Externalize, Simplify, Visualize

Earlier in the week I presented a step-by-step process to solve problems, which could be used to deal with any number of life challenges and problems – including those that arise while preparing and running roleplaying game sessions. The process was culled from a psychological treatment approach titled Problem Solving Therapy (PST), and PST details other skills that can be utilized to diagnose and solve problems. Below, I present three of the skills and demonstrate how they can be used to become a more effective Dungeon Master – and truly a more effective person as the skills can be applied to any aspect of one’s life.

Externalize – Just Get it Out of Your Head

Wizard Externalization
Externalization can be MAGICAL!

The process of externalization is extremely useful when attempting to solve a problem. At any given moment in time, there are a cacophony of thoughts and emotions echoing around inside our brain. It is very easy to get lost in the noise and never take action to process or resolve any single thought or emotion. One method to assist with this is to externalize – to write it down or say it out loud so there is a tangible visual or audio manifestation of the thought or emotion. Examples of this include writing a journal or talking to a friend. The problem-solving method I presented earlier in the week relied heavily on externalization because the person is encouraged to write the problem and possible solutions.

The process of taking the thoughts buzzing through our brain and committing them to paper/computer screen is powerful; at the very least, it organizes our thinking on any given subject. My blog, The Id DM, is a three-year example of externalization. Each time I participated in a gaming session, I experienced new things that left me with more questions about various rules, player dynamics, and how best to function as a DM. Preparing the articles for the blog forced me to organize my thoughts and reactions to a specific topic because I wanted to ensure those articles were coherent to readers. I became a better DM by merely writing those articles over the years; it clarified my thoughts, highlighted areas of weakness I needed to address, and boosted my confidence when I noted I was improving.

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The Dungeon Master as Problem Solver

A locked door, you say? No problem.
A locked door, you say? No problem.

Do you smell that smell? It’s the smell of excitement in the air for a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The first wave of products have been released. Many players have waded through the new Players Handbook (mostly to create Bards), and Dungeon Masters (DMs) are sinking their teeth into The Lost Mine of Phandelver and the first major campaign book, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Players are creating characters with the new rules and ready to take on whatever the DM can throw at them. Which brings us to the age-old struggle of how a DM should best prepare for entertaining a group of players in a new campaign.

Preparing to run a session of a roleplaying game is a complicated endeavor. The DM (or Game Master, if you prefer) is tasked with – at the very least – establishing the foundation for the players to build upon during a few hours of adventuring. Running a roleplaying game can be labeled any number of things including a challenge or an opportunity. Below I discuss a structured method to solve problems, and how those who run games can best solve the problems presented to them before and during gaming sessions. And to do this, I will borrow from a class I am currently teaching on Problem Solving Therapy – and diagnose my current problem of not being able to run a frequently scheduled Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

More Editions, More Problems

Problem Solving Therapy (PST) is a brief psychological intervention that aims to teach basic skills to accurately define a problem, generate possible solutions the problem, create realistic short-term goals in an effort to solve the problem, and review progress toward the solution. The skills learned can be applied to any number of problem areas in one’s life ranging from job stress, relationship issues, and more significant struggles with mental illness. The skills can readily be applied to day-to-day problems such as buying groceries or completing household chores. So there is no reason why one could not apply these skills to the myriad problems that spring up when preparing to run a gaming session such as finding enough players to run a session, redirecting players who are frequently off-topic during a gaming session, and balancing the lethality of combat encounters.

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