I have a pronounced vision of how RPGs should be run, which (as is commonly the case with visions) can be the reason for game sessions either really coming together or just being a frustrating experience. I haven’t really put it into concise wording yet, but in short, I am convinced that RPG sessions should focus purely on the sections that matter for the story.
I’ve known many groups who will run an RPG like a simulation: they want long backstories for all characters, so that they can feel that the characters have organically existed in the world, and they want to deal with things step by step. I’ve run games where the characters wanted to confront the big bad guy, and they would narrate every tiny step from being at home base to travelling to the big bad: they’d have a long in-character talk about what they just decided on, and then they would want to narrate walking out the door, buying all the necessary gear, stumbling over a branch, and twenty other things before even reaching the front door of where they were going.
My vision for RPG sessions boils all of this down to only the stuff that matters. Does the discussion between player characters matter? Okay, then talk that out if you want to. You’ve decided to confront the big bad? Okay! Tell me the what and how of the matter, and I’ll decide if there’s anything interesting inbetween. If I can’t find interesting conflicts, then I’d much rather go right to the scene where you’re in the throne room face-to-face with the big bad, guards strewn behind you—now what?
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t mean to imply that I only want to skip forward to fights, but I would want to skip forward to conflicts. Your player character wants to talk to their spouse, who has been cheating on them? Okay, tell me the how: are you angry and want to confront them? Okay, next scene you’re in the middle of your shouting match. Are you vindictive and do you want to hurt them? Okay, next scene is them confronted with the discarded underwear of your one-night-stand, strewn across the living room. Are you desperate to make this work? Okay, next scene is three therapy sessions in, and your other goal is within hand’s reach but you’ll have to skip out on your therapy session to get it, after having just promised you’ll do whatever it takes to save your relationship—what do you do?
It’s this vision of gaming that I strive for when I lead games. It’s tough to do, because I need to be really on point to keep selecting the interesting conflicts. It’s also tough because you need to be sure that all of the players are into that idea as well. It’s incredibly tough, because as a storyteller, you also need to be really aware of what your players believe is interesting about the game (hey, maybe they are into detailed shopping sprees for supplies?). When it all comes together, however, when it really works—it’s pure magic.