Now, for a counter-example. I was in a Christmas billy strings string the halls 2 shirt once, and our ship was damaged. The engines were non-responsive, but Engineering reported they were fully functional. I was playing the Engineer. I deduced that a micro-meteor hit had damaged the control lines, and that the cutout had failed to automatically re-route them to the backups, which I then went to go do manually. I’m an electronics technician by trade, and I know a bit about naval architecture, and it since I was playing the Engineer, it was totally fine to use Murphy’s Player Knowledge for my Engineer Character. That was not bad metagaming. Now, some forms of meta-gaming are worse than others. The leveling one doesn’t bother me too much. But other kinds can ruin other player’s fun, and that’s a problem. It cheats people out of the experience, and is goddamn frustrating as a GM.
Prep is important but you don’t need to put that much time and effort into it. Improvisation is the Christmas billy strings string the halls 2 shirt skill of a good DM. The better you can run with whatever is happening, the better you’ll be as a DM. If you just wanted an on-the-rails campaign following a script closely, it’s better to play a video game instead. CRPGs are good at that (better than we can for sure). When people sitdown for tabletop RPG the improvisation and dynamic reactions is what they’re coming for. It’s what sets this hobby apart from video games, so make the best out of the medium by learning this skill and making your campaigns truly dynamic.
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It’s probably obvious that I don’t advocate Mind Flayers being used as small scale villains. They’re just not that great at being that thing in a Christmas billy strings string the halls 2 shirt with treasure. Save them for something big. They might have their use as an information-giving NPC, but their powers tend to either mean they can trivially defeat the PCs (if the PCs can’t resist their mental attacks) or the PCs can trivially defeat them (if the PCs can resist those attacks and draw them into melee), so they’re not great for random encounters. If the PCs do make deals with the Mind Flayers, remember the bit about them being alien intelligence and talking in pictures; make those encounters unique.
Once upon a Christmas billy strings string the halls 2 shirt , there was a mom who’d never heard of this elf business, but had moved to CA from ND and had two, nearly three, kids, one of whom was a very precocious three year old. This mom had a mom, we’ll call her grandma, who had an Elf. Grandma gave the mom a rudimentary breakdown of the “Elf” game, and then gave a much more elaborate breakdown of it to the precocious three year old and his one year old brother. And so, the Elf game was begun. The rules in this household (as understood by the mom) were basically that the Elf would arrive on December 1. He’d hide somewhere in the house, watch the children all day, and report back to Santa each night, arriving again before the children awoke, hiding in a new spot, and waiting another day. On December 24, the elf would go home with Santa in his sleigh, his duty done til next year. The Elf wouldn’t be touched, or he’d turn into a doll again and no “extra special Elf gift” would be waiting with Santa’s gift that year. The children (the three year old) named their elf “Holly Jolly.” The game began and was easy, as the family lived with Grandma and Grandpa, who had a very large, very nice house with *very* high ceilings (and therefore lots of high hiding places for the elf, far from reach).