Most recently at Winter Fantasy, I got drawn into a number of discussions about game design. Not really the nuts and bolts of it, but really the philosophy behind it. Now I know many will disagree with the positions I will take in this post, but my approach is rooted in gaming history.
When I first started writing seriously (for Helios 2000), I would come up with complex stories, big secrets, and a final reveal, much like whodunits. Once the players had played through the adventure, I would be able to reveal "this is what the secret plot really was." I could sit back with a smug, content smile on my face as my players went "That's a cool story".
Throughout my time in France and Ireland, I wrote events with that method. I enjoyed writing a number of adventures, many of which I still enjoy to this day. The "big reveal" model worked for me well enough.
Then in 2003, I started working on Living Greyhawk adventures, and that model began to feel flat for me. I guess the adventure that brought this problem to me was VTF3-01 Nor Crystal Falls. In the adventure, PCs traveled to Verbobonc and went after the Cult of Elemental Evil.
Once they entered the temple itself, (under a waterfall), they traveled down through levels that each had an identical map. Each room had a priestess of the Water Cult, complete with a half-page of background for the character. Why they joined the Cult, who they were, their current goals. The stories brought a lot of flavor to the adventure.
BUT the players never got any of it. Why? Because for every room, the scene went like this:
GM You enter this room in the temple. There is a statue of a water elemental in the center. On the other side of the room, there is a woman in blue robes.
That's exactly how that adventure went, floor after floor. I pondered on this adventure. "How can I make it better?"
The answer I had took a long time to find out, but implementing a fix took much longer.