However, don’t try this for a big overarching story arch. For these, preparation is always a very good idea. Not only does it reward the players and yourself with fun sequences and character moments but also it allows you to look at different aspects of the narrative. Maybe you have a character who is scared of Drow, then give her a friendly Drow who she accidentally killed who was a paladin? Maybe that Pladin had a family. Maybe they will come back due to some necrotic schemes. Maybe you have a character who is unswervingly good, maybe force her to do the trolley problem. Perhap you have a character who is a teenager, forcing them to be the adult in a situation.
If you are unsure where to start prepping: start with combat. Combat can always be made more interesting. This can be the addition of maps, or even boards and music (if you’re players are ok with this -one of mine are strictly not). Maybe different enemies or NPCs will have different objectives – sure that goblin wants to attack you but maybe his lich boss wants to imprison you. Perhaps that secret society orc wants to get the fancy glove but maybe that human bard wants to simply seduce that big big scary monster. (Bards… I… Play one :)) However, your planning does not even need to end there, plan the loot. It does not just have to be money. Maybe the players find a cloak of invisibility on that troll they just killed, the lost item of some long forgotten party. Or maybe that Selkie has not much to give at the moment but coin but can later provide the party with ‘A one-off storm in a bottle’.
The other thing I would recommend is take notes. If you are lucky, like my party is and we do not thank her enough, you may have a scribe. This is great,and you are in this situation: tell this player you value them and that they’re work is indispensable. If not, do it yourself, you are the DM – regardless I would be horrified with a DM who did not have notes. Even when I am playing a fixed module I take notes. If you’re like me and another player, and writing at a timely manner is a challenge ask is it ok with your group to record your session, either via OBS, or on your phone. (My only comment here is get their permission first). Even then if you are DM, please take notes. Trust me you’re not sitting there sweating bullets otherwise.
Another way to immerse your players is character voices. Not everyone will do these, not everyone can. They are definitely not needed, this is not Critical Role or The Adventure Zone. Every table is different. As someone with verbal dyspraxia, I get it. However it does make some characters more memorable. Also adding to my last point – if you have a character who has an Irish accent, or if they talk like they are trying to say everything in one breath causing their voice to get higher and higher write that down in your personal notes.
Sometimes patience is needed. Sometimes, you will have players who will zone out during the game due to how their brains are, or maybe it’s difficult for them to be concentrating on the game right there due to personal reasons. You’re going to have players who are fast and will point out a solution you had not anticipated for. There will be disagreements at the table – people can’t get along all the time. Additionally, unless a prerequisite has said otherwise, you will most likely be seen as the de facto leader of however big your table is. They will treat you as such and it sucks.
Another piece of advice: never tell your player no outright. If they have an idea that doesn’t quite fit then workshop it with them. Try your hardest to compromise. Work with your player to understand what they want to achieve and see if you can work with them and the rules to try and find an alternative. My one player desperately wanted multiple animals throughout the campaign. We eventually agreed that it made sense for her to have an affinity for animals and that she could have a pocket zoo but she could only have one animal out at a time or the magic breaks and they all escape and wander off.
However, sometimes it’s not you. Sometimes there are bad players. Perhaps they undermine your authority or upset the party. They don’t take your party for granted. Sometimes, and it sucks, because it could be a dear dear friend but cut your losses. That isn’t saying throw them out into the cold; find an amicable way to either explain your decision or break from them in away that will not cause strife with you and the friend.
HAVE FUN – seriously this isn’t a job, you’re meant to be doing this for fun.