You're working on your new world, you're trying new things, you're thinking of all the stuff you'll add, you're looking forward to the evening when you'll run your first game. It's three weeks away, then it's two weeks. You're getting the details regarding the kingdom ready, you've finished writing the history, you're writing down some plot hooks and thinking about those monsters you wanted to add and now there's only a week left. There's an equipment list and some notes for character backgrounds and now there's just five days. All those details about the dungeon you've created and the time you've used to build up a new combat system based on the old one, so many hours gone to all those long-term projects and now the time is getting nearer for you to sit down with your new players and actually start the campaign. There's two days left, then it's tomorrow, then it's today.
Then afterward, the first running put to bed, you've just realized how much is left that you didn't really finish. You thought you had everything prepared but when the game came, you were scrambling and face-to-face with how many things weren't ready. Seems like they never are, but now it is worse, now there's a game coming next weekend, with things that need readying for it, so when will there be time to fix all those huge architectural elements that the world needs now? How can anyone manage both the week-to-week campaign and those things we need to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours on to make come out right?
I have had an inkling of an idea late, coming from a number of sources, originating with this talk from Astrid Atkinson of Google, discussing basically the principles of Yeats when he said that the center did not hold. Not that I'm arguing that the management of detail equates to the end of the world and the eventual rise of the Dark Lord, but I never actually thought Yeats was talking about that, either. I think fundamentally that the reality is that things inevitably threaten to break down, that no surety can exist; that the widening gyre is the ever-growing difficulty of any venture we are foolish enough to try.
Yeats wrote the poem following the first World War and it drips of despair, failure, the smashing of all things and the promise that far worse than this is still coming, Yeats' beast slouching towards Bethlehem. Yet as I have gone over this poem again and again in the past, I am met with the clarity that however inexorable Yeats' prediction might be, we continue to make the gyre, we struggle against its widening and we refuse to give into the obligatory doom the poem predicts, however much it looms before us.
Now, I know these are weighty themes for a post about not having enough prep done for game night. And I I know there are a few readers scratching their heads and wondering what I am on about. It is simply this: the question of "being ready" - is that not the measure of the DM? And is not the failure to be ready the boot that we use to kick ourselves, the certainty that not "being ready" will mean our players will abandon us and we'll know, at last, that we never were DMs, we were only pretending to be?
This is why I found myself thinking about the "long game" that Atkinson is on about; the acknowledgement that what we put in place today will be the thing that breaks us down the line, and how we must think today of what structures we want in place when another day in the future those gyres threaten to widen beyond our control.
The long game, I think, demands more than throwing hours at it. It demands a strategy. "I'm going to have a great world someday" isn't a strategy. Strategies are not made in the future, they are made in the present, to fix the problems that were created in the past. Strategies fail in the future . . . when it is too late and the beast is born. Those who wait for the future to produce the strategy they wish they could have are merely Yeats' midwives.
I have been thinking about this strategy thing of late: what a strategy for making a world and pulling together a party consists of, how to go about diagnosing what the strategy has to be, how to build a set of tactics for staving off the ill and encouraging the healthy in one's game. There's a book in that . . . if I can find enough hard data to support a worthy blueprint.
But hell. I'm already writing a book.