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Arcana Lang Syne
Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard
by Shelly Mazzanoble

The end of another year is upon us. I know this not because the calendar tells me so. It’s because my magazine subscriptions are yelling at me to clean this! Cleanse that! Change everything!

Hey Shape, I already work out six days a week. And yeah, Lucky, I’d love to revamp my entire wardrobe to include the 379 “key pieces every woman should own.” Sorry Elle Décor—I don’t have a crawl space that I can make over into a reading room. I don’t even have room to read. Look, magazines, I don’t pay you to make me feel bad! My cat does that for free.

New Year’s resolutions are cruel. I mean, sure, I probably do eat more sugar than the FDA thinks is appropriate. And yeah, a closet clean-out might help the whole “no room” thing. But I think I do OK. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

“Do you have a New Year’s resolution?” I asked Chuck and Chris, my cube neighbors.

“Nah,” Chris said. “Those things are designed to make you feel bad about how well you’re taking care of yourself. If I want to resolve to do something better, why wait until January 1st to do it?”

I nodded in agreement.

“I have a New Year’s resolution,” Chuck said. “Headphones. I’m going to get a really good pair and wear them whenever I’m at my desk.”

“But then you won’t hear my Glee recaps and cat stories!”

Oh.

I don’t resolve to do anything other than wake up and remember to feed Zelda. Chris is right. If something needs changing, why wait until some magazine tells you to?

On the other hand, I do like change. But not when it comes to D&D.

There are a few things I’ve noticed about myself since starting our lunchtime D&D Encounters game:

  • I almost always choose a pre-gen character
  • I almost always choose the spell-caster
  • I hate eating my lunch in front of people

Why, you ask? I don’t know. I guess I’m afraid I’ll have to share my food, and then I might end up hungry. I hate feeling anything but comfortably sated, (which is also why I dress in layers and always bring a backup pair of shoes when breaking in a new pair.)

Oh, wait, you mean why do I always play a wizard? I guess familiarity doesn’t just breed contempt, it also breeds content. Do I really like playing a wizard or a sorcerer, or is it just what I know?

In Season One of Encounters, I came to the table late only to discover the role of spellcaster had gone to someone else.

“Do you want to be the spellcaster?” Hilary asked. “It’s okay. I’ll play whatever.”

Hilary is very sweet and apparently psychic, because I hardly think my foot stomping and chorus of Boooooooooooooooooo was that noticeable. But I resisted, believing it’s important to step out of your comfort zone once in a while.

“You mean your competency zone,” said Chuck.

“No, I mean comfort. I’m sure a psionic tiefling will be just as much fun as a wizard.”

Enter Herteus “Bring on the Hert” Maximus. He … well … didn’t quite live up to his name. At least not when it came to his enemies. He “hert” himself plenty—falling down a flight of spiral stairs, dropping a dagger on his foot. Low self-esteem. Psions of all races really need to watch that negative self-talk.

And then there was my short-lived affair with a human sorcerer in Season Two. Sure, I was happy to go back to my spell-casting glory days with Beercan (even if he was a dumb, old human), but that joy was tempered early on by the mere fact we were playing in Dark Sun and WE NEARLY DIED EVERY SESSION. Even Jack Bauer would have suffered in that game.

When we got the game kits for Season Three, I pulled out the pre-gens in search of the spellcaster.

“Ah, an eladrin wizard!” I said. “I shall love you and keep you and call you Berry White.”

“It’s Berrian,” Chuck said. “I named him. I should know.”

“Trust me. It’s Berry White,” I said, explaining once again that in addition to my role as Player-in-Chief, Zelda’s lackey, and most recently “sado maso cookiest” due to my unloading thirty-seven tons of holiday cookies on R&D, I am also the Pre-Generated Character Whisperer.

“I’m like that guy, John Edward, who allows dead people to communicate with their loved ones through him. Sara: someone whose name begins with a D, always smelled like ham and used to favor plaid shirts wants you to check behind the refrigerator. Does this make sense? I know what the pre-gens want. They speak through me.”

“But, they’re not dead,” Chuck responded.

“Yet,” Chris called over the cube wall. Did I mention he’s also our DM?

“They’re not even alive,” Chuck continued. “Wait. You’re confusing me.”

“Oh, and Berry White is female,” I said. “Shows what you know.”

It was right around then that Chris threw down the gauntlet. It landed with a thud on my desk.

Heroes of the Fallen Lands,” I noted. “I already have a copy.”

“I know, but if you really want a female wizard named Berry White, then it’s time for you to make one,” he said. “Before our first encounter.”

Ha! That’s crazy talk!

“You mean, like with this book? And a pencil? Right! I actually want to play this season, so I think I’ll just stick to the gender-confused wizard Chuck misnamed.”

Chris smiled at me. Oooh, I know that smile. It’s the same one he flashes in our games when we say things like “Heck yeah, we want to open that sarcophagus.”

“Have you become so reliant on the Character Builder that you forgot how to roll up a character the old-fashioned way?”

“That’s nuts,” I said in my defense. “Everyone knows I rely on Marty to roll up my characters.”

And I didn’t forget. It’s quite possible I never knew. The last character I rolled up the “old fashioned way” was Astrid, my 3.5 elf sorceress, and really my old DM did most of the work.

Chris turned away muttering, “I’m just saying …”

Which of course translates to “Why not just play a thirty-something female Associate Brand Manager, you big chicken?"

Then I remembered what else he said—if something needs resolving, why wait? Could my D&D game benefit if I resolved to leave my comfort zone? This isn’t about window coverings and switching to soy milk. It’s about D&D! But fine. I’d do it. I’d show Chris and all the other doubters (me) that I could put a little graphite and eraser shavings into character creation. I would turn over a new leaf. And twenty-one days early, I might add. And then I got really crazy.

“I’ll do you one better,” I shouted after Chris. “I’ll create a character, but it’s not going to be a wizard.”

Chris threw his hands over his heart. “Whoa! Now who’s talking crazy?”

I heated up my lunch, barricaded myself in my cubicle, and got to work. Hmm ... whatever shall I play next?

Eenie meenie miney mo,

Your next character will be a…

Rogue!

(Yeah, I know that’s lame. Just go with it, OK? It’s the holidays.)

Interesting. I’ve never played a rogue, but I have been called “shifty” many times. Ten minutes later I hadn’t finished my cup of peas, but my unaligned female elf thief was in my arsenal. Holy moley, I did it! I made a character using a book and a pencil.

Waving my freshly minted character sheet at Chris, I shouted, “Meet Tumbilina! She’s my new rogue. Hear that? Rogue!

“Tumbilina? I take it she’s trained in acrobatics?” Chris asked, looking over my character sheet. “Well done. So nice to meet you, Tumbilina. Kill you later.”

On Wednesday, we gathered in our usual conference room, where Tumbilina met her fellow adventurers for the first time.

“Berry White was called away on important wizardly business,” Chris told the group. “So you have a new friend.”

“Her name is Tumbilina. Elf thief,” I said, waiting for a reaction.

“Thief?” Laura asked. “Well, well, well.”

“Wizards are so 2010,” I said, waving her off. “Rogues are what’s on trend.”

The encounter picked up where we left off.

“You enter a large chamber,” Chris began. “Dim, blue light along the Dwarven runes illuminates four alcoves. There is a huge statue of a dwarf brandishing a flail in one hand and an oversized iron key in the other.”

The group was still. No one spoke. We just looked at each other and when that got awkward, at our dice, then at the map spread out on the table.

Chuck pulled out his iPhone. “Maybe there’s a Twitter buff we can use.” The stillness of the room made me uncomfortable and drew attention to the sound of tin foil unwrapping from my lunch.

“That good?” Brian, our fill-in mage, asked, nodding at my veggie burger.

“It’s OK,” I answered. Truthfully, it’s fantastic—black bean veggie burger with a little tzatziki sauce, feta, and alfalfa sprouts. Yum, yum! I kind of wished I hadn't tricked it up so much, because everyone was staring at it with hungry, googly eyes.

“What?” I asked. “Do I have tzatziki on my face?”

They shook their heads.

“Well, then quit looking at my food!” I shouted. If I were a dog at the animal shelter where I do volunteer work, I would be labeled “food aggressive” and forced to eat alone in my kennel. I would prefer that.

“We’re not looking at your food, Tumbles,” Chuck said. “We’re waiting on you to make a move.”

“I’m not sharing.”

“I’d rather eat this playmat than that thing,” Brian said. “We want you to make a move in the game. You’re a rogue, right?”

“Right. Of course I am! Sorry guys, I’m new at this rogue business.”

OK, I told myself, breathe. You can do this. Just think, what did rogues do in my previous games? Snuck up on things. Stabbed things in the back. Unlocked doors. Disarmed traps. I could do this. Chris mentioned the dwarven statue, so I started there.

“Tumbilina wants to check out the statue,” I told Chris.

Uh oh. There’s that smile again.

“As soon as Tumbilina approaches, the statue comes to life, swinging its metal flail. It's going to get an opportunity attack.”

“Our rogue set off a trap,” Brian said. “Yeah!”

“You’re like the best rogue ever,” Laura said. “What are you wearing? Light-up clown shoes?”

“Take thirteen damage,” Chris said. “And you slide three squares.”

Three squares landed me back at the entrance where the party was standing, still waiting for their rogue to give them clearance. I imagined Tumbilina all roughed up and battered, light-up sneakers still pulsing away.

“Why hello there, Fumbilina,” laughed Marty, the cleric. “Back so soon?”

Chris was really smiling then. “After the statue attacked Tumbilina, you see three iron hammerers emerge from the alcoves. And they look really, really mad.”

“I’m … uh … bloodied, by the way,” I said.

Quinn, the human fighter, went next. He activated defender aura on the statue. He hit. “I’ll use my long sword,” Laura said, and of course rolled a 19.

No one bothered to do the math on that one. “Yeah, that’ll hit,” Chris said.

Marty went next. “Here’s a healing word for you, Tumbilina. Take the change out of your pockets before you go sneaking up on things.”

Whatever. I took his six hit points. And his advice, because my turn was next.

“So now that the statue is wide awake and well aware of our presence, I see no reason not to attack it.”

I used my ambush trick and pulled out my short sword. I rolled a three.

“And she trips over a shoelace,” Brian commentated.

“Do clown shoes have shoelaces?” Laura asked.

“Sure they do,” said Chris. “Usually red ones.” He played a clown in some high school play.

“Use elven accuracy,” Marty stage whispered.

This time I rolled a 2. A 2! Who does that? I’m not even good at being an elf!

Then it was Brian’s turn. Seeing him wedged happily in the corner, pulling magic missiles and beguiling strands out of his robes, filled me with something. I want to blow several things up at once! I want to stand in the background! I want to use a power that has auto-hit.

Uh oh. I had mage envy.

“How about I just stand here and make ghost sounds,” Brian said. “Oooooooohhhh …”

“Don’t make fun!” I shouted. “Ghost sounds, if used correctly, can be a very useful tool. Tabitha once sent a whole pack of orcs running down the staircase by scaring the pants off of them with a little old-fashioned haunting.”

“Okay, okay. Won’t do that.” He scanned the powers on his character sheet. “How about hitting those two hammerheads with my arc lightning?”

Marty lit up. “Arc lightning, go arc lightning!” Of course the whole table joined in.

I was beside myself. “Your blasé approach to the arcane arts is disheartening. The wizard plays a very powerful and necessary role. If you can’t take that seriously, then maybe someone else should play that part.”

“Oh really?” Brian smiled. “Did you have anyone in mind?”

“No,” I said. “Not really.”

Later in the encounter, Tumbilina tried to steal the key from the statue, but the eight I rolled meant she overshot the distance and face-planted in a pile of rubble. Chris only doled out six points of damage. I’m pretty sure it should have been more.

“Aren’t you trained in Acrobatics?” Laura asked.

“And Thievery?” added Brian.

“Are you guys trained in being jerks?” Jeez. Can’t a rogue have a bad day?

Tumbilina finished the encounter prone. Yes. I was that awesome.

Chris and I returned to our desks, where we sit separated by a six-inch wall.

“You know,” he said, “sometimes the dice don’t do you any favors.”

“Well yours always seem indebted to you,” I noted. Once he scored four critical hits in one encounter!

“Maybe a rogue’s not the right role for you,” he continued. “Just like not everyone is meant to be a wizard.”

Ain’t that the truth!

“Not to get all blamey, but I totally would have done an Arcana check as soon as we got into the chamber,” I said.

“And if you did, you totally would have noticed the statue reeked of magic and would likely attack the party if you got too close.”

I was reminded of something someone very wise once wrote*—If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

So, Tumbilina might not have been the sneakiest of rogues, but it was a fun experiment. I came. I saw. I set off a trap.

“Next week, I think I’ll go back to my mage roots,” I said.

“That,” Chris smiled, “is an excellent idea.”

* see above


About the Author

Shelly Mazzanoble resolves to be the best wizard in the whole, wide world. And maybe clean out her closets.

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