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An Overwhelmed Duckling, Part 2
Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard
by Shelly Mazzanoble

...continued from last month.

I can take a hint. Receiving a copy of The Player’s Strategy Guide with a post-it note inscription that said, “Read this or no one will play D&D with you ever again” is pretty obvious, right? But then I found a copy of Player’s Handbook Races: Tieflings on my desk and now I’m getting paranoid.

“Real funny, people!” I shouted over the cube walls. “What’s next? How to Host a Dinner Party? How to min-max your DVR? How to Stand Up to Your Cat?” Actually, I could probably benefit from that last one.

“It’s like how you were that one time in Bloomingdale’s,” my mom said later that night when I explained why I was studying the Player’s Strategy Guide instead of watching the latest episode of The Real Housewives of New York. (Don’t judge. We all have skeletons in our DVRs.)

“I have no idea what you mean, Mom, but I’m pretty sure that’s the first time anyone has compared playing D&D with shopping at Bloomingdale’s.”

“Don’t you remember?” she went on. “We took you and your brother to Florida for spring break when you guys were in high school and Dad put a $100 gift card in your Easter Basket. You were so overwhelmed by what to buy you never spent it.”

Ah yes, one of my greatest regrets. I’ve clearly leveled up my shopping skills since then. We didn’t have a Bloomingdale’s in Upstate New York where I lived, so it was literally a “use it or lose it” experience. I caved under the pressure.

“That’s really cool of you to bring this up days before my first game as a born-again D&D player.”

“If memory serves, I found you breathing into a little brown bag in a dressing room in the maternity section,” Mom said. “Why were you in the maternity section, anyway?

“Those pants were ridiculously comfortable.”

“But once again Mommy saved the day,” she sighed. “You begged me to buy that card from you so you wouldn’t go home with nothing. And I did.”

“Right,” I said. “For $.75 on the dollar.”

“I was teaching you an important lesson.”

I’m not sure what lesson I should have learned by my mom ripping me off, but she’s right about the comparison. The $100 gift card is burning hands and Bloomingdale’s is The Chaos Scar. I’ll never reach adventuring excellence by overthinking things. There’s only one thing to do.

“Mommy, help me again,” I said, looking for a little brown bag to breath into. “I need a recipe for the best cake you’ve ever had.”

I get a chance to practice what the Player’s Strategy Guide preached during my Wednesday D&D Encounters game. Granted my Encounters character, Herteus Maximus, tiefling psion, was just starting out his adventuring career, but like learning a foreign language, you need to start them out when they’re young.

The Wednesday group is small and comprised of casual D&D’ers who probably wouldn’t notice if Herteus performed a History check instead of an Arcana check and certainly wouldn’t hold it against him if they did. It’s the perfect training ground for fledging tieflings.

Not that I want to put poor Herteus at risk, but I fear he suffers from the same fate many of us “second, third, and beyond” children endured. Aren’t parents just a bit more lax after the first one? A sniffle doesn’t require a trip to the ER. A tumble off a tricycle doesn’t require traction. And a first word, first tooth, or first crit doesn’t warrant a scrapbook, apparently (ahem, Mom). I didn’t even bring cookies from the vending machine to this game.

As the encounter begins, we’re hot on the heels of Xeres who has kidnapped our benefactor, Fayne—our supposed patron who is starting to remind me an awful lot of my old nemesis Lady Elaydrn. We were standing at the threshold of a dimly lit room where we suspected they were headed. Chris, our DM, asked us what we wanted to do.

“An Arcana check!” I shouted. Oh yeah! Check out the big, magically gifted brain on Herteus.

“He needs to be in the room if he wants to do that,” Chris reminded me.

“Fine,” I said, moving my mini. “He’s going in!”

“Stop right there!” Chris commanded.

Uh, oh. It’s never a good thing when your DM interrupts your move.

“When Herteus gets to here,” Chris said, pointing to the square I just passed through, “a large green blob falls from the ceiling and tries to attack.”

Hmm, didn’t I just approve some banner ads that mentioned something about wearing protective headgear?

The blob missed Herteus but it, along with several mushroomlike creatures, are clearly disturbed by us disrupting their mojo.

“The myconid gas spores move to here and here,” Chris said. Coincidentally here and here were on either side of Herteus.

“Help!” I yelled. “I’m flanked by fungi!” This is what thinking strategically gets you?

“15 damage for Herteus.”

Chris is always calm and soft-spoken, which would come in handy if you were trapped in an elevator or needed help inflating your airline-issued flotation device. But when he bloodies your 1st-level character with one attack? That calls for a little bit of inflection.

“Aren’t all your powers ranged?” our cleric asked.

“So?”

“So why’d you charge into the room? Let the monk burst into the room next time.”

“Thanks for the advice,” I said, wondering if across the table counted as ranged.

Admittedly this wasn’t starting off as my finest hour. Herteus was dangerously close to getting pinned in the corner by the spores.

“You could risk an attack of opportunity from these guys and run,” Chris offered. DM’s always suggest things like that.

Calling upon my knowledge of the PSG, I realized it was the best option. Fat lot of good Herteus would do in the corner. And could I really show my face here again if he was brought down by a couple of mushrooms?

He made it unscathed, even managed to bring the hurt to one of the myconid guards with mind thrust. Oddly enough, the guard didn’t take that well and attacked Herteus as retribution.

“That’s 16 damage,” Chris said in his 'in case of emergency' voice.

“He’s down!” I said in my annoying, frantic voice.

And he failed his first two death saves.

“Oh, no,” I croaked over the lump in my throat. “He hasn’t even had his first haircut yet!”

“Don’t worry,” Laura said. “You’ll find love again.” She pointed to the stack of pre-gens on the table.

Thanks to a little help from our pulverized cleric, that wouldn’t be necessary. Herteus regained consciousness, and I wasn’t going to take this second wind for granted.

“Alright, let’s think about this,” I said, channeling the PSG. The monk was engulfed in slime, the cleric was way more than bloodied, and the sorcerer still hadn’t made it into the room thanks to the tag team bouncers Shroom 1 and Shroom 2. We couldn’t go after the gas spores because hitting them unleashed a poison we were all susceptible to. Damaging the slime would also cause our monk damage and seeing as though she was already bloodied, no one wanted to take that chance. Herteus set his sights on the guard closest to him and used his power points to augment memory hole.

“14 against will?” I asked.

“That’ll just miss,” Chris said. “Sorry.”

Figures. But then I remembered something.

“Wait! This is the same guy who hit me. I can use infernal wrath. That’s 15.”

“That hits,” Chris said.

With the +3 infernal wrath grants, it’s enough to at least bloody the guard, and thanks to the augmented memory hole, Herteus was now invisible to the guard.

Figuring the guard couldn't see him, Herteus didn't need to move on his next turn and instead used his minor action to cast distract on the green slime.

“He’s riffing off some 'your mama' jokes, which really pisses off green slime,” I said. Everyone knows green slimes are mama’s boys.

Whatever distraction Herteus caused was enough to grant combat advantage to our monk, who was still battling inside the belly of the beast. She did a little drunken monkey action and managed to save out of the engulfment.

“Yeah!” we all cheered.

With her back in the fight and the sorcerer finally joining the fray, it was almost a fair fight, and we survived. (I later found out Chris never activated the myconid rotpriests because “it would have been like watching crickets taking on a pack of alligators.") We left the encounter much worse for wear, with two new healing potions and an overall feeling of satisfaction. To anyone who didn’t know better, they might think I knew what I was doing. Almost.


Putting Advice to Practice

Buoyed by the successful outcome of Fungi Fest 2010, I was ready for the Wyld Stallyns. I arrived at our conference room so early there was a meeting still in progress. Fortunately, it was just R&D and they’re used to me barging in on their meetings.

“Don’t mind me!” I shouted, setting up my dice, character sheet, Player’s Handbook 1, 2, and 3, and—most importantly—gooey butter cake. (Thanks, Paula Deen.)

By the time New DM arrived with his props, I knew Tabby’s spells and powers like the back of her robe. I even took Tabby shopping for things like healing potions and an adventurer’s kit.

Marty was the next to arrive, and he gave me a confused half smirk as he took his seat next to me. He rammed his chair into mine while lunging for the cake and sent my Jenga-inspired dice tower crashing down.

“I could use wizard’s escape right now and teleport 5 squares to a space not adjacent to an enemy,” I said. “Did you know I could do that?”

“I knew Tabitha could do that,” Marty said.

Whatever. The only thing that differentiates Marty from a D&D Compendium is an expensive haircut and an argyle sweater.

“What’s with the cake?” Hilary asked as she took her seat.

“It’s Tabby’s birthday. Sort of.”

We began the day’s adventure by stumbling through a trap door that led to a rectory complete with a battered bearskin rug, upended tables and chairs, and the stench of century-old corpses.

“I think I rented this place for my friend’s bachelorette party,” I said.

“It smells like death,” New DM continued, “which is no surprise as you notice heaps of half-devoured bodies covered in dried gore,”

“I hope you got your security deposit back,” Marty said.

“Oh yeah,” New DM continued, “there’s another corpse by the altar whose robes bear the dire skull symbol of Orcus. Around his neck hangs a large, black gem that begins to glow with a purple light.”

Purple light. Glowing orb. This has arcana check all over it.

“Tabby knows what that is!” I shouted. I rolled a 2. “15?”

“Tabitha thinks this stone might be amethyst,” New DM says. “Maybe rose quartz. Real good for preventing intoxication and looks nice with jewel tones and Bermuda shorts.”

“What? Tabby would never say that,” I argued. Not only did I fail my Arcana check, but Tabitha failed her fashion check. Bermuda shorts?

Fortunately the rest of the group appeared to be experts on glowing orbs. They deduced that the necklace had the power to animate all of the corpses in the rectory, it’s stronger at night, and was mostly likely heightened by the lingering energy in the temple. Tabitha basically has a master's in glowing orbs and couldn’t figure that out?

I didn’t have much time to dwell, because the corpses animated and immediately attacked Anwar and Holden, who were standing closest to them.

Unfortunately, Tabitha was standing closest to the altar, so the amethyst-wearing deathlock wight set his sights on her. He fired off a grave bolt that missed Tabby by mere inches.

Unwilling to test her luck twice, Tabby moved to what appeared to be a safe zone, but clearly I can’t tell the difference between a column and a staircase.

“Is that where Tabby is going to stand?” New DM asked.

Usually when New DM asks you if that’s what you really want to do, it’s either because you foiled his plan or you’re about to do something really stupid.

“Yes,” I answered, refusing to be intimidated.

“Then Tabby just fell down the stairs,” New DM declared.

“Don’t mind us, Tabby,” Marty said. “You just head on down to the community center. I’m sure they have foosball and vending machines.”

“Bring me back an Orange Crush,” Kierin said.

Tabby wasn’t the only one in a downward spiral. I could sense my confidence was following her. New DM sensed it too, so he made an offer.

“Do an Acrobatics check to see if she managed to hold onto the railing.”

I rolled a 1.

“So basically she yelled ‘Geronimo!’ and slid down the banister,” Bart said.

“And now she’s knocked prone at the base of the stairs,” New DM smiled. “Sorry. I tried.”

That’s great. Truly awesome. A spectacular exhibit of tactical genius. My character fell down a spiral staircase and now had to spend the next two rounds trying to climb back up again. I missed an episode of The Real Housewives for this?

“Can I use my shield?” I asked.

When Tabitha finally rejoined the action, there were only two zombies left and both were bloodied. She stayed in the background, away from staircases, open windows, potholes, trick wire, bear traps, exploding cigars, snake nut cans, and anything else that could come between her and a magic missile. I even wasted shock sphere on only one target because I was determined not to leave this fight with any encounter powers intact. She’d burn down a bookshelf with her flaming hands if she had to.

When the game was over, I gathered up the cake pan, rulebooks, and crumpled character sheet. Having the athletic ability of a hedgehog, I never played sports growing up, but I’m pretty sure this is what I’d feel like if I did. Shouldn’t someone offer me a Lifesaver?

“It was great,” I told my mom later that night when she called to see how it went. (We were talking about the cake.)

“But I kind of played like crap,” I went on. “Like, worse than usual. Do you know how hard I studied for this?”

“No one can expect you to know every rule,” she said. “Aren’t there millions of them?”

“But I should know the difference between a spiral staircase and a column.”

“It’s a game,” she said. “Who do you think you are? Jack Bauer?”

“I wish.”

“Besides, aren’t you the one who is always mouthing off about how D&D is cooperative and you like it so much because you don’t compete with each other?”

“I guess so.”

“So instead of hyperventilating in a dressing room, ask questions. If they’re really your friends, they’ll help you.”

I think The Player’s Strategy Guide offers some good advice, but maybe my mom could add a tip or two: Ask for help when needed. Give help when asked. Don’t judge.

And if all else fails, bring cake.


About the Author

Shelly Mazzanoble was never a baby. At least not in the literal sense. And at least not according to photographic evidence. The earliest documented photo of her is when she was 3 years old after accidentally walking into the background of her brother’s photo shoot.

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