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Its been about two months since I first posted about Dungeons and Dragons, which seems like a sane amount of time to wait before writing a followup. A lot can change in two months after all.

And change it has! As is unfortunately sometimes the case, we had to do some pretty classic organizational restructuring and as a result, our old DM has gone the way of Gary Gygax.

To be clear, he’s not dead, but he's definitely no longer with us. His absence is keenly felt, both from a D&D point of view and from an organizational point of view. Also it makes me sad.

Its not all doom and gloom though.

His departure provided a natural opportunity to refresh and revisit our D&D group and paved the way for a second “season” of D&D campaigns.

Where once there was a mere eight players in a single group, now we are legion. Surely it is only a matter of time before the entire company pivots and we flip to some sort of D&D related business.

And I for one welcome our new draconic overlords.

The Phoenix Returns To Life In 1d6 Days

While the dissolution of the first group was a sad day indeed, our attempts to reform were immediately met with a fresh wave of interest from a wide variety of people.

I like to think that its all because of the masterfully crafted email that I sent out looking for fresh blood, but its probably more likely that the buzz generated from the ridiculousness of the first groups campaign provided for solid word of mouth advertising.

It wasn’t long before I had a list of about twenty people who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The best part was that the people were from all across the business, and ranged from other members of our development team, to our support department, all the way through to marketing.

Having discovered in the first season that seven players and one DM is somewhat challenging to run (similar to how large teams get less effective), the goal was to try and limit each group to five players. Using the power of maths, that meant we would have four groups.

Of course, with the departure of our sole DM, we’d need to find a new one. Actually, we’d need to find four new ones, as running even a single group can be time consuming at the best of times, let alone four completely different groups.

Taking into account everyone’s availability, the desire for each group to have a mixture of newbies and experienced people and the fact that the volunteer DM’s would also like to be able to play was somewhat….challenging. My logistical skills are pretty good these days though, so once I’d exited the fugue state brought on by all of the constraints, we were left with four groups organized over Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings and everybody reasonably happy.

Also, I was a DM, because I’m a sucker like that.

Behind The Curtain

Having only played D&D once before, peeking behind the curtain was both enlightening and not really all that surprising.

To make things easy, the fresh DM’s all picked solely from the pre-built adventures supplied by Wizards of the Coast. Its a lot simpler to get a handle on the responsibilities of being a DM when you are provided with some guidelines and ideas that are easy to extend (or not) as you wish, without requiring you to think of absolutely everything.

I picked Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which is a pretty big campaign that is actually the first half of a massive two-part adventure (the other half being Rise of Tiamat). Using our very first group as a high water mark, I’m not sure we’ll ever finish it, but that probably doesn’t matter as long as we have fun while we try.

For me, already being in a leadership role, the transition to being a DM is probably only about half as hard as it is for someone who has never had the experience of organising and guiding a group of people. Of course, that leaves the other half of the difficulty fully intact, so its not all easy riding.

To compare:

  • As a player, you really only have to know the details about your own character and the basic gameplay tenets, and even those are not super important if you have a solid DM to guide you.
  • As the DM, you need to know everything. Literally everything, top to bottom, all the rules and constraints, how the game flows in the abstract and how your campaign needs to progress. You also need to be good at improvising, as you can plan for a huge variety of things, but once it gets into the hands of your players, all of that might go out the window.

Finally, the last (and possible most critical part) is knowing when to step in and when to let things go. You have to be careful to not spoil anyone’s fun (within reason) and to enable those cool D&D moments to happen as organically as possible, but you also need to maximise the amount of fun happening across the entire group.

Like I said in my first post, its a fine line to walk.

Epic With A Capital E

Interestingly enough, with multiple groups running at the same time, we might eventually be able to do some sort of epic crossover. Imagine a campaign where one or more different groups are working together to accomplish a greater goal, or even better, maybe the groups are working against each other, possibly without even realising it.

You could probably retrofit multiple groups acting together into one of the pre-built campaigns, but to be honest, you’d be better off putting a custom one together that was built with the concept in mind from the start.

Its a neat dream, but as we have people who are both players and DM’s, we would have to be pretty careful as anyone filling both roles would know too much.

I think I’d be more than willing to give up the ability to play to put something like that together though, as it would be an amazing experience for everyone involved.

Cure Wounds, Gain 1d8 Hit Points

Last but not least, one of the completely unintended side effects of running D&D groups at work is employee retention.

This comes in two flavours.

The first is the simple presence of social activities that help to bind people together around more than just work. For us, D&D is just another addition to an already healthy space, but being focused on much smaller groups it results in slightly different benefits (tighter bonds, closer friendships, etc).

The second is the continuity of the campaign itself. D&D groups are essentially engaged in collaborative storytelling, weaving an epic, personalised tale together over time. Its hard to pull away from that on a whim, so it tends to increase the barrier to leaving for non-critical reasons.

I say non-critical, because if your workplace is bad enough, no amount of social activities will keep the good people around.

Having said all of that, I would never prevent a former employee from continuing to participate in D&D. As long as they can regularly make the sessions, they are always welcome in any campaign that they were already a member of. Obviously current employees get preference when it comes to putting together new groups, but there is no reason to be a jerk about it just because someone has moved on.

Conclusion

We started this whole thing because there were a few of us that just wanted to play D&D, and having a bunch of people who were already together on a day to day basis made it a lot easier to organise. Its pretty hard to get a group of adults with various adult responsibilities together on a regular basis after all.

The result of that initial, relatively selfish desire has been a wealth of social activity that is effectively linking a bunch of different business units together, and is helping to smooth out some of the natural stress inherent in working in a challenging environment.

All in all, I think its been a worthwhile usage of my (and other peoples) time and I highly recommend it.

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