I have picked up a somewhat abstract way to think about how to go about game mastering, game design and writing. I think I originally learned it from Seth Godin but have seen it in other places.
The concept is this, people don’t want the thing you make. What they want is how the thing makes them feel.
Applied to game mastering:
Your players don’t want the campaign or adventure, they want how the experience of playing in your campaign or adventure will make them feel.
Applied to game design:
Your customers don’t want the rule set or the module, they want how reading or playing the game will make them feel.
Applied to story telling:
People don’t want your story, they want how your story will make them feel.
This can be an odd sort of idea but once you see it, it makes perfect sense. Is it the chocolate or the experience of the chocolate that I want? It explains why there is such a thing as decaffeinated coffee or diet soda. The person consuming it wants the experience of consuming the product as much or more than they want the hormonal bump it’s going to give them.
When you think about game mastering and game design in this way, you start to think about how you can stimulate emotional states in your players through the use of things like quirky but helpful NPC’s, betrayal and uncertainty. The more times you can tap into the emotions of the players, the better your games will be.