I have been giving a great deal of thought of late to the process of preparation for a game - not so much whether it is good or bad, though that's come up in the past and I'm on the record regarding putting the party on rails and so on. My curiousity for the present extends to how it all started.
I think we have to blame the White Box set, which - perhaps unintentionally - set the standard for game play from the very beginning. If the founders of D&D had been grounded in the social sciences, and moreso in the arts of presentation, such as drama or musical performance, I wonder if they would have included the semi-module Blackmoor. I wonder if they wouldn't have taken the stance, from the very beginning, that the game was entirely about improvisation, and NOT preparation.
Blackmoor set in stone a lot of features which have haunted - and limited - the game since: the dungeon 'room' ... the typical dungeon inhabitant ... and the process of hack, slash and haul away the loot. Having been given the template in the rules themselves, most people immediately presumed the template was the whole game, and so they rushed to duplicate that template as quickly and rapidly as they could.
Yet at the same time that the game was being developed in the 1970s, there was a very popular theatre 'sport' called improv, which more or less worked according to particular rules. Most everyone has seen Whose Line Is It Anyway?, but I'd like to emphasize that the format there was far more rigorous ... and invented for television access ... than what was done in dramatic classes.
Basically, two people are encouraged to begin speaking on a stage about any subject. The challenge is to say things that cause the other person to break character ... whatever character they've created at that moment. Other participants, meanwhile, are waiting in the wings, and any of them can shout freeze! at any moment ... whereupon the two participants freeze. One is tapped out, and the new joiner takes the exact same position and then completely changes the scene.
For example - two people are having an argument, one pretending to be the father, the other the son, about staying out past curfew, and one of them gestures at the ground; someone shouts freeze! and jumps in, removes the one gesturing at the ground and immediately begins with, "I have never seen a girl puke this much." And the other answers, on beat, "Do you think we should have mixed vodka with Pepto-Bismol?"
It's fast paced, the lines are sharp, witty, you have to dream them up quickly and there's a very strong element of keeping a straight face ... which I have long found is the most difficult thing for would-be roleplayers to manage. You're trying to make the other participant break; and not breaking is considered a sign of good acting.
It may surprise some people to learn that not all improvisation in these sessions was funny, as it was presented on television. In fact, every once in awhile, something serious and intense would be tried to see if you could get the other person to break character, and thus 'lose' ... while the audiences were treated to some spontaneous, compelling drama. It was a much larger game than pure silliness, though I admit the best times I had were with actors who were most serious about their craft. Less inclination to be insipid.
Now suppose that, instead of Blackmoor, it was possible to present D&D from that completely different perspective. Suppose the emphasis had been made, from the beginning, for the DM to react to play rather than to control play. Suppose that there never had been a dungeon template forced on the consciousness of people who had never seen a roleplaying game before. Where would be the emphasis then?
I think probably, less rats-in-a-maze and more person-to-person confrontation out in the world, where it belongs. I think there could have been a greater respect for dialogue risk taking than for structured, stale problem solving. Probably - and I am sad to admit this - a far greater emphasis on player-vs-player ... perhaps even larger sessions with dozens, even scores of people organizing as teams to shout down, shoot down or emotionally/materially destroy the other side. Not in the ridiculous larping sense, but as a theatre sport, with the DM as ejudicator.
I'm truly not saying the game should be that; I like the game as it is, for me. But I do want to argue that most, if not all, the stern, business-like emphasis on nailing down on paper and in files the moment-by-moment process of playing a night's game is based upon the earliest tactics proposed in that one document Blackmoor, which was subsequently copied to death. Still is being copied to death.
I'm an advocate of designing the world, the same way I love a good theatre, a flexible and elaborate staging area, a good view from the seats, ambience, acoustics and a cast willing to work hard. But while a play does include hammering down every inflection and movement the actors present, I don't believe that D&D is a play. I believe it is improv. And where improv is concerned, no one has the right to predestine what's going to happen next.