Saturday, August 20, 2011

Creativity can't be taught. Yeah so what!

Hill Canton's Building a better GM got me thinking further on how I got to the point where I am today in refereeing and writing for RPGs.

It is accurate to say that people are born with an artistic talent or not. That if you don't have it in you no amount of practice and study is going to allow you to match the top performers in a particular art or craft.

But it is irrelevant. Because you are not in competition for a publisher's slot, or a role of a lifetime for a movie. The only person you need measure your creativity against is yourself. And there are a hell of a lot of things you can do make yourself more creative today than you were the yesterday.

I know everybody can learn to be a good referee, if they have the interest. I also know that it is not always apparent that a person will be a great referee at first. Sure some just pick up the dice and books and never look back. But for many it is more of a matter of playing and learning until that day comes when it all comes together for them.

How I know that? Because that my story. I have a learning disability in language skills. When I was six years old, I had scarlet fever. Afterwards my doctors found that I suffered a 50% hearing loss because a chunk of my nerves got burned away or something like that. And it isn't a 50% decrease in volume either. It 80% at one frequency and only a 20% loss at another. So they figured out my hearing profile and I got hearing aids.

Then later they found the really sucky part, apparently it just didn't get my nerves, it hit where it they entered my brain. It takes me two or three times as long compared to a normal person to learn speech, writing, spelling . Also it made learning foreign languages a long drawn out process. All throughout school my scores were like 90% math, 100% science, 100% history, and then 60% English.

So in the middle of all this comes Dungeons & Dragons. Which I am sure you all realize by now is something I really like. And if there is one activity that needs language skills, that activity is Dungeons and Dragons.

It was not the only thing driving my improvement in language, I have my mother to thank for much of it. She was a teacher for several decades and she really helped me. But Dungeons & Dragons provided that extra boost for me to keep going even after I moved away from home and was on my own. And I kept writing year, after, year, over decades. And I am still not finished. All of you reading this blog have seen dropped words, misspellings, switched letters. All I can do is keep practicing and make sure my published material is not edited just once, or twice, but several times. I have Tim of Gothridge Manor to thank for helping a lot with that.

Because of the hearing loss, I struggled with running a game. It was hard, and while hearing aids helped it is a not a universal antidote. The main issue is that I can hear certain voices better than others. For me running a tabletop is a challenge. At one time I had a tape of the "The Great Party Fight." I had two groups of players at the same AD&D game. The groups had a history of backstabbing and were always threatening each other. I was getting kind of fed up with the trash talk so for this session I instituted the rule that what you say is what your character does.

Well I thought the player said "I backstab him with the sword." So I told him to roll and the party proceeded to kill each other. It just so happened we recorded the session and when we played the tape back, what the player really said was "I ought to backstab him with the sword".


Because of my hearing loss I really had to play attention to the way I referee. Which lead to me thinking about how to prepare, run adventures, interact with my players, and all the other things that make up a successful campaign. I also learned that it not a one size fits all deal. Depending on the genre, situation and players, different techniques need to be used. Roleplaying is a young hobby, we only scratched the surface of what you can do with it or how teach it.

If I can learn to be a good referee, I don't see why anybody can't either.


matt said...

Having played with many people over the years I would have to say that GMing might be something that people can learn but to be great at it, I think it just takes a certain natural skill. Natural yes, but one that needs to be tweaked and perfected.
At work I have had many people comment over the years that I have a certain ability to logically BS on the fly, and make it completely reliable and believable. Where did I get this? Got me, but my years and years as a GM (I count about 28 now) helped me with this. When players did something unexpected what did I do? I made a convincing, and seemingly planned, BS narration and rolled with it.
So how do you do it? A little natural skill. And how do you become great? Practicing that skill, just like any other skill.

Carter Soles said...

Really unique story, thanks for sharing it. I myself am a big "ham" and orchestrator of things, so DM'ing seemed instinctual for me. Yet there absolutely IS a learning process by which we all go from just "being a DM" to "being a pretty decent DM" to "being a good DM" -- and that process takes experience and time, whatever our individual limitations.

Alex Osias said...

I was going to disagree with "Creativity can't be taught", but I understand your more detailed explanation...

...And yet talent alone is not enough. There are extremely talented people who, if they don't practice or hone their abilities, find themselves eventually eclipsed by those of moderate talent who work ceaselessly and intelligently to improve their skill.

Eldrad Wolfsbane said...

I also had Scarlett Fever as a child and after that my grades dropped and never came up. I think that I am still damaged from it to this day.

Telecanter said...

Amen, my brother. They say the same thing about poets: can you teach it? is it a gift?

You know, even if it was we don't know who has the gift and have to teach everyone the best we know how. So, no reason for all of us not to keep striving, trying to reach our own potentials. Thanks for the post.