This whole Dungeon Mastering thing has gone to my head. I’m on a quest to get everyone I know to play D&D. I’m like a jazzed up, hyper-competitive Mary Kay saleswoman bound and determined to sell enough lip gloss and firming eye cream to get behind the wheel of my very own pink Cadillac. I threaten to run games for everyone—my dental hygienist who politely asked how work was. My new neighbor who responded with “Wizards of the what?” when I told her where I worked. Even the poor woman and her husband who came by to look at the dining room chairs I was selling on Craig’s List.
“My husband has sciatica,” she told me. “The chairs have to be really comfortable.” “These chairs are so comfortable we could play D&D for hours,” I told her sounding eerily close to Ron Popeil pushing his food dehydrator. “Go on. Sit down! You be the fighter and you be the cleric!”
I even went so far as to tell James Wyatt that the next version of the Dungeon Master’s Guide would have my name along side his under the word “by.”
“Oh ha, ha,” he said. “That’s cute! It’s like you’re running a game right now!”
Fine. Maybe not the next Dungeon Master’s Guide.
What can I say? I’m giddy with promise. Dungeon Mastering has taught me there’s nothing I can’t do. Why not climb Mt. Rainier this weekend? Perhaps I’ll sign on to be a volunteer firefighter. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll friend Stacy Kendrick on Facebook.
Or maybe I’m not that evolved.
Running a successful game has given me newfound sense of security, kind of like being certified in CPR. My D&D playing friends should feel safe in my presence for they will never be far from a game with me around. If we were trapped in a bomb shelter and all we had were our character sheets and a set of dice (because really, do you go anywhere without those two things?) and New DM wasn’t with us because he’s the one who trapped us in the bomb shelter, fear not friends! I’ll run us through a game! Just don’t swallow your dice because I don’t know CPR.
I woke up the day after DM’ing and D&D was all I thought about. It was odd, this new sensation, like someone unearthed a portal in the section of my brain responsible for the manic enjoyment of roleplaying games.
I thought about it on my way to work, magic missiling single car occupants riding in the carpool lane (I’m lawful good, okay? I cannot tolerate such blatant disregard for the law.) I thought about it in our 9:00 AM team meeting, pretending our boss was a concerned magistrate of a haunted town about to give the party marching orders. I thought about it in kickboxing class, reminiscing about the time a young Astrid actually had to use her fist to take out a bad guy. My right hook was on fire that day.
Clearly my Dungeon Mastering experiment had a surprise side effect. While my skills as a DM may need developing, I had become a much better player. My newly revved up self couldn’t wait until the following week for our regular game.
I carried my Tabitha mini and character sheet around the office just in case someone asked me to roll for initiative. It could happen given where I work.
Tabitha and I ended up in Sara’s cubicle.
“Why is Tabitha sitting on my shoulder?” Sara asked without turning away from her computer screen.
“She’s looking for Freya,” I said. “Want to go on an adventure?”
“Oh Tabby, Freya’s at her other job right now. Shouldn’t your mother be there too?”
“Yes,” I said, sulking away.
I tried to focus on my real job but visions of fireballs and frozen clouds danced in my head. Tabitha and I went to Scott’s cube.
“Want to play D&D?” I asked.
“Is this another experiment?” he asked but didn’t wait for my answer. “No. Go away.”
“It’s not an experiment,” I mumbled all the way back to my desk. “I meant a real game with a real DM. Jerk.”
On my way back to my desk I ran into Adam.
“You okay?” he asked. “Your pupils are huge! And why are you shaking?”
I leaned in close and whispered, “I’m addicted, man. I need D&D. You got any?”
Adam, who would gladly exchange eating, sleeping, and Christmas to play D&D every day, got a kick out of this. “I wish I did have some,” he said. “But we’re right in the middle of 2009 planning. Hey, shouldn’t you be too?”
“Yesssssssss,” I said. Since when did my friends turn into such nerds?
“Go down to R&D,” he suggests. “I’m sure you can find someone to roll some dice with.”
“R&D?” I scoff. “I’m not playing D&D with R&D! They’re…real.”
This worried me. If Adam was too busy to play D&D then this whole work thing was for real. I went to New DM’s cubicle just to confirm that when Wednesday finally rolled around it was game on.
“I’m going to try,” he said, trying to make eye contact over the 3-foot piles of papers on his desk. “But…” he gestured around his cubicle. “Kind of busy.” He said this last part real snarky, like I should have known that or something.
I must have gotten visibly upset because New DM launched into the full-throttle panic guys fall into when they think a girl is about to cry.
“It’s okay! I’ll try. I promise,” he said. “I’ll work this weekend.”
“Thanks, New DM!” I said, knocking over another stack of paper. “You’re the best.”
But that still didn’t help with the six days I’d have to wait.
And then I remembered Fabula—my elf ranger who lives on Facebook. Not quite a real game but about as close to D&D solitaire as you can get. Surely Tiny Adventures would act as a placebo until my Wednesday game.
“Fabula,” I said to the computer screen. “Go find an adventure. And hurry back and tell me all about it.”
Give me money, she demanded.
“Don’t talk to me like that, young lady. I’ll delete you.”
You wouldn’t dare. I’m the only one who will play D&D with you.
“Find an adventure, damn it!” I shout. “And don’t forget to take your cryptspawn elixir!”
“Who are you talking to?”
“Umm…my mom,” I said.
Scott, the sneaky rogue he is, lurked over my shoulder. “That’s so cool how you can communicate with your mom in New York just by staring at Tiny Adventures on your computer screen.
“It’s a…telepathy thing,” I say. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Yeah, because I’m not crazy,” he says before adding, “If you want to play, go down to R&D.”
R&D? And he thinks I’m crazy? What’s with everybody? Why not play a pick-up game of hoops with the Lakers? Or bake a pound cake for Paula Deen? Or…play a game with the guys who literally wrote the rules. Yeah. Real smart there, Scotty. Besides, we all I know I don’t play in other groups.
“I’ll just play Tiny Adventures. Thanks.”
“Well keep it down,” he says. “You sound like a pageant mom yelling at your little elf princess.”
Do they think I’m enjoying this? I’m afflicted! I want my life back! Once perfectly happy playing in my weekly D&D game and looking forward to the next session, now I feel like I will surely wither away and die if I didn’t get my hands on some orcs. Wednesday! Where are you?
Sweet relief! The day had finally arrived. I showed up on time. Earlier than Adam even. New DM simply raised his eyebrows at me and continued setting up our minis on the playmat where we left them.
When the last party member filters in 8 minutes late, I roll my eyes at New DM as a show of solidarity. We’re partners now. I can feel his pain. He begins with a recap of last week.
“Previously on DUNGEONS & DRAGONS…”
“Did you read Penny Arcade today?”
“I’m sick of Ben Stiller.”
“So spot on…”
“But Tom Cruise was hysterical.”
What is going on here? Have they no respect for the Dungeon Master and that he has spent hours, maybe days, probably weeks, preparing for our enjoyment today? I glared at my party while issuing a snarling “Shh!”
“New DM is talking,” I said. “Pay attention.”
“Unless there’s been an addendum to the rules,” Marty says, “I’m pretty sure you can’t get experience points for ass kissing.”
Oh, go ahead and mock me. My group doesn’t know how lucky they are. Sure they’ve witnessed my D&D fervor, my punctuality, and now my lunch-lady-like discipline. But what they don’t know is all that work I did on my campaign had given me invaluable insights into my fellow character classes.
“You know, when I played the bouncers in my campaign,” I began, “I found it really beneficial for them to lock their shields. Sara and Marty might want to try that.”
“Excuse me?” Sara said.
“And you,” I say to Scott, “need to pay homage to your ancestors and start using fey step more often. I’m sick of pulling your ass out of fires.”
“It’s an encounter power, Captain Cocky,” he shoots back. “I can’t use it more often than I already do.”
“I’m just saying…”
Bunch of ingrates.
Two hours flies by and it’s game over transporting me back to square one. Playing D&D only served to whet my appetite. I was still addicted.
Luckily my affliction coincided with PAX, which blessedly was happening that weekend in Seattle. Pelor was smiling down on me because no doubt I’d be able to get my game on there. Adam, Sara, Marty, and New DM would be there too. Perhaps our schedules would serendipitously land us in a delve together.
By the time the weekend rolled around, I was chomping at the bit to play. I hovered over D&D tables helmed by some of Wizards’ finest DMs. I saw strangers taking on the roles of warlords, rangers, and paladins, brandishing swords and looting treasure. It hurt to watch. I can’t take it, I thought. I want to play! And then I did the unthinkable. I jumped in on a game—with strangers!
I know! Can you believe it? The strangers were newbies so I felt safe in their presence. So safe that I played a different class. Turns out I’d make a fine ranger.
I ran into New DM shortly after this amazing breakthrough and couldn’t wait to tell him what I’d done.
“No kidding?” he said, sounding genuinely impressed. “Want to join my friends and I for a delve?”
Did I? Of course! Hey, I’m a pretty decent warlord too. Critted twice even.
Taking a break from the delves in the booth, I wandered down to the RPGA hall where I ran into Sara.
“Hey little girl,” she whispered from behind a pillar. “Still looking for a D&D fix? We’re just about to start a delve. You in?”
“Yes!” I shouted before I had a chance to ask who we was.
Before I knew it I was at a table with none other than Peter Schaefer, Andrew Finch, and James Wyatt. What the…? I had been duped!
“I, uh…think I have a dentist appointment,” I said. “Sorry, guys.”
Sara, the mother of two young boys and therefore an expert at spotting and thwarting a meltdown in the making, handed me a pre-generated character sheet.
“You can be the wizard,” she said, patting my hand. “You can even call her Tabitha.”
Peter agreed to DM. As he narrated the read-aloud text I half cringed waiting for him to start speaking a different language or shouting commands I wouldn’t understand, like “Roll for chickenhankies” or “Give me a muckles check.” I’d be faced with spells I had never seen and would cast them at the wrong time.
“Where’s my muckles modifier?” I’d ask.
And James would flip over the playmat in frustration because I had asked a question. “Another question?” he would bark. “You’re always asking, asking, asking!”
And Andrew would shake his had and laugh and point his finger at me and say something mean, like, “You know, there’s a guide for girls like you. Oh wait, didn’t you write that?”
“What kind of a wizard doesn’t know sustaining a fireball counts as a move action,” Peter would ponder. “That’s so weird.”
“Get out of our delve!” James would cry.
Okay. Calm down. Deep breath. Maybe I’m getting a little overdramatic here. Needless to say, none of that happened. Not even me questioning how to use fireball. Tabitha has used that spell dozens of times. The worst thing that happened was we were having such a good time James was almost late to his The Art of the Dungeon Master panel. I wonder why they didn’t ask me to be on that?
I left PAX with my shoulder practically needing a sling from all that dice rolling, and my brain bursting from a wealth of new knowledge. The rules don’t change just because you’re playing with different people. And you don’t forget everything you’ve learned just because you’re sitting in a different chair at a different table playing alongside a rogue you’ve never met. I can kill an orc at anyone’s game! And when James Wyatt leaned over and said, “Good job!” I was liberated! I can play D&D with the best of them!
The following Wednesday I showed up to my regular game 6 minutes late. I did not offer any two-bit tactical advice, and once or twice I caught myself engaged in unrelated table talk. But I still hold true to the belief that Dungeon Mastering has made me a better player and that my group is lucky to have me. I do make a mean cheesecake if nothing else.