Please sit down before you read this, because I have something to confess.
I don't like shopping.
I know! Me not loving shopping? Pick your jaw off the keyboard and let me clarify. It's holiday shopping I'm not fond of.
No, it's not the throngs of crowds or the overeager sales people. And nope, despite what Mom says, I'm not agoraphobic. It's the holiday stress that kicks in every year right around Labor Day. The pressure to find the perfect gift takes all the joy out of the season.
Right in the middle of a present-perfect panic attack, a copy of Adventurer's Vault landed on my desk. Eager to take my mind off how many attaché cases and exfoliators for men my dad really needs, I spent a little time flipping through the pages.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear? Pages of weapons, and wands, and adventuring gear! On elephants, griffons, and celestial mares! How about a mask of terror or a symbol of censure?
"Yes!" I proclaimed as I ducked out of sight. "I must go shopping! To the mall! Tonight!"
"Hold on, Sparky," Scott interrupted. "You know those items don't really exist, right?"
Clearly Scott and I don't shop at the same places. I happen to have several pairs of magic boots in my closet right now.
But yes, Mr. Buzzkill has a point. It might prove difficult to come across some of these fine gift items. I can't exactly hit up my local D&D-Mart, can I? Perhaps I could enlist the help of a friend. What exactly does Tabitha do all week when we're not playing D&D anyway? I make a call to find out.
Tabitha: "It's not Wednesday. What do you want?"
Me: "Nice to talk to you too, Tabs. I need your help."
Tabitha: "I'm pretty busy here. I've got about sixteen orc minions hot on my heels and 99% of my party is lying in a ditch somewhere."
Me: "I know, I know, but it's really important. I'm on a deadline. I … uh … apparently needed to get something done two days ago but, umm … I thought I had until next week. Get my drift?"
Tabitha: "Is this another passive aggressive dig at your editor? You know, the more you do that, the worse it is out here for me."
Me: "Right, right. So here's the deal. I want to get some gifts for my friends, but I don't have access to any of the items in Adventurer's Vault. Can you hook me up?"
Tabitha: "What's in it for me?"
Me: "Seriously? There has to be something in it for you? You can't just do me a favor? I created you!"
Tabitha: "I'll take 10% of whatever you spend. Plus mileage."
Me: "Ridiculous! It's the holidays! Where's your good will?"
Saucy Wench: "Shops are crowded here too, lady. And we don't have the benefit of that internet thing you humans are so fond of. You ever try fighting your way through a jam-packed department shoppe with a 6-foot tail?"
Me: "No, but I've survived Nordstrom Rack at the crack of dawn on Black Friday. So bite it, Horn Head."
Selfish Turd: "Who you calling Horn Head, Pin Head?"
Me: "Watch it. Did you know it only takes a few minutes to create a new character with the Character Builder? It's fun too."
Pointy-toothed Ingrate: "You wouldn't."
Me: "Say yes, Tabitha."
Ungrateful Wretch: "Story of my life. Humans are always making bargains to increase their power. Here's a deal for you. I've got friends too, but … yawn … who needs another arm slot item?"
Me: "You do! You actually used a healing surge the other day! Use protection, young lady!"
Skanky-tailed Buttface: "I'll do a little shopping for you if you do the same for me. Legend has it you humans have your own book of enchanted gifts. I want it."
Me: "What on Earth are you talking about?"
Tabitha: "Order now and I won't need to make payments for 90 days. We should be through this adventure by then. Maybe."
Me: "I wouldn't be so sure. But you've got yourself a deal."
Let the consumerism begin!
Shelly's Gift List:
For Adam (The Chronically Sniffled)
You'd think Adam spent all of his time in airplane bathrooms and drinking out of public water fountains for the number of germs he seems to be toting around. And like all good sick people, he seldom has the sense to stay in bed. What fun is there in staying home when you can stand in your friends' cubicles lamenting (not to mention sharing) your latest illness. I feel for you, my friend, I do. But you've got the immune system of a gnat.
Fear not, my infected friend, I've got a belt of vitality with your name on it. They don't come cheap, but it's probably less than you're dishing out for insurance co-pays. Plus, I think you're worth it. Wear this magical band and you'll double your immune system's potency. And it's guaranteed to spiff up any outfit.
For Scott (The … Wait. What was I Saying?)
Attention, Mr. Rouse, attention! Will you please meet your party in the catacombs? While Adam may possess the immune system of a gnat, Scott has the attention span of one. Right in the middle of a really good story, he'll short-circuit and either move on to a different really good story or fall into a deep, meditative state. Focus, Scotty! Eye of the Trihorn!
I can't wait for Scott to unwrap his brand new cognizance ring. Not only will his mind and spirit flourish, but he'll gain a +5 bonus on saving throws against updating your Facebook status on your iPhone. At least we'll have our friend back and finally hear what happened that "one Halloween in 1978."
For Marty (The Court Jester)
Marty makes an excellent bard because when he sings a majestic word, he really belts it out. Sometimes in the likeness of Bea Arthur. Additionally, his freakishly large mental capacity for D&D nuances often rivals that of New DM's, and he's a veritable font of random knowledge. Do you know what the scientific term for "speaking in tongues" is? Marty does. Glossologia. For Marty, I found the face-stealing ring, which will prove useful for his other passion -- acting. Marty's a busy guy with work, school, and three different D&D campaigns running simultaneously, so he seldom has time to audition. This is a huge loss to audiences everywhere. With this enchanting accessory, Marty can skip those tedious rehearsals and instantly take on the exact appearance of another creature. See you at the wrap party, suckers!
For Sara (The Menacing Mom)
Sara doesn't just play a dragonborn paladin in D&D; she plays one in real life. She skates on a roller derby team, teaches self-defense, and is exactly the kind of person you want to stand behind when your friends read about how you outed their pesky ailments in a digital magazine column.
People are afraid of Sara. In reality, she's charming and sweet and utterly amused by this reputation she's cultivated. Don't get me wrong. If pressed, she will playfully put you in a headlock and sweetly tell you where to go. Personally, I adore her, but I can also see how some people (with the initials H.R.) might misconstrue her actions. For her protection, I offer a choker for the choker. The peacemaker's periapt is more than a just a pretty piece of jewelry. This amulet will enhance Sara's diplomacy so even the lamest layman can appreciate charms. (And maybe avoid a headlock if they're lucky.)
For Kieren (The Office Enforcer)
You know those rulebooks you're referencing? That adventure you're running? Those minis you're painting? You can thank Kierin for them. (Thanks Kierin!) As Brand Manager for Product Development, he's responsible for getting all these fine products into the marketplace. No, he's not actually sitting at a desk sculpting minis and writing campaigns, but he does work with those who do. Closely. On an hourly basis. It ain't easy. Everyone's got an opinion, but only Kierin has the budget. If anyone needs a shield of shared suffering, it's this guy. He's rubber, you're glue, and when he says "feel my pain," he'll mean it.
For New DM (The Guy Who Pretty Much Does Have Everything)
Even with access to all the goodness within Adventurer's Vault, New DM proves hard to buy for. He could probably benefit from a headband of insight, which would allow him the ability to see through our lies. But our dungeon mastermind appears to already have one, as evident from conversations like this:
New DM: "Did you use an action point already?"
Anonymous Player: "Nope. Still got one."
New DM: "Really? Haven't used it?"
Anonymous Player: "Honest, New DM, it's still sitting right here."
New DM: "That so? Could have sworn it was you who spent an action point three weeks ago to reroll your flaming sphere attack against the orc chieftain.
Anonymous Player (OK … Me): "You think?"
New DM: "You rolled a 13 versus Reflex the first time, 19 the second time. It was 4:37 PM. About 53 degrees outside. You had on a green sweater."
Sheepish Me: "Well, if you say so."
Besides, now that he's cut his hair, I can't really see New DM wearing a headband.
Truthfully, the Adventurer's Vault is loaded with gift ideas for New DM. Maybe a rod of mindbending so we quit second guessing him. Or a skeleton key so we'll always be able to get into our conference room on game days, even when it's double booked.
But I pick out a drum of panic -- not just because it will instill fear in all of our insubordinate little hearts. He can use it when he hosts his next Rock Band weekend retreat.
And Tabitha, my bitter, rebellious little hellion. The perfect gift for her would probably be time-out for bad behavior. Instead, I get her what she's always wanted -- the ability to cast two daily spells a day courtesy of salve of power. Plus the salve sounds like it would be good for her skin.
Tabitha's Gift List
For Bjorn (The Errant Party Member)
See a dark, vacant corner of a dungeon? Bjorn does, and he's going to check it out. Alone. I say let him, but I'm often overruled by the party. He's occasionally good for something, I guess. If anyone needs one of those child safety harnesses disguised as a cuddly stuffed animal backpack, it's Bjorn. I'd get him one, too, but no one is willing to hold the other end of the leash. Instead, I get the wandering dwarf a GPS Personal Location Finder. Pocket-sized and personal, Bjorn will always know where home base is with the simple press of a button.
As an added measure of security, I think I'll stuff his stocking with the Identity Pal. This indestructible ID tag acts as a microchip, telling rescuers where to return him should he turn up lost. Again.
For Teemu (The Angry Perfectionist)
No one likes to fail a saving throw. Worse yet, no one likes it when Teemu fails a save. Eladrin are supposed to be graceful, elegant, and level-headed. But our patchouli-smelling trust-fund hippy always seems to have his Birkenstocks in a bunch. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for infernal wrath now and again, but my pal Teemu is in desperate need of a chakra realignment. For him, I choose the lovely Meditation Grotto of Sorrento. This the perfect place to cozy up to your Melora effigy and get your trance on.
And for when we're on the road, I'll stuff his stocking with a handy Heart Rate Ring. Not only could it easily pass as a manly war ring, this handsome accessory is the ultimate mood ring. Teemu will always have up-to-the-minute feedback on how hard the old ticker is tocking. Better yet, the rest of us will know when it's time to duck and cover.
For Anwar (The Do-Good bard on the Brink of a Breakdown)
You know those people who clog the makeover or amateur shrink shows on daytime television? Or maybe you have better things to do during the daytime than watch television. Whatever. These people on TV, they're always "taking care of others" and too busy to look in the mirror to notice their roots are showing and they've been wearing the same Keds for 18 years. And how are these altruistic souls rewarded for making the rest of us look bad? With bedroom makeovers and new wardrobes and month-long trips to Turks & Caicos for a little "me-time." Well, we can't afford to send Anwar on vacation! He's the only one in the party who can offer up some healing!
Fortunately, Skymall is chock full of goodies that promise to make healing quick and painless and give the overburdened Anwar a little time to relax under a nice oak tree with his lute. How about a Nano Wand Scanner to destroy toxins and germs with the simple swipe of the specially patented Nano-UV light? And for those pesky bumps and bruises we encounter on our journey, there's the Extreme Pain Relief Spray. Unlike those unreliable heal checks, lay your hands on this magic spray and kiss your sore ass bye-bye in 30 seconds flat.
All good for the first aid kit, but worthless if he can't get to us in time. That's why Anwar is also getting the Go Go Elite Scooter. With its ease of transport and agility through tight spaces, Anwar will be by our sides quicker than you can utter a majestic word.
For Freya (The Aggro Paladin with a Heart of Gold)
Freya is always willing to take one for the team. In fact, she insists on it. Unfortunately, running up into the face of evil often puts our beloved dragonborn on edge. Literally. Freya has charged into many battles and sadly lost a few with gravity, which have sent her tumbling into ravines, pits, and deserted dungeons. If anyone needs the Fire Escape Ladder, it's her. Portable and practical, what goes down can easily come back up.
When she's not down a well, Freya is especially fond of getting up in some old baddie's grill and wrapping them in a hot dragon breath embrace. To enhance her favorite racial power, I'll be slipping the Powerlung in her stocking. This clever handheld device will strengthen her lung muscles to increase her lung capacity and breath potency.
For Aaeon (The Trailblazing Genasi)
Poor Aaeon. He can't do a thing with that hair. And when's the last time this guy enjoyed a pint of Chubby Hubby. Hot-headed Aaeon deserves to chill out, so I'm giving him the patent pending Freo Skin Care System. This revolutionary skin care regime will help eliminate fine lines, wrinkles, and sun spots, all with the cool touch of Cold Therapy Skin Care. He'll not only look years younger, he'll feel cooler than a newly hatched silver wyrmling.
For Oso de la Fez (The Inconspicuous, Unauthorized Familiar)
A circus-show refugee, Oso de la Fez appreciates his life on the road outside the big tent much more. You'd think the local merchants would be used to seeing familiars hanging out with their owners, but you'd be surprised by how many places Oso is not allowed to enter. That goes double for dungeon delving. When it comes to balancing on a big, rubber ball, Oso takes tops honors, but he's probably not quick enough to dodge an errant arrow. Too risky. Because of these things, he spends a lot of time outdoors and his fez, stylish as it is, doesn't do much to protect him from the elements.
The least I can do is outfit my best beast in this season's most fashionable warm-weather accessory: the Sock Monkey Hat & Mittens. Not just stylish, Oso will also benefit by traveling incognito. Who wants to hurt a monkey?
For Shelly (The Stage Mom)
She's a bit pushy, too overprotective, and is always pushing me to "take a nap," but she means well. Maybe her dice would heat up if her fingers weren't ice cold. You can't wear mittens while playing D&D (believe me, she's tried), but you can wear the Slanket. She'll be able to wrap herself in generous amounts of polyester fleece all while keeping her hands free to keep moving me away from the bad guys. For the iron-deficient human who isn't afraid of looking like the Kool-Aid man, the Slanket makes the ultimate gift. Hands down.
For New DM (The Unappreciated and Overanalyzed Know-It-All)
You mean the guy that's always telling me I can't use shield or I already used my daily or to take 13 points of damage? Sure, he's on my Christmas list too, and I know just the gift for him. He's getting Dungeon Master 4th Edition for Dummies. It's a no-brainer for a … ah, never mind. It is the holidays.
There. That was easy. Good thing the holidays are all about the spirit of giving, so no one will be disappointed by the fact they can't really see their gift. It's the thought that counts, right?
Regardless of who is on your gift list or whose list you might be on, Tabitha and I wish merry adventures to all, and to all a good fight.
About the Author
Every year at this time, Shelly Mazzanoble can be found in front of her television, crying for the misfit toys. She would gladly accept a Charlie-in-the-box and a bi-polar rag doll.