I posted recently about some ideas I've explored in my GMing: https://www.enworld.org/threads/gms-themes.699684/But thinking about things beforehand doesn't remove interacting with your friends part. That still happens. And we always prepare to game to some extent. We create the characters beforehand. We establish the themes of the campaign. We establish some backstory. The GM might think some NPCs and locations. Technically we don't need to do any of this, we could just improv everything. But most people, even you, tend to agree that doing this preparation is worth it. And I don't think more hurts. Sure, you hit diminishing returns at some point when it is just no longer worth the effort, but ultimately we're just quibbling about where that point lies.
@Campbell, just upthread, has also talked about thinking about things in anticipation of play.
What I denied was that "a setting mostly improvised on spot will on average have less depth than one that is planned with time and consideration" (the quote is of you in post 59 upthread), taking "depth" to mean something like thematic weight.
Here's a passage from the post I linked to just above:
Elements of the setting that were improvised in play include the Elfstone possessing the PC Fea-bella (consequence of a failed spiritual conflict); Gerda's theft of the Elfstone (prompted by a failed Resources test); Megloss's unfolding personality and orientation towards the PCs (developed in the course of the back-and-forth of various social and other conflicts involving him and the PCs); Gerda's apartment (where the final confrontation took place); Gerda's plate armour (rolled on the Loot table), which played a significant role in the unfolding of the conflict between her and the PCs, which in turn prompted Fea-bella's player to surrender to her, which in turn led to Gerda stabbing Fea-bella with her spear, a stabbing which Fea-bella miraculously survived by which purged her of her lust for the Elfstone.In my Torchbearer game, the first dungeon that I designed was the abandoned dell of a Petty Dwarf (also called Mim). One artefact in the dungeon was an Elfstone, in which the dream spirit of the Petty Dwarf was trapped. The Elven Dreamwalker PC Fea-bella tried to drive out the spirit, and failed, instead becoming obsessed by the stone. In a subsequent session the stone was stolen, it turns out by Gerda, a NPC Dwarven friend of Golin the Dwarf PC. In the second-last session, what had seemed like it might be the culmination in a change of relationship between Fea-bella and her enemy Megloss - a somewhat sinister Elf - turned in completely the other direction, as a failed attempt to bind an evil spirit meant that it possessed Megloss. And then in our most recent session the PCs brought Megloss with them to confront Gerda the Elf-stone stealing Dwarf, Megloss killed her (after she nearly killed Fea-bella), and Golin and two other PCs (but not the Dreamwalker) killed Megloss. The Elfstone itself was left behind in Gerda's now-empty apartment, where for so many evenings she had sat brooding over the Elfstone.
In case someone thinks that what I've just described is more action than setting, here's another example from the same campaign (re-posted from the currently active GM agency thread):
My view that there is no reason to think that a RPG setting will have more thematic weight if planned and authored in advance is not mere conjecture: I am basing it on my own actual play experience.When I started my Torchbearer game, the first thing we did was build PCs. Each PC in Torchbearer has a home town, chosen from a list of around 15 settlement types. One of the players decided that his Dwarven Outcast, with Explosives-wise, was from a Forgotten Temple Complex. I'd already told the players that, in terms of maps/geography, we were in the Bandit Kingdoms-Tenh-Theocracy of the Pale part of Greyhawk, as that seemed to fit the "northern" vibe of Torchbearer. Looking at the map, I asked the player where the Forgotten Temple Complex was and he said that of course it's in the Theocracy of the Pale. I asked what sorts of gods they worship there and he said "Gods of explosives! What else did you think?" or something very much along those lines.
The same player also chose, during the relationship building phase, that his PC was an orphan but had a mentor (in the Temple Complex), a friend (an alchemist in the Wizard's Tower that another of the PCs came from) and an enemy (a rival in the Complex, who cheated on the exams and hence pipped the PC to a lucrative post, thus leading to the PC being an Outcast).
In a subsequent session (the fifth, maybe?) this PC was in a tavern at the Wizard's Tower and so I rolled on the Tavern Rumours Table, which told me that he heard an unhappy story about his parents. Now, being an orphan, how could this work? So I told him that one of the old-timers in the tavern told the PC a story about how his alchemist friend seemed to always have had Dwarven friends. Why, only 40 or so years ago, a Dwarven couple had come through town and stayed with the Alchemist, and they were expecting a bairn!
The player has mused on this, but hasn't yet had his PC try to find out what happened to his parents.
A little later, prompted by a friend talking about playing through the Temple of Elemental Evil, I decided to convert the Moathouse to Torchbearer. This required thinking about a Temple of Elemental Evil, and our game already had a Forgotten Temple Complex associated with explosives - and right near a swamp (the Troll Fens) just like the moathouse is. In our most recent session (the twelfth of the campaign, I think) the PCs were reading books of lore in the Tower of the Stars, and read something that talked about a "forgotten temple" whose members regarded the Void as an admixture of elemental earth and elemental air. The player of the Dwarven Outcast turned to me and asked, "Is my temple complex full of nutters?" and I replied "Well, they worship the god of explosives, so what do you think?"
Now from my point of view I feel like I've just described a world as living and breathing as any other. With background lore, hints of mystery, NPCs who know and care about one another and the PCs. And at least one player who cares about it all too.
And in this post I've fully described the process of creation, including the respective roles of the players and the GM.