RPGaDay2020 Day 17: Comfort – how often do/should you push yourself out of your comfort zone?

The RPGaDay2020 prompts in a map by dunroaminpress

Yesterday in RPGaDay2020 I discussed making your descriptions dramatic.

Today the theme is Comfort, and I’d like to look at Comfort zones.

Everything is challenging to start with – think about your first day at school, or your first driving lesson, or your first time creating a D&D character and wrestling with those strange dice and what ability scores mean, and how to decide what to become proficient in, or your first time stepping behind the GM’s screen and trying to lead a table of players in a good time.

Over time and with familiarity, what was challenging becomes easier, and you gain confidence in your abilities, more of the knowledge is at your fingertips, so you can do things more easily and quickly with less floundering.

This progresses until you find you barely need to think about what to do – you are so familiar that the responses come naturally. In D&D terms, you know how to make an ability check without thinking about, and how to hit, and how initiative works, and which weapons work best in which situations.

So you level up. And at key levels, each class gains new abilities to play with, although you’re building on the existing abilities so it’s less of a jump. But trying out the new abilities is still taking you (and probably your GM as well…) to a place you’re no longer completely confident.

But you no longer have that adrenaline rush of living on the edge of your ability, unsure whether you have what you need or can make use of it. So what can you do?

As a player, maybe you try a different class. Move on from fighter or barbarian to something with spells – a cleric, say, or a warlock or sorcerer. Or the ultimate challenge – the wizard. Or maybe move to the Monk with its ki points. Again the levelling brings you in gradually as the additional skills start small and then ramp – only a few spells to start with, increasing with level as you gain familiarity. Still, the greater frailty brings different challenges and requires different tactics.

Another option is to move to a different race – a demi-human, or a minotaur or birdfolk or catfolk or drow. Each brings different abilities and weaknesses which require further learning.

Another option is to move behind the screen and become a GM. Now you’re back (almost) to square one. Rather than knowing one class and its abilities inside out, you now need to know how to play the classes of all the NPCs, and how to play the monsters, and what all your players’ characters can do. And you have to create (or at least read and understand) a story, and learn how to present it to the players so they can engage with it, and how to adjudicate ambiguous situations, and how to come up with DCs for ability checks, and how to improvise NPC conversations, and how to keep the momentum going, and…you get the idea.

But then after a while, it all becomes more natural and you get into the swing of it. So maybe it’s time to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone again.

Or is it?

There’s a downside to pushing yourself all the time. In fact several downsides.

The key problem is that when you’re on the edge with something you don’t fully understand, all your attention is taken up with the newness, and you can’t pay attention to doing the best job.

An example from my other hobby, Scottish Country Dancing. SCD is normally social dancing, but sometimes people perform, and when they do there is a tendency to pick complicated dances and work them together into a complicated medley. This might be appropriate if the people watching are other Scottish Country Dancers at a dance festival, for example, but in the main the performances are for the general public who aren’t familiar with what they’re watching and wouldn’t know an Allemande from a Tourbillion. In this case, it’s much better to use simpler dances which may have simpler but clearer figures, and which allow the dancers who are performing to think about making the dance look good, making the most of the shapes, making sure everyone is in time with and lined up with each other; things which they don’t have enough mental capacity to think about if they are wholly concentrating on how the dance goes.

I feel my GMing has suffered lately from a surfeit of new things, meaning I have struggled to actually run a decent session for my table.

  • Our campaign has arrived in a new city/country, which I have had to develop from scratch. I have also had to work out how to introduce the players and characters to the world, and effectively bring up a new storyline.
  • The campaign has moved into a city, which is a completely new situation for me. I am used to villages/towns and campaigns which involve dungeons and wilderness wandering, but the new players chose to have their characters come from the city of Akorros.
  • Not only is this a city, but it has been pitched as a city full of intrigue where the Thieves’ Guild effectively rules – intrigue, politics and backstabbing are also new things for me. Personally I tend to extremely Lawful Good, so I struggle to play characters who don’t have others’ best interests at heart.
  • And just after arriving in Akorros and before we’d finished the first encounter came Covid-19 and the lockdown, so we could no longer meet face-to-face and had to explore virtual ways of continuing – more on that tomorrow in Meet.

With all that, I have felt my concentration during preparation has been so much on trying to establish the setting and introduce a baseline of NPCs and work out how to develop a city campaign I haven’t actually developed or presented a good selection of story options – it’s been all I can do to rustle up a single not-very-good option in time for the next session. (Maybe I’m a bit harsh on myself; I haven’t asked the players for feedback, but I always feel under-prepared and on the back foot.)

And then when we come to the session itself, so much time is spent wrestling with the hardware and learning the technology, and it is so much harder communicating my intent electronically than face-to-face where I can sketch out a quick map or toss down a hand-out, that progress feels incredibly slow.

We’ve pretty much settled on a modus operandus now with Foundry VTT and Zoom, so though it does take more preparation I don’t feel I’m fighting it quite as much.

I’m starting to come up with some strategies for the city as well, and managing to develop the city a bit. Which is why I’ve been using WorldAnvil Summer Camp 2020 and now RPGaDay2020 to develop the city. It also turns out I’ve had a double length time to prepare the next session because of various players being away…but I’m still struggling to get a storyline for them for next Thursday…

I’m looking forward to getting back to my comfort zone…

Come back tomorrow for Day 18, Meet, and I’ll discuss the different approaches I’ve tried to meeting virtually during lockdown.

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