Two students train at a martial arts school. One fights only students at or below his level, and has an excellent win-loss record. The other fights only students above his level, and has a terrible win-loss record.

Which one is learning faster?

– Overheard at a martial arts seminar

When was the last time you got out of your safe zone and tried something new? Were you any good at it? Did you learn from your mistakes pretty quickly, and get better? Or did you give up because you weren’t automatically excellent at it? (Or, as a geek, did you find a perfectly reasonable rationalization to never try that thing again?)

And why do we fall, Bruce? So we might learn to pick ourselves up.

– Thomas Wayne

If we are going to try new things, we need to recognize that failures are inevitable. Failure is not the end of the world; it’s an opportunity to analyze what worked, what didn’t, and why. Failure is a chance to learn, but we have to accept and analyze our failures, something many of us are not comfortable doing.

Stuck in a Rut?

Human beings are creatures of habit. We tend to play similar archetypes, or personality types. We tend to select the same genres or opponents or environments in our games. Walking the same path over and over can dig a rut. It’s a familiar rut of course, full of comfortable tropes and themes, but it’s still a rut.

Some ruts are deeper than others

Some ruts are bigger than others, of course…

Look over your last few sessions or campaigns. Do you notice any recurring themes or elements? In an interview, Monte Cook once confessed to overusing Ogres as opponents. Do you default to a certain kind of critter or opponent? Do they use the same tactics over and over?

Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

Something as simple as an over-reliance on Ogres is easy to break, but some of us need a bit more. I’ll be running my first non-fantasy campaign shortly (1980s monster hunters), and can testify that it’s not easy to try something new.

Some advice:

  • Don’t jump right into something you’ve never done before; crawl before you walk before you run. Start small, with a one-shot in a different genre, or an adventure in a very different environment than you’re used to.
  • Ask for help. Find a mentor with some experience, and ask what works, and what doesn’t work. Learning from others’ mistakes is easier on the ego.
  • Ask for feedback from your players. Don’t just ask if everything was good, find out what they liked the most and what they liked the least. Use hypotheticals: “Would it be better if I xxxxx?” Don’t take “It was fine” as an answer.

But push yourself out of the ruts. It’s a big world out there, even bigger when you start looking at it with a gamer’s imagination.

Have you stepped out of your comfort zone recently? Was it as bad as you feared? Did you learn anything you’d care to share with the rest of us? Sound off in the comments and let us know!