I am incredibly comfortable improvising an entire game session with no notice, plan, or preparations. Show me a table of players wanting to game and I will GM them! I love to improvise, and I am really good at it. I could improvise every single game I run for the rest of my life.
I realized that I did not need to prep at all for my games, and that my players were still having a good time. And that is exactly why I stopped improvising every single game.
My improvised games are good, and often they can be great. I have all of the skills needed to run not just a session, but an entire campaign with a story arc that stretches across all of the sessions. I am complimented on my improvised games and I know that I have that part of GMing nailed down.
Now I force myself to do prep work. It is harder, and I am not used to it because of all of those games that I have improvised in the past. It requires more self-discipline, and time, and I just do not want to prep some days. I do the prep work anyhow. I need to do the prep work.
I am never going to improve as a GM unless I keep forcing myself to do something difficult and outside of my comfort zone. If you want to be the best that you can be, with any skill or discipline, you have to keep looking for the next challenge and then take it on. I want to be the best GM that I can be, and I cannot be satisfied with just improvising games in order to be the best.
Yes, my players had a good time with my improvised games. Yes, the players did not have as much fun when I changed to a more prepped style. Yes, I was not having as much fun as I adjusted to a prepped style of GMing.
But I am improving with prepped games. It appears that the group is having just as much fun as they did under the improvised style of GMing. Best of all I am a better GM now then I was when I just improvised my games.
If you are excellent with prep, maybe you should try improvising your next game. If you are amazing when you run Dungeons & Dragons, maybe the next game that you run should be GURPS. Whatever your comfort zone is, identify it and then step out of it. It will make you a better GM.
Have you recognized your comfort zone? Do you step out of it from time to time? Have you ever changed your style dramatically on purpose? If so, tell us about it in the comments section below.