Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Sort of Class?

Gathering my thoughts . . .

I have taken all kinds of education classes in my years.  Some through university, some through my place of employment, some from a desire to be employed, some extra classes to study subjects that were of interest and once by court order (the reason can be read on this post).  In retrospect, these fall into three categories:

The first type is designed to make us feel good about ourselves.  The classes are heavy on participation and building better social relationships in which oxytocin manufacture is a key component.  The class is encouraged to communicate as much as possible in short doses, speak of and listen to others with a positive outlook, move about physically and on the whole keep as busy as possible to hide the fact that nothing is actually being taught.  These classes are very popular, as they allow both popular and lonely people to reach a consensus of good will, friendship and the strong sense that something has been accomplished.  If nothing else is gained from these classes, they are a good experience.

The second type tends to be very dry and almost useless.  Here I am speaking of the "required courses" that I took in university or the "orientation" classes that I attended on behalf of business or so-called teambuilding activities.  The primary purpose of these classes is to prove commitment to our authoritarian masters (who, in some cases having to do with university, need this in order to stay employed) while surviving the course without any expression of emotion whatsoever.  The best way to pass muster on these courses is to attend with rigid faithfulness, speak civilly and as little as possible, sit at the back and hide behind as much crowd as can be found.  Oh, and lie.  Never, ever, give a sincere opinion.

The third type came with demands that were so hard to meet as to deserve the appellation "brutal."  Drama courses where we were expected to perform publicly on stage once a month, science classes with weekly coursework and labs, immersive language classes, physical classes meant to prepare for competitive contests and so on.  Classes that we took because these, too, were required courses but were deliberately designed to weed out the participants rather than pay homage to beings with tenure.  I still occasionally have dreams about failing these courses, where I get up and tell my other half unhappily, "I had the university dream again."  I had it this morning, in fact.

Business success is found in Type I.  Even the managers don't like Type II, but they think it is necessary.  We can ignore Type II.  Type III makes the world happen.

Looking at one-on-one consultation, I could make money by conning people with Type I: listening to them talk about their worlds, they're plans, giving them 'popular' and empty advice designed to make them feel really good about themselves, like they could take on the world.  Basically, sugar pills.  "Really, you're a great DM.  Believe in yourself, relax, you'll get it, just think good thoughts, you make your own reality, if you want to succeed, you will, if you understand the 'why' the 'how' will be obvious, knowledge is power, you already know all you need to know, just learn to ask for what you want, ask and it will be received, you can achieve anything that you aspire to achieve, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah . . ."

People eat this stuff up.

Type III inherently contains a guarantee that isn't a promise - it is a fact.  People are able to vertically climb apparently-impossible surfaces: if you are willing to commit and break your body in that commitment, forcing your body and consciousness to transform, logically you will also be able to do this.  All that is asked is that you don't waste your time training in ways that don't achieve your goals.

Can DMing be taught this way?  That is the question I've been trying to crack.

Think of it this way: Type I education is designed to cope with the problem, You are already uncomfortable.  Come join and we will make you more comfortable about . . . whatever.

Type III education says, You think you're uncomfortable now?  Just wait.  Type III implies an expectation that you are prepared to make yourself more uncomfortable because, damn it, the end result matters to you so much that pain and discomfort right now do not mean fuck.

I do have a premise where it comes to problem solving: if I'm not feeling a "cost" in the application of the solution, there's probably a better solution that will cover more contingencies.  In other words, this solution is easy because I am super-simplifying the problem.

I have a premise where it comes to problem solving: if I'm not feeling a "cost" in the application of the solution, something is wrong.  Most likely, I am ignoring most elements of the problem so that a real solution is no longer necessary.

For example, my father journeyed to Russia in and around the time of Glasnost, just before the wall came down, as a petroleum engineering consultant.  He described the elevator in the building where he stayed that was broken. It had been broken for months, as was obvious from the condition of the exterior.  But the problem had been 'solved.'  The management had put a sign on the elevator: "Reserved."

I am forever making more complicated solutions because I'm acknowledging that the problems are more complicated than I've solved for, so far.  This applies to the trade system, to my maps, to the combat system, to character development, to my world's structure, to climate and to anything else I can think of.  That is why I keep inventing new solutions to replace solutions that are already working; the working solutions are not yet solving enough of the actual problem to suit me.

Want to learn to DM?  Or do you just want to pretend to learn to be a DM?  Do you want the Type III class that will, after a lot of pain, make you a better DM?  Or do you want the Type I class that will make you feel like you're a better DM?

Let's experiment.  Let's try a Type III solution.  Let's try homework.  Here is what I propose: and anyone can do this, regardless of what genre you play, regardless of how long you've run, regardless of how you came to be a DM or what you hope to accomplish with your world building.  It won't matter if you run your own world or if you run modules you buy.  It won't matter if your world is serious or 'fun.'  But it will make you a better DM if you follow through.  Fair warning: following through is going to be a bitch.

Sorry, this isn't going to work if you haven't any players.  And it will work better if you have players with whom you've played more than five or six times.

Sit down and draft out a serious description of each player in your world as a human being.  Be honest, get into details, give at least two examples for every point you try to make about them and be as complete as possible.  Explain why you think they play in your world, what they get out of playing in your world, what they would get out of playing in someone else's world, what their goals are (both in game and out of game), what it would take to make them quit and whether or not you feel they contribute a little, a moderate amount or a lot to the general welfare of your campaign.  Write down any guesses you have about what your campaign would be like if this player stopped playing.  Do it for every player.  Take your time.  Write at least a thousand words for each player.  Two thousand would be better.  Four thousand and you're probably repeating yourself now.  Don't stop until you've written at least a thousand words.

I don't want to read it.  I don't want to see it.  I don't care if you write it down; turn on a cam and record your feelings about each player by voice.  The only important thing is that when you're done, go back and read it or listen to it the next day.  Then you can burn it or delete it, making sure your friends and players never, ever, ever see it.

Don't gripe.  Don't bitch about the amount of work.  You want to be a better DM?  You have to address this issue - because it is the hardest, least pleasant issue you will ever have to address as a gamer.  You play with these people.  What do you really think about them.  What do you think about yourself when you read your opinions the next day?  Do you still like yourself?  Can you look at yourself in the mirror?  Are you up to meeting these expectations and needs and desires that your players have?  Can you be?

I think probably you're afraid to even begin to contemplate doing this.  Christ, just starting is going to take you a week or a month.  That's because you don't really want to be a better DM.  You just want someone to say you are.

Is that the sort of class you want me to run?  Or are you ready to bleed?


Maxwell Joslyn said...

What's the homework for those with no players?

I'd do this exercise for those I last played with, a couple years ago, and who I'll likely be playing with again come this fall, but they've probably changed plenty as humans so I'd be working off half-remembered conceptions of who they used to be. Not fair to them.

JB said...

Ha! Just thinking about doing this for PAST players (haven't run any games since moving to Paraguay), made me cringe internally. Awesome.

I've always liked the Type III classes you describe. Unfortunately, I haven't had enough of them over the length of my life. Perhaps if I'd sought them out (rather than blundering into them) I'd be a different person today. All for it.
: )

Oddbit said...

I'm now imagining Alexis has a filing cabinet with dossiers on every player he's ever had. I mean, It's a cool thought. I'll try and remember to do this tonight. Work has a habit of distracting me from important things.

Alexis Smolensk said...


You must admit you are in an unusual situation, from what you've told me; and now you're in China - I think you said Haerpin.

On the subject of being a better dungeon master, I think you're unfortunately out of the immediate running; but there's room to discuss worldbuilding. Just not thinking in that framework just now. Please be patient.

Daniel Osterman said...

I have never particularly enjoyed the courses that did not make me bleed. This sounds fantastic.

Maliloki said...

Just starting to put this into anew "outline" made me realize why I don't play with my most recent group any more.

And why I miss my group before them that broke up because of distance...

Alexis Smolensk said...

Awareness is sobering, Maliloki.

Maxwell Joslyn said...


You're right, I'm certainly not in an environment where I can actually do Dungeon Mastering. I'll sit tight.