When prepping for a game session there can be a lot of pressure on the GM to have stuff for everyone to do. It's pretty much the focus of all session prep advice: how do you prep what to do for the session? And with certain plots you have to make it so they come to the player's attention, entice them to take them, and then know where they go.
However, that isn't how it always has to go. You can let the player's drive the session. And in fact, it can be a good idea to do so on occasion. Today I want to talk about how that works.
When The Next Move Is On The Players
There are certain story beats where the action is on the players to drive. They have their objective. They know where it is. But they have to choose how they are going to overcome the obstacles in their way. This happens a lot in the beginning of heist story arcs, where the players have to choose how they are going to make the attempt to steal and what they're going to do in prep.
Do they gather information? Do they just go for it? Are they going for it openly? Are they going for it with more subtlety and grace? These are all decisions they have to make, and how they choose is going to determine what happens.
Let the Player's Know
You don't have to make a big deal about it, but if you are waiting on the players to make a decision it can be good to let them know. They may be waiting for you to have something happen like normally happens. And even if not, it can be good to know that things progress or not based on their decision. Some players don't need this prompt. Other players do. So just watch and be ready.
Sketch Out The Options You Think They Might Take
Your prep in this can be harder. The best method I've found is to lightly sketch out a few paths that you think the PCs are most likely to take. Are they prone to the social path? Have some names and general idea of what those NPCs could want in exchange for their help. The stealth route? What are the static defenses and guard routes? The combat way? What type of fights might they face?
Don't go too in depth. You don't want to waste work on something that doesn't happen. At the same time, you want some idea so you're not building from scratch
Remember: Orcs Can Attack At Any Moment
The advice comes from fantasy games like D&D, but if the game gets too slow or drags too much, you can always move things along in some way. The traditional idea is "Orcs Attack!" Which is similar to the writing advice of if things drag out, just have someone kick in the door and start attacking.
However, before just having someone attack it can be good to instead bring people back on task with some prompting "So what is your plan so far? Where are you stuck?" Or to just ask if they're all set and ready to move things along. If not, or they're dithering on other things, you can always have some orcs with shotguns kick in the door.
Them Role Playing Is Not Bad
A lot of times when the action is waiting on the PCs things can feel slow because the players are talking things out. Encourage them to talk it out in character as much as possible. Them Role Playing is good. Them Role Playing is a big point of the game. These planning sessions can also be character development moments, relationship moments, and so much more.
It can be hard to just sit back and let them talk, but try to enjoy it. Pay attention to how they interact. What do they share with each other? What bits of themselves come up? How can you reinforce or challenge those things?
Let them play. Pay attention. See how you can use it. You can also use the time to get going on prepping what they'll run into along their chosen path as they cement parts of their plan into place.