I made a big hubadoo on here that I was doing more prep-work for the current arc in my L5R game than I had ever done before. I have writeups for nearly 30 NPCs. I have stat blocks for special opposition NPCs, unique monsters, and some of the beefier of the helpful NPCs. I have plot lines and social nuances and little vagueries going on in the background that may never see the light of day in game. I have a metaplot arc that was set up nicely and even had scheduled points where some of those NPCs could die. In the last session of my L5R game I torpedoed most of those plans. And you know what? It's alright.
From The Wreckage Of The Old Plan...
...comes the new plan. The new plan is, in a word, awesome. I was looking forward to running this arc with the old plan because I liked the NPCs and I liked the monsters I was making. I am excited to run this new plan because it has all those things I liked about the old plan, but it also has a whole host of new and cool things. It has the potential to be even more epic. It has the potential to be even more glorious. It has the potential to be the best damned L5R arc I've ever run by a long shot.
How does this work? How can I end up here after shooting down all that old work? Well, I'll tell you. First off...
That Old Work Still Works
Most of my old prep is still valid. The NPCs, both good and evil, are still useful. The combat encounters? Still useful. The plot points, plot lines, twisted social vagueries? All able to be there. The only thing that really got damaged was the "if X happens at Battle Y then NPC Z dies." Even then, that doesn't change too much.
Planning, at least planning if you do it right (IMNSHO), is less about setting down rails for the story to follow and more about establishing groundwork so that the plot can work. I've talked before about Plot vs. Story here, and it still holds true for my game now. All of my planning, or at least the vast majority of my planning, was to set up ground work for a plot that would make a good story. Because of that it is easy to shift the way the story will be experienced by simply changing some of the events. Instead of Event A happening Even H happens, and that changes things based on the motivatoins and actions of those involved.
However, with all that planning done and events lined up how did the change occur? When I reviewed what had happened in my game last session, my mind went "yeah, but what if X instead of Y?" I thought about the question, and the more I did the more I liked the answers my brain was coming up with. Now the story has the chance to play out with the PCs having room to be more pro-active. The forces they are a part of no longer sit still and take shots to the face without reacting. They punch back. The kick and they stab and by the ancestors they will fight to reclaim their heritage.
The key to this realization? It's in knowing that...
Sometimes You Have To Re-Arrange The Puzzle
Regardless of whether you have a plan or not, as a GM you need to be able to think on your feet. You need to be able to react to what your players are doing, and you need to be ready for when you open your mouth to have an NPC do one thing and something completely different comes out. Over time you will develop instincts and you should always trust your instincts when it comes to matters like these. For every time your instincts may lead you wrong or into a trap there will be a dozen times they crank the dial up to 11 for you.
In my case this means taking information I had already planned on how to dole out, and information bits I had already given, and giving them a bit of a restructure based around what my players have been doing and what is going on in my game. All of those plots and NPCs and social vagueries can be modifed and re-arranged to work with this new goal. Even better, with all the planning already put in any change that feels right - at least that I've examined so far - does so because it actually shores up weaknesses in the old plan.
For example, one aspect of the old plan involved an escalation of hostilities against the PCs and their allies from the enemy force with little that could be done in retalliation, at least not without cutting off other avenues of plot and information. With the re-structure, not only are the PCs going to get a chance to take the fighting to the enemy, but it makes any pending NPC deaths that happen shift from "how tragic, they died holding the line against an implacable foe" to "this person died fighting to push the enemy back and out."
I'm excited. I hope my players are too. All that is left is to pull off the execution. Assuming, of course, the plan doesn't have to be altered further.