I have learned a lot in the last year and a half running a D&D game for the boys. If I had to pick the hardest thing though, I would pick the issue of imagination. It really is the biggest leap that anyone has to make when getting into Role playing games. And why role playing is not for everyone.
Today I was reading The Angry GM’s latest article. Which was a good analysis of the problems with using traps in modern D&D. His article goes into why traps, while seemingly cool and a good idea, are really just not all that great. And the following point brings me to my issue:
You want several layers of detail is the point. There should be a detail that warns that there COULD be a trap if they pay attention to the flavor text. And then you want another layer of detail that gives a more specific answer and makes it really easy to guess where the traps are. That layer of detail is the one the players have to ask about. They have to stop and purposely examine things. – See more at: http://theangrygm.com/traps-suck/#sthash.LtS5Vlaa.dpuf
First, I have to work really hard to just come up with encounters and a logical thread to use when connecting those encounters. Lately I have been working on improving my description of where the players are. And using more visual cues with miniatures etc. And trying to insert some descriptive cues into the combats so the players have a little more buy in and interest. The point is though, none of this comes naturally to me. I have to work on it, and what success I have here is hard earned. Which means that coming up with all the layers of detail that he describes is almost beyond my reach.
Second, I am running a game for 4 teenage boys. That means restlessness and a lack of attention are just natural things I have to cope with. And even with the aid of movies and television I am still missing a crucial element: a common imagination. The boys do not all have the same background as far as what pictures they might have in their imagination when I describe things or they encounter something new.
For an example I go back to when I was first playing Shadowrun. This was during the Second edition of the game. And pretty much everyone who was playing was sharing around the same books, game materials and novels. So everyone who was playing had a shared world to work with, when someone talked about an Ares Predator, or Aztechnology or Tir Taingire we all knew what they were talking about.
But except for certain cultural touch stones the boys boys do not have that. Jimmy might understand what I mean when I mention Bruenor Battlehammer, but the rest of the boys would just give me blank stares. Or if I even mention the geography in a different part of the country, I cannot talk about the swamps of Louisiana, or a midwest snow storm, because they just haven’t experienced those things.
All of that makes the job of description that much harder. It would be much easier if I was running a game for my adult friends. But that’s okay. Because I know that I am becoming a much better GM for all of this. It is like the story of the boy who gets stronger by lifting the calf every day until it becomes a full blown adult cow. When and if the time comes and I am running for a group with a more common active imagination all of these muscles I am developing with description will be like an Olympic weight lifters muscles.