This blog is an exercise in exploration. I’m writing to explore ideas, to convert the nebulous thoughts in my head into a more direct form of communication and, in so doing, evaluate and refine those ideas. I want to be a better Dungeon Master and this blog is going to be a tool for that. I’m writing essays in the original sense of the word, attempts to understand by writing.
The Dragonsmith blog is also an exploration in the sense that I’m going to learn what it is by writing it. I tried planning what it would be, but I’ve been doing THAT for years and, well… I wrote the first article a week ago because I sat down and DID it without stopping to plan. So here is what I hope to accomplish with this blog but we’ll both have to wait to see how well these intentions match the outcome.
One caveat: I’m going to work hard not to polish these entries. I have a tendency to let thinking get in the way of doing. I’m committing here (and warning you) to getting words out rather than getting them perfect. Maybe I’ll recant later, once I’ve established the habit of writing regularly.
Second caveat: I tend towards wordiness; suppressing my internal editor is not going to help with that. The adage “I would have written you a shorter letter if I only had the time” applies strongly here.
One of my professors introduced me to the concept of Distributed Cognition. I appreciated the usefulness so much I made it a fundamental part of my thesis (that thesis won’t be showing up in anyone’s citations, but it was meaningful to me) and I’ve used it as a lens for understanding tools and processes ever since.
It has been many years since I studied this topic, and things change often in science so please don’t take my word for any of this. Seek out other sources if you want to learn more (and come back and let me know where I’m wrong). For now, though, here’s how I understand the term.
Distributed Cognition is a metaphor for viewing our ability to think. Thought, in this model, is not contained purely within our brains but is also spread (distributed, if you will) across time, tools, and people. When I write a list, I’m distributing my cognition across time – thinking about what I need when I’m within reach of my pantry, where it is easiest to form those thoughts, and then carrying those thoughts in my pocket to the grocery store where I implement them. When I discuss these ideas with you, and you respond with your own, we are distributing our cognition between ourselves and, together, are able to come up with better ideas than we could on our own. When I make a circular template to represent an area of effect, I’m doing the slow part of the thinking out of view of my players and then embodying it in a physical tool so I never have to do it again. Every time I use that template to map the wizard’s fireball, I don’t have to pause the game to count squares. We can get right to the important business of working out the enemy-to-ally ratio within that circle.
DCog is one lens I use to focus my DM efforts. And now this blog will become a part of that distribution. If I do it right, we’ll get all three: time, tools, and people.
Annotated Adventures: Post Mortems
I want to talk about what I’m doing, where it’s working, and where it’s not but the venn diagram of “the set of friends interested in talking about D&D” and “the set of friends playing in my campaign” is just one big circle, all overlap. Since that conversation is essentially about spoilers, my players are the absolute wrong group for it. I’ll do that talking here, instead. Even just formatting my inner thoughts for communication will help me, but I’m also hoping some of what I have to say will help you, and from there we can turn this into a conversation (distribute that cognition!) and all will benefit.
The Forge & The Encyclopedia Fantastica: Rules Hacks, Tools, and New Things
If you can take a device apart and put it back together, you understand the device. If you can build a new one on your own, you understand the principles behind the device. Also, sometimes I need tools or items in my game that I just don’t have, and sometimes I just have a cool idea I want to try. So we’ll do that here, too. That moves us into the Synthesis stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy. (And the rest of you are absolutely welcome to engage in that final stage – Evaluation – and tell me what works or doesn’t, how you’d apply it, or what changes you’d make.)
Forge entries are going to focus on the game aspect: structures, rules, and tools of play.
Encyclopedia Fantastica entries are going to focus on narrative and world-building.
I’m hoping to present two to four entries a month. I want one a week, and will strive for that, but I’m lots of things besides a blogger and I haven’t yet demonstrated a solid skill in juggling all of that effectively. Wish me luck.
June’s theme for CreativeMornings is Survival. Sounds like an excellent topic for D&D discussions. I’m also still struggling with the system for Greater Rituals (I maybe bit off a bit more than I could chew there, but hey, it got me actually writing). I’ll have articles about one or the other soon.