Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Explaining D&D

Interviewer:  This all looks good - we like your background, and from talking to you I think you can probably bring a lot of experience to the team.  There's just one other thing - I see you've put 'plays D&D' on your resume.

Applicant:  Yes.

Interviewer:  I've heard of that.  I don't know much about it.  Can you tell me what it is?

Applicant:  Well . . . that takes a little time.

Interviewer:  No, seriously.  I'd like to know.  My son has mentioned it now and then, but he doesn't seem to be able to explain it.

Applicant:  It can be hard.

Interviewer:  So?

Applicant:  There's a lot of different ways to look at it.  Most people call it role-playing, but it's really a framework in which people try to solve problems presented by a specific individual.  That's the 'DM' - never mind what that stands for.  The DM creates a set of circumstances that are imaginary, while the 'Players' set out to solve the problems that the circumstances create.

Interviewer:  This is a game?

Applicant:  Sort of.  There are points for those who make the best choices supported by die rolls.  Make a good choice, roll a die and get a good result, you get the most points.

Interviewer:  So it's like Monopoly.

Applicant:  More or less.  Try to imagine that all the events you experience in Monopoly - buy property, buy houses, collect for passing go and so on - are made very gritty.

Interviewer:  Gritty?

Applicant:  Detailed.  You imagine that you're actually on the Boardwalk itself, looking at the property there.  Because it is very complicated, there are fifty or sixty properties on Boardwalk, and you're free to go into each and look around, to decide which properties you want to buy.

Interviewer:  How do I see these properties?

Applicant:  I have detailed descriptions that I give you.  I'm the DM.  That's what I'm supposed to do.  As you tell me you're going into the first property, I tell you about the size, what the carpet looks like, what maintenance has been done and so on, so that you can make a decision about whether or not to buy.

Interviewer:  And my decision . . .?

Applicant:  Determines how likely you are to buy a property that is going to make a good return for your investment.  You don't have a specific idea that this property will make such-and-such an amount of money, so you have to guess.  I have a list of numbers and algorithms that tell me how much a property is going to make based on the condition of the property, but you're not able to see those numbers, so you just have to guess and do your best.

Interviewer:  I see.

Applicant:  Once you decide to buy, there are other things.  You may have enough money to do renovations, or you may have to take a loan out at the bank.  If that's the case, you would have a 'conversation' with the loan officer, which would decide whether or not he trusted you and was willing to give you all the money you needed for the renovations you want to do.  In this arrangement, I act the part of the loan officer.

Interviewer:  So I talk to you.

Applicant:  Right.  You tell me about your circumstances, what you want to do, how you feel you'll be able to pay the money back, what rent you intend to charge on the property and so on.  I have a bunch of numbers that tell me what a good rent on that property would be, so if you name a number that's too high, I probably won't give you the money.  On the other hand, you could try to tell me about your wife and kids, or try to impress me with your business acumen and so on, in which case I would roll dice to see if the loan officer was moved by your pitch.

Interviewer:  Okay.  That sounds fairly interesting.  What if I wanted to go to another source to find out what other properties in the neighbourhood were costing me before I went to the bank?

Applicant:  That's no problem.  You could either ask around to get a general number, or you could pay a small fee to a company that provides that information.

Interviewer:  I'd rather do that.

Applicant:  Good.  Then chances are you get the loan at the bank, since you've done your research.  Next, you'll probably want to -

Interviewer:  Hire a contractor.  Do I know any contractors?

Applicant:  It's possible you know someone in your family that does that sort of thing.

Interviewer:  I'd rather not hire family.  It never works out well.  I'd rather hire a good contractor that's done work in the area, so that he knows the neighbourhood and specific work codes associated with the city.

Applicant:  Good idea.  Asking around, you can find three different contractors who all claim to have done work in the area.  They are all in good standing with the city and asking around, you find they all seem to be competent.  Boardwalk is a high-end area, and apparently there are other influences that seem to push out contractors who don't do a good job.

Interviewer:  Other influences?

Applicant:  Yes.  Boardwalk has a lot of businesses that are associated with gambling.  There is said to be an 'underground' element that keeps the area clean and friendly to tourists.

Interviewer:  How do I meet this underground element?  Do they harass people who buy property in the area?

Applicant:  I don't have any dice, so I'll just have to go with my instincts.  There's probably someone you've met by now who has a story to tell about being roughed up, yes.

Interviewer:  So we're talking the mob, right?

Applicant:  Apparently.

Interviewer:  Okay.  I set out to find someone who can help me contact the mob, so that we can make a deal of some kind.  I don't want to get into this without first knowing who I'm dealing with.  I was thinking of starting up an export business.  Is there anything that the casinos need that I should consider including in my designs?  Or perhaps I should cater to the tourists.  Are many of them from overseas, or is it mostly traffic from the Three-State area . . .


Tim said...

This is the best description of D&D that I have ever read, in great part because you capture the immersion so fluidly. It's a perfect way to tell a person who has never played how the game can represent anything that the participants create.

It would make a great poster if condensed slightly.

Giordanisti said...

This way of introducing dnd is showing me a lot of the flaws in the way I normally go about it. Usually, i'm explaining the game to a couple newcomers amongst a few more experienced players, and my intro focuses a lot on the standard tropes of the game -- setting, common activities that players perform, a little bit of mechanics. I'm pretty good at explaining that they have complete autonomy, but now i'm realizing that already i'm boxing in their expectations and unconsiously limiting their actions. It seems to me that using an example that is completely outside the purview of "ordinary" play (such as monopoly) is a great way to leave open all possibilities for action, since there are no common tropes muddying the waters. You've really laid down the essential tools of both player and DM here, with no distracting bells and whistles. I'll have to work on my pitch to reflect all this, as i have a few people i'd like to introduce to the game... Great post again, Alexis.

Mark Van Vlack said...

Fantastic description.. I was grinning from ear to ear reading that. I can only hope to get that question at an interview someday.

Barrow said...

I always enjoy watching both a new player and the group when a DM addresses the new player's character for the first time. Even if the new player has been listening to others chatter in character for the past half-hour and has received a lengthy explanation of the game, there seems to be a visible mental break when a new player is addressed for the first time. You see the curtain raise on their faces as they accept their role in the game, "Oh, I have to think and speak for my character too." You can see their eyes glaze as they mentally separate their character's personality, characteristics, history, and voice from their own. It makes me wonder how poor explanations of D&D will limit the hundreds of calculations and decisions a new player makes in that moment of disconnect.

As for the other experienced players, I've noticed they always smile sheepishly during this process. Their faces are a mixture of excitement to see the new player's reaction and avoidance or waiting to see if the new player accepts the game and the way its communicated. Its a moment where other players egos seem to be on their sleeves. I image I could find a similar expression on chef's face when offering a taste of a newly developed sauce to a friend. One party communicating for the first time with another. Its usually rather interesting.

Zrog (ESR) said...

I don't suppose this really happened to you yet? I'm just curious whether this was an actual event, or a preparation for one.


Alexis Smolensk said...

The set-up is entirely fictional. However, I have explained D&D this way to people scores of times, most often while at work. I remember in particular one evening while working the 'line' in a restaurant, while the other chef and I spontaneously played out a game where he was a mercenary soldier, home from the wars, discovering that his wife was living with another man (with more than a little of the Odyssey thrown in).