
You are not a computer program reading out the next set of code. Even the most free sandbox computer game is not as flexible as a Human GM because you can do things that are not coded and that is where Humans shine. So your graphics are not as good, but people still do social gaming because it is flexible and not coded. If AI is ever able to match that, I might start drinking.
Or have the Players over hear about the Gypsy with the Legend and act like the talkers are going to try and beat anyone else there…
(Back when GenCon was held in Lake Geneva (hence the name of the Con), I actually joined a party that was avoiding a certain door, due to the strong Fighter in the room. I was a 1st Level Mage, and I went around carrying my drawn dagger (point straight up) in my right hand and a Strawberry Pie at shoulder height (flat) in my left hand. >As the Group was passing the door, I stepped out from it, and using the Pommel of the Dagger Pounded on the door 3 times. And Shouted: “Open Up IN The Kings Name!” at the top of my lungs!!!
“For Some Strange Reason” all of a sudden I was alone in the Hallway! The Fighter yanked the door open and I smashed the pie into his full plate Helmet. Eventually I was able to Kill him when I finally got a good shot.
The rest of the Group wanted to mysteriously reappear to loot the room, but the GM had kept track of where they were running. Only a Quarter of the Group got out, the rest was still lost somewhere in the Dungeon…
They were less than happy with me. Oh Well, I got plenty of LOOT!!!
The unexpected thing. What social RPG is good at and computers cannot. I love when a player pulls a rug jerk moment and totally tosses the expected out the window. The “How many hit points does the bridge have” moment. I actually saw that in a Lego Battlemech game I was in. Gandalf was not the first.
Personally, I have always been a little more “off the cuff” as a GM. I have certain beats I want to happen, and where can be decided on the fly. I sort of set up the situation and then dump it in the collective lap of the players and let them dictate a little more the flow. That “X” happens is more important than where it happens. But then, I am (like I sort of figure many ttrpg players are) ADHD, and even medicated I find it easier to go for the “organized chaos” experience of a session, than try to micro-manage it.
What ever works for you and your group. There is no single right way to GM any more than there is one group. I can, and will, speak only to what I have experienced.
I do more off the cuff than I would like to admit. I would like to think I have modules finished, edited, and ready to publish. That seldom happens. I’m usually some place between that and totally off the cuff. A few notes a map, if I’m lucky.