And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
--The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
"Hands up, those of you who would care to learn to be a better DM by running the game in an auditorium full of well-meaning critics who were encouraged to shout at you during your presentation. Mind you, I said "well-meaning" ... not trolls anxious to put you off your game, but persons who have legitimate, well-founded oppositions to what you're trying to do."
This is a quote from The Tao of D&D blog, and it cuts to the heart of whether there is any way to learn the techniques of the referee or dungeon master. The starting point for such a discussion must necessarily clear the hurdle that there are thousands of games, at thousands of table tops, and no one has any direct experience for comparing one set of techniques to another. (Clarification: This is a restatement of Alexis's arguments; for myself, I'm quite happy to learn what I can via blog posts and internet discussions; the following idea of using old school pod casts is still quite intriguing).
The topic has been broached before; I remembered an older post from Zak's place that discussed similar issues in the context of testing RPG theory. There are actual play podcasts where you can hear different table top techniques in action. Zak's post is here: Getting Around The Uncertainty Principle. One of the line's that sticks out for me is this one:
"GMing advice? A recording's worth a thousand words. I would LOOOOOVE to hear side-by-side recordings of (say) James Raggi, James Mal, and Jeff Rients all running the same module for their respective groups."
I don't listen to Actual Play podcasts, or even know which ones exist. But it would be an interesting experiment to see a few of the blogosphere's luminaries listen to the same podcast and come back with suggestions on what worked, and how they'd do things differently. Does anyone have a recommendation for an Actual Play podcast that is fairly well recorded? I daresay, I'm not interested in running a game in front of Alexis's auditorium full of (well-meaning) critics. I'm the first to admit there's room for my improvement in my game.
My own standard of the successful DM is quite simple, and the bar is low. Did the DM enjoy the experience such that he feels it is worth repeating and will run the game the next time? Did the players find the game enjoyable and deem it worth showing up next time as well? If the answer is yes on both counts, you're successful. There may be things you want to do better, but there will be future games. I can think of many games that crashed and burned and were abandoned by the DM, and many players that played once and never came back. For a hobbyist performer, getting the next booking is really the only important measure.