At the risk of boring you at the very beginning of this blog, let’s look at some stats: Only 21% of employees are engaged at work, according to the latest worldwide poll from Gallup. In North America and Europe, where Rangle’s offices are located, 33% of North Americans report that they feel they are thriving — and only 14% of Europeans.

You don’t need numbers to know that the pandemic has been a time of increased mental health struggle for many people, even if they were able to keep their jobs and work from home. And I didn’t need a pandemic to know that it can be hard to make connections in a remote work world, and yet those very connections are a fundamental part of job satisfaction.

I started my tech education remotely and quickly noticed that communication gaps were causing my peers to feel isolated and left out of the community we were supposed to be building with each other. For people already struggling with anxiety or loneliness, the stress of communicating over tools like Zoom made the problems worse, not better.

I’ve been participating in and leading role-playing games for years, and for me, it just made sense that RPGs give people not only better communication skills in social situations, but also the kind of professional skills that my classmates would need to succeed in the working world — adaptability, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership skills. So while I was taking classes, I launched a skills improvement program based on the FATE system (and I’m still running it).

Fast forward a year, and I’m starting my first development role at Rangle. As I started to meet my new colleagues, we nerd out on a shared love of RPGs, and it quickly became obvious that what the games did for my classmates they could also do for my colleagues.

A new method for on-the-job learning

Consulting is not for the faint of heart. It’s unpredictable work, and it’s fast-paced. Just as you settle into the rhythm of working with one client and get to learn and appreciate the personalities involved, you’re on to the next client project and starting all over again building relationships and solving problems.

So I began to share my idea and my past success with some leaders in the company who could help me champion my idea and get our very own Rangle RPG off the ground. It was a fairly smooth process to get buy-in as I spent time meeting and talking to anyone who seemed interested, pitching the idea not only as a way to improve the consulting skills of newer or more junior Ranglers, but also as a tool to build culture in our new remote-first work environment. It also offered a way for people to train in consulting skills in a low-pressure environment, without the fear of “blowing it” in a real-world scenario with actual clients.

That was the easy part. The hard part? Picking a name. After a few failed attempts, we landed on Dice Loss Consultancy. Dice Loss is a computer vision term for a method to combat entropy. A great consultancy also combats entropy in a client’s company. As a bonus, DLC also means downloadable content, and so our multi-layer name makes us all very pleased with ourselves 😊

Creating DLC

Once the DLC team was assembled, with a cross-section of Ranglers from different areas and levels of the business, we began to plan the scenario and map of our game. The FATE system is one of the most simplified ways to plan and play an RPG, stripping down the rules of more familiar games like Dungeons & Dragons to the bare essentials. For our game, we decided that all players would be members of the same consultancy, and we created a map to go along with our scenario.

We had three core goals for DLC that we set out to achieve:

  1. Create a fun activity for Ranglers that contributes to wellness and community building in times of remote work
  2. Create a unique experience shared by Ranglers that will contribute to our Company Lore and exercise storytelling, reinforcing the sense of belonging
  3. Create opportunities for personal development in communication, problem-solving, and collaboration

Just as important as the game itself, we created a set of principles and a thorough consent form based on the RPG Consent Checklist that appears in the Consent in Gaming supplement by Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain, published by Monte Cook Games. This ensured that everyone playing the game felt comfortable with any themes that might arise, and had a clear understanding of what would and wouldn’t appear in the game scenarios.

Finally, a feedback survey after the pilot round of DLC made sure we were on the right track and had achieved the goals we set out in the planning phase.

Oh yeah, and we designed some awesome Rangle-specific dice:

What we learned so far

Now that the pilot round of Dice Loss Consultancy is complete, I feel sure that RPGs work for work — whether you’re in school or training, or in the “real world” and need to learn real skills, fast. The feedback from our first sessions has been excellent, and the excitement and team spirit it has built has been incredible. There are three key takeaways from our pilot that I hope will convince other consultancies or businesses to consider RPGs for communication-based skills development.

Experiential learning beats classroom-based learning

At Rangle, we’re big fans of learning by doing, not learning by sitting in a classroom and listening. RPGs teach the kind of skills that are fundamental for good consulting: taking input from others, asking good questions, staying engaged in a discussion, and building understanding and empathy for another person’s vision, then contributing to it with your own thoughts and ideas. These are skills that can’t be taught in a book or a slide deck. Moreover, having a safe place to be able to practice advanced communication like these takes the pressure off, and creates more opportunities for a number of Ranglers to practice their consulting skills outside of client meetings.

Face time with leadership matters

In the remote work world, there are fewer opportunities for watercooler-type chats, and meetings tend to get down to business fairly quickly after the initial pleasantries. DLC gives us a chance to see our colleagues in a new light, but best of all, to see our leaders in a relaxed and fun environment too. One of the keys to the success of DLC was that our CEO was eager to participate in the pilot round. This gave a number of people in the company who wouldn’t normally interact with him not just the chance to meet him informally, but also to watch him be silly or get into the flow of the game narrative. These kinds of interactions are priceless for culture building, and connect Ranglers to our culture in a way that no Town Hall presentation ever could.

Opportunities for authenticity at work create empathy

Role-playing games are not just opportunities for fun. One of the biggest takeaways I’ve learned over the years is that being in these imagined scenarios with a team creates real empathy — for yourself and for others. Over and over again, you’re putting yourself in another person's shoes and trying to see where they're coming from so that you can create a possible solution together.

Role-playing also gives the players an opportunity to “try on” new identities, and RPGs are often used in play therapy situations with children and young adults to help them build confidence in themselves. In the queer community, the opportunity to explore new identities through play has also made RPG groups a supportive environment for many people struggling to express their sexual or gender identity. RPGs create a safe space to explore a new identity without the fear of backlash or disconnection from society.

For adults in the workplace, RPGs are an opportunity to bring your whole self to work in a way that feels less risky than in more formal settings, and also to try new things like being more assertive in speaking up for your ideas or taking on a leadership role. For business leaders, it’s an opportunity to live your values by allowing your people to express their ideas and feelings in a way that broadens everyone’s understanding.

What's next for DLC

I’ve often said that RPGs are not training for the real world, they are the real world.

Within the last five years, our relationship to work has changed drastically. How we work and where is shifting, and how we form relationships at work is changing along with it. When it’s no longer the norm to meet colleagues for lunch or a drink after work, how do we create opportunities for bonding?

DLC is still in its early stages, but we think it can have a big impact on relationships and culture at Rangle. We plan to continue running sessions for as long as they’re popular (and our wait list will definitely take us into next year). Making a healthy, thriving company culture in a digital world is not easy, and so leaders at remote-first companies will have to dedicate time and resources to building the connections that create culture. DLC is our modest proposal (and proof) that it’s possible.