Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Strengths, D&D, and real life

One of my favorite authors is Robert Heinlein, who, through the voice of Lazarus Long, said “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Mr. Heinlein, as noble and manly a quote as that is, I must confess that I ever so humbly disagree. Rather, I believe that specialization is central to success. This has been presented clearly to me through Living your Strengths and Now, Discover Your Strengths. Both books based on a theory that emphasizes doing, essentially, what one is good at rather than what one is bad at.

This may seem obvious, but it is not our initial reaction, most of the time. As is often the case, allow me to draw an analogy from Dorkdom, Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars. As most of you know, I am an avid Dungeons and Dragons player and huge Star Wars fan, and I have learned a huge amount about real life from playing role playing games and engaging “fictional” universes and the questions and answers they are able to ask and give.

When many people begin playing Dungeons and Dragons, or any role playing game, their instinct is to be a jack of all trades, to cover all weaknesses and be a rock unto his or her own self. Whatever role you decide to take, cover your weaknesses so that you can always have something to do and you are never ineffective. Healers should also be damage dealers, utility casters should also heal, damage dealers should also have helpful buffs (boons for other members of the party). Makes sense, right? If one has multiple capabilities, one is always able to participate and never just standing around.

In my experience with role playing, multi-player video games, and reading fiction, as well as my experience in (shock!) real life, says that this is just plain wrong headed. Sure, it is good to be able to help in a number of situations, and if you only have a hammer every problem starts to look like a nail. However, one should recognize and use one's strengths.

Lets take the above example. In the D&D world, if you are going to play a healer, be it in D&D, World of Warcraft, or whatever, be the best healer you can; take every feat, every ability, every bonus, every talent, every everything you can get hold of to become the best healer the game can create. Work your tail off in order to get every advantage you possibly can, and only then are you truly seeing your potential come to pass. Healers who also want to do damage will end up doing both poorly.

The same is true in any group/party/troupe role playing session. If you have a job, do that job better than any other could. Work your tail off to be an expert at that job and let the rest of the group deal with the rest of the issues.

This teaches us two things. First, if you are an expert healer or damage dealer, you need somebody else to be an expert at other things. The best healer is at MAXIMUM capacity with the best tank and damage dealer, etc. If you are an expert in your field, gather around you a group who are also experts in their fields, and together you will achieve more than a million jacks-of-all-trades. This is the same in a real life; if you are an expert with numbers but not much of a public speaker, find an excellent public speaker who is not so good with numbers and you will blow every other accountant in speech class.

Second, this teaches us that success requires co-operation, and it requires recognizing one's failures and “growing edges” and inviting others to pick up the slack. It means humbling ourselves to those who are better than we are at certain things and giving them room to excel. Sure, you may be able to help, but giving your expert partner a 10% boot (the Aid Another action, for those of you with RPing experience) is almost always better than having your own go at the same thing, even if there is enough time (and there usually isn't).

There is more to this that I will post soon, about using one's strengths. But emphasize your strengths, cover your weaknesses with co-0peration, and join a team. I invite your thoughts, here, and would love to hear your own responses. (Especially if you have something helpful to say about Corran Horn.)

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