Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Dozen Eggs

I'm not surprised that no one stepped forward to take me up on Tuesday's challenge.

(Connor Mackay updated his blog since I wrote this line for this post, so I have to include his effort.  Well done, Connor)

I'm equally certain, however, that people stopped and thought about it, finding almost immediately that it is nearly impossible to express some way to "be better" as a DM without using a meaningless phrase like, "I'd like to handle my players better" or "I'd like my game to be more interesting."  The reality is, beyond vague and altogether useless gestures, most of us haven't a clue how to even express wanting to be a DM.

The 'sacrifice' is worse.  Sacrifice?  For a game?  What am I talking about?

I wrote the post as 'an exercise' primarily to lend dimension to the problem.  I wrote a book on How to Run that is full of useful advice and insight and perspective . . . but it isn't the sort of thing where you'll come out the other side transformed.  That's because - as the book itself says - the transformation is something that takes time, work and experience.  That is without question the book's theme.

And this is what I mean by 'sacrifice' . . . and to make it clearer I'll torture a metaphor.  Let us suppose that all the energy we have, all the time, all the skill, all the knowledge, all the power we personally have amounts to, oh, three dozen eggs.  Let's further conjecture that we have thousands of empty baskets into which we could put those eggs - professions, arts, family, offspring, invention, innovation, what have you.  Let's say that each basket will hold up to our total number of eggs.

Now, it doesn't matter that someone else has more ability than us - the eggs are not expressions of the amount of our energy, they are divisions of that energy.  We have 36 divisions.  This isn't a question of our supply, this is a question of our application.

It's up to us.  We can put 36 eggs into 36 individual, different baskets - but we have to know that each basket is going to look pretty pathetic with one egg rolling around inside.  Even if we put two eggs in 18 different baskets, that's still going to be a little sad - and worse, two eggs rolling around in our sized basket have a greater chance of breaking than one egg.

Fact is, as we add eggs into a basket, we actually increase the chance of an egg breaking . . . that is, until we get to the point where there are enough eggs that the number actually disallows rolling around and the basket is stable.

Let's call this moment of stability "experienced."

It's going to take at least ten eggs to reach that point.  Effectively, that's going to limit the number of baskets you can stabilize to three.  Four if you're willing to allow some risk.  Five baskets, however . . . well, you're going to risk a lot.

Well, what is all this risk I'm talking about?  Think of it this way.  We're of almost no value to anyone until you're experienced at something.  Until then, we're actually more dangerous than a person who knows jack shit - that's because we think we're experienced when in fact we're just an asshole with seven eggs rolling around in our basket, waiting for an accident.  We all know these people - they manage to get work at construction sites or they're given driver's licenses; some of them even manage to convince themselves to run for president.  We call them 'dumbasses.'  They're people who have spread themselves too damn thin where it comes to getting good at anything.  They've put their eggs into too many baskets.

Through history, there has been a sort of celebration of people who spread their eggs around - we all know the term: "jack-of-all-trades"; "Renaissance man."  Only thing is, virtually all historical examples (and those are rare indeed) are people who still excel at only one or two things.  Leonardo da Vinci, the most famous Renaissance man (at least, for having a lot of different baskets), actually spent most of his time wallowing around like an idiot, living off the grace of his friends and starting projects that went nowhere.  Virtually everything he "did" was theoretical and in fact inevitable, followed up and perfected by people who put MOST of their eggs in one basket.  A fantastic painter, we don't in fact have many paintings to Da Vinci's credit.  Of what else he did, we have mostly models, notes, whatever we could save.  Not much finished work.

We have to realize that in our lives, every decision we make is an egg put somewhere.  Get married, that's a basket; have a child, that's another.  Decide to spend one night of your week getting drunk or watching live basketball, that's another egg.  Nothing wrong with that; everyone's entitled.  But it's an egg and when it is put in that basket, it can't be in another basket, too.  You've only got so many eggs.

Now, if we try to put too many of your eggs into a basket that no one considers useful, if we are an expert it isn't going to do us a lot of good.  In How to Run, I talked about applications that D&D has taught me . . . things that made it possible to get a good job.  Not a great job, mind you; but reasonable, somewhat interesting, worth the trip.  'Course, getting a job means putting eggs into that basket - and taking them out of some other basket.

We have kids and they grow up and we get those eggs back.  We do well at work and we need to work less and we get some of those eggs back.  Mostly, though, we're always a little too thin, always short on eggs and long on baskets - and something is always on the edge of breaking.

If we're going to get better at DMing - for this was the point - we're going to have to take an egg from somewhere.  Sorry, that's just how it is.  If we're not willing to sacrifice that basket, make it a little shakier, risk a little or give up one of the little pleasures some other basket offers, then we're not going to be better DMs.  We're not actually going to be better at ANYTHING, where it comes to that, because everything asks for eggs and there are never enough . . . but for the moment, this being a D&D blog, we're talking about DMing.

That's the sacrifice.  Where are we willing to take eggs from?  Our family?  Our job?  Our opportunities for a better education?  The night we play hockey and the day after we need to recover?  From where?

Me, I've been taking it from virtually everywhere from the beginning.  Yes my job and my opportunities for a better education.  I could have been a professor, I could have gone the route of ambition and marketing, I could have applied my maths and my rigor to things that would have made me more money.  Instead I put a lot of my eggs into my family and my circumstances - and far, far too many eggs into D&D.

Oh, don't worry.  My bed is made.  I'm just saying, to now, this has been the practice.  This ludicrous world that is outlined on the wiki and the blog represents a sacrifice that - let's face it - the mass majority of you will never, ever make.  Good on you!  It takes a true idiot to get this deep into something this useless.

But don't pretend that you're not depriving your DMing basket for things that are equally useless or equally damning after it happens you've done those things for 35 years.  Most of you reading this haven't lived 35 years; you don't know yet what prices you're going to have to pay for keeping your favorite baskets rolling with eggs for almost four decades.  But you will.  If you're lucky enough to live that long.

Oh, and here's a truth on that to think about - it always seems like a good idea at the time.  Always.

But all this and I'm not answering the question.  Well, I will.  I'll describe my five changes and my five sacrifices or eggs . . . but not, I'm afraid, to be a better DM.  I've already done that.  I'm more or less feeling that I'm as good a DM as I ever need to be.  Rest assured, however.  I'll never take all the eggs out of this basket.  This basket will always have at least a dozen.


JB said...

"It takes a true idiot to get this deep into something this useless."

All I can say is thank goodness there are folks like you willing to make the sacrifice for the craft. There's a lot of relatively 'useless shit' people can choose for their focus that are still life-enriching. Your work on D&D benefits the rest of us schlubs in a way that the slickest of Habro production values can't.

Doug said...

Tuesday's post was interesting, and as I started delving into the questions, the eggs in my baskets stubbornly refused to be moved. It is the nature of my life in this season that such things happen. Fall and winter are much better for my gaming because the number of baskets decreases.

Still, I came up to the first question and decided being able to lie to my players is something I am deficient in. My normal response to address a skill is practicing it, but lying isn't something I really want to be able to do. And yet I'm about to go out and potentially buy a car tonight, so I will be forced into a situation where keeping a straight face and knowing the rules/tells is most beneficial.

It's been an interesting mental conversation I've had with myself as I gear up to interact with professional sales people.