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Love Is a Battlemat
Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard
by Shelly Mazzanoble

Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. You can’t swing a diaper-clad, ageless, winged toddler without smacking into something pink, red, or scantily clad. (And for the record, you should never swing a toddler around. It’s bad for their shoulders.)

One might think Valentine’s Day is reserved for starry-eyed lovers. I say hooey. Valentine’s Day should be celebrated regardless of your romantic status. There’s got to be something to love, right? Red velvet cupcakes? Gossip Girl? Microfiber Snuggies? (Don’t knock it until you’ve been encased in the loving arms of one. Not to mention, that a Snuggie can double as a mean wizard’s robe.)

Even if you found yourself without a romantic relationship this Valentine’s Day, there are plenty of relationships in your life to celebrate. Like the relationship you have with our beloved Dungeons & Dragons game.

“Why thank you, Shelly. Sometimes words speak louder than actions. Saying 'I love you' goes a long way."

Not to worry, Dungeons & Dragons. We’re here for you.

“I have feelings too, you know!”

I know. Have I told you lately that I love you?

“Aww . . . "

Those who work on the Dungeons & Dragons game have an interesting bond with their favorite RPG. Not only do they love the game socially, but professionally as well. And that’s not an easy balance.

In honor of the pinkest month on the calendar, I decided to examine what the game of love really means. Who better to ask than some of the most devoted duos in the office? Besides, I’m a sucker for a good “how they met” story.

Peter Schaefer, RPG Developer

With Dungeons & Dragons 18 Years.

As a young boy growing up in the lush, green woods of Northern Oregon—

“I didn’t grow up in the woods,” Peter wants to clarify. “We had a house, you know.”

Growing up in Hood River, the wind-surfing capital of the world, a bespectacled, Birkenstock-clad Peter found himself immersed in cerebral hobbies like fantasy and sci-fi novels, computer games, and “playing in the woods.”

“You do have an elfish look about you.”

“Really? I’ve always thought of myself more as a halfling.”

Perhaps the love of fantasy, gaming, and even tromping around in the wild might lead one to conclude that Peter and Dungeons & Dragons were meant to be.

“When you know, you know . . .”

“Yep. It was love at first read.”

They met through a friend of a friend before Peter was even in double digits.

“My buddy described a game his older brother had and I was intrigued,” Peter said, recounting what was to become a propitious conversation nearly two decades ago. Peter picked up a Dungeons Master’s Guide and “away we went.”

“He was just a kid and yet wise beyond his years.”

Peter fondly remembers Rufus Redaxe, his beloved chaotic neutral dwarf fighter.

“Rufus was on a hereditary quest to make an axe from red steel,” Peter reminisces. “He went on to establish an empire on the basis of being deeply in debt.”

“Rufus! I haven’t thought about him in years. How is the old chum doing, anyway?”

“Oh, he’s long since retired. But I’m sure he remembers you fondly as well.”

While Peter spends the most time with Dungeons & Dragons currently, he recalls a time in college when the two parted ways briefly.

“We grew apart,” Peter explained. “Took different paths.”

“If you love something, set it free . . .”

Peter’s need to sow his wild oats introduced him to other games, such as Mage, Exalted, and Shadowrun.

“Being with other games only brought me closer to Dungeons & Dragons in the end,” Peter explains.

“If it comes back to you, it’s yours . . .”

“Aw, that’s sweet.”

Not everyone understood the bond between Peter and Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s clear they have a lot of history together. In fact, it’s that history that makes this game stand out from his other hobbies.

“We’re very comfortable together.”

“It’s a very relaxed partnership.”

Peter loves DMing as much as he loves rolling up a PC. It’s Dungeons & Dragons’ many layers of depth and storytelling that he finds endlessly fascinating.

“There’s no other activity that incorporates telling a story with playing a game quite so well,” Peter explained when asked what it is that makes the game so special.

“Peter is special too. He’s smart and dedicated and loyal. And he has nice, brown eyes.”

“I’m blushing!” It’s clear in this case absence does make the heart grow fonder, but what does the future have in store for these two?

“I see an enduring, but open, partnership,” Peter said.

“Me too. Wait . . . Open? How open?”

Rodney Thompson, RPG Developer

With Dungeons & Dragons 17 Years.

Picture this: a sweet, southern boy—eight years old with a penchant for reading, baseball, and Nintendo games—hears wild tales of a mysterious game that involves halfling thieves, homemade flaming bullets, and skeletal monsters.

“A friend from my neighborhood played Dungeons & Dragons with his older cousins and told me all about it,” Rodney said. “Just the idea of that kind of freedom blew my mind.”

“He just had to meet me.”

But it was another three years or so before Rodney and Dungeons & Dragons would finally come face to tabletop. The two hit it off right away, but not everyone approved.

“My parents were skeptical at first. Growing up in the South, there was some trepidation about the game,” explained Rodney.

“I tend to clam up around parents.”

“But once they realized you were good for me, they welcomed you with open arms.”

“Sure. Once they learned I could provide for you.”

“They are very proud of my work.”

Rodney fondly remembers his first time.

“Awkward!”

“First time rolling up a character.”

“Oh.”

“His name was Saluk—a human holy slayer in an AL-QADIM campaign.”

“Al-Qadim? Wow, we haven’t been there in a while.”

Dungeons & Dragons players are a sentimental bunch. Some hold onto the d20 with which they rolled their first crit. Someone else once told me he had all the players he TPKed for the first time sign the DM screen from that fatal session. And Rodney still has the miniature of that first character that one of the other players painted for him.

“Unsurprisingly, in Chris Perkins’s Wednesday night campaign, my avenger of the Raven Queen, Vargas, was heavily inspired by Saluk.”

“The first one is always the most special. I’m glad Saluk didn’t die a horrific death like the many that came after.”

“Me too.”

Like so many Dungeons & Dragons devotees, Rodney oscillates between player and DM.

“That’s the beauty of our relationship. No one needs to be stuck in just one role. Sometimes you feel like taking control of things and sometimes you want to sit back and let someone else take the reigns.”

“I’ve had many great times in both roles. As a player, the last great time was in Chris Perkins’s campaign,” Rodney says.

“Ahh . . . Chris Perkins . . . one of the most thoughtful, loving, and creative Dungeon Masters I’ve ever known.”

“Umm . . . I’m right here.”

“Right. Sorry.”

Rodney continues, “In a recent session my aforementioned avenger, Vargas, helped save the capital city of the Empire from destruction by destroying a giant floating fortress that was attacking the city.”

“So brave.”

“As a DM, about a month ago I ran an all-day game where my players laid siege to an enemy fortress, killed a white dragon, and then fought off githyanki warriors to capture a flying ship.”

As much as Rodney cares for Dungeons & Dragons, he claims to be a “man of many loves” and insists there’s room in his heart for lots of games. He likes board games, “especially cooperative or semi-cooperative games.”

“In other words, he likes games that resemble me.”

“I have a type, I guess.”

For someone who is basically paid to notice other games, it seems like Dungeons & Dragons will always face some competition. But there’s only one game he plays nearly as often as D&D.

Star Wars Saga Edition.”

“That’s because you’re afraid to commit. I don’t want to pressure you but what’s that expression about buying the cow . . .?”

STAR WARS aside, hearing Rodney talk about what makes Dungeons & Dragons so special makes it hard to imagine him spending time with any other game.

“I love that when I go to Gen Con, I’m surrounded by people whose lives have been shaped by Dungeons & Dragons,” he says. “The players have their own language, their own inside jokes and common stories, their own shared experiences. It’s a very personal hobby, so people get very invested in it, and it really affects their culture.”

“My friends are very important to me.”

A self-proclaimed “free spirit,” it’s no surprise Rodney finds himself drawn to D&D’s creativity and freedom.

“I love that every time I sit down to play, I’m making something; making a story, making a character, or just making a new memory.”

“We do have some great memories.”

“I like that as a DM I can create my own adventures, my own monsters, my own magic items, or my own world. I love the sense of ownership that D&D gives you over the game.”

Rodney’s friends love D&D too, and that’s important.

“You’re not kidding. It’s very hard to compete with hostile friends.”

“Twice a week, I sit down with five to eight friends and play a game that is different every week,” he said. “I also love the social aspect of the game.”

“I like your friends too.”

Rodney is running and playing more D&D than ever before and couldn’t be happier. He says he and D&D are in a great place right now.

“Sure, there are always rough patches,” he stated. “But I recently got to work on the upcoming D&D Essentials books as a designer, and I’m proud to be helping shape the future of the game.”

“I feel safe with Rodney.”

Great place or not, most relationships that have spanned over a decade have experienced their share of growing pains.

“Who hasn’t had a campaign fall apart in the past?” Rodney lamented. “Sometimes you just need to play something else to clear your head.”

“I never needed time to ‘clear my head', but that’s just me I guess.”

Rodney is clear-headed when talking about his future with D&D.

"I’ll certainly never stop playing D&D, barring a major catastrophe, and I’d like to keep doing what I do for a living for a long time to come. But I have to admit, GAMMA WORLD has been making eyes at me.”

“I hope you don’t think you’re special! GAMMA WORLD has been making eyes at everyone!”

Bart Carroll, Editor-in-Chief, DungeonsandDragons.com

With Dungeons & Dragons 27 Years.

How do you keep things fresh after nearly three decades? It’s easy, according to Bart.

Dungeons & Dragons and I are very healthy,” Bart answers without hesitation in regards to the current state of their relationship. “I play weekly at work, outside of work, and recently started an additional game on odd weekends, as a means to reconnect with some friends, draw others in, and have one-off sessions that allow a fair degree of experimentation . . . ”

“Whoa! Don’t give them the wrong idea! You mean it’s a chance for others to try out characters they normally wouldn’t play and give new DMs some practice. Overall, it’s a chance for us to just kick back and see where life takes us.”

“Right. That’s what I said.”

“Whatever.”

Being an 'army brat', Bart spent much of his childhood trying to fit into one group or another. With every new city came a new group of friends and exposure to new hobbies. This is probably the catalyst for Bart’s love of discovering new games, whether at a hobby store or from a friend’s bookshelf. But there is something about Dungeons & Dragons that stands the test of time.

“We have to work at it, you know. But it’s worth it.”

Dungeons & Dragons encapsulates all those things I loved as a kid and lets me experience them every time I play.”

“You’re so sentimental. It’s cute.”

After hearing the older kids describe Dungeons & Dragons, Bart went on his first adventure to find out more about this elusive, mysterious game that combined several of his passions—knights, monsters, and mythology.

“They had me at dinosaurs.”

“Sure, I gave you dinosaurs. Relationships are all about making concessions.”

“I remember spending my allowance on books and adventures at Toys"R"Us,” Bart recounts. “And Christmas of 1983 I saw a red boxed set under my tree. With dice! I could not have been happier.”

The happiness continued through several years and almost as many characters.

“I tend to gravitate toward characters that aren’t afraid to take silly risks for the sake of making something happen,” Bart explains.

“I might be inclined to say it’s less ‘risky’ and more ‘careless'.”

“Maybe. One character came this close to laying his hands on the hand of Eye of Vecna before his own party knocked him unconscious and foolishly had the useful item destroyed.”

“It’s times like that I wonder if you’re really committed, you know? Like are you living for the moment with me or wondering what the next great adventurer you’ll roll up will be like?”

“When we’re together, I only have eyes for you.”

“That’s sweet.”

Bart gets a little starry eyed when reminiscing about one of those careless, slapdash, risk-taking characters.

“I teleported inside a force field and found a chain golem that I tried to commandeer. That didn’t work—the golem activated and tried to kill me—but I escaped and managed to teleport an enemy inside the same force field . . . where the golem then smashed him to pieces!”

“And there was that whole ‘I’m a cleric! Nope! I lied! I’m an assassin!’ fiasco.”

“We’re still talking about that?”

“I’m sorry, but when three out of four party members are knocked prone and your assassin is scampering down the hallway looking for a mute old man with a bevy of canaries, it’s hard to not think about it.”

“They were fine! Marty made his death save and managed to throw a healing word on Kierin.

“For the record, I did not agree with that decision. Your fellow party members were right to be upset.”

“Party member,” Bart corrects. “I believe there was just one who got severely bent out of shape.”

“I think she was right. But whatever. Let’s move on.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

A lover of all things geek and a wide-array of games (Munchkin, Battlestar Galactica, and Magic: The Gathering to name a few), Bart is a giant flirt when it comes to other pastimes, but none have given him butterflies like Dungeons & Dragons does.

“Still, they try.”

“I dallied with Palladium’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG for a while,” Bart recalls. “I introduced some kids at school to it who had played Dungeons & Dragons when younger. But when they sat around the table, they really just wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons again, not something Dungeons & Dragons-like. So we switched systems and started playing regularly again.”

“If I were one to say, ‘I told you so’ I’d say, ‘I told you so'.”

Part of the strength of their relationship can be credited to Dungeons & Dragons’ confidence.

“That’s because Bart is very generous with the compliments. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t remind me of how appreciated I am.”

“You’re appreciated! Not sure if I said it yet today.”

With Dungeons & Dragons, “Every time is a good time. Maybe because the game still reminds me of how much fun I had playing with different groups at different times in my life,” Bart says.

“Now I’m blushing.”

As for their future? Bart and D&D don’t show any signs of slowing down. In fact, quite the contrary. Bart believes in a sort of paying it forward—at least in terms of sharing his love of D&D with generations to come.

“I see . . . my currently fictitious kids sitting around the table being prodded, tricked, or otherwise coerced into playing with dad, who’s keen to teach them math, vocabulary, and cooperative lessons in the disguise of a gloriously geeky game.”

“I love kids. Bring it on!”

Chris Youngs, Editor-in-Chief, D&D Insider

With Dungeons & Dragons 13 Years (on and off).

Ah, young love. So full of promise. Budding with excitement. Nothing but hope for the future. Until your mother makes you stop seeing each other. That’s what happened shortly after five-year old Chris first met Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, five. He was introduced by his older brother who, upon learning the game wasn’t a solo experience, was forced to recruit his “malleable little brother.”

“That’s how I meet a lot of little brothers.”

But their love was left unfulfilled as mom fell victim to the hype surrounding Dungeons & Dragons’ alleged bad reputation.

“She was told the game had real spells in it,” Chris said.

“It’s hard to reason with overprotective moms of the 80s.”

“And demon summoning information.”

“Umm . . . no. Not my cup of mead.”

Although Chris’s relationship with D&D was called to a halt early on, Chris’s penchant for gaming wasn’t. During their forced separation, he spent time with mom-approved games such as Monopoly, Sorry, and Mille Bornes before entering what he affectionately refers to as his FASA period.

“I dallied with Shadowrun, Earthdawn, and Battle Tech,” he recounted. “I probably designed more Battle Mechs than I ever have Dungeons & Dragons characters. And that’s saying something.”

“That’s because you were in junior high when time was an endless commodity. Try to do that now.”

But everyone knows destiny wins in the end. It was 1998 when Chris and Dungeons & Dragons crossed paths again. Perhaps they were jaded from their false start several years before, but Chris admits the sparks didn’t fly immediately.

“I was weary. Once bitten, twice shy.”

“It took a couple of years to get back into the groove, but then 3rd Edition came along, and it was just like old times.”

“Old times? He was five! But yes, we moved very quickly.”

Since then the good times have kept on rolling. Even his mom has come to terms with Chris’s relationship with Dungeons & Dragons.

“She just wants me to be happy,” he said. “And she doesn’t think the game is evil anymore. That was, um, an important step.”

“I had to work at that one. To know me is to love me.”

“Love might be too strong a word.”

“There’s still time.”

So what’s the attraction? Part of it is what many find attractive about a game like Dungeons & Dragons—the only boundaries are your imagination. “If you can think it, you can make it part of the game,” Chris says.

“I’m not a pushover or anything. I just want people to have fun.”

Dungeons & Dragons has introduced Chris to some of the most beloved characters in his life.

“My favorite is always whichever character I’m playing at the moment, even if it’s a one-off.”

“You throw your whole heart into every character you roll up. It’s very refreshing.”

“Thank you.”

Currently Chris plays an egotistic sorcerer with a penchant for wild parties and wilder magic.

“It’s a blast,” he admits.

“No pun intended?”

Make no mistake, Chris is definitely a player, and while he insists you can’t help but at least notice an interesting product shot or be intrigued by a glowing review of a new game, he spends the majority of his free time with Dungeons & Dragons.

“There’s not a single game I currently play as much as Dungeons & Dragons,” Chris proclaimed.

“Oh yeah? What about Rock Band?”

“Except maybe Rock Band.”

“That’s okay. It just makes the time we do spend together all the more special.”

The future looks bright for these two, with Chris’s only complaint being that he wishes he had more time for Dungeons & Dragons games.

“I see many more adventures. Many more monsters. Many more dungeons. And loads of phat lewtz!”

So there you have it. It’s a good thing I’m not the jealous type, because that’s a lot of love.

Unlike other relationships, hearing people profess their devotion for your beloved only serves to ignite the flames.

But I hope you weren’t looking for a monogamous relationship with Dungeons & Dragons.

“No one loves a player as much as I do.”


About the Author

Although her mother warned her about games like this, Shelly Mazzanoble and Dungeons & Dragons have been blissfully enjoying each other’s company for six years.