Over Christmas break, I made a horrifying discovery about my parents.
First, let me tell you a little about them. They're nice people in their early sixties. They like shopping, crime dramas, and spending copious amounts of time discussing D&D just so they can work in that bit about their daughter's part-time life as a sorceress. Although they would never stick anything on their bumpers, they are not shy with the proud parent proclamations. These are people who would rank having the twelfth best attendance record in 3rd grade just as pride-worthy as, say, having a book published. And people wonder why I'm a tad delusional?
It started over a lovely breakfast of biscuits, pancakes, and soy bacon when my mom asked if I remembered to bring an extra copy of Confessions for her new neighbors.
"It's their housewarming present," she said. "I told them all about you."
Personally, I thought they'd prefer homemade brownies and some gourmet coffee, but whatever. Not my call.
"Yes, please hurry and give it them," Dad added. "They keep asking me how to play."
"What do you tell them?" (My dad probably gets asked this question a lot.)
"I tell them you don't play. You act it out. Like Whose Line is it Anyway?"
"Well, we just kind of talk --"
"Like charades," he continued. "But with swords. And dragons."
"I hope not!"
I looked to my mom for assistance. "What do you tell people?"
"You get a little figurine, and you move it around the board. If you finish the story first, you win."
And that's when I came to the horrifying discovery:
My parents have never read my book!
"Of course I read it!" Dad said, when I confront them on the topic.
"Uh huh," I said. "Prove it."
"It's a game," he said.
"With a storymaster," Mom added.
"And you have to beat your friends to the prize. Sometimes by killing them."
"Some people like to play alone," my mom said. "On a computer."
If there were two things I always said I loved best about D&D, it was the noncompetitive and social aspects. "You play in a group! And you don't kill your friends!"
"There are winners and there are losers," Dad said. "Don't be a loser."
I didn't know if this was his version of D&D or another one of his metaphors for life, but it was clear what needed to happen.
"You're going to learn how to play D&D," I said. "And I'm going to teach you."
They stared at me. And then at each other. And back to me.
"I'm too old to be crawling around a dungeon," Dad said.
"And I couldn't lift a sword, let alone use one," my mom said. "I don't even like using steak knives."
But it was no use. Guilt is a wonderful thing.
And boy, were they guilty. Mom barely left the kitchen, making all my favorites, including her famous egg salad (even though my dad hates the way the kitchen smells afterward). Dad tried winning me back with Bloomingdale's gift certificates and Nutty Chocolate Chipper cookies from Panera Bread. But their excuses were in vain. I was on a mission, and it led me to the local gaming shop where I picked up a D&D Roleplaying Game Starter Set. I left the box on the kitchen table, the coffee table, their nightstands, and bathroom sinks. D&D was coming for them. They just didn't know when.
I suspected the neighbors didn't get their copy of Confessions right away, because suddenly my parents were dropping D&D nuggets into everyday conversation.
"I had the weirdest dream," my mom told me. "Your friend Chris tried to kill me."
"That's weird. Why would Chris want to kill you?" I asked.
"He was a storymaster and I was a little wizard," she said. "You know. Like Astrid."
"Astrid is a sorceress. You know, as in Confessions of a Part-Time …?"
And when my dad and I were watching the Giants game he shouted at the screen, "Get a pair of boots of teleportation!"
I raised my eyebrows at him. "No you didn't."
"Oh yes," he said, all smug and pretentious. "I did."
Ten days was long enough. Just as Charlie Gibson was getting ready to deliver the nightly news and my parents settled in on their respective couches, I declared it was game time.
"Oh. Yay!" Mom said like she was cheering for a root canal.
"I'll do it, but if you write about it, you have to change our names," Dad told me.
"To what?" I asked. "Aunt and Uncle? Everyone knows where I am and who I'm with."
I unloaded the components of the starter set onto the coffee table: tokens, dungeon tiles, dice.
"There are dice involved?" Dad asked.
"Yeah," I sighed. They didn't even know about the dice? "But you hardly ever use them." I began by asking what characters they'd like to play. Dad's arm jutted forward in a weird spasmodic gesture.
"Zorro?" I asked.
Mom answered for him. "He wants to be a pirate."
"Well, he can't. Not today anyway."
This saddened him a great deal. In fact, he looked more dejected than when I told him a serving of cereal was only 3/4 cup. I tried to make it up to him. "How about a rogue? Or a ranger like Walker. You love Chuck Norris!"
"You said this was about fantasies," he said.
"Fine," I said, eager to thwart any possible talk about my dad's fantasies. Let him eat salted beef. "How about a dragonborn paladin who volunteers for a local pirate brigade in his spare time?"
That, along with the noble, driven, born champion description of the character appeased him.
Mom answered without hesitation. "I want to be an ass-kicking little person!"
"Judy!" Dad said. "Don't talk like that in front of your daughter."
"You mean a dwarf?" I asked.
"No," she said firmly. "It is not appropriate to call them that."
As much as I respected her desire to keep her PC as PC as possible, I told her it's OK to call them dwarves in D&D. She plans to talk to R&D about this.
I asked them to get acquainted with their alter egos and show them where to find the stats on their character sheets. Mom immediately had issues.
"4' 8", 200 pounds, and low-light vision?" she repeated. "This isn't fantasy! This is me!"
I tried to convince her that she's strong and sturdy and a real looker in the dwarven community, but it's no use. She became a body-dysmorphic, depressed dwarf.
"Make me 6 feet tall."
"If she gets to be 6 feet tall, then I get to be a pirate," my dad said. "Full time."
My parents' attention span is remarkably intolerant for anything not hosted by Howie Mandel or involving a crime scene investigation, so I acquiesced. I didn't want to lose them before they even tossed a die.
"Fine. Mom, you are a freakishly tall dwarf, and dad is a dragonborn pirate. What are your names?"
"Tom?" Dad suggested.
"Oh please," Mom said. "That's not a pirate name."
He settled on Bud while Mom chose Jubunsky because it sounded "dwarfy."
I quickly explained what each line on their character sheet meant, but I told them not to worry about it until the game got underway. "It will make sense in context."
"Can't we just read your book?" my dad asked.
"Well, you had over a year to do that, so unfortunately you're stuck with a verbal explanation."
To my surprise, neither seemed daunted by the numbers and formulas staring back at them. I made a mental note to congratulate R&D.
I began the adventure by explaining how they ended up in a tavern in Harken Village. "You are friends who have been adventuring together for years."
"What if I want to kill her?" Dad asked, which I hope was an in-game reference.
"Don't even try it!" Mom shouted.
Although I fully believe D&D can be great couple's therapy, I had no desire to mediate any deep-seated issues my parents might have.
"You love each other very much," I told them. "You've been best friends and partners for 41 years."
My dad rolled his eyes but allowed me to continue.
"You take a break in Harken Village's most popular pub and sup on potato skins and fried ravioli."
"This is how Jubunsky ended up with a BMI of over 44," Mom lamented. "Couldn't we have gone to Subway?"
"Remember it's fantasy," I told them. "Here, fried foods speed up your metabolism. You're actually losing weight while eating."
I saw their eyes brighten. I briefly considered stopping right then, because they clearly loved D&D at that point.
I continued. "An elderly gentleman approaches your table and offers to buy drinks if you'll agree to listen to his woeful tale of plight."
"Rude," my dad said. "We're eating."
"Dear adventurers," I began in my best elderly NPC voice. "Our once serene village is being pillaged by goblins in the dead of night. We simple people of Harken Village cannot take on such creatures ourselves. Please help us."
"Of course we will," Mom said, looking like she's on the verge of tears.
"No way," Dad said. "Tell the good people of Harken Village to put the Giants on TV. I'm staying put."
"Tom," Mom said, "We have to. This is how the game begins!"
"Umm … what part of 'pillaged by goblins' did you not hear? I'm not going out there. It's dangerous. Besides, our potato skins just came."
I wasn't sure what a DM should do when the PCs have no desire to leave the pub. I decided to bribe them.
"Please," I continued as Old Kellar. "You're our only hope. I can offer you 25 gold pieces each."
"But my fried ravioli isn't here yet."
"Get it to go," Mom ordered. "We need to kick some goblin ass."
I set up the dungeon tiles according to the instructions in the rules. I don't know if it's because I was playing with two blank slates or because I'd done this twice before, but I was actually excited and feeling confident about my DMing skills.
Old Kellar showed them the entrance to the dungeon where the goblins were believed to reside. Mom and Dad placed their tokens in the short corridor leading into the depths of darkness.
"I'm not sure about this," Dad said. "Why don't we just go back and tell the old guy we didn't see anything."
"Oh, please," I said. "You won't even let Mom go to Price Chopper by herself, but you'll let her explore a dungeon? What if a goblin steals her purse?"
"I can handle it," Mom said, "Jubunsky wants to fight!" She made hoo hoo hoo noises, which I can only assume is her dwarven fight song.
I took that as my sign to continue. "You hear sounds up ahead and see the dim glow of a light." I made what I imagine to be goblinesque noises and both my parents stared.
"Stop it," Dad said.
"Oh, I'll make you!" Jubunsky said, making stabbing gestures in the air.
"I don't like what this is doing to your mother," Dad said. "All this stabbing and killing things?"
"I like it!" Mom said. And threw a d10 at my dad.
"Mom!" Maybe Dad was right. Good thing they didn't know about LARPing.
"Sorry," she said. "I was in character."
In an effort to avoid a black eye, I got back to the game.
"Even if you wanted to leave, it's too late. The goblins see you."
"I told you this was a bad idea," Dad said.
"It's time to roll for initiative!"
They had no idea what this meant but sensed it was important, because they both cheered. I explained this was how we determined the combat order.
"Combat?" Dad asked. "What if we just want to talk?"
"Too late," I told him, as my goblins got ready to go first. I moved all three toward the dungeon entrance where Jubunsky and Bud were apparently shaking in their boots of striding. "All three throw their javelins at Bud."
"Why me?" Dad shouted. "That's cheating!"
My father would be a great addition to my group back home.
"Does 22 beat your Armor Class?"
"Maybe. Maybe not," he said. "Care to put a wager on it?"
"Tell the truth or you will die instantly."
Mom looked over his shoulder. "He has a 20," she told me. "You're dead."
"What's the spread?" he asked.
"There is no spread," I told him. "It's Dungeons & Dragons, not Vegas & Bookies."
"So he's dead?" Mom asked, eager to get to her turn.
"Not yet." I explained the first number we roll only determined if our attack hit. The next number determined damage. All in all, Bud took 10 points of damage.
"Ouch," he said, making me feel bad. Daughters shouldn't hit their dads with javelins. Maybe I should have given him a spread.
Jubunsky goes next. "So many choices," Mom said, reading over her character sheet. "I'm very talented."
She decided to move up next to the goblins and use cleave. Unfortunately, she rolled too low to hit them.
"Sorry." I made the sounds of giggling goblins, which really pissed her off.
Bud got to go next. "I have a javelin too, so let's see how they like it."
"You know you can use any of those powers on your character sheet? You can even breathe fire on them."
"Oh, Tom, do that!" Mom encouraged.
"Why would I want to get closer to them?" He asked this with the same incredulous tone as someone asking, "Why would I want to get a kidney stone?"
"Because you're a dragon," I told him. "A big, tough dragon."
"Mind your own business," he yelled at me. "If I go back in the hallway, I can see them but they can't see me. I have a plan!"
"If you come onto the map and take part in the action, you and Mom could flank this goblin and have combat advantage." I explained the benefits of this maneuver, which he poo poo'd, preferring to hide in the hallway and fling javelins at them. He missed.
"Duh," Mom said. Dad sneered at her.
When my goblins went a second time, they targeted Bud again.
"That's six more points of damage." The goblins giggled again.
"They're laughing at you, Tom," Mom said. "You should be ashamed."
"I'm injured!" he yelled back. "Leave me alone!"
Jubunsky went next and, unlike her overly cautious counterpart, she eagerly plowed through her power list. She loved the visual of her little powerhouse knocking out goblins while performing a shotgun spin, so she chose spinning sweep.
"Come on, Jubu!" she said before tossing the d20 on the coffee table. "Mama wants to take out the trash!"
Her encouraging, albeit odd, cheer worked because she rolled a natural 20!
"Your critted, Mom!" Which is kind of a weird thing to say to your mom. Even weirder when she knows what it means.
She pumped her fist in the air and chanted her dwarven fight song, "Hoo, hoo hoo!"
"He's dead," I said, removing his token from the playmat.
They high-fived. Now Dad appeared to be motivated by Mom's coup. He crept out of the hallway toward a goblin. "I'll do this radiant smite thing."
He hit and managed 12 points of damage. "See?" he told us. "I had a plan."
The goblins continued to have their way with Bud, the squishy dragonborn. He dropped all the way down to 8 hit points while Jubunsky maintained a healthy total of 22.
I determined that would be a good time to introduce the two goblin warriors who had been hiding in the shadows. They moved into the action and target Jubunsky.
"You can't just keep bringing out more bad guys," Mom told me.
Funny. This is exactly the kind of thing I would say. Maybe they did read some of Confessions.
The warriors went next and targeted Jubunsky, moving on either side of her.
"Damn it, Tom, the goblins are flanking me!" she yelled. "Do something!"
They stabbed Jubunsky with their spears, causing 11 points of damage.
"I'm bloodied!" she screamed. "I don't know what that means but I bet it's bad!"
On her next turn she used her daily, brute strike, and … critted again!
"Hoo, hoo, hoo!" More high-fives. My mom was dangerously close to beating her fists on her chest, and I was sure I'd never recover from the sight. "I'm so good at D&D! Who knew?"
The 39 points of damage she caused easily took out one of the goblin warriors.
"I think she has better powers than I do," Dad said.
"I think you should read your character sheet," I told him.
He did, and decided to use his daily power, paladin's judgment. He hit and not only took out the remaining goblin warrior but also allowed Jubunsky to use a healing surge.
She squeezed his hand. "Thank you, honey. I needed that."
They had little trouble taking down the remaining two goblins, especially once Bud decided to come out of the hallway.
We ended the encounter with both parents breathless and smiling like two people who survived a five-on-two goblin attack in a dungeon. I paid them their 25 gold pieces.
"That was fun," Mom said. "I would do that for free."
"I still think we should have tried talking to the goblins," my dad said. "It disturbs me that you were so eager to kill everything."
So Mom enjoyed the hack-and-slash and Dad liked the roleplaying. This doesn't surprise me. Growing up, Mom was a menace with a wooden spoon, while dad's calm, cool reasoning was like a blast of white dragon's breath. What does surprise me is that they really did have fun. Again, I'd like to believe this is due to my awesome DM skills, but I suspect it's a bit more organic than that. Stomping on goblins is fun for everyone.
They made D&D a huge part of their lives without even knowing what it was. It may have been a risk to show them, but I think it paid off. If only I could hear the conversation next time someone asks my mom or dad how to play.
A few days later, my mom and I found ourselves with a little free time before dinner, so I asked if she wanted to play a game.
"Fine," she said, "but I have to resort to killing you at cards. Your father won't let me play D&D anymore."
Not wanting to come from a broken home, I resisted the urge to tell her about Three Dragon Ante. At least until my next vacation back home.
About the Author
Shelly Mazzanoble hopes she can come to your house for Christmas, as her parents disowned her shortly after this column was written.