It was a typical Monday afternoon in the office when my boss stopped by my desk.
“Would you like to play in an all-girl D&D game?” she asked.
“Of course!” I said. How fun would that be. I mean, no offense to my all-male current group, but I wouldn’t mind a side of estrogen with my initiative.
“Excellent!” she answered. “You’ll make a great DM. I’m really looking forward to it!”
I’ll make a what?
“Umm, Lulu,” I asked, following her to her desk. “Might I remind you of the last time I tried DMing? Or better yet, feel free to read the transcripts from my therapy sessions.”
Lulu giggled. “I think you might be over-thinking this a bit.”
“That’s part of my problem! When I get three or more people around a table, I start obsessing over menus and playlists and napkin rings! That, coupled with the fact I’m terrified of ruining everyone’s good time, makes me a terrible Dungeon Master. I’ll probably need to go on sick leave.”
“We’re playing on Monday afternoons,” she said, walking off to a meeting. “Clear your schedule.”
“But I don’t want to be a Dungeon Master!” I shouted.
How often is that heard around offices in corporate America?
It was no use. The invites went out. “3G Official Weekly Team Meeting.” (3G meaning Girls’ Game Group.)
“We should paint a sign and hang it over the conference room doorknob when we play!” the ex-cheerleader and ceaselessly-spunky Marcella cheered.
“With our logo on it!” Tolena suggested. She’s someone I’d want in my adventuring party in real life because she’s usually pragmatic. She’s also a mother, so I know her pockets would always be filled with Handi-Wipes and Oyster Crackers.
“We have a logo?” The quiet and secretly hilarious Hilary asked.
“I’m having the design team work one up,” Lulu said.
Their enthusiasm was contagious. I even cheered for the logo. But listening to them chatter made me feel worse. Their first-ever brush with D&D would be under my tutelage. Isn’t that a lot of pressure for a new DM?
I was still thinking about this the next time my regular group met.
“What’s wrong with you?” New DM asked me. “You’re paying attention. You’re taking your damage. You’re not making up magical articles of clothing Tabitha is allegedly wearing that add +30 to her attack rolls. You’re creeping me out!”
“Sorry, New DM,” I admitted. “I’m trying to generate some good karma. Lulu is making me DM.”
“Awesome!” he said, laughing.
Ugh. I could already taste my own medicine.
“Don’t you remember what happened to me last time? I was practically institutionalized.”
“You’re an old pro now,” he said … and then had to pause while he stifled another laugh. “No, seriously. If you want help, you can practice on me.”
“And me,” Marty said.
“And me,” Bart added, always eager for a chance to play D&D. Even a practice game with me at the helm.
Regardless of their intentions, it was a good idea, so I took them up on the offer. I also took Bart’s copy of Dungeon Delve, which proved to be a stroke of genius for a beginner DM. Not that I wanted R&D to do all the work but ... oh, who am I fooling? Of course I did! All I had to do was pick up some Dungeon Tiles from the product room, riffle through New DM’s collection of minis, and read a couple paragraphs out loud. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
I had the guys make up 1st-level characters.
“Don’t forget you’re new to D&D,” I said. “So try to ask questions you think they’ll ask so I can be prepared.” “Why doesn’t a tie go to the player?” New DM asked.
“If I have more than one daily in my spellbook, why can’t I use them both?” Bart asked.
“Can I use any of my modifiers to boost my AC if I’m not wearing any armor?” Marty asked.
”I don’t know, Marty!” I shouted. “I’m a terrible DM!”
“They’ll never ask that,” New DM said. “At least not during the first game.”
“You’ll do fine,” Bart said. “You know plenty.”
Sure. About cooking, and pit bulls, and '80s sitcoms. But monster abilities and running encounters and setting traps? Not my forte. “Why can’t I devise skill challenges that involve naming one-hit wonders of the past decade?”
“Because that’s not D&D,” Marty laughed. “As fun as it sounds.”
“You'll do fine,” New DM said. “Just be yourself.”
Upon walking to my desk Monday morning, I was greeted with various 3Gers chittering outside Lulu’s cubicle. It wasn’t surprising to find them there -- we’re all friends. What was unusual was that they were talking about.
“Anita was pissed!” Marcy said. “She was like, 'That’s my man, you big ugly ho-faced tiefling! Who do you think you’re messing with' ?”
“And LaFawnda wasn’t having any of that,” Tolena added. “Especially from a twerp like her. But then we became best friends and drinking buddies.”
“Sounds like a fun weekend,” I said. Maybe they’d have to testify in court about it and wouldn’t be able to make the game this afternoon.
“We’re working on our back story,” Tolena said.
“For the game today!” Marcy said. “We’re super excited!”
“Cool,” I said, feeling anything but. Guess I knew what I’d be reading at lunch.
“Yeah!” Lulu cheered. “You’re all going down! Oh wait, we’re supposed to be a team, aren’t we? Sorry.” Some people apparently have a hard time grasping the concept of playing cooperatively as opposed to competitively.
They showed up early, bearing cheese trays, pepperoni, and crackers. We looked more like a Junior League meeting than a band of adventurers ready to set out on their first encounter. Part of my practice game taught me that new players don’t need to pay attention to 80% of what’s on their character sheets. To that point, I give them all highlighters and asked them to mark the important stuff: Initiative, defenses, speed, ability check modifiers, skill check modifiers, and hit points.
“What about our height and weight?” Hilary asked.
“Not important,” I said.
“I like this game already,” she smiled.
Next, we got acquainted. I wrote their names, classes, and races on the whiteboard:
Kayan Pepper, Deva Cleric (Hilary)
Ruby, Half-Elf Paladin (Lulu)
Anita Goodman, Halfling Rogue (Marcy)
LaFawnda, Tiefling Wizard (Tolena)
Because all good adventures start out in a bar (and because I know these ladies and want them to feel comfortable in their new surroundings), we begin in a tavern in the middle of a small, beautiful town called “Shallowfell.”
“You notice everyone here is exceptionally beautiful in a manufactured sort of way. But no one appears happy. For one thing, they’re not eating. Just drinking clear beverages. Probably Zimas.”
“Are we in college?” Hilary asked.
“The waiter brings you an appetizer sampler and a pitcher of beer compliments of the friendly dwarf gentleman behind the bar. When you look at him, he gives you a thumbs up and says, 'Enjoy'!”
“Hmm … I don’t know about this,” Hilary warned. “What if he’s trying to poison us?”
“One of us can’t drink,” Lulu said, matter of factly. “If he slipped us something, the sober one can protect us.”
“I’ll do it,” Marcy offered. “Anita needs to lay off the hooch anyway.”
While they enjoyed their complimentary beer, the friendly dwarf made his way to their table.
“Ladies!” he greeted them. “So nice to see some real women in this place. Clearly you’re not from around here?”
They shook their heads.
I continued with the story printed in Dungeon Delve …
“This kindly dwarf tells you how a couple dozen volunteers set off on a quest for riches but they, along with the mayor’s militia members sent to investigate, have gone missing." I looked up just as Marcy attempted to stifle a yawn.
“Sorry,” she said. “Long day.”
“Wait. Who sent the militia miners?” Tolena asked. “I’m confused.”
“Are they good or bad?” Hilary questioned.
“Did anyone see Lady Gaga on Saturday Night Live?” Lulu asked.
“She’s gross,” Marcy said.
“The poor man’s Christina Aguilera,” Tolena added.
“Is there such a thing?” Hilary asked.
Uh oh. There’s nothing in this delve about Christina or Lady Gaga. Was I losing them already? Seconds before breaking out in hives, bits and pieces of advice from other DMs floated before my eyes. Have fun. Play to your players. Be yourself. Technically, my girls should have been fighting kobolds, but they wouldn’t know a kobold from a Toblerone. If kobolds didn’t light their fires, I’d give them something that would.
“The mine has been taken over by the shallowest of all,” the dwarf explained. “It’s lovely up there. A cinematographer’s dream. But a dastardly gnome by the name of Ryan Seacrest and his band of squatters have taken over the place.”
“Unacceptable,” Lulu said. She's a landlord and can relate to this plight.
“I can offer you 40 gold pieces to help rid the place of those nasty Shallowites,” the dwarf offered.
“What’s the exchange rate into dollars?” asked Marcy.
“Forty gold pieces is a lot,” Hilary said. “Especially for our first adventure.” She’s clearly been tutored by her D&D-playing husband. I’m sure he packed healing potions, peanut butter sandwiches, and a handwritten note on a napkin bidding good luck in her rucksack.
Regardless, they accepted the dwarf’s generous offer and headed off on their first adventure.
Arriving at the mine, the group was faced with an 8-foot-high fence and an expanse of rubble piled 5 feet high. “You hear sounds coming from the other side,” I explained. “Glasses tinkling, wine coolers pouring, lots of ‘OMGs’ and ‘totallys'.”
“Sounds fabulous,” Tolena said. “I can’t wait to kill them all.”
See what I mean about knowing your audience?
Five failed Athletics checks later, they were still on the wrong side of the fence and I was beginning to understand how Bob and Jillian feel on The Biggest Loser. When Ruby’s turn rolled around again, I buffed up her check just to get at least one of them over.
“What do you see?” the rest of the group asked.
What she saw is arguably the most irritating family in the history of families spreading their superficial selves all over the kindly dwarf’s family mine. Additionally, she noticed a staircase and an excavation pit at the far end of the chamber, but that’s not nearly as important.
“You see lots of big hair, large derrières, and a scary creature whose gender you question. You’re pretty sure he was a man until eleven plastic surgeries made his face look like bubblegum melting on a scorching sidewalk.”
“That’s right,” I said. “The Kardashian family has moved into the mine. Roll for initiative!”
They whooped! They banged their fists! Slices of pepperoni hit the walls. (Sorry, Facilities. We’ll clean that up later, OK?)
The older sisters (Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe, if you’re going to pretend you don’t know) played the role of slingers. The rest of the family filled the roles of minions. Unfortunately for the group, the slinger sisters went first. “Those of you standing on the other side of the fence see what looks like balloons careening toward you.” Might as well take even more liberties with what the book described as “special ammunition.”
“Does 15 hit your Armor Class?” I asked Marcy.
“It ties, so no?”
Oh boy. The conflict.
“I’m really sorry,” I said, “but the balloon hits, covering you in what looks and smells suspiciously like pee.”
“You hit me with pee?” she asked.
“I didn’t. They did.”
That was enough to motivate everyone to get over the fence. Everyone except Hilary’s athletically challenged cleric.
“Uh, ladies?” Hilary said. “A little help, please?”
The fight ensued, with the Kardashian minions getting offed right and left.
“Mama Kardashian bites it,” I said. “Bruce is devastated but still standing.”
“Really?” Lulu asked. “Because he just looks surprised to me.”
“He can’t help that.”
When the slingers went again, they targeted LaFawnda.
“Ew,” they taunted. “What are you wearing? That’s so last season!” They laughed like the harpies they are while dropping three flaming paper sacks of poo on her.
“Are you kidding?” Tolena shouted. “I’m covered in poo?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Lulu asked me. “Do you have to be an eight-year-old boy to be a Dungeon Master?”
“Twelve points of ongoing fire damage, please,” I smiled. She, the rogue, and the ranger were bloodied, and the cleric was still behind the fence.
More rounds and more bloodied PCs later, the cleric finally managed to climb the fence, just in time. I could tell they were panicking, but instead of feeling the familiar dread and anxiety I normally felt in this situation, I was energized. Between the four of them, their hit points barely reached double digits, and I still had two minions and all three wicked sisters standing. Was that a TPK I saw in the distance?
And then I thought about my first time playing D&D. What it was like to cast my first magic missile. How it felt seeing one of my party members take a hit. How attached to Astrid I was before I ever rolled a d20. What would my impression of D&D be if my first character bit it an hour into my first game?
So when Anita missed a minion, I gave it to her. When the slingers more than beat Ruby’s Armor Class, I subtracted a bit. And when a javelin was set to knock the poo-covered wizard prone, I let it happen. Hey, I can’t shield them from everything.
“Oh no!” Marcy yelled. “She’s dead!”
“Does that mean we get to loot her?” Lulu asked.
“She’s not dead,” I said. “But she will be if one of you doesn’t heal her.”
When Hilary’s cleric went for the heal, I attacked her, too. I was addicted!
The next two attacks on my minions resulted in success. Now they just had to face off with the wicked slingers.
They knocked off Khloe and got lucky when I rolled low for Kim and Kourtney.
LaFawnda was upright again and cast thunderwave. That, coupled with Kayan’s astral condemnation, basically handed Kourtney’s heels to her. Only one slinger remained!
“She’s bloodied but still has a little left in her.”
Just thinking about their target made my skin crawl, but I was sad to see this encounter almost over.
On what was presumably Kim’s last turn, I made the most of it.
“Daggers and sling shots are so yesterday,” she said to Ruby, who was standing besides the pit. “Kim rams a stiletto heel into your armored belly and shoves you down the hole.”
“That’s allowed?” Hilary asked.
“Yep,” I said, realizing I had no idea how to calculate an attack or damage for this, so I did what any good DM would do -- I made up a number and rolled my d20.
“Sorry, Ruby,” I said. “Down you go.”
“Does falling into a hole cause damage?” Lulu asked. “Because I only have 2 hit points left.”
“It does,” I told her, but I wasn’t worried. Lulu’s paladin getting kicked into a pit by a reality star’s Jimmy Choo was going to be one of those moments you take away from the game and talk about the rest of the week until it’s time to play again. Besides, it’s probably a terrible idea to kill your boss’s character.
“You notice a rope as you’re falling,” I told her. “Give me an Athletics check.”
The girls issued encouraging words to her as she picked up her d20. “Come on, Lulu! You got this!”
“I have no upper body strength. I’m weak!”
“This isn’t you,” I reminded her. “It’s the fantasy you.”
She rolled a nineteen.
“You grab that rope with one hand and pull yourself up with the same ease as someone pulling the tinfoil lid off a container of yogurt. You even do a triple back handspring for good measure when you land. Kim passes out from fear and surprise.”
Marcy’s next attack finished off Kim, even without a buff from me.
Our game lasted 45 minutes longer than scheduled. As they packed up their cheese tray and paper plates and cocktail napkins, they discussed important game information, like who was bringing the snacks next week. I guess that meant we’d be doing this again.
“Thanks, Shelly,” Lulu said. “I told you you’d do great.”
As they walked back to their desks, I heard them recap how Lulu fell into the pit and how LaFawnda was almost slain by a flaming sack of poo. It might not be Marty’s D&D, but who cares? They played it, they got it, and most importantly, they liked it.
I walked back to my desk with my Dungeon Tiles, rulebooks, and miniatures, feeling rather accomplished. I swear other DMs I passed in the hall gave me a smile and a nod, like they knew I had just finished a successful game. Maybe they really do have a secret club? I stopped by New DM’s desk to give him back his minis.
“Did you kill them?” he asked.
“So close, New DM. So close.”
I couldn’t wait to get home and watch E! News. I had another encounter to plan.
About the Author
Shelly Mazzanoble is sorry for beating up on the Kardashians and would like to issue an open invitation to any family members who want to play D&D. Except Bruce Jenner. Sorry, buddy.