Thursday, July 8, 2010

Visualizing Mastery of a skill - GM Narrative Tool

My wife makes me watch project runway, and such competition reality shows have good examples of cognitive biases and how they can manifest in what the participants tell themselves. A participant named Seth caught my interest, not because of how he deals what I find "highly aribtrary designs" but how he goes about his work and how it is a very good example of what makes up mastery of a skill.

Seth, consistently puts out work that defies the professional judges expectations of a "days work". this is no small task, even if some people may not respect the profession (i do because it is a creative profession not protected or rewarded by copyrights). In Grain to Gold, they give examples of how many hours it would take to make a pair of pants. Watching the show, can give you an Idea of how much work it takes to make a FINE set of clothing. The contestants have about 12-13 hours.

Anyway, I was talking to my wife about it and she sews as a hobby and I was happy how I was able to guess how he does it and she was able to confirm it. Basically, before cutting out the patterns, everyone goes through a step where they try it on a "scratch" fabric to see if there is anything wrong with the design and from there work in the adjustment. Seth, skips this part. He skips a whole repetitive process that doubles the work involved.

What is profound about this is to take this observation and apply it to the people you know who are able to do work more efficiently than anyone else of their field. In my field: 3d and Graphic Arts, its the sketching processes. The faster the person works, the less sketching they need to get done and the more quickly the move into the meat of the work.

Steps are necessary in performing a task with very low margin of waste and error. If you can just imagine the "ritual" you go through every day for safety, hygiene, and work we all have necessary steps that can be made intuitive or "mastered" to become a purely mental process.

as I've discussed with Diplomacy, each processes can be made intuitive depending on the strengths of a character. A Very Empathic Character can sense and draw information much quicker than those with average Empathy, A frugal and meticulous character can judge and juggle values pretty handily, a persuasive and charming personality can frame proposals easily and seemingly effortless.

How does this relate to the game? Visualizing mastery is helpful in imagining how characters act in the thick of their core-roles. A warrior, quickly assess martial intelligence without having to engage and test techniques; A soldier knows how much resources, men, and effort a campaign will cost and begins working with his limitations to see what among the patron's requests are feasible; A commander, arranges his troops quite naturally and gathers information without having to exchange as much words with what the soldier has to say; a scout, can calculate on his own what the enemy is going to do given the clues he can perceive, he processes contexts and acts on the dangerous conclusions instantly.

Applying it to GMing? There are many steps to prepare and develop a good game. In everything about GMing, we can use a processes or set of tables the rules give us, or we can memorize or formulate our own rules of thumb that give us results uncannily like the GM tools we are given.

Skipping Steps. Not all steps are equal, each occupies an amount of time while having a measurable effect in utility. What separates a novice from someone who thinks they know what they are doing is the knowledge of the values of each step. Only after this valuable humility is achieved, can one make rational and calculated judgement when to skip a step or how to proceed to perform it purely mentally.


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