Saturday, January 31, 2015

In Response to John Wick's "Chess Is Not an RPG"

             John Wick, probably best known as the Origins Award winning lead designer for Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) First Edition RPG and his work as the Continuity Editor for the Legend of the Five Rings TCG, recently published an article, “Chess Is Not an RPG:  The Illusion of Game Balance” in which he defines what an RPG is and denounces the importance of game balance in tabletop RPGs.  Wick also expresses several controversial opinions about fan favorite games such as earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons and has caused a bit of a stir amongst the gaming community.  From the beginning of his article, Wick has set out to slay two of the sacred cows of gaming:  Weapons Tables and Game Balance. 

Taking aim first at a feature that nearly every RPG has in common, the weapon’s table, Wick’s article uses two examples from cinema to make his point:  Riddick’s use of a tea cup as a weapon in The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) and Sean Connery’s speech about how he can kill a man with only his thumb in the Presidio (1988).  Wick then questions how a Dungeon Master or Storyteller would adjudicate the use of those kinds of weapons within a particular system?  “Does [Sean Connery’s thumb] do megadamage?”  is an apt question.  Although that particular situation may not arise during a game, Wick is aiming at a fundamental problem with creating weapon’s lists for an RPG.  Just how much granularity does a list of weapons need?  Should the game system account for every possible weapon and variation on a weapon or merely offer a basic list of possible weapons? 
Vampire:  The Masquerade has probably the shortest weapon’s chart of any modern RPG.  Instead of trying to differentiate amongst an enormous number of handguns, assault rifles, shotguns, knives, and swords, the designers chose to simply use archetypal examples for their weapons.  In VtM, a 9mm Glock has the same stats as a .45 Heckler and Koch pistols or a 9mm Smith & Wesson.  A sword, regardless of its shape or origin has the same stats.  Katana, scimitar, and medieval long sword all do Strength+2 damage.  The player’s imagination and her description of her character’s actions fill in the blanks.  Dungeons & Dragons, conversely, offers a variety of swords:  rapiers, scimitars, long swords, great swords, short swords, and so on.  Each weapon offers different damage types and in earlier editions a character’s weapon even had an effect on her initiative roll, the infamous speed factor trait. 

            Wick calls for the DMs and GMS to remove the offending tables from their games, later recommending taking a Sharpie and obliterating the tables from the page beneath thick black ink.   Is Wick merely being hyperbolic and denouncing weapons tables to draw attention to one of the great dilemmas of game design and game mastering:  simulation versus abstraction?  In other words, how realistic should a game system or a particular campaign be?   Wick’s example of weapons tables stirs controversy which was undoubtedly his intent since that controversy will lead to greater discussion of his point. 
            For a less controversial example, consider how important it is during a D&D campaign for the adventuring party to keep track of their stores of food and water.  Should the players be responsible for tracking their consumption of food and water as they progress in their travels or is that just one more level of bookkeeping that detracts from the overall enjoyment of the game?  The answer to that question is “It depends.”  In a typical medieval fantasy setting such as Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk, tracking food and water is just bookkeeping.  Replenishing their stores is as easy as saying, “My character stops in town and buys food and water and spends 10 gp.”  Does that increase or improve the drama during a session?  Probably not.  In atypical settings such as games set in hostile environments such as Dark Sun’s deserts or an ocean voyage, maintaining stores of food and water add an element of drama to the characters’ travels.  However, if managing food and water doesn’t improve the drama of the game and provide interesting encounters, then that element should be dropped. 
            Wick’s most controversial statement, however, is “the first four editions of Dungeons & Dragons are not role playing games” but rather, “a very sophisticated, intricate, and complicated combat simulation board game that people were turning into a roleplaying game.”  The history of Dungeons & Dragons supports that assertion.  Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson developed Dungeons & Dragons from their medieval war game, Chainmail; whereas most war gaming focused on units, Gygax and Arneson’s contribution was to change the scale of the game and focus on an individual character controlled by a single player.   Yet, D&D retained its combat simulation roots, especially in more recent editions such as D&D 3.0 and D&D 4th which had many game elements that necessitated the use of a grid mat. 

            Wick offers a simple litmus test for whether or not a game is a “role playing game”:  Can you play the game without role playing?  Or, can players advance through an adventure without actually taking on the roles of their characters and instead simply move their pieces around the board or grid mat no different than games like Dungeonquest?  Wick uses chess as his example for this argument.  Of course, he offers, one could take on the roles of the individual pieces, whether it is a pawn or rook or queen, and make decisions based on the imagined thoughts and feelings of the piece.  Using pieces in this manner would lead to sub-optimal decisions and most likely cause the player to lose the match. 
            Many players and gamemasters have encountered players who approach roleplaying games in the same way that players approach a chessboard; these players seek to make the most optimal decisions:  character creation, leveling up, tactical movement, etc.  They never take into consideration the role and the character that they are playing.  Optimizers, such as these players, research every aspect of the game seeking a way to ensure victory no different than studying books on chess strategy.   Since the advent of the internet, character optimization has exploded with forums offering guides, no different than videogame strategy guides, for how to create the “best” character and ranking character classes based objective power levels.  D&D 3.0 and 3.5 offer the worst examples of this kind of optimization with the continual stacking of base classes and prestige classes without questioning what sort of sense they make or how a character would gain the training in those classes. 
            If Dungeons & Dragons isn’t a roleplaying game, then what is?  Wick has created a working definition of a roleplaying game:  “a game in which the players are rewarded for making choices that are consistent with their character’s motivations or further the plot of the story.”   The definition is system neutral, but Wick doesn’t offer any examples of how players or designers can implement that definition in a game.  The key word in the definition is “reward” but a better word choice might be “positively reinforced.”  The gamemaster or the system reinforces the choices of the players.  The core reward systems for D&D are experience points and treasure which are rewarded when characters defeat monsters or overcome a challenge such as a trap.  Vampire:  The Masquerade rewards players with experience for taking part in the session, playing their character, having their character learn something new, and acting heroically.  Two very different ways of reinforcing the players’ choices. 
            Wick, however, stated that D&D was not a roleplaying game, but he goes on suggest that gamers should modify their preferred system to create an environment that rewards roleplaying rather than skill at a tactical combat simulation.  Here is the paradox at the heart of Wick’s argument.  Any game could be an RPG by simply modifying its rules to reinforce role playing or simply to offer opportunities for roleplaying.  Wick’s examples include changing the initiative system for Vampire the Masquerade which many consider clunky due to its method of requiring players to first roll initiative, then the starting with the person whose initiative is lowest each player declares their action, and finally, actions are resolved starting from the player whose initiative is highest.  D&D Second Edition had a similar system. 
            Wick’s argument stresses the positive reinforcement of roleplaying over maintaining game balance.  Anything that hampers or impedes roleplaying, therefore, should be removed.  Game balance is the most sacred cow of modern gaming.  The days of weak low level wizards slowly outclassing their fighter brethren are gone; now each class, tribe, clan, or archetype must be balanced against all others.  That game balance must be upheld. 

            Anyone familiar with John Wick’s work, especially on Legend of the Five Rings, can see this philosophy in his game design choices.  If you played the first edition of L5R, you’re probably familiar with just how unbalanced the Void Shugenja school was.  The various schools of each clan were not especially well balanced either.  Instead Wick’s design goal with Legend of the Five Rings emphasized the particular flavor of a clan or school which led to some wild imbalances but created opportunities for players to roleplay those clans and schools.  Some schools were extraordinarily powerful, such as the previously mentioned Void Shugenja or just Shugenja in general, and some were comparatively useless (at least terms of optimization, damage potential, etc.).  Other schools, such as the Crane Clan’s Kakita Bushi school were overly specialized in one area, in this case dueling, at the expense of general usefulness. 
            Wick’s final point is probably the most important, and the one big takeaway from his article that should be applicable to everyone who reads it.  In order to get good at roleplaying, you have to roleplay.  He doesn’t mean building characters or generating optimized builds or spell selection or even rolling dice.  He is defining roleplaying as only “the act of taking on the motivations and goals of the player’s character and acting in accord with those goals.”  Like any other skill, whether it is a physical task like throwing a football or something mental like solving a differential equation, only practice improves the skill.  Unfortunately, Wick does not offer any suggestions on how to improve one’s roleplaying skills, but perhaps that is asking too much in an article that Wick later describes as “something I spent about an hour writing, edited quickly, and the put it up for public consumption.”
            I am not quite ready to slay “Game Balance” along with John Wick, but I do agree that role players, myself included, put too much emphasis on game balance when the real goal of an RPG is not to build the best, most powerful character, but to go on a journey as that character, to live vicariously through the character and write collaborative stories with the other players.  Often this point is missed, and by pointing it out, Mr. Wick has written more eloquently than I have about the same points that I have tried to emphasize in this blog. 
            In the future perhaps players shouldn’t look for the best weapon that does the most damage, but instead finding opportunities “kill a man with just a thumb.”  Creating those opportunities requires collaboration between the player and the DM.  The DM must be receptive to the weird and strange ideas of creative players and not punish players for creating a “character” rather than building optimized characters.    

Friday, January 16, 2015

On Running a Module for the First Time

            One of the weird quirks of my roleplaying career is that until recently I had never run a pre-published adventure module.  I have made use of plenty of Campaign Setting Boxed Sets, such as the Revised Dark Sun Campaign Setting for AD&D 2nd Edition or Legend of the Five Rings’ Otosan Uchi Boxed Set which did include the Scorpion Clan Coup plot line that involved one clan’s attempt to usurp the throne.  Yet, I’d never run a straight forward module or adventure path.  Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has given me the opportunity to finally run a pre-published adventure series, and it’s been a blast. 
            Because my primary RPG has been Vampire:  The Masquerade for so long, I didn’t have many options for selecting a module to run.  VtM primarily offered settings books such as my favorite, LA by Night, and fan favorite, Chicago by Night, but few adventure modules; although Midnight Circus is a notable exception.  Running a Classic World of Darkness RPG meant that the Storyteller was responsible for preparing an adventure, creating NPCs, and so forth.  Conversely, games like Dungeons & Dragons are renowned for their many outstanding modules like The Temple of Elemental Evil, The Tomb of Horrors, Dead Gods, and so on. 
            Due to the staggered release schedule for D&D 5E, the Player’s Handbook and the adventure Hoard of the Dragon Queen were released simultaneously in August, but the Dungeon Master’s Guide was not released until December.  I was left with no option but to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen as I lacked much of the information I’d need to create NPCs, build encounters, and seed treasure appropriately.  I didn’t want to end up in a situation where I was making assumptions based on my experiences in D&D 3.0 or 4.0.   The cynical side of me believes that Wizards of the Coast used the staggered release schedule to help sell more copies of Hoard of the Dragon Queen due to the lack of necessary information that Dungeon Masters require.  
            Conspiracy theory aside, Hoard of the Dragon Queen has been a joy to run and a learning experience for me.  As this article isn’t intended as a review of the module itself (that will come later after I’ve run the entire thing), I want to discuss the lessons that I learned from the module and my overall impression of running a Dungeons & Dragons module.
            Reading through Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which is intended to take players from level 1 to 7 or 8, I was happy to find that it included a variety of adventure types.  Other modules, such as the Sunless Citadel (the first adventure for D&D 3.0) are just a long dungeon crawl.  Hoard of the Dragon Queen has the players defend a town from the Cult of the Dragon, track the attackers to their lair, infiltrate the enemy’s encampment and rescue prisoners before they set off to track the Cult, and joining and protecting a caravan that travels from Baldur’s Gate to Waterdeep.  The various episodes offer enough variation that neither the DM nor the players get bored, but the encounters remain exciting having players face off against all manner of creatures from kobolds to perytons and bullywugs and even a few Half-Dragons. 

            The greatest benefit to using any module is that the writers have provided nearly everything for you:  level appropriate encounters, NPCs with both stats and background information provided, and an interesting plot.  Someone else has already done all the heavy lifting, but no module, regardless of how well-written, can take into account everything that the players could do or give every NPC a name.  Even with the adventure already prepared for me, I was frequently required to improvise, create NPCs or adjudicate a player action that the writers of the module had not anticipated.  That’s simply the nature of RPGs, no one can anticipate what players are going to do. 
            So far, the adventure has been a railroad with very little chance for characters to change the course of the adventure once they have started.  Player actions, other than success or failure in an encounter, really don’t have much effect on the outcome of the module.  Players can make some choices, such as the order in which they tackle the encounters while defending the town of Greenest or which merchant they chose to work for.  Again, these problems are unavoidable with most pre-published modules.  That’s the social contract of an adventure module:  everyone agrees to stick with the general flow of the adventure, follow the clues, and work towards the goal of the adventure.  Attempting to derail or sidetrack the adventure disrupts the fun for everyone because the DM has very few options for resolving disruptive play, especially in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and maintaining the adventure. 
            Having the NPCs and scenes pre-written is a benefit and saved me a lot of prep time, but that meant that I didn’t have the benefit of creating those same NPCs  and that I wasn’t as familiar with the goals and motivations of those characters.  Sadly, Hoard of the Dragon Queen doesn’t have any NPCs that really stand out.  Players are moving too fast from point to point for any NPC, villain or background character, to really make an impact.   Since the module is goal oriented (locate the destination of the Cult of the Dragon’s treasure caravan), players rarely get more than a day at any one stop.   I prefer to have a recurring cast of NPCs who constantly interact with the players and also change and grow along with the player characters.  That’s a small nitpick of just one module and is certainly not representative of all modules. 

            As a DM who is looking to improve my skills, Hoard of the Dragon Queen offers a tremendous example of how to vary adventure types to keep players from getting bored with an unending string of dungeons, escort missions, and treasure hunts.  The structure of Episode 3 which has the players working as escorts for a caravan that the Cult of the Dragon is using as cover to transport their stolen goods north offers a number of novel encounters.  Some are focused on combat while others simply require good roleplaying to resolve. 
            As noted above, the release schedule of D&D 5E meant that I didn’t have access to the information I needed to generate my own adventures.  This limitation meant that both of the groups for which I DM were stuck with the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module, and that I was able to observe how two wildly different groups dealt the same scenarios.  Each group progressed at their own pace, and currently one group is nearly an entire Episode ahead of the other.  The slower group has had the benefit of me seeing what problems occurred with the first group, and I could adjust some of the encounters or provide more accurate descriptions.  The most egregious problem with the adventure has been a poorly designed encounter against a group of powerful NPCs that occurs in Episode 3.  The fight is nearly unavoidable (because the adventure states that NPCs in the caravan most likely will start the fight if the players don’t) and the four antagonists who are each CR 8 in the encounter are much higher level than the party who have only just reached level 4.  More importantly, the NPCs’ weapons do enough damage to kill a player character with a single attack.  I don’t want to go too in depth in my description of the encounter as I don’t want to spoil the adventure for those who haven’t progressed this far, but those who have played or run this section of the module know exactly how bad this is encounter is.    
            Because so many people have been similarly limited, Hoard of the Dragon Queen has become a touchstone module that nearly everyone who has adopted D&D 5E is playing or has played.  Similar to Keep on the Borderlands or Against the Giants, Hoard of the Dragon Queen has become a shared experience in which players and DMs are swapping stories about how they overcame various encounters or offer criticism and suggestions for improving how the module can be run.  Every message board has at least one thread on Hoard of the Dragon Queen and I have found several videos on YouTube (such as The Escapist Magazine's game) and of people running Hoard (although sadly I haven’t had a chance to watch them yet).  All of these are invaluable resources for DMs who want to run this module and provide different examples of how to run this module.

            I haven’t finished the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module for either group yet.  The holidays caused a long break in both campaigns, but I intend to finish the module for both groups.  One group will continue with The Rise of Tiamat, the sequel to Hoard of the Dragon Queen, while the other group will transition to adventures that I will write.  So far, running this module has been a success, and I’ve learned a lot from the experience.  My next goal will be to adapt modules from AD&D Planescape to D&D 5E for one of my groups.  Without a doubt, running a pre-published module has been a success, and I plan to run others if the opportunity arises.  A new module for D&D 5E, Princes of the Apocalypse, is scheduled for release in March and I will most likely run that one as well! 
            If you’d like to share your experiences on running a module for the first time or any memorable modules, please leave your comments below. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

It's Been a While...

 It’s a New Year and once again, it’s time for me to make a New Year’s Resolution that I may not keep: namely, updating this blog on a regular basis.  My intention has always been to offer my readers insightful commentary, criticism, and reviews of Classic World of Darkness products and the new releases from the Onyx Path.  Yet, once again, I have fallen far behind those intentions, and I have a lot to catch up on and a lot to share with my readers.
            Last year was outstanding!  I got a new job working at a university bookstore which means better pay, better benefits, and a lot more free time to spend writing and gaming.  I also found two great RPG groups and run D&D 5E twice a week.  I know.  I know.  I’m a CWoD fanboy, but D&D always draws me back in with a new edition, especially an edition as good as Fifth.  If you haven’t had a chance to play it yet, I highly recommend it. 
            I do have one regret from last year, and that is that I was not able to properly thank the podcasters at Midnight Express Podcast for mentioning me in their episode.   I had every intention of writing an article on them, but time sort of slipped away.  I hope that you guys will forgive me.  I love your podcast and I'm always looking forward to new episodes!  If you aren't listening to Midnight Express already, please go over give them a try!  
            My Sunday group includes my girlfriend and friends that I’ve made since I moved to Virginia.  I’ve been running Hoard of the Dragon Queen for them and we have had a great time.  We are all looking forward to picking up the game again in the new year and finishing out the adventure before we move on to something else.  I have some ideas about upgrading Planescape for 5E, and thankfully 5E’s cosmology is an updated version of Planescape.  I can’t wait to shift this group from a pre-published adventure to the more story and character driven games that I enjoy. 
            My Wednesday group is an Adventurer’sLeague group who were strangers, but after several months of gaming, they have become dear friends as well.  I always leave that table reinvigorated and excited about the next adventure.  Originally, we started as an Encounters group, but since they want to continue the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, I have every intention of completing the whole series for them including the sequel Rise of Tiamat. 
            As you can tell, I’ve been playing a lot of D&D, and that means that the focus of this blog is going to change slightly.  I’ll be discussing D&D some and offering some new resources for people who play D&D 5E.  That does not mean that I will be abandoning my articles covering elements and themes from the Classic World of Darkness.  As I mentioned several times last year, I will be reviewing the Revised Clanbook series as part of my ongoing Late Reviews Articles.  I hope that I can finish that series within the year along with the follow up article to summarize the series.  Next I’ll be focusing on newly released books from the Onyx Path as I purchase them.  I’m currently behind on those books, but I’ll be reading and reviewing them as quickly as I can.  I hope that I can get out ahead of the release schedule, especially with Vampire the Masquerade and Werewolf the Apocalypse.

            Finally, as my twitter followers may know, I have been hired as a freelancer writer to work on a chapter of a book for Werewolf:  The Apocalypse.  It’s my first real job as a writer and I can’t share much here until the book is published, but once the book is out, I will be sharing my thoughts on writing for publication.  Spoiler:  It was a harrowing but rewarding experience.  Yet, that bit of good fortune (Thanks for the opportunity, Stew! And thanks to other authors for your support!), I will be working on articles for other gaming publications and submitting articles for publication at some websites.  2015 will be the year of resume building for me.  I have a stable job, a supportive girlfriend, and enough free time to really try to make a run at being a freelance writer. 
            Nevertheless, I will do everything that I can to continue to provide consistent reviews and articles for my readers over the next year.  My goal will be one article every two weeks, and I hope that I can release more than that!  This is going to be a big year for Read The Damn Book, and I appreciate all the support that you’ve given to me and my blog over the last year, despite my intermittent update schedule. 
            On a final note:  Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition’s Kickstarter campaign is entering its final days, I hope that all of you will support the rebirth of one of White Wolf’s most amazing games! 

            Happy New Year!

Friday, June 6, 2014

How to be a Storyteller (or a Game Master or a Dungeon Master or…)

How many people think of this guy when I say "Dungeon Master"?

            When you write a gaming blog, you spend a lot of time reading other people’s blogs or listening to their podcasts.  It’s a great way to get a few new ideas or just to see what’s going on out there.  Regardless of which RPG the authors play, one common thread runs through nearly every RPG podcast and blog – a focus on being the Game Master or Dungeon Master or Storyteller.  (Although Game Master is more generic, this is a blog primarily about Classic World of Darkness games; so I’ll be using the term Storyteller.) People ask for advice on how to run a better game or how to deal with a problem player or how to handle a problem with the rules.  The questions asked and the advice offered revolves around the Storyteller.  Even I am guilty of focusing on the Storyteller as I capitalize “Storyteller” but never “player.” 
The Storyteller is the central figure in any role playing group.  He or she is responsible for many aspects of the session not just limited to running an individual adventure.  The card board Storyteller Screen is the fortress that not only defends the Storyteller’s campaign notes from the prying eyes of players and allows hidden dice rolls that the Storyteller may fudge to the PCs detriment or benefit, but that same castle-like screen is also a metaphor for the daunting task of transitioning from player to Storyteller. 

Amongst my former gaming group, the shift from player to Storyteller was a common topic of discussion.  Many of the players wanted to run their own games but were intimidated by the work involved and the thought of being responsible for every once else having a good time.  And I tried to encourage all of my players to at least attempt running one session.    Eventually, some did try their hands at running a game. 
Taking up the mantle of Storyteller is a frightening prospect.  Players are only responsible for creating and role playing their own character and showing up prepared with their character sheet, dice, and pencils.  The Storyteller must create a variety of NPCs, role play each of them, create the setting, determine the plots of the game and how players’ actions affect those plots, adjudicate rules fairly, and most importantly ensure that everyone at the table is having fun.  Being a Storyteller is time consuming as well.  Storytellers have to invest time to design NPCs, dream up action set pieces, draw dungeons or any of the other various activities required to make a session work. 
The difference in responsibilities is tremendous, and I know many players who have played RPGs for years and never stepped behind the screen.  Storytellers are a rare breed because it’s not easy to run a game.  Others, like myself, who have been Storytellers more often than they have been players feel trapped behind the screen. They get burnt out because of the time and effort required. 
Players spend many hours asking for advice from Storytellers on how to run a game or looking for information on blogs like this one.  It seems like these nascent Storytellers don’t want to run their game until they are prepared for every eventuality.  Personally, I’ve spent hours in conversation with my own players offering advice on what to expect when running a game. 

The simple truth is that until you run a game, you don’t need any advice.  Stop thinking about running a game.  Stop asking for advice on how to run a game.  Just run the game. 
For the rest of this article, I’m going to write under some assumptions: the person making the transition from player to Storyteller has played a table top RPG at least once prior, has a play group, has access to the appropriate dice for the system, has read the necessary rule books and is familiar with the rules.  Those assumptions are also the only things that anyone needs to become a Storyteller.  Being the Storyteller for a game, regardless of the complexity of the rules, is simply a matter of doing it, “Storytelling” or “DMing.” 
The only way to become a Storyteller is to run a game.  Let me say that again.  The only way to become a Storyteller is to run a game.  Plan the adventure, invite the players over, and run the adventure.   Whether it’s a good session or a bad session is immaterial to simple performance of the duties of a Storyteller.  Most likely, the first session will be bad, but that’s a good thing. 
I’m not fond of extended analogies, but Storytelling is like swimmig. You can read all the books that you want, watch all of the how to videos posted on Youtube, and practice on dry land all you want, but until you are in the water, you aren’t going to swim.  And like your first time swimming, it’s a struggle to just stay afloat.  Unlike swimming, there really isn’t a shallow, safe end of the pool in which to practice.  Thankfully, no one is going to die if a first time Storyteller runs a bad game.  Well, maybe a few PCs, but the players will be fine. 
Taking the swimming analogy all the way!
And like swimming (yes, I’m going to continue this analogy), with practice you become more proficient.  With help, you could learn how to do the backstroke or sidestroke.  You might even get so good that you try swimming in open water, like a lake or the ocean.  With special lessons you could even learn to SCUBA dive.  But none of these enhancements are possible without actually swimming for the first time, flailing about in the water, and being very bad at it. 
Simply put, the only way to be a Storyteller is to dive in and run your first session.  If it’s anything like my first time running a game, then you will fail miserably.  Not just the first session either, you’ll have lots of bad sessions.  I made a lot of mistakes and screwed up a lot of games.  I ran some games that I just should not have run.  I allowed players power game and run roughshod over plots and NPCs.  Honestly, I might have encouraged power gaming at one point.   I did pretty much everything that a Storyteller shouldn’t do.  I am infamous for some spectacularly bad Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 games and Legends of the Five Rings games.
I'm pretty sure this guy's ran a few bad sessions too. 
Players in my last group once told me that they didn’t want to run their own game because they thought their games wouldn’t be as good as mine.  They didn’t see the point in running their own games when they had me and my games were so good.  What they forgot was that I had been running RPGs since 1997.   From all those bad games and mistakes, I learned what worked and what didn’t.  I also made use of the resources around me.  I asked for advice from players and other Storytellers.  I studied and ran other systems.  I played in other people’s games and I learned from their successes and mistakes.  Now, I listen to gaming podcasts and read blogs about gaming to further hone my skills as a Storyteller, but these activities are peripheral to actually running a game. 
At the beginning of this article I talked about how intimidating it was to take on all those responsibilities of being a Storyteller, and those responsibilities remain.  Many of you are worried about failing in front of your friends.  No one wants to fail, and no one wants to be laughed at.  And this is going to sound weird coming from a pessimist, but those of you considering stepping behind the screen and running a game can’t think about the possibility for failure.  You have to think about the future successes and all the great sessions you’ll run.  Until you actually start running games, those successes won’t come.   Take a chance and see what happens. 
The only way to become a Storyteller is to run a game. Only after you’ve become a Storyteller can you start the long process of becoming a good Storyteller which is the goal of any Storyteller.