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Soapbox: About the Industry

Leadership and D&D

by Sandy Antunes
October 16, 2001  
Earlier I looked at 'character classes for doing a startup'. Today we're going to take a slightly more wacky look: who among the 'canonical' classes would be able to lead? We'll look at the 5 classics: Fighter, Cleric, Mage, Thief, and Monk. But not in that order, oh no.

Leadership is an intangible. Aspects of it can be taught and parts can be learned by doing. Other parts are inherent-- charisma and wisdom, in both D&D and modern terms. Good leaders are able to size up a situation, make a decision, delegate effectively, accommodate team member quirks, and generally be able to motivate so each worker produces at a reasonable maximum of their efficiency towards a common goal.

In another school of thought, leaders are able to harness the backs of the laboring masses so as to maximize profitable return with a minimum of legal culpability. Which is a more cynical statement of the above, and we leave it to the reader to choose which approach they value more. We'll also revisit this split in a surprise twist at the end of this essay, but don't tell anyone.

In any case, which D&D character classes can produce true leaders? The short answer is "clerics and thieves", and bored people can stop reading now. Smart people will instantly realize how accurately this is going to apply to convention politics and business management, so I hope you stay tuned.

Okay, let's look at the poor leaders. Fighters-- forget it. They're the working class. They go out and do a gig, then they're done. Training is focused on conflict and if they skimp on constant training, they're cut-bait. So they train and train in personal skills. But they only get practical experience (strategy and tactics) through experience, and failing to learn means death. It's tough to get a broad base as a leader and still remain true to Fighterhood.

Mages have a similar problem with training. Mage training-- study-- is time-intensive. To be a good mage requires reading, research, and other scholarly stuff. Which in turn means there's little chance to socialize and build up people skills. So mages (the IT workers of the past) get put to work under the whip of others.

Monks might have a chance. To a large degree, their learning gives them a mix of skills, and their entire goal is to get them out among the people and in the real world, not cloistered in bookish knowledge. Also, they learn a detachment that is useful for looking at 'the big picture'. Unfortunately, they carry a heavy ideological baggage, mostly because no one wants to play monks and thinks they are all Caine from "Kung Fu". Also, they have a stand-offish attitude.

So for Monks, there is strong leadership potential. With their specialized training and people-skills, though, they are also well suited to being gurus or consultants. Flitting in or out of a situation, admired, their aid frequently requested, it's a nice life. No monk dictators or CEOs, but certainly a CTO or outside consultancy can set you up for life.

Now we get to Thieves. Or 'rogues', for the PC types. Let's see: skills include people-dealing, mechanical, sneakiness, and task-oriented approaches. More-so than any other class, thieves focus on choosing a goal, having a plan, then manipulating others into helping them go in and get it. And incidentally, the thief keeps the credit for the job. I'm thinking 'definite leader potential' here.

Face it, only one other class really looks at 'people skills' (or social engineering). Thieves learn both sides of each coin: how to avoid people (hiding) and how to really listen to what people say (listen). They can spot hidden details. They can blindside folks to get what they want (pick pocket), they have a bit of the rough-and-tumble (especially backstabs). They're a walking swiss army knife of useful talents. All of which are designed for them to go out and mingle with people.

And people are key to being a leader, it's what leadership is all about. Fighters slay critters, sure. Mages learn magic and maybe make things or kill things-- nice, but too task-oriented. Monks work on personal development more than social integration. Only thieves and that other class really go for 'works well with others'.

And that other class is, of course, the much-neglected Cleric. Let's see. Has magic power but doesn't have to study to get new capabilities. No spell research-- gods just grant cool powers based on past performance. My, that sounds like an employment promotional ladder to me.

Yet clerics also have decent fighting capability. They're able to get in and muck things up a bit, tough it out. So they're not detached, they can be part of the team working towards the goals. As a result, they know what life is like on the front lines-- and that's pretty helpful. Clerics can talk sword banter with fighters, then flip and talk spell effects with mages. They straddle the divide that separates the disparant worker classes.

Meanwhile, clerics have this neat little thing called a religion (or church), which is the ultimate in 'big picture' groups. Other classes are devoted to whatever goal the individual felt motivated by. Clerics are there to advance a cause, to evangelize, to guide. They're born to become leaders, it's the basic tenant of their job.

So you've got a person with a nice mix of skills, working hard but with an eye to the big picture, with a backing god providing regular bonuses and an organization telling them to strive, strive, strive! Their religious grounding gives them arguments for the whys and whiter-fors of everything. They even get magic that lets them send folks on Quests and Geases. And if they have a church, they're second only to thieves in terms of acquiring cash.

So it's pretty clear that, were D&D classes in modern times, things would organize like this. Clerics and Thieves would be the upper management, calling in Monk consultants as necessary, in order to effectively lead the Fighters and Mages in pursuit of the 'big picture' goals (and acquire a lot of cash in the process!)

Earlier, I gave two philosophical approaches to leadership, that translate loosely to 'maximizing team performance' versus 'maximizing profits'. Hey, I think we have a way to separate out our cleric-type leaders from the thieves. The model is complete.

And for those wondering why to make this model, I have four answers:

  1. Need a justification for playing RPGs? You're "learning business theory"!
  2. "The archetypical nature of early D&D is due to it inciting a resonance to themes only poorly understood within the pre-adolescent readership by casting into metaphoric context the concepts of success and achievement within modern culture."
  3. The smarmy answer: "If you don't understand, you're not leadership material."
  4. Roleplaying can be a powerful tool with non-game uses, and using RPGs to illustrate real-life points is more fun than reading textbooks.

Live and learn,
Sandy Antunes, sandy@rpg.net TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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