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Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party

Sandy Antunes May 9, 2000
 

Sometimes old style D&D models life too accurately. You started as a fighter, or a magic-user, or a thief, you were pretty wimpy. But as a single-classed character, you could pour all your experience points into advancing in that one tier, and quickly get to be 5th level, 9th level, 30th level.

On the other hand, you could be multi-classed. Say, a fighter/magic-user/thief. Suddenly, compared to the other starting characters, you rocked. You had three times as many abilities as them. And the only penalty was you sort of fell in the middle in terms of overall hit points/stamina.

But, as everyone gained experience, they skyrocketed in their careers, while you had to split your experience among each of your classes. So they'd be 5th level, and you'd be struggling at 2nd level in each of your classes.

And the power difference between levels was enough that any initial edge in being versatile was overwhelmed compared with the sheer power and efficiency of being high level.

It turns out starting and running a company is like that. In my earlier columns, I'd advocated always having at least three folks to start a company: Creator, Business, and Sales. I reckon those are the Fighters, Clerics, and Thieves (well, okay, Rogues) of the industry. It really is scary how old D&D classes can map to the business world.

When we started RPGnet, Emma and I were multi-classed folks. She was the magic-user/cleric (aka web design/site maintenance). I was the fighter/cleric/thief (aka trade rep/site updates/sales).

And RPGnet grew... and grew... and grew. And suddenly, Emma and I were pretty much maxing out, and having a hard time advancing to keep up with things. If you see our audience as monsters (lovable ones, of course), originally you were just 0th level WebVisitors, nomads in the sparse web landscape. But now, with so many other sites vying for your attention, you have all became at least 10th level Experienced WebJunkies. But Emma and I, in some ways we were stuck as 5th/5th/4th level multiclasses.

So it came time to change our party mix. So through gaining a patron (i.e. being acquired by folks with capital), with hirelings (i.e. outsourcing), and by partnering with other organisations, we're shifting the party balance a bit. And redefining our own niches.

First, we brought in some high level single-classed folks. Scott's a Ranger: a fighter who scouts out areas and makes them safe for rpg.net... yet also can lend a hand with programming duties. Paul's probably an Illusionist-- not a match for a straight magic-user in a drop-dead fight, but with more flexibility and an ability to help move in new directions quickly.

Next, Emma and I shed our multi-class natures to focus on the parts we did best. She's now a monk: personally skilled but less a team player, instead focused on a higher plane (in this case, on Ivy), and generally often called up when a crisis occurs. The rest of the time, she stays in the monestary.

Me, I merged by classes and became a single-classed Bard for rpg.net. My existing levels as a fighter, magic-user, and thief froze in place, and my new progression focused less on those paths and more on telling tales. Specifically, brokering information and providing networking, which is really what rpg.net was originally about.

Mind you, this is all still in transition; for now, we're fighting mightily as multi-classed while the rest of the party forms. But it is the direction we're heading. And in that, it shows the difference between a start-up (where multi-classed is essential) and a self-sustaining company.

In a self-sustaining, long-term venture, you really need to have specialised people focusing on the work they love most. This not only makes for smoother and more efficient operations, but prevents burn-out and lets everyone keep going for years and years and years-- to much higher levels.

So if you really want to charge into being a startup, five to six partners is a great number to aim for. Five people can work with some redundancy, and still be a small enough group to make decisions quickly. The shift is a little different from the minimal set of Fighter/Magic-User/Thief.

You want to have a Frontman. This is someone with business skills and good networking contacts, who also sees the creative end of things. It's the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), really. We'll call that the Fighter, since it's the person who takes the front in any engagement.

You also want a back end programmer/infrastructure person. That's often the CTO (Chief Technology Officer). We'll call that the Cleric. They provide useful fire support and stand just behind the fighters, and also fix things when things go wrong.

An accountant is next. Someone will have to run the numbers. Given how important cash flow is to a company, this really is a Magic-User kind of role. They control the potent forces of cash. If they're powered up, you're unstoppable. If they're down, you're at the mercy of anyone with more potent magic.

A lawyerly type is part of the group. This keeps things tidy and really helps keep you out of trouble. Fortunately, there are a large number of gaming lawyers. We'll call this the Paladin, someone providing guidance to the group. "This we must do." "That we must not, it isn't right." And no one wants to face a Paladin in combat.

You need a marketing person, which we'll deem a Druid. They operate off in their own world, a forest with its own rules and powers. In that realm, they are supreme. Members are part of an arcane order who speak their own lingo. And they will make demands upon the rest of the company, strange ones that neverless must be followed by the party least disaster result. In return, their potent spells ensure the growth of everything.

And a sales person is handy, though you can outsource this to the local thieves guild or do it by commission. We'll count this as the Rogue part of the party. Ideally, this is the ethical thief, someone with the sense to do the negotiations for the group without giving away the store.

There we go. Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Paladin, Druid, and Rogue. A full party, and a complete business team. Turns out, with one startup, the Paladin and our Magic-User went off on an adventure of their own. This really hit the analogy home. Yep, lacking a Paladin made things rough, more work for all of the rest. But no Magic User? Egads! Fold the company!

Using this simple analogy, it's a lot easier to staff up a startup. One important detail to note is that none of the roles is "strategist". Which is to say there's no 'idea man' who isn't doing work. All the roles do real work. And indeed, this is what separates an effective adventuring party (or business) from the tavern-sitting braggarts and job-granting (but ineffectual) patrons.

With all this, it may seem we've neglected the creative end, the folks actually producing stuff. Turns out, with game companies, that's rarely the problem. All of us are frequently gamers and game designers and writers first, businessmen second. I guess we're all a bit multi-classed, in the end.

Until next month,
Sandy
sandy@rpg.net

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