WISH 66 is about plotting (and, tangentially, the necessity of same):
GMs can spend hours designing an adventure and have their players take off in an entirely unexpected direction. How does a GM handle this—try and steer the players back to the designed plot, or hang back and see where the adventure goes? How does a player handle this? Stay on target or go with the flow?
I’m inclined to disagree with the context of the question. “How does a GM handle this?” Well, which GM?
The No Myth meme currently prevalent over at the Forge rejects preplotting altogether; a No Myth GM doesn’t know anything about the world other than what the players have seen. A failed task resolution check doesn’t mean the players have failed, it means there’s an additional obstacle in the way of reaching whatever objective the players have chosen. And that’s a reasonable approach.
But it’s not reasonable to say (as some Forge denizens do) that it’s the only proper approach. Some GMs spend days designing, not the adventure, but the world. In Brad’s Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, he had the entire world mapped out and spent a lot of time figuring out the actions of the NPCs between sessions. There wasn’t a designed plot, per se; there were NPCs with desires who acted on those desires. The PCs could act and react as they wished.
I don’t believe in a single approach; I believe in behaving as appropriate for the playgroup.
My preferences? I don’t preplot very heavily, so I tend to ad lib when players go off on a tangent. There are more of them than there are of me, after all. As a player, I like free-form stuff because I like the feeling that there’s a whole world out there. Strongly directed plots only bug me insofar as it makes me feel like the world only exists as far as the PCs can see.
Strong genre games can overcome that feeling, perhaps because a strong genre also engenders a feeling of a world outside the limits of a PCs perception. Pulp comes to mind, of course.