I play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. Over the 4 years I’ve been playing (a fifth of my life, if you want to feel old), I’ve played with many different groups and been Dungeon Master more often than not. Getting to play it for college credit? A dream come true. For my character I decided to try something new to me, playing a human barbarian (who was also a little old lady who worked in an archive). Our DM, Nick, did a fantastic job of introducing the game to the new players in our group. The world he created was both immersive and interactive, allowing our characters to have agency as well as lots to discover. Over three weeks our rag-tag party of heroes killed goblins, befriended goblins, unionized goblins, mourned exactly one goblin (RIP Rushwater you will be missed), and killed a bugbear (basically a large hairy goblin). There was a healthy mix of cave exploration, social negotiation, and good old-fashioned fighting.
The hardest part of this game is basic math. I’m not joking. I’m so bad at adding a number to another number. I keep a calculator on hand just to make sure everything goes smoothly. Aside from that, the other major difficulty in this (and other social games) is finding the balance between leading by example and knowing when to step back and let other people have the spotlight. This is especially relevant when the other members of the group have less experience with role-playing games and may be more shy about jumping in.
Dungeons and Dragons is not a game for everyone. It has many moving parts and numbers to keep track of, and it’s designed to tell a very specific type of story. However, it is undoubtedly the most ubiquitous of the tabletop role playing games. Everyone and their grandma has heard of it. This combination doesn’t always work out; many times people will try to hack D&D to make it do what they want, when better alternatives exist. The same thing applies to leadership! There are nearly infinite styles of leadership, and not every one will work for any given group. It’s important to fit the leadership tactic to the situation and the people who are involved. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, you have to know when to take charge of a situation and when to sit back and let other people take initiative.
When JS told us that we would be in charge of choosing our own game for this week, I knew exactly what I wanted to play. I consider myself something of a connoisseur of role-playing games, and my favorites are the ones that are simple to pick up and play – one-page RPGs being the pinnacle of this concept. Lasers and Feelings, by John Harper, is my go-to for groups of RPG veterans and newbies alike. The mechanics are simple; each character has a single number that they want to roll either over or under depending on the action. They can use their character’s narrative abilities to add dice and increase their chances of success. I also just love emotional space westerns, sue me.
The four players I had for this session were absolutely delightful. Their creativity and trust was unmatched, and I honestly wish I could have been a better GM for them. Coming up with situations, characters, and challenges on the fly is something that I sometimes struggle with (though I am loath to admit it). Even still, my players were patient and understanding, and overall I think we had an amazing time together.
Even though I took it upon myself to “lead” this session, it was nice to just sit back and have some fun with it rather than try to learn a specific lesson about leadership. If I was going to take anything from this, it would be that it’s okay to let others help you even if you are nominally in charge of a situation. Delegating responsibilities when things get to be too much for you isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. Not only is it good for your mental health, it can lead to the finished product being better that it would have been otherwise.
This week we played two board games in class. The first one is a classic game called Can’t Stop, with very simple rules. You roll dice and advance on the board based on the sum of the dice you roll. After each roll, you can choose to stop and secure your progress or roll again. If you roll but have nowhere to advance to, you lose all progress for that round.
The second game this week was Incan Gold. It was a similar risk/reward type of game, but in an entirely different style. Incan Gold relies heavily on the narrative and aesthetics of explorers plundering an Incan temple for riches. Cards are drawn from a deck to determine whether your explorer finds treasure or dangerous hazards. Find too many hazards, and you lose all your collected treasure. The first explorer to leave gets to take an extra share of the treasure that has been discovered up to that point, but they miss out on any future discoveries.
Of the two games, I vastly preferred Can’t Stop. The turn-based gameplay went much more smoothly over the internet, and was quick enough to be fun and engaging. Incan Gold had more complex rules and timing that was difficult to adequately recreate on Tabletop Simulator. Even aside from the colonialist narrative that it perpetuates, the gameplay just wasn’t as interesting or fun for me.
The one thing that both of these games had in common was the concept of chance. It was impossible to win or even play either without taking some amount of risk. I know myself to be very risk-averse, so I was not particularly looking forward to this week. However, the low stakes and controlled atmosphere of these games gave me a chance to step out of my comfort zone slightly, and I really enjoyed it! Taking risks is an essential aspect of leadership, and activities like these can help get new leaders comfortable with small risks so that they’re prepared to face much bigger ones.
Fiasco is the first of the tabletop RPGs we played in class. In it, you build a character around the relationships you have with the other people at your game table, then set that character loose to cause trouble. Our group played using the Main Street playset, which takes place in an ostensibly “nice” southern small town. The online setting of our class made things slightly more difficult than usual, but we made due using a shared spreadsheet and an online dice roller.
This was not my first time playing Fiasco, so I had some experience (and high expectations) going in. This game’s maelstrom of bad decisions and high emotions can be a lot of fun, but it really depends on the people you’re playing with and how well you can match the energy of the group. One of our group members had difficulty participating due to technical difficulties, but the other two were excellent players. Getting everything set up and communicated properly was by far the hardest part of the game; once we had established a rhythm of starting and finishing scenes, we had a great time playing.
Personal values, relationships, goals and desires take center stage in every game of Fiasco. I was playing a character that was quite different from myself, but aspects of my own values still came out in play. The context of role playing games can give us an avenue to explore what it’s like to be a different person. Because your personal values affect every decision you make, they become extra important in a leadership context. Making sure that your values align with those of your team is essential to success.
For the first game of the class, we played Roll Player. The game itself is a competitive character-building game, with aspects of drafting, strategy, chance, and resource management. In Roll Player, the goal is to build the best character possible using the dice and cards that are randomly drawn. Aspects of the character include their race, class, background, and alignment. In the Market, you can pick up weapons, armor, traits and skills to further augment your character and give you in-game abilities.
Our session faced several difficulties in using the Tabletopia interface, understanding the rules, and communicating with each other. Many of our problems would have been solved by sitting around a physical table, especially because one of our players was having internet issues. Despite this, I enjoyed the concept of the game, and would like to play it someday under more favorable circumstances.
This game offers many perspectives on leadership; the different strengths and strategies needed to accomplish different goals, the ability to roll with random events (no pun intended), and the importance of compromise when working with other people. Because each player has a different race, class, background, and alignment, no two people are working toward the same goal. Luckily, there are many different strategies for gaining points. However, most of these strategies rely on random chance; if you can’t buy your armor when it comes up, or you roll the wrong number on your dice, you may have to be flexible with your strategy. Even worse for a plan is the presence of other people. If someone else takes the die you wanted, you have to be flexible and not get mad at them.