As before, actual game play of RPGs does not require preparation. The rules are all there to allow people to sit down, roll up characters, posit the existence of monsters, dungeons or wilderness places and just start creating a joint-narrative in an utterly improvisational manner. The single drawback to this approach is not that the game does not work, or that it isn't fun, but rather that repeated efforts to be improvisational without preparation soon become repetitive. My creativity is limited to what I can think up in the immediate moment. I haven't the time to build complex ideas, or research an idea in a manner that might lead to a discovery, or make a detailed plan of my intentions. Others are waiting. And when they speak, when they improvise, I am waiting. So after a time of playing, we're limited in our "fun" to those moments where some spark of genius has momentarily touched a given player ... and because these moments are transitory and rare, we grant them far, far more importance that we would otherwise if we were to compare them with a methodical effort at creativity.
We've all heard stories from players who talk about how something happened and it was SO funny, or SO clever. Because we are not limited in our time to reflect upon these stories when we hear them, the stories are rarely as funny to us, or as clever to us, as they seem to be to the teller. This is how improvisation of the immediate lowers the bar for what is considered to be "good" play.
We can create better play if we can take advantage of preparedness ~ the time spent in preparing for an adventure can vastly improve the quality and intricacy of that adventure. One of the best ways of creating time is to take advantage of resources.
A resource is any source or supply of work that has been compiled by ourselves or by others over time, which we are not required to "know" ourselves so long as we can access the material quickly, similar to the way we access our memories. Instead of simply remembering, our senses locate a sought for passage and the resource gives us the information for our use.
The most commonly used form of resource for an RPG is an adventure module, purchased so that we may have the hours of work that someone has invested so that we can reproduce that investment in the time it takes to read the material, either to ourselves or out loud to others. It is presumed that such modules produce better material than we would ourselves, because they are created by talented persons with lots of experience, and most participants in RPGs would agree very strongly with that presumption. It is possible, of course, for a DM to invest their own time to create their own module, but failed attempts and lack of experience soon convinces most DMs that it isn't worth the effort to learn how to do this, since so many modules already exist on the market and it is easier to exchange money for expertise than one's own time.
Another major resource is the collection of rule books. These often form the basis for some inspiration, but are more important for keeping track of rules that we couldn't possibly remember, except for the moment in the game when they become important. This does require a motivation to look up the rule ... and many participants don't bother, because even that would be time spent that they feel would undermine the pacing of their game.
Even the least creative DM will have notes that can be checked, if the time has been taken to make them. Simple to complex maps can be drawn to keep track of the party's location. A diagram or a symbol can be produced upon demand, not only by the DM but also by the players, who may wish to elaborate their characters with backstories, icons, crests or other details. Many players will draw out castles or other buildings they would like to bring to life. In a strong sense, all of these things are resources.
These resources pale to the immense resource that is the Internet, with all human knowledge available with the touch of a few keys and the wherewithal to read what's written. Need to calculate an area, or identify the pieces of a suit of armor, or determine the effects of electricity in water, or find the name of a character from a given fable, or measure the force of wind, or even look up any detail connected with actual RPGs of every stripe? It is all there on the internet, whether in open source documents or pirated material if the user so wishes. None of this content is necessary to game play. None of it was there when I began playing in 1979. At best, we might turn to the library, or our own books on shelves, but of course we did not play next to a library that contained every piece of knowledge. And yet because none of it is necessary, most participants of RPGs do not even play with a computer on their game table, sometimes as a political proof that play is better without this inexhaustible resource. We need to question the veracity of such claims, and wonder exactly what is gained by having less material with which to play, or less knowledge, or less hands-on help in the form of scientific, practical or imaginative literature. We are often asked, if on a desert island, what book would you take with you? Here we are asking, if you had all the books in the world with you, would you read them?
Turning to a resource has the side effect of educating ourselves, which is the point of research that we spoke of in the last class. However, education differs from research in one key way.
This is the process of facilitating learning in others, or in having others facilitate learning in ourselves. We speak often of "educating ourselves," but this is nothing more than allowing the creators of texts to teach us ... and so the key mental condition that applies with education is the willingness to humble oneself with the acknowledgement that another person, whether in person or through some form of media, knows more about a thing than we do. Education is a means by which we allow others to change our minds ... and in turn, we set out to change the minds of others who humble themselves to our expertise.
Put that way, it is easy to see how easily education can be misused to put inaccurate positions and ideas into the heads of those who have humbled themselves to the educator. If a person approaches you, and asks you to explain how something works, it is a tremendous responsibility to give them accurate information. The reverse might serve you as educator just as well, but it will cripple your student. Not only does it fail to provide the student with the necessary knowledge to succeed at whatever he or she might desire, it also requires that they pass through a disruptive and unpleasant period of unlearning the lies they've been taught, before they can set about learning things that will help them in life. That is why an abusive educator, one who will tell lies and do so for their own pleasure (for they know the truth and are not harmed by the lies), is perhaps the greatest force for evil in our society.
So it has ever been the case ... which is why there has always been an effort to give validation to places and persons of education, to ensure that wrong education is not received in place of right education.
As a DM, I want to receive education from others to be a better DM. But I also want to take it upon myself to teach others around me to be better participants in the game, just as I have learned to be. It is enough, for game purposes, to merely dungeon master players. But a better game environment, a better experience all around, can be obtained through the process of educating the players to more effectively run in the DM's world. It is beholden upon the DM to recognize that the world is a product of an individual and the resources that individual chooses, and is therefore alien in large degree to the players of that world, even if they have known the DM for a long time. There is nothing wrong with making suggestions to the players, or explaining one's motivations, if that effort is put towards increasing the player's effectiveness at navigating the game world at hand. To do otherwise, either through inaction or by deliberately undermining the player's potential to succeed, through false information, is a malicious act. The players deserve to have all the tools that are available at their disposal. Education by the DM can provide that.
We will discuss this further in a later class, once some of these base tenets become more familiar. With our next class we will be talking about practice and rehearsing.