I've been thinking where I might pick up from this post and I think it is this: "before teaching can happen, there has to be some consensus on what ought to be taught."
Fair enough. It isn't an easy question, but this blog is about going head-on into the storm. So let's go head-on.
Teaching is the imparting of knowledge, which comes not from the opinion of an individual, or individuals, but from a shared, universal experience that everyone encounters when interacting with a particular thing. A large-mass object moving at sufficient speed has the capacity to cause a lot of damage. The speed and the amount of mass are important in this equation. It isn't necessary to accept anyone's opinion that this is true. Anyone can experiment with this principle, say, in a busy street, and quickly come to the same conclusion. This is how we know a particular thing is knowledge.
Picking a game at random, and following this thought, what can we say, with knowledge, about Dungeons and Dragons? What does everyone, regardless of personal opinion, encounter when participating in the game?
If we listen to opinion, we're sunk right here. Because people LIE. If we propose that the game is hard and difficult to play, some will say it isn't. If we propose that the game has the capacity to frustrate a DM, some will say it has never frustrated them. If we propose that the official rules or description of the game is clumsy and hard to understand, some will say they have no problem with either. In part, this happens because people resist admitting to any faults, either in the game or themselves; and in part because some people just want to muddy the water.
Then, if we will say anything about the game, we must rely upon reason and consistency. To do that, we must begin with first principles ~ and, if possible, principles that cannot be rationally disputed.
To begin, our 1st Axiom is this:
The Player and the DM have different roles to play while participating in the game, and therefore must be considered independent of each other with regards to game play.
We can argue all day about what those roles are or how they are different, but we must admit elementally that they ARE different: and anyone who disputes that sounds like a bloody idiot.
True to philosophic principles, the 2nd Axiom must be deduced from the first, without depending upon assumption. And so it does:
The principal conflict in game play arises from the discontinuity of the Player's agenda from the DM's agenda.
And again, so it does. We can argue how the conflict manifests, or what the agenda's are, or how the conflict is the heart and soul of the game, but we cannot not rationally argue that these agendas do not conflict. They obviously do.
So from this we propose a 3rd Axiom:
Since the conflict between Player and DM is as much a matter of Out-of-Game participation as it is In-Game participation, it is consistently difficult to separate "Real-Life Conflicts" from "Game Conflicts," as these tend to bleed into each other, so that they are mistaken for one another.
D&D, and all RPGs, are profoundly unique in this regard. Because participants are being both themselves and someone or something that is not themselves, throughout the conflict, distrust arises when any participant feels that the "Character" that is being run is actually concealing a "Personal" slight, or when a participant feels that the "Personal" entreaty by one of the participants is actually a "Character" conflict.
And that sentence makes no sense whatsoever unless you have played D&D, at least a fair bit.
What I'm arguing here is that D&D is, at it's core, a mechanism for creating distrust. As a DM, I am both fucking with the minds of my players, AND showing concern for my players well-being as human guests at my table, at the same time, and this is truly, thoroughly, 100% expected by the players, to the point that if I was not fucking with them at least a little bit, they would be bored.
In How to Run, I equated this to the magician's performance; we might think of it as a magician-audience contract. As an audience, we know the magician is intentionally misleading us; and we want the magician to do it! If the magician does not do it well, we would not be happy.
However, if the magician were a house-guest, and used the same skills to shift things around the house, or out of our pockets and into that of the magician's, there's no contract and we would absolutely, and rightly, be furious.
When playing D&D, as a Player, we're fine with our characters being deliberately given misinformation, or led down a dangerous path, or even corralled and railroaded for a time ... so long as we don't get a whiff that the DM is doing any of this out of a personal vendetta for our personal character. Once we think that might be happening, like the magician, we feel that a certain contract has been broken and we are, as before, furious.
D&D, however, unlike the magician's stage, is much more subtle ... and much more easily misunderstood, by both Players and DM. That "whiff" can easily appear inaccurately in the mind of any of the participants. If expressed, rightly or wrongly, it can lead to a parade of denials, followed by more accusations and more denials, all of it built on a feeling that the real contract has been broken and ~ though there may be no proof ~ trust with it.
To teach DMing, then, is to teach trust. How to gain it, how to hold it, how not to destroy it once it has begun to tenuously take hold in a campaign. Early trust is very fragile, very easily shattered. Trust that has been built over years is virtually impossible to breach. Hard-earned trust enables the DM to play really spectacular tricks on a party's imagination ... but it must be earned with hard, hard work. It cannot be managed in a weekend, or a three-hour session.
When we sit down to consider what D&D is, or how to improve ourselves, we spend so much of that time thinking about stories and adventures, about dungeon encounters and devious tricks ... but we think so little of gaining trust. Games have to be simple, because a simple game is the most a typical player will trust.
Some DMs talk about "good players" and "bad players." Much of this has to do with player who will easily trust us, and players who won't. Some of the best players are "bad players" who fight and chafe against every decision ... because they feel, in their bones, that the DM hasn't earned the complicity the DM associates with "good players."
I don't say there aren't bad players. But perhaps we should make a second distinction, between "easy players," who don't take much work, and "difficult players," who can take a great deal of work.
Difficult players can't be cajoled with a few trinkets. They want more. They want to believe they can trust us. We need to work on the skills that give us the ability to make them trust us. And, in turn, we need to each ourselves what sort of players deserve our trust, too.
Because we are not in this together, DMs and Players. We are in this Apart. We don't want the same things. We're not meant to want the same things. But we must trust each other, and we must earn that trust.
Then we can play well.