Running a 1-Hour Dungeons & Dragons Virtual Team Building Event
How I modified the D&D 5e system to build a 1-hour adventure for 10 coworkers and how you can use it to create an exciting virtual team get-together!
Over the last 8 weeks my team has been very deliberately making sure that we all still feel connected and human during the stay-at-home order. We’ve been holding weekly virtual happy hours with rotating owners, ranging from trivia and card games to spreading kindness via post cards (which by the way if you haven’t checked out the Be Kind & Live Happy program it is seriously cool).
When my turn came to own the weekly virtual happy hour I immediately knew that I wanted to run a Dungeons & Dragons session for the team. I thought it would be something new and unique (even for the team members who had played before). I have been running homebrew campaigns for roughly the last two years — so I knew that I could do it — I just had to figure out how to simplify the in-game systems enough that ~10 people who did not know how to play D&D could pick up and play through an adventure in about an hour. No easy task, but not impossible.
The rest of this article is geared towards people who have previous experience playing or running D&D games, since explaining the workings of the 5e system are way beyond the scope of this piece.
One of my favorite things about D&D is creating characters — but it’s time-consuming and complex. To simplify this process each character had only the following attributes:
- Flavor: Name, Race, Class
- Attack: Weapon with corresponding damage
- Ability: Special action tailored to the character’s class
- Skill: 1 skill that the character is ‘proficient’ in that awards +5 to a roll
- Health Pool
The philosophy behind generating these characters was to keep it as simple as possible while still retaining some of the core D&D elements like distinct class abilities and roles. Some guidelines I used to build out the actual values:
- There are 4 distinct roles — front line fighters (high health, high regular attack damage, abilities that moderately enhance damage or survivability), melee fighters (medium health, high regular attack damage, abilities that have high damage throughput), ranged fighters (low health, high regular attack damage, abilities that have very high damage throughput), and support (high-ish health, abilities that support other players).
- Attacks and abilities should be simple — all damage should be a multiple of d6’s (trust me, people will already get confused about when to roll which dice with just a d20 and a d6, no need to add more). Abilities should be concise and it should be clear exactly how it impacts gameplay and differentiates the classes from one another.
- Each character only has one skill — and it should be somewhat consistent with their role/class/race.
I put the character details and attributes into a shared spreadsheet and sent the link out a few days before the event in order to a) build up some hype, b) save time by not picking characters during the event, and c) get an estimate of how many people would participate.
I removed saving throws and each character only has one skill that grants them a bonus. For that one skill, they get +5 added to their d20 roll; every other skill they just take the roll. This turned out to be a pretty good mechanism for making sure everyone gets involved, as people will want the character with a +5 investigation or +5 perception to check out rooms, +5 nature to follow tracks, etc.
“Run an adventure with multiple combat encounters for 10 players who have never played? In an hour? Quarantine really has made you crazy…”
— Everyone, probably.
The combat system had to be radically altered in order to function in this setting:
- No initiative — the players always go first
- Players all go at once — this one will be touched on a bit more in the ‘managing the game’ section below. Players will indicate on the shared character sheet whether they want to use an ability or attack. If the Bard, Cleric, or Paladins indicate they are using their abilities — they choose their targets before the other players roll their damage. Players roll concurrently to hit or to deal damage. If they are fighting multiple enemies they all attack one until it falls, then move on to the next. Enemies in early encounters have an AC of 8. The final encounter enemy has an AC of 10. Player abilities can be used a total of 3 times for each player over the course of the adventure.
- Enemies all go at once — enemies will randomly determine who they hit by rolling a die with as many or more sides as you have players and using the shared character list. A d20 roll of ≥ 10 hits any player, and the enemy must roll with disadvantage against ranged damage players.
This system was very effective at giving the players a bit of opportunity to experience the essence of a D&D encounter without having to deal with all of the dynamics that may cause them to lose interest (a round of combat took about 3 minutes with all participants getting to roll to hit and roll for damage).
Managing the Game
Setting Expectations and Explaining the Game
It’s important to set the expectations for this session. I spent about 10 minutes doing this and answering questions. In general, I thought the important points to hit were:
- This is similar to D&D, but greatly simplified. It will be sort of like a ‘choose your own adventure’ game, and it will be made more exciting by the players contributing and really immersing themselves into their characters.
- All players should have the shared character sheet and a dice roller open in a web browser.
- High-level explanation of character: Attack, ability (can be used 3 times during adventure), skill, health
- Brief explanation of combat: when they are in combat they will decide whether to attack or use their ability simultaneously and input this choice in a designated column. They will then roll a 20-sided die and input the value in another column, which will determine if they hit the enemy. If they do hit they will roll the appropriate number of 6-sided dice to see how much damage they inflict and put it in yet another column.
- Skills are applied to rolls outside of combat. I gave them an example of this: if they want to determine whether danger is present in a room they are about to enter I may ask for a perception or investigation roll. If they have that particular skill, they can apply the bonus to their roll and I provided examples of what can happen on high or low rolls.
The details of the game were managed within the shared character sheet (the characters I used can be found in this Github repository). Each person put their name next to the character they wished to play and input all gameplay information in the row associated with their character.
Each round, players will type in “attack” or “ability” in the Player Action column for their character on their collective turn. When they roll to hit, they input the dice roll value into the Hit Roll column and I highlight those that hit. Those that have a highlighted cell then roll for damage and input that roll into the Damage Roll column. Remaining enemy health is tracked on a separate spreadsheet.
If players use an ability that buffs another player (Bard, Cleric, Paladin) they first input the buff results into the Buff Gained column for their target ally. The remaining players then make their attack rolls.
My team jumped right into the experience surprisingly quickly. They began interacting with each other and strategizing almost immediately. Keeping one eye on the clock and adjusting content on the fly will be key in making sure that your team gets through the adventure. If you’re struggling with engagement, giving them hints or dropping NPCs into the scenario can help them step out of their comfort zones.
There are several online dice rollers the players can utilize. I personally like teal dice roller since it shows realistic dice and it’s easy to use.
The story was straightforward and fairly railroaded to reduce ambiguity for those who hadn’t played.
The adventurers hail from the nearby town of Heroesburg (which has a high number of adventurers per capita) and are heading to investigate reports of monsters in a nearby town. They start off in the forest at night to set the mood, one of the monsters launches past them in a blur. They chase the creature but it outruns them and as they spill out of the edge of the forest and into the town they can no longer see it.
The town consists of 2 main locations — a saloon and a butcher shop. There are tracks leading from the forest’s edge to the saloon, which has broken windows, smashed casks, furniture flipped over, and corpses inside. These corpses are partially transformed into werewolves, but not fully, and begin to resurrect and attack the characters as they go into the saloon (2 creatures, ~40 hp, each attack for 2d6 damage per turn, 8 AC). After combat, the adventurers hear movement in the back of the saloon as the large beast jumps out of the window, shattering it. As this happens, one more body pops up off the ground — a friendly NPC who owns the saloon and has been playing possum amongst the corpses for days. He describes the creature that’s been terrorizing their town as a werewolf and urges the heroes to hunt it down and kill it.
The beast leaves tracks and a trail of blood leading to a building across the street, a butcher shop. The remnants of meat cuts mostly eaten by the beast hang in a back room where the players will find a cellar door that opens into a wooden stairwell. This stairwell leads down to a large basement with moonlight shining through a window, illuminating a werewolf that is that is devouring a large carcass. It turns to them, snarls, tells them they should have stayed in the forest, and attacks (100ish hp, makes a number of attacks equal to the half the number of players for 4d6 damage each).
Using this system I successfully ran an hour-long adventure in which my team slayed a vicious werewolf. I followed it up by linking them to the D&D 5e starter set and telling them how they can use various online resources to manage and run amazing virtual games. Within 10 minutes, a number of them were talking about setting up a follow-up session as a future team event — so it seems to have been a hit!
I hope that you can use this as a template for creating exciting and memorable experiences for your team. If so, please comment to let me know how it went!