Discourses on Gamemastering
The origins of the term “lecture” are actually more interesting than you may think. While getting my education degree I decided to do some research into that topic, and it turns out that they are named after the eponymous piece of furniture from which they are delivered: the lectern.
But the etymology of the term pales in significance to how and why they were once delivered in the medieval university system. Books, it seems, were once in very short supply. “Stop the presses,” you say sarcastically. “Exactly,” I reply. We laugh. (At least that’s how it went in my head.)
More pertinently, a lecture was originally what a professor did when they read a book aloud to the class standing at their lectern (which held the book), inserting their own commentary into the textual flow as they went. This had three practical purposes. The first, and least useful today, is that the students could create their own copies of the texts by writing along with the professor’s lecture. The second is, of course, that it exposed students to the ideas in the book that were so important they had to be written out by hand to preserve them. But the third is the most interesting, I think. It was a method for the lecturer to provide a set of marginalia, commentaries, and glosses on the text to amend and improve its subsequent copies.
In other words, just as Machiavelli had his Discourses on Livy – a commentary on the writings of Livy – so too the typical university lecture may as well have been titled “Discourses on [Book]”.
So, I got the idea in my head to write my own series of commentaries on various roleplaying texts. Being the digital age, luckily, I can dispense with reading the book to you – you can follow along at home and post your own discourses (on the book or on my own thoughts) in the comments section.
The First Series
I have selected for my first entry in this series of commentaries the e-book Gamemastering by Brian Jamison. You can get your own copy in .PDF for free at that link. I selected this text for three reasons.
First, it is a complete, personal, and specific method of running tabletop RPGs. In this age of the “grab bag of tricks” – specific techniques to make a combat run faster or improvise NPC names – something professing to be a complete explanation of just plain gamemastering is actually fairly rare.
Second, it is system neutral. This makes the entire body of the text relevant to all published tabletop roleplaying games, whereas – say – the experience point rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide probably are not.
Third, I use a lot of it and also disagree with a fair chunk of it. I find this is in virtue of it being very concrete. I am the first one who will say it is easy to get lost, adrift in the land of abstraction. But people naturally prefer concrete specifics because that is how the real world works, and that is generally how this book works, too. That makes it easy to agree with it – and use what it suggests immediately – or to disagree with it because the examples provided do not match our experience. In other words, it is ripe both for practical use and for analytical commentary.
Next Time On…
To paraphrase Adam West, tune in next time – same bat time, same bat channel – to read the first entry in my commentary on Brian Jamison’s Gamemastering. I intend to post a chunk of commentary at least once a week from here on out, starting at the latest on Monday the 21st. If you don’t want to check back every day with ‘bated breath in the interim then I will also tweet out when I post each section on my twitter account @TheHydraDM.
Quod Volare Porcos,
The Hydra DM