When I last spoke about this, I ended by saying that I was disinterested in becoming a better DM, as I felt I had reached a level of acceptability. That may change; there's always a chance of returning again to things once we have applied ourselves elsewhere. Eggs can be moved. For the moment, however, it is true. My motives lie elsewhere.
Here are five things - or ways - I would like to improve about myself, generally. They're not directly about role-playing, no; however, since most of them will affect this blog and my intentions towards D&D generally, I thought the gentle reader might like to read them. The reader may also find some wisdom here, some further reflection upon how sacrifices might be made.
1. I wish to get a better handle on how much time I spend working on D&D. That is, I'd like to work less on the number crunching, the mapmaking, the process-content behind the world. That isn't to say I don't love this - I do. It is addictive. But I would like to manage my time a little better - particularly since I now have a great deal less time, 44 hours a week less I'm calculating. This isn't a job where I can poke about much on the company dime and spend an hour writing - I have to be 'on.' Therefore, when I'm off, I'd like to not spend all my time whittling away at game things that will take months to finish. I need to put that time elsewhere. I know that for many the trouble is to find time to work on the game; in my case, I've organized my life so that my free time is almost entirely my own. I'm at the disposal of my family, but my non-gaming friends are all insanely busy like me and we see each other maybe once every three months. I don't make commitments, I don't volunteer and I don't seek overtime or reasons to fret about work. My partner gets intense quality time, every day, as I cook and cuddle and recreate with her - but she lets me disappear whenever I wish.
The Sacrifice: this means not seeing my world grow, not feeding my addiction, not vanishing into my space for five hours at a time to listen to music, hear a podcast and turn my brain off while I draw lines or calculate numbers together. It means a lot of the ambitious plans I have for changing my world will be stalled. Not forever, I hope; just until my circumstances change, until I have more time or possibly more resources. It doesn't mean not working on my world at all - I'm hoping that I can dedicated a morning, say, or an hour, before shutting down the work and moving onto something more fruitful. It means, basically, not doing my favorite thing - well, at least not for the purpose of making a fanciful game setting.
2. Getting myself more directed in the process of marketing myself. At present, I do a fair job, I understand the concept, but I wouldn't describe my efforts as 'fervent.' It's still very much catch as catch can; I see an opportunity, I follow up on it (sometimes) and something occasionally happens. However, I'm not making opportunities. I'm letting things I should be doing fall lax and undone, unpursued or ignored, mostly due to perceived stress, self-doubts and a general malaise. Working on D&D a lot does not actually help with this; it provides too much avoidance, actually. I need to put myself on the line more; to take risks more; to acknowledge that a potential for looking like a fool isn't the end of the world.
The Sacrifice: I really hate looking foolish. This is probably the deepest discontent that I have - and in spite of it I have acted on stage and chosen a career for myself that is necessarily public. When I look at these pics I'm putting up every day, I mostly hate them. I mostly think I look dumb. I think every day about taking them down and quitting. But I know that working at this, pushing it, makes me different from thousands of other bloggers who aren't brave enough to look dumb. So I keep at it.
It's the same with rousting myself out of my room where I'm working and forcing myself to meet people in shops, stores, game set-ups and so on; even though I 'hate' to meet people for the purpose of promoting myself, as I hate being judged. I was recently hired, so I was told, for my "charisma" - because I know how to smile, I know how to make others feel comfortable and I am utterly fearless in speaking directly about anything. This post, for instance, where I making a platter of my sleeve. So the sacrifice here is not sitting comfortably at home; not finding a reason not to step forward and take a hit. Come September, I'm in Edmonton at the Comic Expo there; that's going to be followed by others, all I can afford to attend. Even if it means not being comfortable.
3. While writing more non-fiction material for RPGs and gaming is certainly in the works, the real effort must be spent towards teaching myself to write fantasy fiction. I have to confess here; I am not a fan of fantasy fiction. I liked the old stuff when I was younger, most of Appendix N, but it absolutely did not define me as a thinker and a writer. From a writer's point of view, most of it is painfully weak; if I go back to reading someone like Leiber, Zelazny or Anthony, I find myself wanting to correct the grammar between wincing at the author's hacking exposition. I have wanted to rip out and burn the last three chapters of any Orson Scott Card book that I've read. What's worse is all the new stuff - I haven't the patience for piling up of words to describe emo-contrived, idiot-ball carrying characters who angst and angst and angst about what to do or who to love or what they've done. I can take a straight story, but this exorbitant over-investigated consciousness is just more than I can take. I don't want to be these people, I want to smack these people with a rake.
But when I sit down to write my own fiction, the text expresses itself in dry, trope-driven chapters that trod along the same paths as everyone else. I'm quite convinced that it isn't the author that's responsible for the problems I find in the above paragraph, but the subject material itself - and I have to convince myself to the contrary.
The Sacrifice: I'm going to have to write a lot of shit for a while. A lot of shit. That's the reality. I'm not going to become a better fantasy-fiction writer without first writing an awful pile of dreck - in short, making the same mistakes that others have made, falling into the same pitfalls and writing bad, bad fiction. See, as I criticize above, I'm not deluded to think at this point that I can do any better. Before I have any chance of that, I'm going to have to do much, much worse. But that's how we get good at things. We throw a lot of time at it. We swing that hammer until we know how. In the beginning, yes, we hurt ourselves; but that's how we get smarter.
Working less on D&D should give me the time I need to write badly.
4. I need to DM less. That's going to sound fairly insane to some readers, since I work so hard on my world - but the truth is, DMing is becoming a physical trial weekly. I mean, I love it, but to get through four to six hours of play I'm jacking myself up on coffee, pop, other sources of sugar and salt, followed by gallons of water and a wrecked mental state after the fact that belies the fact that the mental requirement slurps up huge amounts of my weekly energy supply, so that over time I feel the symptoms of chronic mental fatigue. Setting up and carrying through the process at the rate that I'm going at is burning me out. With two campaigns off-line, I've been running every week since last July.
This last Friday we were set to play and we simply didn't. We spent the whole evening on the deck, chatting and letting the sun go down. After my first week at work, the energy wasn't there.
Note that the word above is less. I'm not quitting. There are options - shorter sessions, less than once a week, running an easier campaign than the complex worldbuilding adventuring that I run now (though my players would be terribly, terribly disappointed).
The Sacrifice: this is obvious. I wouldn't be running. Running is a high and it regularly produces a house full of people who praise me to the skies. That's nothing I want to lose. Moreover, it is a sacrifice for my players, too - that makes me feel beholden to them, since they have graciously allowed me to run them all this time.
And still, I have run a lot in my life. Those first five years, twice a week; once a week, at least, for the next ten. Then a six-year lull, as my life was sorted out, and about once every two weeks since. That's somewhere around 1,430 runnings - all of them at least four hours, as I have never run a planned game for just two. The average is closer to five. So that's 7,000 hours of this game, just running. Gawd knows how much time I've spent working on this game. It's time to ease my foot off the pedal. Not all at once . . . but set designated non-playing weekends, spaced throughout the year, is getting to be a must.5. Find someone else to DM. This is the real solution for point 4. Take a turn at playing instead of always having to run. Only, I don't know how I'm going to do that. Last year I sat in on a few 4e and 5e games and the set-up, campaign and player-to-DM interaction was a fucking joke. I've just been told that two of my players are quitting their other campaign because it simply fails them as players. That's been my experience since, oh, 1984 . . . and I'm not seeing any change.
Hell, maybe I'm going to have to start a class or something, offer it free through the library and see if I can't train someone to grasp what's really going on. My players, unfortunately, do not feel like taking the wheel and Jesus isn't available.
The Sacrifice: Hell if I know. I can make time and space and get myself out there in the world more and see what there is to see. I can write and hope it inspires someone within the city here to take a crack at a game that would actually interest me. I can encourage my friends more or lower my standards to the point where I'd rather be watching DC Comics' new Supergirl TV show than playing my favorite game. I don't know, not at this time. It's hard to take the egg out of the basket and put it somewhere else when I can't find the goddamn basket the egg needs to go in.
Still, there must be a way to step aside and attack this issue. Anything can be learned. Someone must be out there that can be taught.