It's just a few days before the New Year and I'm about twelve words into a column that's due in … well … now. I credit my procrastination to the fact I am on vacation and if it isn't covered in chocolate or getting a redesign on HGTV, I ain't interested.
What does this have to do with Dungeons & Dragons? Not much, except for the fact that no more procrastinating is going on my New Year's Resolution list. If I'm to follow the recent barrage of television commercials on HGTV, my list of resolutions should include organize my life, lose a bunch of weight, and make this be the year I find that someone special who apparently has been searching this whole time for me. Gee, sorry about that, Mr. Someone Special. Ever hear of Google?
Like 98% of the world, I never keep my resolutions, which is why my list is usually filled with inconsequential tasks like eat organic fruit or be nice to cats or read my horoscope every day.
For Wizards of the Coast, though, the list of resolutions is huge. 2008 is a big year, and essentially D&D's game designers are making several resolutions to the players. 4th Edition will be bigger and better. It's easier to get into for new players, and streamlined and finessed for better game play. The rules are simplified, the game is quicker, the extras are top notch and Dungeon Mastering gets taken to a whole new level. That's a whole lotta resolving for one year. Perhaps R&D should have opted to clean out their closets.
I've only ever played 3rd edition, and not even for that long in comparison to some. Weaning me off the old and into the new is about as tough as switching a four year old from Count Chocula to Coco Puffs. But one thing I like better about 4th Edition is that it makes me feel like a better player. Not better like I know what I'm doing, but better as in more invested. I don't want to think of Astrid as a liability to my 3rd Edition party, but as I've said in the past, my affinity for her might have prevented me from fully throwing myself into the game. Seeing as though New Year's is all about parties and 2008 is all about D&D, I've decided to make all my resolutions be about my D&D party. Sorry Jenny Craig. Maybe next year.
Resolution #1: Shelly-Come-Lately-No-More
Out of the 8 people in my group (including the DM), 35% of us are always on time, 35% are almost always on time, and 25% are seldom on time. The remaining 5%? It's too soon to tell, as he's new to the group. Our rule is that if you don't come three times in a row, we stage an epic battle and use your character as a meat shield. If you survive, you can come back. If you die, we loot you and lose you. Thanks for the memories.
Unfortunately, I'm in the seldom-on time group. By seldom, I mean showing up anywhere between 5 to15 minutes late. Sometimes New DM hasn't even finished setting up the battle grid yet and sometimes the party has moved onto a new adventure.
"You're late," Scott says (on the rare occasions he's there before me).
"Sorry. Tabitha got stuck in traffic," I say.
I'm trying to improve my percentage, learning that I could use that extra 15 minutes to prepare for the day's escapade, which brings me to my next resolution.
Resolution #2: Previously On Dungeons & Dragons
I have short-term memory issues. Big time. Like walking into the kitchen, forgetting why I went in there, and walking all the way back to my desk with a dirty oatmeal bowl in my hand. Or being told as I'm heading to a meeting to tell the organizer Stacy is showing up late. I do. When Stacy walks in 15 minutes later. "Oh yeah! Stacy is coming 15 minutes late."
So how can I be expected to remember everything that happened a week ago? I can't. So, once we're all settled in, I ask New DM to do a complete recap.
There is no such thing as a stupid question, right? Right. But apparently there are such things as annoying and tedious questions. I guess most of the party doesn't have a brain like a sieve because New DM often sighs, looks around the table, and then gives an abridged, monotone version of the peppier review he performed 15 minutes prior.
"You're on the road to the keep to thwart a cult of Orcus."
"Orcas?" I ask. "I would remember whales."
"Yes. A roving pod of killer, zombie whales," New DM says.
"Why do we want to foil the zombie whales?" I ask.
"To get a sense of accomplishment. Now get moving."
All of these questions and more wouldn't have to be asked if I only took the time to write down the details when New DM told us the first time. But not only do I suffer from ADD, my entire group suffers from co-dependency issues due to being coddled by Adam, our secretary, treasurer, and unenthusiastic sherpa. Once, many sessions ago, he took the liberty of writing down the translation of a Draconic poem we found deep within a dungeon. Now, three years later, it's still his job. He keeps track of the vague clues New DM drops that go over the rest of our heads, copies of maps our employers supply us, and the names of townsfolk we've met or are looking for. He monitors our bank accounts and all the treasure we've scored. It's always, "Adam, can I get that masterwork chain shirt we looted? Adam, how many potions do we have left? Adam, can I get 4,000 gold pieces to buy a pony?" The poor guy is like a showbiz manager to six suddenly superstar teenagers. Remind me to get him a pinky ring and lunch reservations at The Ivy.
Regardless of when I show up, I will ask without fail if we've slept yet. Why can't our characters get some shuteye at some point during their six-day sabbatical? I think it's a valid question and an efficient use of the minis' time. New DM will almost always ignore my question, which prompts me to turn to my left and ask Scott the same question. The exchange goes something like this:
ME (To New DM): Have we slept yet? Tabitha wants her daily back.
NEW DM: (silence).
ME (Turning to Scott): Have we slept yet? Tabitha wants her daily back.
SCOTT (To New DM): Have we slept yet?
NEW DM: No. The game picks up where you left off. In battle.
ME: Well Tabitha managed to slip behind a boulder and catch a few Z's.
NEW DM: No, she didn't. She's right here on this square where we left her. In battle.
ME: Yes she did. You don't know what the minis do when we're not looking.
New DM will then ask the group if they'd like to stop fighting the evil band of hobgoblins to rest so that Tabitha, the wonderful Wizard of Wussville, can get her daily spell back. A chorus of "Noooooooooooo's" is heard.
"Fine, suckers," I say. "Don't come crying to me when you need a bugbear put to sleep."
Usually Marty reminds me how much I hate seeing my party coup de grace a helpless bugbear and wouldn't I rather fireblast or magic missile a dumb old human anyway? Of course! And the game resumes. From this I get my third resolution.
Resolution #3: Don't Patronize the Dungeon Master.
Sure he's a fun guy. He likes to talk about his dogs and dish about the Food Network. He even lets me write about his minty smelling hair. But for 2 hours a week he's the Dungeon Master, and I was raised to respect my DM. Well, no, actually I wasn't. But if my mom knew there was such a thing as Dungeon Masters and that I would someday have one, I'm sure she would have told me to hold him or her in high regard. So this I will try, even if he does call me a "squishy" wizard, sacrifices my hit points, and makes up rules that work against us just so he'll have something cool to put in his playtest report. So what if he's all about the TPK and pretends R&D "just changed how that spell works" right before I was about to blow up a pack of kobolds, or makes homemade sugar-laden treats and looks at me all sad and rejected as I move them aside to make way for my stupid yogurt and granola bar. All right, this one will be a toughie, but it does lead into my next pledge.
Resolution #4: Don't Judge the Fudge
Or the pumpkin pie or the brownies or the smoked salmon, brie, or any other delicacy that shows up at the gaming table. Let's be clear here. I don't judge other people's food choices. And while I appreciate that snacks are an essential part of the game, I just choose to not indulge in what other people bring. This is not a personal attack on my fellow party members, people! I'm perfectly content with my dime bag of Kashi cereal and baby carrots. If it makes everyone feel better I will gladly take one of your Aunt Crystal's secret once-in-a-lifetime-oatmeal-cherry-chocolate-chunk cookies off the plate, wrap it in a paper towel, bring it back to my desk and pawn it off on my cube mate. Hilary loves your baking! And next week I'll bring a whole box of Kashi for us all to share.
Resolution #5: Assist Others Before Helping Myself
I'm no good in a crisis, so if you want a ride to the hospital or someone to dislodge the piece of General Tso's chicken from your throat, don't put me down as your person to contact in case of emergency. But I really want to be that person. At least in the world of D&D. Thank you, 4th Edition for providing every player with essentially their own personal copy of Worst Case Dungeon Survival Handbook. This delights me to no end, as I've always been a believer of the airline school of crisis management -- make sure you take care of yourself before assisting others.
Before 4th Edition, a Heal check meant looking down at your shoe to see what the heck you just stepped in. Now it's something I can actually do to help my fellow party members, such as Adam's wee halfing warlock, Atticus. The poor guy was knocked unconscious by a goblin on the high school javelin team. With the roll of a die and some simple addition, Tabitha gave Atticus the ability to use one of his healing reserves. He was back on his feet in no time. At least I think he was on his feet. With a halfling it's kind of hard to tell. I was filled with warm fuzzies from having saved a life, making my resolve even stronger to learn the equivalent of the Heimlich maneuver in the wizard's spellbook.
Resolution #6: Get a Change of Scenery
Does where you play affect how you play? Maybe we could game in a different conference room or at the Panda Express down the street. Or maybe it's as simple as sitting in another player's chair. No one assigned us seats, but we all seem to gravitate to the same chairs we started the campaign in. Maybe it's good luck. Maybe we're creatures of habit. All I know is that when someone else is sitting where you usually sit, it messes with everyone's feng shui.
I read somewhere that in business meetings you should always try to sit to the right of the highest-ranking person in the room. I sit to the left of New DM because I'm not that much of a goody goodie and because that's just were I planted myself on day one. But maybe there is an advantage to sitting where Marty usually sits (roughly 17 feet from the play mat) or having a warlock next to me instead of a snobby old eladrin. Maybe if I saw the game from the cleric's point of view I'd appreciate the role in the party he plays, and maybe if Scott sat in my seat he'd quit calling me things like "cream puff" and "kobold cottontail" and pretending he's speaking into a intercom system calling, "Attention shoppers. Will the wizard please join her party in the dungeon?"
Resolution #7: Get to Know Thyself
Sounds like something from a Zen-practice-a-day calendar, but in this case "thyself" is thy character. Sure, New DM has encouraged us to delve a bit into our characters' backstories, and it has added a personal touch to our game. Knowing Marty's character has a stronger than average distaste for orcs after they roasted his family's homeland makes the possibility of running into some all the more enticing. I like to think of Tabitha as a middle ages version of the game Katamari Damacy -- something that rolls through town, collecting a past, a bit of the present, and hopefully a future. Adding in these little nuggets of personality can only enhance Tabitha's game and hopefully that of her fellow adventurers. For instance, Scott might find out what happened to the last guy who called Tabitha a cream puff.
Resolution #8: Get a Little (More) Culture
I've got a membership card to the library, art museum, and Costco. How much more culture does a girl need? I also have a Netflix subscription, and I try to go to movies at least twice a month, but I'm ashamed to say there are some films out there easily considered classics that I haven't gotten around to seeing. In fact, I could probably get fired for admitting to a few of them, so I won't. But there have been several occasions where my fellow players have gleefully prattled off 10 minutes of dialog from one of these classics only to find me wondering what the heck is so funny about the word inconceivable? (And for the record, I get it now. Rather than break up our friendship, Adam lent me the DVD.) I guess I should save the Mommie Dearest quotes for Thanksgiving dinner with the family.
This is proving to be an ambitious year for someone who was content to just smile at cats. I can hardly wait for my next game to put all this pledging and vowing into action. I'll get on it as soon as I finish this "House Hunters" marathon on TV. And this can of double chocolate frosting. And maybe giving this Jenny person a call. It's always good to have back up, right?