This is my way of response to a couple of posts by Noisms about whether or not game mastering can be taught. I agree in part with him. You have to put in the work.
Let’s start by saying very clearly: There are no short cuts. You have to put in the time.
BUT… There is such a thing as efficient and effective skill acquistion, no matter what the skill is. Here I apply the basic concept of skill development to game mastering but you can apply this to practically anything, regardless of the complexity of the skill.
First: We must identify good game mastering.
You certainly can’t teach someone good game mastering if you don’t know what good game mastering is to begin with.
Most of the content on the web and in print about “good/great” game mastering is terrible from my point of view. That’s a real problem. There’s a lot of people offering advice who think they know what good game mastering is but have no clue.
Second: We must break down the larger conceptual skill of “game mastering” into less complicated discrete skills so that we can understand how they work in isolation. It is impossible to learn a multi-part complex skill like game mastering all at once. By having someone break it down for you into pieces, explaining each piece, and giving you excercises/drills to practice then you can develop each individual skill more quickly. That may mean instead of taking five years to be a good game master you take a year to become a good game master but you still have to put in the work.
Third: Integrate the individual skills together so that they become part of the larger skill.
Fourth: Most Important! Identify areas of weakness and focus primarily on improving those individual skills.
This is key. In order to improve, figure out what you suck at, figure out ways that you can deliberately practice that specific skill and work on it. As you develop that skill and bring it up to snuff, pick your least best skill and work on that.
Example: I suck at designing and running traps. I recently designed and ran a small dungeon that was mostly traps. I learned some things about how to do it.
I lay out this frame work because I think the way one teaches good game mastering is through this process. Identify good game mastering, break it down into manageable chunks, identify areas of weakness to focus on, assist in integrating the pieces
Anders Ericsson, one of the world’s foremost researchers on high level performance, differentiates between deliberate practice and naive practice. This is the basic problem I have with what Noisms is suggesting. That you can just run games and get better. That’s true but you do it more efficiently and have an overall better result by deliberately focussing on your weakest areas.
Here is Corey Mandell, professional screen writer and screen writing teacher/consultant, on how screen writers develop.
His teaching process.