Monday, 6 July 2015

Disbanding the Campaign

As of today I am officially 40, and I am more confident, competent, positive in outlook and solid overall than I have ever been before. My body fat is just around 10%, and I live each day in a focused and disciplined manner from the moment I rise, attempting to make the most of every moment. 

I am also less willing than ever to indulge those who waste my time. 

As is my wont, I'm going to lead up to a discussion of D&D with a work-related analogy. For the past several years, I have been a card-carrying member of JALT, the Japan Association of Language Teachers. I joined when I was asked to treasure a certain forming special interest group, a role I faithfully continue to fill to the present moment. I paid my dues dutifully, receiving two things in return in addition to the opportunity to get really good at bookkeeping. One is the monthly publication, chock full of mop-up remedies, mealy-mouthed justifications and paradigmatic overdevelopment expounding ever-more technical approaches to the Sisyphean task of force-feeding English education to unwilling subjects, none of the articles ever addressing the core issue which by the nature of their business they cannot touch: Namely, that the majority of students will continue not to make the effort required on their part, and if students are willing, teacher technique is almost irrelevant. 

The other benefit to my membership has been reduced admittance fees to the national and regional conferences, in which half-baked research is showcased by people wanting to pad their resumes.

JALT is raising its membership dues this year, a measure against which a number of members in my acquaintance have loudly protested. I perfectly well understand that this measure is necessary to keep the organisation afloat, and that JALT serves what for many is a noble and essential purpose. It’s simply that for me, personally, there has never been any tangible merit, and in looking into the future I can see that there never will be. So it is not that the small increase in dues that is unbearable, it is simply a reminder to me that it is time to quietly bow out.

This semester at the university, I've been teaching special section in business English for a handful of supposedly dedicated third-year students. I've already lectured them at length about making the same mistakes that should have been remedied in junior high school, and for a while they got a bit more serious. But several weeks have passed since then, and as this Friday they’ll have to make their final presentations, worth 25% of their total grade, I put aside time in last week's class for them to show me their PowerPoint and whatever else they had finished so far, so that I could give them some last-minute advice and assistance.

No one student in the class had done a damned thing. Nothing. With one week to go, even the most stellar students, relatively speaking, hadn't so much as begun a rough draft of a crude outline for the most important project of the semester.

Now, it may well just be that I’m feeling my age in such frustration and impatience with people unwilling to help themselves. The way I see it, though, every day is a precious gift which is solely in our hands to use, abuse, or piss away.

For scores of months I have put into this D&D campaign what amounts to untold hours unpaid work. The world-building aspect of it, of course, was a labour of love, but the actual runnings have generally been torture, and the returns for my effort have fallen far short of justifying it. In the height of my passion I offered the players a choice of worlds, and they chose Ancient Greece which, while it wasn’t my favourite, I could certainly have fanned the flames of ardour under the right circumstances. What I got, though, was irrelevant banter derailing the sessions, players coming late and leaving early—with their character sheets and notes carelessly tossed in a pile and left for me to put away—with the added disruption that when one person suddenly decides he has to leave soon, the rest of the party then decides it’s time to pack up, too, regardless of where the game is.

I ranted about my doldrums at length in my last post, only to read this the next day and force myself to admit that it can’t continue. It’s not easy to admit. But then, my hero is ten years older than I, and has many more years of experience as a DM. I’ve known that our sessions are quite enjoyable for the players, to be sure, but for at least some of them it was for very different reasons from those that make the game worthwhile for me. Nonetheless, I did my best to provide them all with a meaningful and engrossing experience. I’m tempted to think there might be people who pay to see a film but then talk through it, take breaks at the best parts, and decide to leave half an hour before the climax; but really, this is unlikely to happen when people pay money for something. If they know they can enter a cinema and watch as they like any time they like, for free, they might do. I suppose I have been providing the equivalent of unlimited free cinema access. In the long run, though, nothing is free. In this case, as it turns out, the price of admission is a modicum of focus and dedication.

I will provide the party with one last session, this coming weekend, because I had promised to do, afterwards I will go no further with the present campaign. At some point in future, after a hiatus for a sprinkling of world-building mixed in with my myriad other interests in life, I might invite the most serious members of the group to start a new campaign. At any rate, the ones who aren’t invited back are unlikely to have ever read anything on this blog in the first place. 


  1. The most disheartening thing about this post is that you are willing to do the work necessary to be a good DM, and I would personally give anything to play in a world run by such a DM, . . yet we are a world apart, and in (apparently) irrevocable circumstances. Hopefully in short time such things will be remedied by technology. Until then, I wish you nothing but better luck next time.