Thursday, January 8, 2009

Life is a (Blog) Carnival: Resolutions and Understandings of a Hopeless DM

I have attempted to write this blog post several times without coming off as snooty. Perhaps it is the sickness which has curtailed most of my writing efforts for the past weeks, or perhaps it is just the cloudiness of the medications which are getting me through said sickness, but I find it difficult to deliver this piece of flotsam advice in a manner becoming of the true gist of the whole piece. Mostly this came from sitting in bed discussing gaming with a friend across the world online at the moment when 2008 drew to a close.

I was bedridden (and remained so until yesterday) and miserable, and they were fighting off a considerable amount of alcoholic bliss to continue the discussion. We discussed the GG Blog, a couple of other pieces, the newest things in various editions and rulesets... then we began to discuss a horrific DM experience which my friend had had in his travels. We'll not discuss the horrors of said experience too deep . . . suffice to say, it was bad enough that I became woozy and ill-at-ease from laughing too hard at 1 in the morning. We both wondered why DMs suck so badly these days, and why there are so few 'good gamers' out in the hinterlands with the spread of the Internet and its bounty of information.

The next day I had my resolution; I will convert a group of players to competent DMs in the next year. I will take a group of players who seem to be the worst, most despicable 'Bad News Bears' group of ne'r-do-wells in the history of gaming and I will turn at least half of the group into solid DMs.

And here's why it will never work . . .

Learning to be a good DM doesn't start in a vacuum. It doesn't start with your first game, and it doesn't start with someone telling you all of the secrets of the process. I could write a hundred articles on this blog and have it be more popular than Google . . . yet I cannot make any individual reader a better DM than they themselves want to be. I feel I lucked out in my gaming experience, as I would guess most allegedly good DMs would attest, and had a perfect storm of good, reliable players, great DMs, and a location which was fit for play at the worst of times and amazingly suited for gaming at the best.

Environment can produce great DMs, but it also takes a lot of work. For every good session I run I had probably ten horrific, pre-teen nightmare wish fulfillment games that I either played in or (to my horror in admittance) DM'ed in my younger days. For every good artifact or backstory I've probably burned through a hundred poor, ill-fitting, or just silly ideas. I utilize tropes, backwards concepts, archaic gaming jargon and styles . . .

but I learned at the heels of giants. Guys who were unrepentant destroyers of PCs, whose various story arcs could inspire madness just in their labyrinthine twistings and turnings. I had the luck of spending a couple of years with a safety net, a couple of campaigns of being a co-DM to some of the worst PC beatdowns I have seen to this day.

And that doesn't really exist anymore. In this gaming culture there are too many players, DMs, and writers who believe that everything just comes together. Decades of experience behind me, I can tell you that if that were the case most of the bloggers on RPG topics would be sitting on gold-plated thrones dispensing wisdom via ruby-keyed laptops while sipping the finest colas from chalices shaped like d12s.

I own none of these things, and it saddens me.

My Resolution is to form a new group, bringing in some of the best players and DMs I can find, and then indoctrinating some of these new players into the ways of the old. And then, maybe, showing these snowflakes a little of how it's done.



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