health, safety and wellbeing training
Health and safety when ‘dragonhunting’
Long before I facilitated health, safety and wellbeing training, I helped groups of friends to plunder lost tombs and avert Orc invasions. My name’s Nick and I play Dungeons and Dragons.
A game of D&D revolves around players trying to accomplish some suitably heroic objective by overcoming the challenges that are created and described by a dungeon master (DM). Each player controls a character with unique strengths and limitations.
Recently I was rolling some virtual dice and supping real-life beer while watching the antics of my comrades-in-arms over Skype.
I was struck by how much health and safety trainers could learn from DMs. I recognised eight magical ingredients that could be sprinkled into training.
People invest a lot of time and effort into hobbies such as D&D. They do this, in part, because it is fun. All the following ingredients will help training feel like fun (or at least engaging) for everyone.
If the DM is not enjoying a game, the joy is quickly sucked out of a session. Trainers should periodically check what their own posture and tone of voice says about their enthusiasm and energy.
Create escalating challenges
We generally like to feel challenged. Early in a character’s career, a goblin could be a scary adversary. Once they have gained in prowess, the players might experience that same sense of dread when ambushed by a group of vampires. If the DM does not pitch the challenges correctly, players become dissatisfied through boredom or feeling inadequate.
Trainers might start sessions with easier questions and scenarios to check the group’s knowledge and experience, then ramp up the complexity through the training. Letting the group know that the material gets tougher may keep them engaged.
Mix it up
Some players like the thrill of combat, some prefer social encounters (and may act out the voice and mannerisms of their character), others enjoy problem solving. If a session concentrates entirely on one of these aspects, some players may switch off.
Training sessions can have a mix of activities and tools to appeal to different learning styles. These can include quizzes, breakout sessions, worksheets, videos, case studies and so on.
Harnessing the imagination
Everyone involved in a game of D&D is visualising fantastical locations, sometimes assisted with maps, pictures or models (and even soundtracks). The players imagine and describe how their characters would respond. It’s an absorbing experience and can evoke strong emotional responses (“As you approach, the dusty lid of the ancient sarcophagus slowly scrapes open…”).
Case studies and scenarios can help training delegates become absorbed in the session, and these can easily be made even more immersive. For example, introduce a desk-based hazard spotting exercise by explaining why the delegates might be in that scenario (which could involve them momentarily taking on a different role). You could describe unusual odours or noises they encounter to engage all of their senses and suck them into the scenario.
A collaborative experience
D&D is not about the DM beating the players or vice-versa. It is more akin to creating a story together about the development and exploits of the characters. Trainers may also benefit from conceptualising themselves as facilitators and collaborators. Their magical quest is to recognise, draw out and enhance the skills and knowledge of their peers through an interactive experience.
DMs invest tremendous effort in preparing a game. This could involve drawing maps, familiarising themselves with the evening’s encounters or making props. Successful training relies on a similar level of rigour.
Everyone gets a go
The DM will ask every players what their character is doing in response to a situation. Everyone is kept engaged and makes contributions.
While trainers have larger groups to manage, they can still check that everyone is chipping in. In the case of D&D, a naturally quiet (or potentially disruptive) player might be tasked with keeping a map of a catacomb that the party is exploring. In a training session, a delegate could be asked to keep a record of questions or actions.
Manage the group
Players sometimes come out of character to reminisce about past games. Some can be disruptive or mischievous in character (such as trying to pickpocket the king who is thanking the group for their brave deeds).
DMs and trainers use a range of tactics to keep people focussed and contributions relevant. This includes scheduling regular breaks, reminding people what the current objective is, deliberately asking other people to contribute, speaking with people ‘offline’ or openly explaining that the session has gone off on a tangent and asking for help to get it back on track.
Although D&D may be a game for geeks, trainers can learn valuable lessons from DM. And to the players out there, may the dice gods be kind.
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