Five things a D&D group can learn from a corporate board meeting

There are plenty of things I really enjoy about my day job as a senior manager at a publishing company. One thing I don’t like so much is the mandatory, weekly operating committee meeting, at which our company’s department heads provide lengthy reports to the chief executive and chief operating officers.

During a slow period of last week’s meeting, I browsed over some of the agenda items and came to the conclusion that thinking through some of the concepts described there may provide a benefit to a group of D&D players, with regard to how their characters operate and succeed in the game world. Of course, this is purely a metagame exercise; characters obviously wouldn’t discuss their life circumstances in these terms. Players, however, may find some benefit in viewing their heroes through the lens about to be presented, both for in-game circumstances like recruiting allies or amassing enough treasure to finance a project, and for external considerations, like whether or not a given feat is giving optimal in-game results.

This concept isn’t intended to bog the game down with number-crunching. Instead, it is to be used to view a snapshot of the party’s current status in the game world and help with the development of goals.

A few of the meeting topics are listed below.

Review of assets and liabilities. Speaking in simplest terms, assets are resources such as cash, equipment and personnel, while liabilities are debts owed against these resources. Companies use their assets to meet their financial obligations and to help reach goals like investing in new equipment, developing new technologies and corporate growth.

For a D&D party, assets can include in-game property like treasure, ritual books, magic items and single-use consumables like potions, ritual scrolls, Greek fire or holy water. From a metagame perspective, assets can also include character abilities, since players “spend” on feats or skills that impact how well their characters meet goals, and some of those skills or feats may work more effectively than others.

A party’s liabilities can involve actual financial debt – like owing a sum of gold coins to a temple in exchange for the performance of certain rituals – or more subtle forms of indebtedness, like owing a favor to a certain thieves’ guild informant that helped the heroes avoid an ambush.

Why would a D&D party want to review its assets and liabilities? For the same reasons real-world companies do: to analyze how well-quipped they are to accomplish their goals. If assets are in short supply, one important goal would be to obtain more assets. 

Return on investment (ROI). One form of asset is an investment – resources committed to a specific purpose to bring about a benefit in the future. Most people hope that the benefits received are commensurate with the resources committed, but they’ll compute an ROI to see if their investments are doing as well as they should.

While this consideration could be a worthwhile number-crunching exercise if the D&D campaign actually involves heroes engaging in merchant activity, it will more likely take the form of players re-evaluating their choices of skills, feats or powers and taking advantage of the retraining option presented by the 4e rules. After all, a hero of any given level has a specific number of slots available for these talents, and they must be selected to the exclusion of others. In that case, the player has expended a resource – a feat slot, for example – and it would be wise for that player to ensure that the benefits gained from that feat during play correspond with what was invested.

Analysis of competition. For real-world companies, this concept involves a company identifying and assessing those entities engaging in the same commercial activity, whose actions can impact how well that company can reach its goals.

This strict definition isn’t much use to a D&D group, but a loose application of the concept can greatly enhance a campaign. The key here is to review the D&D party’s goals, then see what other groups in the game are trying to accomplish similar goals, or who are standing in opposition of the heroes’ goals. These groups could include rival adventuring parties, prominent temples, bardic colleges, thieves’ guilds or villains. When these groups are identified, the players can develop strategies on how they might gain advantage over those competitors.

The Dungeon Master (DM) might consider listening closely to this part of the discussion, as the various conclusions heroes may reach about the competition could inspire adventure ideas. You may not have planned for those rival adventurers to seek the same artifact, but if one of the players voices that possibility and it poses an interesting story arc, the DM can certainly decide that the rival group is doing so.

Strategic partnerships. In the corporate world, strategic partnerships involve two commercial entities working together, often in contractually binding ways, but not to the same extent that would be found in affiliate arrangements or formal partnerships. Essentially, it involves situations where both parties benefit. For example, this writer’s publishing group partners with third-party commercial printers to print certain types of products that cannot be produced with its in-house equipment and personnel; the publishing group benefits by obtaining finished products more cheaply than they could be made in-house, and the printing contractor also earns a profit.

Translating this concept to a D&D group involves reviewing goals and determining how to better reach those goals by cooperating with related entities that may be able to perform certain aspects of the party’s task more quickly or effectively. During Heroic Tier play, this consideration may be less important, as low-level heroes tend to operate independently against comparably small threats to civilization. When the adventurers face threats to nations or worlds, however, it may make more sense to “outsource” tasks like ritual or spell research, gathering components,
or even holding a military objective while the heroes quest for an artifact that could bring decisive victory.

Marketing and public relations. It is imperative that companies remain proactive in broadcasting positive messages about their respective brands, to counteract claims of superiority made by competitors or to minimize the effect of complaints from the dissatisfied customers that even companies with the best of intentions invariably get. While broadcast media isn’t typically available to a group of fantasy heroes, taking a moment to consider how the party is viewed by others can be a useful exercise. Basically, this involves two steps: first, determining which groups’ opinions (if any) matter to the heroes, and second, what might be done to ensure that those groups have a favorable impression of the heroes.

In games that involve player characters that act as swords for hire, this concern probably won’t matter. Campaigns that involve court intrigue, fragile alliances, cultural mistrust or tension between social classes may find greater use in this exercise.

There are a number of ways that a party of heroes can project a positive image to one or more groups. Retaining the services of a bard or minstrel to sing of the group’s heroic deeds is one option, as is making donations to religious organizations, craft guilds, almshouses, orphanages, centers of education or even training centers for character classes. Of course, not all public relations work needs to be rooted in a cash donation; heroes can employ their remarkable powers to perform all manner of deeds viewed favorably by the groups to which they hope to appeal. In one of this writer’s past games, the elder of a village saved from a zombie assault by first-level heroes created an annual holiday to celebrate the heroes’ service, and the party would return to the village each year to preside over a feast and faire held in their honor.

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2 comments on “Five things a D&D group can learn from a corporate board meeting

  1. ClefJ says:

    Interesting post, well-cut to describe the point you’re making. And a very cool day job too! ;D

    • Alric says:

      Thanks. I’m actually in school for massage therapy and nursing; print media is really struggling right now with so many revenue streams disappearing. Everything on Ebay and Craigslist used to be private party newspaper advertising; real estate used to appear in special sections, as did employment (the want-ads) and obituaries. Newspapers are trying to increase revenue with their online products, byut the margins aren’t as high – and they still have the high fixed costs of printing and distributing the papers. It’s a tough industry.

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