Recently I had the opportunity to play Dungeons and Dragons again. I hadn’t played since I was in high school and didn’t realize how much I missed it. D&D and I drifted away after version 3.5 and all the advanced rules. I had heard great things about the version 5 so I thought it deserved another look. The thing that really triggered it was a fascinating article about how some middle-aged Dungeon Masters are becoming professional Dungeon Masters.
If you are interested in the article here is link: How to be a professional dungeon master host
Forming the Fellowship
So it turns out that if you work in Information Technology, all you need to form a fellowship is to mention you would like to play D&D. In the space of 15 minutes, I had six people wanting to play, four of them Druids. (Don’t ask me why, Druids were always my least favourite character class)
Before I knew it we had a party formed and were going on our first campaign. Those first sessions confirmed that my Management and Leadership style was indeed formed in those early Dungeon and Dragons sessions in my youth. I was amazed how many similarities there were between a good fellowship and great team.
So I started off with the typical starting point for all good campaigns – Ye Old Tavern. Unlike my first D&D experience, the fellowship didn’t just accept the fact that we found ourselves in the Tavern. The fellowship spent an inordinate amount of time discussing their backgrounds, motivations, and history that would have brought themselves to this point. The was the first metaphor that applied to all good teams – everyone needs to understand what the shared vision is and why they are there. Only once that is understood can the team take on a new mission and campaign. Unfortunately, most of the time we just group people together and expect they will function as a team or fellowship.
When I started to think about playing again I found a book called “Of Dice and Men” that reminisced about the memories of Dungeons and Dragons and told some of the history behind the game. One of the concepts the book introduced to me was that Dungeons and Dragons was so successful because unlike normal games, Dungeons and Dragons involved Collaborative Storytelling. Collaborative Storytelling involves the Dungeon Master creating the genus of the story and then works in collaboration with the fellowship to modify the story to create the best story, outcomes, and enjoyment. The primary thing is to accomplish the quest, but the path or plot may change based on the actions and decisions of the team.
Second metaphor for great teams and leaders. They start out with a shared vision and genus of what they want to accomplish, but the entire team contributes and changes the story as it evolves. Especially key to this is the fact that the Dungeon Master is not separate from the team. He or She doesn’t create an exact plot that the team needs to follow. (Although some Dungeon Masters, Leaders, and Manager do try this approach with very limited success)
For a truly great team, the Dungeon Master, Leader, or Manager must view themselves as a member of the team just playing a different role.
Now that doesn’t mean the Dungeon Master, Leader or Manager makes decisions by consensus. Sometimes they need to make a decision or ruling but they need to remember why they are making the decision. What is the intent of the fellowship or campaign? And most importantly a great Dungeon Master, Leader, or Manager encourages and incorporates team feedback to change the quest and story. It isn’t their story to solely own.
Helping Each Other
And finally the behaviour I notice most in Dungeon and Dragons fellowships is the coming to the aid of each other. It is extremely common for members to heal each other and shield each other from harm. It is the one behaviour I notice in every fellowship I have ever been part of. There is something about the game that really encourages risk taking that benefits others over yourself.
Perhaps instead of other ‘team building’ activities, we just need to break out the 20 sided die and remind ourselves how we succeed together. Even better, we should all take turns as the Dungeon Master to remind ourselves that the best Dungeon Masters, Leaders, and Managers exists to help the players level up, gain treasure, and enjoy themselves while solving a quest.