Thursday, March 28, 2024

When The Student Is Ready....

This afternoon's blog post prompted DM Escritoire to make the following comment:
I love it when one of the good guys goes off. Alexis was similarly inclined earlier this week.
Which, of course sent me over to the good Mr. Smolensk's blog to catch up on the last few posts I've missed (busy life...same old, same old). Here's what I read:
This is why I haven't written of late. Not because this shit is just recently out here, but because I've reached a point where the thing that I love, the thing that I have a passion for, has become the only thing for which the internet is a complete waste of my time. I don't know, maybe there are home renovators in the world who can no longer watch home renovation videos, or read home renovation books. Maybe there are knitting fanatics who would rather cut their throats before reading one more "Knitworld" magazine or watch one more amateur drop a stitch. Maybe that's how it is for other people. I don't know. I've done an awful lot of cooking. I'm not the greatest cook in the world; I don't think I'm the greatest DM either. Then again, I can watch a cooking video. I can still enjoy watching someone cut a watermelon into odd shapes. 

But I cannot watch another fucking video about D&D. Of any kind. I can't listen to anybody for more than about 20 seconds. I just want to scream.
There is more...much more. But mainly Alexis is simply giving voice to frustration...a frustration that I think (if I grok what he's writing) that I share. It is the same frustration that led me to pick up that stupid book in the game store Wednesday...the book of idiotic essays that set my teeth on edge and made me decide to write my own frigging "How To" book.

It's the frustration of wanting more knowledge about a thing (in this case, Dungeons & Dragons) and searching in vain for anything...any all. And finding nothing. Just...nothing. 

Because I've reached a point now,  in my life, in my calling (and please let me be clear: it is a Calling, I have accepted this, it is my calling to be a Dungeon Master, for whatever reason) where I know more about this game than all but a handful of people on this planet. A bold statement, an arrogant statement...but I'm pretty fucking convinced it's accurate. 

And I'm not even a great DM! When Alexis wrote:
I'm not the greatest cook in the world; I don't think I'm the greatest DM either.
It nearly echoed my planned introduction for the guide book:
"I do not profess to be a great DM; I simply admit to being a competent DM."
Competent. That's it. That's all I am. Google define's the word as:

"having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully"

That's it. I'm a competent Dungeon Master. I won't even profess expertise in other RPGs. Just D&D.

With regard to competence, I am not alone. There are a LOT of competent DMs out there...though probably not nearly as many as there should be...and I am one of them. And I am proud of that.

But when I say that my knowledge of this game exceeds that of all but a few people on this planet, I'm not talking about mere competence in the doing of something. I am a seeker: a seeker of knowledge, a seeker of more than the simple understanding of "how to be a DM." I want to know as much about this game as I can...I am constantly searching for new information, new understanding, new "stuff" to fill in the gaps and cracks of my comprehension.

And...there's just not that much out there. Not much that I haven't already pursued, purloined, and integrated. 

That's what I'm running up against; that's my frustration that (I think) matches, at least in part, something like what Alexis expresses. There's nothing more (or very, very little). I am a thirsty man unable to slake his parched throat...because my cup is already full.

It is time for me to stop searching for knowledge. I already have enough knowledge.

NOW, all that's left is to teach, to coach, to share what I know. Which I've already been doing...just informally. That's...small change. Small stakes. Not putting myself out there. Not submitting myself to true judgment and ridicule. 

To put it another way:

The apprentice is learning competence.
The journeyman has demonstrated competence.
The master can teach competence.

I have not yet (so far as I'm aware) taught ANYONE how to be a competent Dungeon Master. Not even my own children. I am my own estimation...a "master" DM; only a journeyman. Only a competent one. Which is still pretty groovy...I get to run solid D&D!...but I am Called to do more.

So silly. It's just a game. 

But what a game!

In other news: the Seattle Mariners dropped their opening day game to a TERRIBLE Boston Red Sox team tonight, 6-4, going 8 for 34 and drawing only one walk. Garbage. Per my usual tradition of the last couple years, I will refuse to wear any M's gear until they are above .500...maybe by Easter Sunday? We'll just have to see.


  1. Well, it may just be Sturgeon's Law at work: once you're competent enough to detect the 90% you get frustrated at not encountering the 10%? I wouldn't object to the theory that we all create (anything) because we can and desire to, and there's no shame in any of us creating crap, because the Law applies to us all, in some aspects of our lives. Being able to appreciate, and try and emulate, the 10% is the mark of a journeyman. Masters then emulate more often than anyone else. Something like that. Peace!

    1. I believe the urge to create (to express ourselves through an act of creation) is an integral and vital part of our nature as humans. And there are many possible mediums for us to express this creative urge...I do not fault anyone for choosing the gaming hobby as there means to do so, and if I seemed to imply such through either of my last two posts, then I apologize.

      My critique of some folks' creative expression is certainly not meant to stifle their creativity: it is a call to "do better." I am pointing out that the work is not done, that there is room for improvement, that something MORE is needed.

      I don't know if I buy Sturgeon's's a pretty broad, sweeping generalization, and the percentages of what is "quality" and what is not seem a very un-scientific, un-provable set of arbitrary numbers.

      But everyone who ever attempted an art or craft of creative expression could benefit from practice. And from critique. And from reflection and self-evaluation. And from honing their abilities in other areas that were directly applicable to what they were trying to accomplish. Everyone.

      That the MAJORITY of people are too lazy or too arrogant or too close minded or too obtuse or too ignorant to make use of these methods of improvement probably goes a lot farther to explaining WHY the majority of work in any given field is "crap."

    2. I don't know that Sturgeon actually measured anything, I just assumed he was exaggerating the point. But we all obviously discriminate good from bad, and your points about folks honing and practicing a craft are spot on. But for some it's just a pastime, and not a craft at all, and so their opinions of what makes a good DM are less valid than someone who has honed their craft. We can't all be masters (or journeymen even) at everything, but we all can have ill-formed opinions about a great many things, since it mostly requires ignorance (in the non-pejorative sense). Whether or not someone is willing to heed the criticism is up to them. Peace!

    3. The criticism is different for someone doing things as a pastime versus someone selling a book for $20 a pop.

  2. I'm a carpenter and I absolutely loathe home renovation videos. And tv shows. They were amusing for 6 months in 2005. I also don't watch D&D videos. Of any sort. If someone wanted to do a podcast talking about their homebrew setting, I might be interested. But the endless play videos, and review videos, and half-baked opinions

    1. I will sometimes listen to videos and podcasts while doing my normal routine. Sometimes they provide an insight or perspective into an aspect of gaming that is outside my sphere of knowledge. Other times, especially with small groups having a discussion, the discourse will help to crystalize my own thoughts on a particular subject...which may be different from what the stance they've taken (and, yet, help me to see my own perspective better in contrast).

      But I can't watch/listen to videos of actual game play. I've tried! More than once! For one thing, it's all terrible, terrible shit. It is worse than listening to someone regale the audience with "war stories" from their campaign, or their "awesome" ideas for a setting/adventure. All that is trash.

      I want theory...I want nuts-and-bolts. There's too little of THAT around, in my opinion.

  3. Replies
    1. Just finished reading it...thank you for taking the time.

      You're very right: writing is hard. I can see where it IS incredibly easy to fall into pitfalls of subjectivity...although, looking over my rough outline for the book, I have managed to avoid a lot of this (thankfully).

      But (*sigh*) not consciously. I have a lot to learn about purposeful writing.

      Still, I am determined. Fortunately, I think that whittling down my focus to factual certainty (well, as factually certain as I can make it) should at least make for a SMALLER book...though not any easier to write. But I want something that people will want to read, not grimace over and relegate to a dusty corner of their shelf.

      Again, Alexis, I thank you.

  4. I wish good luck with the project.

    I often think about that hopefully someday I will get to teach my kids to DM and what lessons I will impart on them. It's a little scarry to think there is a good chance that they will have no interest in one of the few things I am actually good at.

    1. Ha! I hear you and (once upon a time) had that same trepidation.

      Here's the thing, though: both my kids ARE interested in what I do, and I can see them emulate it in different ways (my daughter writes "books" for example, or my son drafting his own "RPG"). The funny thing is, that they BOTH have talents and abilities that *I* have never possessed: my son is a great athlete, for example, and my daughter has such a natural ability with the piano that she's banging out "Arabesque" from memory (I don't even play an instrument). And I CHERISH their gifts and try to nurture their passion for their own interests. That they happen to like "good ol' D&D" like their Old Man...that's just icing on the cake.

      FWIW (and just thinking of this now): I don't think I share ANY interests with my own father...besides a love of the Seahawks and an enjoyment of Spaghetti Westerns.That's a little sad...though I still love him immensely, and appreciate the positive lessons he passed on to me.

  5. I get this feeling far less as it is still really difficult (in 2024?! Yes, still in 2024) to find blog posts, articles, youtube videoes, and the like related to my interests - those being practically anything other than D&D but specifically the less mainstream games I play/run regularly.

    Lately I've been on a Japanese tabletop RPG kick again and its frustrating and awesome! It reminds me of when I first discovered Anime and Manga way back in 82-83. Hardly anyone knew about it in the States. It was this super cool secret thing that was simultaneously HUGE and almost completely unknown. Early RPGs in general were also like that. I felt (and still feel) like a real explorer, searching through a vast underground for treasured knowledge most American gamers aren't even aware of.

    Yours is one of the few D&D specific blogs (or anything else) I follow, largely for insights into 'how the other half lives', but also for musings like this one.

    Very interesting and thoughtful stuff JB.

    1. Thanks, BA: I appreciate the kind words. You're always welcome to voice your (often dissenting!) opinion on Ye Old Blog.
      ; )