Thursday, May 10, 2012

D&D at Google

An Engineer's Guide to Silicon Valley Startups describes how I ended up joining Google because of a D&D Game I joined in late 2001. Soon after I joined Google, however, most of the players in that group retired to escape California taxes, moved away, or otherwise left Google. I still ran an intermittent D&D game outside work, but there were no D&D games at work.

Ironically, one interviewee I once spoke to rejected Google's job offer because he felt that while he would fit in at Google if he was nerdy and played D&D, he didn't think that as a ballroom dancer he would fit in. He was thoroughly wrong. Ballroom dancing has always been and will probably always be more popular at Google than D&D. In terms of social acceptability, of course, there's no contest: ballroom dancing simply doesn't have D&D's stigma attached to it.

In any case, someone on the SRE team bugged me and bugged me about running a D&D game at Google until I gave in and announced that I was willing to run one. At which point she promptly backed out of being in it. Nevertheless, I started the game in November 2005, and it ran until the end of 2007, with players shuffling in and out. The players included at one point or another, Paul Tyma, Shyam Jayaraman, Taylor Van Vleet, Ron Gilbert (who didn't actually work at Google), Tom Jiang, Neal Kanodia, Roberto Peon, Mike Samuel, and various drop-ins at one point or another.

One innovation that I got from my pre-Google days was to start a blog with in-character descriptions of the game. I would award experience points for writing the blog entries, which were very very fun. Ron, in particular, would draw cartoons involving his character Deathspank and members of the party in their exploits, including some very unheroic moments. Unfortunately, Ron has since yanked the cartoons from the blog, so I'm afraid you won't get to see them.

At the end of 2007, I wrapped up the campaign after all the characters hit 20th level, and moved to Germany. That ended my involvement with D&D at Google. Just yesterday, Tom told me that there hasn't been an epic game like mine since. It was fun and challenging DMing for Googlers (I minimized prep work by running from pre-written adventures whenever possible), and I enjoyed every minute of it. It definitely taxed and challenged my organizational skills to keep the game going for so long, and I definitely felt like I lost control at the end when the characters got too powerful. But that's a fact of the game, and since then there's been another edition of D&D that I have not bothered to play with or pick up. It might be that for me, D&D is something that happens every odd edition.
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