To the player who wrote me about quote: “I feel like a guy with a 4th grade education plopped down in a post-doc class.” You know who you are, but I’m not going to name you because you don’t have your own blog. It doesn’t seem right or fair to expect you to answer since you don’t keep your own platform.

First, allow me thank you for taking the time to email me and for sharing your problems and feelings. It’s my hope that you’ll use what you wrote as the basis of an email addressed to the rest of the group.

I won’t quote more of your email, in part because you’re a friend, and also because I’m not a college professor. (They’re merciless.) But I will continue to reference it. Anyone else reading will just have to infer the content of your email.

To extend your metaphor, you aren’t the first student to write to me. I am also going to give you a lot of the same advice I gave the others (and you, the last time we discussed this subject at length).

The first and most important piece of advice I can give you is that “your fellow students are the most valuable resource you have.” I keep saying this over and over again. You in particular, may have difficulty listening to them… that’s part of how your voice “drowns them out” in the game. You aren’t just talking over them, you aren’t listening to them or learning from the questions that they’re asking.

The next thing I feel like I need to say (as part of the extended metaphor) is: “welcome to class, Mister A, so glad you could join us!” As though I were addressing a student who had been sleeping through my class. “And that isn’t a very nice way to talk about your other professors, after all, you got your doctorate. I read your thesis, in fact.”

I know as much as it might feel like you got “dropped” into this class, we’ve been doing this for a while. I remember when you remarked several years ago, something to the effect of, “every Dungeon Master you knew was ramping up the difficulty.”

That wasn’t anyone ramping up the difficulty, I can assure you. That was the Dungeon Master refusing to hold your hand anymore.

If I were to liken the players’ overall group ‘style’ to something, it would be like “watching a Let’s Play of D&D.” Our group does not take extensive notes about what happens in a game session, and instead relies on what I, as the Dungeon Master, tell them.

Now in the past, I would basically tell you what to do, where to go, or what to think… or failing that (since you always did what you wanted to anyway, and I refused to take away your player agency) I would just rewrite the events to fit whatever the new scenario was, and leave plot threads to dangle because I didn’t want to keep track of them.

Well, here’s the thing: I’ve gotten better at tracking them. And I’ve picked up some new techniques for using them in the game. And let me tell you, if not for the party’s current… general lack of an information network, I’d actually be telling you MORE of what’s going on. There’s a LOT going on!

For example, you brought up how I’ve been forcing the party to leave the dungeon between sessions. Did you realize part of the reason I’m doing that is so I can keep giving you news when you get back to town? Lots of stuff is happening, and if I allowed you to camp in the dungeon you wouldn’t hear about any of it.

You’d know less about what was going on, because you’re stuck in this way of doing things… “grind the dungeon until it’s done.” This insomniac approach to dungeon-crawling forces time into this myopic tunnel in which nothing exists outside… and that’s like, the opposite of what we’re trying to do.

So there’s that.

If we get down to brass tacks though, for me… it is a post-doc class. I’ve been playing D&D for over ten years. You could say my thesis was in encounter balance because I will talk about that ALL DAY. But for you? You aren’t a 4th-grader, you’re working on your Master’s. It’s been almost six years now, right? Give yourself some credit.

(I mean figuratively, of course. I know you’re also literally working on your Master’s, I’m not actually referencing that.)

But it also means that if you’re going to pass, you need a study group. I realize that some of them have a different educational background than you, but as I said, the other players are your greatest resource.

You need. To talk. To them.

I kept getting after you for that last night! You were thinking all these thoughts, and saying less than half of what you were thinking, and you were drawing all these conclusions about what everyone else was going to do, … while they were sitting within arm’s reach wondering what on earth you were carrying on about.

And you know, that would have been fine but you were also stifling the conversation around you. Other players would break off from your conversation because you weren’t talking TO them at all. You were almost carrying on a conversation in spite of them. You do it so often it seems habitual.

You need to LISTEN to them. Believe me when I tell you that if you think you’ve been listening: You have even more to learn about listening than you think.

When you went off on your tangent about how to rescue the prisoners last night, you missed most of the rest of the conversation that was going on around you.

One of the things the other players look to you for is rules knowledge, and you’ve been letting them down a lot in that regard lately. You need to start saying, “I don’t know” a lot more, so they stop asking you.

Yeah, maybe they should just stop asking you, but you can help them by saying, “I don’t know.”

Don’t stop reading here, either. I’m probably going to write a few more open letters based on this one letter alone.

And don’t read this as a criticism either. It’s more like sternly-worded glowing praise. You know how I am.

In other words, “I’m glad you could join us, let’s get to work.”

8/31/2016 Edit: I added a bit, tried to clarify some points. Fixed some typos.