Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning to DM

I've spent much of my life thinking about roleplaying games, more than anyone around me. So when I found a community of like minded folks, I came into it quite confident. I mean, I've dwelt in this tuff for years. You can probably tell it in the tone of my earlier posts. Heck, I think my first post to the Swords & Wizardry forum was a suggestion to change the way saving throws work. But after spending time reading the blogs of people who have been playing roleplaying games these thirty years, and especially after getting a chance to DM again, I feel quite humbled.

In play, I realized that some of the most commonly occurring situations- the simplest things- I didn't know how to handle, hadn't ever made rulings about.

Lately I feel reluctant to make any grand proclamations. I feel like listening instead of propounding. Which seems sort of a bad state to be in for a blog.

I think what I've learned in life about learning is that we have steep climbs, where we are learning a lot about a subject, almost faster than we can take it in, and plateaus where we coast along using what we've learned for a while (and subconsciously digesting it all). I think I'm on one of those steep climbs right now, learning tons. So that's cool, and exciting, but it makes me hesitant to make any claims to knowledge the way I was a few weeks ago.

I suppose this could still be useful to others in that you can observe me learning. And I think there are still insights I might offer up. Here's one: it seems there is a finite set of things you need to be able to handle in a roleplaying game, in fact, a very limited set. What I mean is that you will need to resolve who acts first, who hits or doesn't, what happens when the players head off into the wilderness, how will NPCs act, etc. That sounds trivial on writing it out, but it is profound to the student DM.

Once you feel comfortable with a ruling to deal with wilderness travel and encounters, for example, you are set. You may run across more efficient ways to handle this, more elegant or creative ways to handle this (and this is what blogs and forums are great for), but you won't need to worry "What will I ever do, if the players skip my dungeon and head off into the hills." Once you have your way to handle this, you can sit down at any table, with any group of players and feel confident about refereeing play.

Again, this all seems almost too trivial to write, but I remember my very first attempt at DMing, which was horrible, and was so for the very reason that there seemed to be infinite rulings that I might need to handle and infinite information I would need to know.

I think what I am writing is that I am starting to see the parts of being a DM, which is evidence of my learning. The way when you learn about something enough, it starts to click and it isn't all of a sudden a mass of confusing noise, but you can see the patterns and commonalities.

Another idea that just popped into my head is that DMs at different levels of experience will need very different tools. Which sounds obvious too, but I don't remember ever hearing anyone say "This is a great tool for an intermediate DM" or "This tool really shines for a beginner, but isn't worth it for an experienced DM."

So for a post that started as me saying I'm leery of propounding I'm certainly doing a lot of it, haha. But this last idea has caught my interest, so I think I'll move it to a new post so it doesn't get lost in my blah, blah, blah.

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