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Experience Point: Try it! You might love it!

I did something really cool last night. I got to try out blacksmithing! I’ve wanted to do this for a long, long time. For at least a dozen years I’ve been going to the North Carolina State Fair to watch the guys work the forge where they have exhibitions of old crafts. It utterly fascinates me. Seeing them start with a piece of raw iron or steel and work it into a useful tool or...

I did something really cool last night. I got to try out blacksmithing!

I’ve wanted to do this for a long, long time. For at least a dozen years I’ve been going to the North Carolina State Fair to watch the guys work the forge where they have exhibitions of old crafts. It utterly fascinates me.

Seeing them start with a piece of raw iron or steel and work it into a useful tool or decorative ornament is just incredibly cool to me. The artistry and technique seem complex and yet most of it is just done with hammer and anvil. Simple tools but complex results.

This year I struck up a conversation with one of the guys and told him it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. I even went so far as to sign up for a blacksmithing course at our local community college but it was cancelled due to lack of interest. He kindly replied that if I didn’t mind driving out to his shop (about an hour from where I live), he’d be happy to show me some stuff and let me bang away at his forge. I got in touch a couple weeks after the fair and after a bit of phone tag and scheduling I finally got my chance last night.

This guy was really friendly but he didn’t waste a lot of time on instruction. He talked through the process as he went through the steps of drawing out the steel, bending the tip and curving it into a hook. He quenched it in the big bucket of water and told me how to tell when it was cool enough to touch (if the water stays wet on it and isn’t drying then it’s cool enough to touch). Then he handed it to me and told me, “Now you put a hook on the other end.”

So I did my best to follow his example with predictable results: I screwed up. First I left the steel in the fire too long and burned the metal (yes, that’s possible). Then I hammered it wrong. He smiled and just stuck it back in the fire and said, “The beautiful thing is we can just heat it up again and start over.”

I finally got that hook right. So I made another. And then another. Pretty soon I had those basic techniques down and my hooks were coming out pretty darned good. I told my new friend, “Kirt, I feel like I’m reaching just the right confluence of confidence and tiredness that I’m about to screw something up!” And I was right. The next one I curved the wrong way. He laughed and stuck it back in the fire so I could fix it. And I did.

I made more than simple hooks but I won’t say more about that yet because my wife reads this column and it might reveal something about her Christmas present. By the end of the night I felt like I knew just enough to (a.) be dangerous and (b.) know I really love smithing. I’m not quite sure I’m going to shell out the money to set up my own forge but it’s definitely something I’ll be looking to do again soon.

The whole experience made me think about a guy in my group who has taken up GMing over the last couple years. I have a lot of experience there and I was happy to offer some advice to him as he was getting started. But a GM really needs to bring his own style to the table, not just parrot somebody else’s. So after some general advice I told him to just get started and give it a try.

And it was pretty rough. It wasn’t bad though. Not polished and not expert for sure. But I could see he was having fun and wanted to learn. I knew he would get better and he did. And he wasn’t going to screw anything up we couldn’t toss back into the fire and fix the next session.

Later on he got going a bit better and learned to make bigger mistakes. He bent a few hooks backwards and we laughed. You don’t learn by doing everything right all the time.

I’m proud to say he’s become a darned good GM these days. He’s gearing up to run a game for us in the new year and I’m pretty excited to play for a while. I think he got that way not necessarily because he had a good teacher but mostly because he wasn’t afraid to try new stuff and maybe fail sometimes.

How did you get started GMing? What were your biggest screw ups and how did you learn from them?
 

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