What do you picture in your mind when a friend or coworker tells you that they’re going to play some Dungeons and Dragons? Maybe a bunch of people crammed into a basement apartment re-enacting sequences from The Lord of the Rings while snacking on over-priced delivery pizza and soda? Or maybe even a bunch of kids from Hawkins, Indiana wasting time on a school night arguing about how to best deal with a one-inch tall piece of plastic?
That image only scratches the surface of what games like D and D have to offer the business world.
Dungeons and Dragons belongs to a genre of games called Table-top Roleplaying Games. That mouthful of words describes any kind of game played at a table (with a board, pieces and dice) where the players take on the roles of given characters and play out their stories. Unlike other board games like Monopoly or Battleship that involve players accomplishing a distinct task and competing with other players, roleplaying games involve a group of players cooperatively telling a story over the course of several sessions.
These games are like choose-your-own adventure books mixed with chess. One person, called the Game Master, leads the game. Their job is to develop the overall plot of the story to be told and manage the activities of the players. Each player typically manages a single character in the overall story directed by the Game Master and has total control over their characters’ actions. They make decisions in their characters’ development to progress the story and improve on their skills and abilities. All the players’ characters are collectively called the party.
The responsibility of the players is to progress the game in a way that benefits the party, manage and accomplish both party and individual goals, and tell an interesting story. These stories are unique experiences to each group. Some are medieval fantasies of valiant knights protecting their homeland from evil dragons and sorcerers. Others are cyberpunk bleak futures where hard-boiled detectives hunt down human-like androids out on psychotic killing sprees. Yet others tell the quixotic tales of supernatural investigators searching for unspeakable horrors in reality-bending mansions and laboratories.
Playing these games develops a number of skills considered invaluable in the business world: teamwork, strategy, creativity, and verbal communication.
Teamwork and Collaboration
The most effective parties consist of a diverse team of specialists united by a common and well-understood goal. When everyone at the table during a game session has an important and distinct role, and is fully engaged with the task at hand, magic can happen. Puzzles are solved, foes are vanquished, kingdoms are saved and, most importantly, people have unforgettable, fulfilling fun.
Learning to work with a party in gaming teaches these vital teamwork principles that people need to understand in the business world. Those who are prone to micro-management learn to respect boundaries and allow the other players their turn. Those who tend to disengage and only act when called upon learn to pitch in. People learn to rely on their skills and proactively use their abilities for the whole team’s benefit when problems arise.
Adding to the collaborative environment is the strategic planning aspect. Everyone in the party has a set of skills useful for solving problems. It is up to the ingenuity of the party as a whole to apply those skills and solve the problems set to them by the game master.
Some of those problems are combat scenarios — a party of three need to win a fight against 23 goblins. Others are social conflicts where the party needs to negotiate with a blood-thirsty bandit chieftain to leave the nearby helpless sheep-herding village in peace. Yet others are traps left behind in a ruined castle whose sealed treasure horde contains the party’s next pay-day.
The Fighter might suggest leading the goblins into a bottle-neck up the nearby canyon where the Rogue and Wizard will keep behind her while she makes use of her sword against individual foes. The Rogue might suggest convincing the bandit chieftain to seek employment as a mercenary with the local Lord so that the chieftain need not steal and kill to feed his people. The Wizard might suggest summoning a number of other-worldly faeries into the castle to indicate where triggers to traps lie so that the party can delve a path safely to the sealed treasure.
The scenarios are endless and good players learn to apply their skills and the skills of the other party members to help the party reach its goals.
Adding a layer to the strategic aspect is a fun layer of creative thinking. Coming up with novel solutions to problems is a key feature of both successful business people and successful tabletop gamers. Let’s reexamine our previous examples:
Perhaps the Wizard might conjure an illusion of a hungry giant to scare off the goblins trying to give chase to the party.
Maybe the Fighter might subdue the bandit chieftain by besting him in a duel and demanding he leave the village in peace or suffer death by her blade.
Or possibly, the Rogue might nimbly disarm the traps as the party gets closer to securing the treasure sealed away in the ruined castle.
The obvious solution is not always the best one, and tabletop gaming teaches people to think outside-the-box as they approach problems to generate the best possible outcome.
The bulk of the story told around the table is done verbally. Descriptions of the world are given by the game master through spoken word, and players describe to the game master what their intentions and actions are. Conflict, consensus and celebration are all expressed verbally.
Because of this, everyone at the table learns how to better express themselves vocally with specificity and detail. “I attack the goblin with my sword,” turns into “I slash at the goblin’s heels, keeping his attention down low until I can strike a vital blow to his head.” This same skill is highly coveted in the workplace. “The website is broken,” turns into “The forms on the Contact Us page aren’t forwarding to Bill’s email like they should.”
Table-top gaming is more than a simple diversion, but a hobby that teaches skills valuable for anyone working in the professional world. If you’ve ever wanted to find a fun way to improve your collaborative spirit, tune up your strategic or creative mind, or work on using your words better, table-top roleplaying is the place to look.