I have considered the possibility of Dungeon Mastering being taught as a fine arts course, and from that consideration has grown a picture in my head that I'd like to share. The scene, if you will, is similar to drama courses I once took. We have a large room with a black floor, made gray with the dust from people's shoes. There are benches arranged in tiers along one wall, where up to sixty persons might sit and watch the proceedings. The ceiling is 12 feet high, without any panels to soak up the sound, with an open framework where spotlights might be hung and pointed at a performance. Ducts, pipes and vents, along with the outer walls of the room, are painted black to give the illusion of greater space. There are no windows. In the middle of the floor is a large table, with five chairs arranged around it. One chair is isolated from the others. On this chair sits a 'master in training.' The other four chairs have 'players in training.' On successive days, the participants change roles in order to each experience the game from differing points of view, playing all possible character classes as well as adjudicating the game.
A group of ten other students sit on the benches awaiting their turn. In a 90-minute class, three groups will each participate for 30 minutes; the remaining time is spent watching, learning and not speaking.
Circling the table where the students participate is the professor, called the 'Director' to emphasize the performance aspect of the game. He holds a yardstick menacingly. He watches the students with the vicious patience of a bird of prey, descending upon their errors with the emotion that ... well, that I remember my acting coaches and performance directors having. In particular one Mr. Phil Edie, loathed, feared and - by some of us - greatly loved.
We worked very hard for him.
DM: You find yourselves in a small, quiet town on the edge of the Kingdom of Yarl. Beyond the fields of the town begins the area of wilderness known as the -
Director: Why have you put them there? (student begins to explain and is cut off) No! It is the worst sort of cliche! It shows no sign of thought whatsoever. You must awaken the players. You must invest them into the game from the beginning. If you do not give them something purposeful to do, they will drift from the game and despise you! Make them feel alive and they will reward you. Choose another setting and start again.
DM: (closing his eyes and taking a few breaths) The town is not quiet, it is large and busy and is right now experiencing the effects of a nearby volcano, which is dropping bombs of acid-infused rock among the citizens. The lava is beginning to flow through the streets ...
Director: What are you doing!? (Catches his breath, appears to be suffering from a heart attack) No, no, no, NO! You are railroading the party. You're giving them only one possible response ... they might as well not even be playing the game! Is that what you want? To make them puppets on your string? You must never, ever do this! They must be allowed to choose their own destiny, and that does not begin with the crisis as it is ongoing! Did they not have an opportunity to move and choose their lives before the actual eruption of the volcano? Not to speak of the simple truth that you have chosen an event that is hardly likely to happen to any person in the whole of their lives! This makes it precious, a worthy experience to be built up to, not to be exploited like a cheap magician's trick. You must not weaken your own presentation by grabbing for the climax at the beginning. These are players who have not yet met your world. There must be introductions. There must be formalities. Invest them slowly. Now, again!
DM: (clearly rattled) You meet each other together on a road. It is ... a crossroads. During the course of an evening you arrive one by one, deciding to rest there while it becomes dark ...
Director: Good. Continue.
DM: Getting to know one another.
Director: (turning to the benches) At this point a poor group of players will waste time with fruitless words about how this elf would not speak with this dwarf or how their character is a lone wolf or some other banter while it is quite clear that they will be together as a party because this is the game. I want it understood that this nonsense will not happen in this class. (hammers end of the ruler upon the floor) If you will learn anything it is that we are not mawkish children making poor jokes to emphasize our own importance! (looks back at the DM) Continue.
DM: You agree to set a watch through the night in pairs for safety, and since none of you have any animosity for the others -
Director: Be careful in dictating the characters of the players; they may take no direct action, but yet have animosity. Allow the players to decide their emotional states. Continue.
DM: Pardon me. The night passes without incident between you four ... (brightening as something is thought of) ... but one thing does happen. Throughout the night a small herd of cattle moves towards you.
Player 1: How many?
DM: There are nine that you can see.
Player 1: Nine is not much of a herd.
Director: Do not quibble. It wastes time. Continue.
DM: The cattle sleep much of the time but slowly gravitate towards the crossroads.
Player 2: We keep an eye on them.
DM: As the sun begins to rise, you can't help noticing the cattle have no one tending them.
Player 3: Where is this crossroads? What's the land like? Pastures and farmland?
DM: Neither. All four of you can testify to there being no nearby manor house, nor farm, nor known pasture in any of the four directions you've come.
Director: Excellent. Continue.
DM: The land is sort of a bottom land, with one road following the course of the small stream and the other cutting across the low valley. The ground off the road is a little soggy. The cattle's feet are sinking into it.
Player 1: So who do the cattle belong to?
DM: You don't know. They -
Director: Stop. You've said enough. Let the players ask questions. Do not give more information than is necessary.
(a long pause as the players look at each other without speaking, or being certain what to do)
Come then, put yourselves in the position. You are in a medieval setting, the cattle represent a measure of property, which at present appears to be unclaimed. What do you do?
Player 4: Steal them?
Director: Avoid assumptions. You are not certain at this time that they belong to anyone. You must think in the terms of someone in that situation. You would not say 'steal,' which is reserved for actively arresting the cows from a herder. You would say -
Player 4: Take them.
Player 2: Are they tame?
Director: No. This cannot be learned from looking at them. The DM should not answer questions of this nature. (to the player) You must ask a question which can be answered with your eyes, or take an action which gives information in some other way. (to the DM) You must not give information that they cannot know given the effort they have made thus far. (to all the players) What must you do to determine if the domestication of the cattle?
Player 1: Go towards them.
Director: Do not tell me, tell the DM!
Player 1: We go towards the cattle.
Director: NO! Do not decide the actions of the other players! Speak only in terms of what your character does. Nothing more. You cannot decide ahead of time what others will do. You may either ask them to go with you, or go alone. Continue.
Player 1: I go towards the cattle. What happens.
DM: The cattle remain peaceable. They seem tame.
Director: Very good. Continue.
That's enough I think, to get across the idea. Carl, you may have something there. I could see this being an effective training in performance technique, both from the point of view of players and DM. A class like this would rankle me, but I can see how keeping at it would improve me ... if nothing else it would help cut down on the sloppiness of my delivery, which does tend to degrade if I'm not full of energy and crisp of mind.
I suppose some would find the occasional thing the Director attacked as something not deserving of attack. And I think that probably people wouldn't like him very much. I never attended a drama class that didn't have a few people who were there because they thought drama would be "fun." They failed to recognize that entertainment is a very hard, very unforgiving industry, evident in the acidity of reviews and the often outright condemnation by sitting audiences, particularly while the performance is going on. People who in their normal habit of living would argue that the greatest virtue is compassion have no compunction whatsoever about booing performers who have not put in the time and effort to achieve anything less than a brilliant performance, nor a writer who has made the mistake of being only mildly humourous.
Fun is Work. When there has been no work, it is not fun. D&D often gets away with it because the people sitting around the table are friends, and being friends we make our own fun. But then it is not the D&D, is it? So how can you claim to love the game if you will not suffer for it?