I'm not going to tell you talking your paper man through an imaginary situation is like physical training. It's not. But some of the lessons I've learned training apply to gaming, and some of the lessons I've learned gaming apply to training. Sometimes it's hard to tell which one fed into which - it's rarely an epiphany. The epiphany tends to be realizing that you have learned and adjusted not suddenly spotting a life-changing moment to learn from and adjust based on. Put maybe better - the epiphany is noticing you've changed, not the changing.
But I'm getting off track.
In any case, here are two things I learned from training that apply to gaming.
There is never a perfect time.
If you define the perfect time as any or all of:
- having the most benefit for the least cost;
- having the optimal amount of preparation;
- having the assured ability to execute without error;
you will always wait.
There is never a perfect time.
In training, if you wait until you're totally healthy, and you've got time to train every day, and you've got a schedule that allows regular training, and the weather is right, and the cost is right, and the ability to back it up in the kitchen is right . . . you'll never start. That's never the case, not even for athletes training full time in a training center. I've trained with pro athletes in the off-season, when they have nothing to do but train and get better . . . except for raising their kids, seeing their family, getting over illnesses, dealing with contracts and endorsements and charity commitments and all of that. So really, you may as well make the best of what you have right now, and then work to improve the "have right now" for cases in the future.
In gaming, it's also never a perfect time. The best time to deal with an obstacle might not be right now, but it's likely that next time won't be any better. If you always back off and wait until you're fully prepared you will come out with less in the long run. Not only that, but as Tim Shorts pointed out, if the world is dynamic and assumes other adventurers, you may lose out. In games where increasing rewards are required to level up or improve (or even keep pace!), or where experience/benefits are reduced as the challenge drops down, you're also reducing risk at a cost of reducing reward . . . maybe so low it's not worth the risk of a bad break.
Just from a fun/play perspective, "let's come back when we're totally prepared" means you spend more time backing off and preparing than actually doing. And the doing is where the most fun is.
Prepare as much as you can, look before you leap, and leverage what you've got the best you can . . . but stop putting things off until there is a perfect time. It's not going to come.
Need trumps want.
In training, you need to do what you need to do. You can't just do what you like - not if you expect the best results. And focus on "want" can often leave you with gaping needs that grow bigger and bigger. I've trained tons of people who work their biceps, their chest, their triceps, their quadriceps, and do ab exercise after ab exercise. They do only the cardio they like, or only go easy, or only go hard (usually, only hard.) They come to me with shoulder issues, bad posture, neck issues, mid-back weakness, low-back pain, inhibited gluteals, messed up hips, bad knees, and feet with more problems than toes. Years of "I did what I liked hard and often, what I needed only when forced" magnified the need until it's a source of pain and misery and frustration.
Those that focus on a rational, objective need-based training approach tend to do better - and while they'll get to do less of what they want, they'll do it better and benefit more from it.
In gaming, you can get away with a lot more want. Need can be handwaved in ways you can't in reality. You're not punished by the simple fact that doing 90% of your leg exercises for less than 50% of the muscles acting on a joint is going to cause joint issues. But there are needs you must address. Common ones include:
- having a "healer" (mechanic, cleric, physician, etc.) is usually necessary.
- having utility players (thieves, scholars, artificers, inventors, etc.) is usually necessary.
- having a good "face" (diplomatic types of all sorts) is usually necessary.
You can offload these to NPCs, of course, but if you do, caring for those NPCs becomes a need.
In a megadungeon, with its immediate and cumulative, it's easy to keep pushing for "want" over "need." Same with any sandbox. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're totally unbalancing the delicate standoff between hostile forces here, but we need money right now. Oh sure, we don't want to suffer consequences of our actions in town, so we'll just run away - nevermind we need this town's goodwill long-term. We can deal with that big glaring evil enemy later, it's not the perfect time yet. Some of these mix needs - you have needs right now, which can obscure other needs. Priorities are still something to be decided and balanced.
But you if always choose "want" over "need," eventually, the game can grind down as needs overwhelm you or as GMs right the ship for you to keep going one more session. You need to figure out your needs within the confines of the game and make that happen if you want the game to last.