Then there are variables based on system of choice and overall game duration. Some people enjoy one system only while others prefer a bit of variety in their gaming. These variables include but aren't limited to:
- complexity of game system (compare 3:16 with D&D 3.5 with high-level Rolemaster)
- session duration (D&D Encounters vs. tournament vs. an evening's gaming)
- if the game is a one-shot or part of a campaign
- nature of the setting (pre-generated module vs. self-created sandbox).
Extremes in preparation can be a game killer. Too much can stifle the ability to say 'Yes' when you need to and lead to burnout through exhaustive preparation of unused items. Too little leads to chaos unless you're down with improvisation, keep it up while making notes of what went before and getting your story straight.
Relevance to the characters (and to the players) can elevate a game. Making it personal is a double-edged sword, some thrive on the challenge, others resent such base attempts at manipulation. In some cases, there are hot buttons you just don't press. Knowing what your players want is half the battle. Providing it is the other half - talking good game is one thing. Delivering may need slightly different capabilities.
Everyone who runs a game has their own way of doing things. Share what worked or what you learned from your failures. If you've got tricks, tools or even opinions on how to make preparation easier, better or just plain quicker now's your chance to shine. Let's see what September brings...