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The Shelly Awards
Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard
by Shelly Mazzanoble

I love awards season! The upsets, the rivalries, the red carpet disses with Joan Rivers! It’s the time of year when we don our best threads and honor the best of the best of the previous year. It’s apparently also the time of year when cheating husbands come out of the woodwork. (Really, Jesse James? Seriously?)

Certainly plenty went down in your D&D campaigns that would be worthy of an accolade. I know it’s true for me. So without further ado, I’d like to honor the excellent adventures and supporting casts who made the past year so memorable.

Category: Best Dungeon Master

Sure, I’ve had other DM’s. Yes, others are willing to play with me, despite my reputation. Never underestimate the power of baked goods.

The nominees are:

Michael Low: Mike gets major props just for the Australian accent. Even hearing the words “knocked prone,” “23 points of damage,” and “three failed death saves” sounds downright pleasant with his down-under lilt.

But still, Michael is responsible for the death of one of my most beloved and beleaguered characters: Kevin Rogers (more on him later). A lot of Dungeon Masters might take great pleasure in beating the tar out of such an adored character, but Michael seemed almost as traumatized as I was at Kevin’s untimely demise.

He also designed a bitchin’ computer program that tracked our initiatives, conditions, bonuses, and weaknesses, and projected them all on a large screen. Perhaps I was paying more attention to the blinking crimson line he surrounded Kevin’s name with than to the crimson lines oozing out of Kevin on the playmat. In either case, Michael gives new meaning to the phrase, “killing me softly.” Nicely done, mate. Now, when do you tell me it was all a bad dream?

Bart Carroll: It was my first ever D&D game outside of work or a convention. It was a Saturday afternoon! My favorite friends were coming over! I had a freshly rolled up 1st-level razorclaw shifter avenger itching for a little excitement. Not having DMed in months, Bart was eager to take the helm and run us through a single combat encounter set in the Chaos Scar. It was going to be a great day.

Bart spent days prepping for the big adventure—almost as long as I spent prepping the dinner menu. And then someone had a grand idea: microbrew taste test. Sure! This is the Pacific Northwest. We invented multitasking with microbrews.

Everyone showed up armed with dice, pencils, guacamole, and beer. A plethora of porters! A surplus of stouts! And a dazzling array of aromatic IPAs. We sipped and judged and rolled dice, all while trying to rescue a horse from a sinkhole (it broke my heart) while fighting off giant ants and that lunatic Pung—the jackass with the stupid name who screeched at us from atop the sinking wagon.

And then our eladrin sorcerer developed beer muscles.

“I wanna get up in Pung’s grill,” she slurred.

“Pung’s Grill,” someone said. “I think I ate there once in Miami.”

“But you’re a sorcerer,” I said. “Can’t you just chill out and cast a few chaos bolts?”

“Chaos bolts are for weenies,” she answered. “This clown is getting a knuckle sandwich.”

And then she burst out laughing, thinking about a clown named Pung. And then I got the giggles. And then the eladrin sorcerer’s husband lost it. And sadly Bart lost us all. We tried to hiccup our way through the encounter, but it was like our characters had been imbibing those several pints of microbrews. The warden tripped over a cobblestone when he tried to charge one of Pung’s believers. The rogue didn’t even try to dodge the giant ant’s grasping mandibles. And my avenger was knocked off the wagon by a minion! A minion! The sorcerer—forget it. When she got knocked prone, she vacated to the living room to watch TV.

“Save yourselves!” she called to us. “House Hunters is in Belize!”

And that was before Bart trotted out the fell taint. Oh boy.

I never did find out how the encounter ended, but I did discover a delicious IPA and a player with a shorter attention span than I have.

New DM: Yeah, yeah, it’s no surprise New DM gets a nod. He should, simply for the fact that he hasn’t quit us yet.

New DM does all the things I think a great DM should do—makes sound effects, tells interesting stories, has a freaky memory not just for what happened in last week’s game but what happened a year ago (and you have no idea how often I ask him to reference something).

He’s also incredibly patient. I know I’ve said that before but it bears repeating. Playing D&D at work is not easy, because sometimes you have to work. Poor New DM lugs his minis and playmats and markers and magnetic nametags to the Lost Temple conference room only to find out Marty is in a meeting, Hilary called in sick, and Kierin has to leave early. Or better yet, the room has been commandeered by orcs. Or worse, upper management. Our game gets canceled, postponed, and backburnered more times than I pretend that I don’t hear New DM telling me Tabitha took damage. And yet he still comes back, week after week. What does this tell you? The guy is clearly a couple fries short of a Happy Meal. And so are we for willingly following him into vacant conference rooms.

Chris Lindsey: The jury is still out on this guy, because I’ve only played two games with him at the helm, but his trash talking earned him a nod. Chris has graciously agreed to run a weekly lunchtime Encounters game. He and I sit right next to each other at the office, with nothing but a six-inch wall between us. Several times a day, we have conversations that go something like this:

“How come you didn’t give Herteus a renown point for his moment of greatness?”

“Hmm… was his moment of greatness when he tripped over his feet on the suspension bridge or tried to use send thoughts to make the table of dwarves at the Yawning Portal buy the party a round of drinks?”

That was a brilliant use of send thoughts, I maintain.

Occasionally I glance up and spy him staring into the great white nothingness.

“What are you dreaming up there, buddy?” I ask.

“Different ways to kill your character,” he answers.

Sigh… when will I ever learn?

And the award goes to . . .

New DM! Duh.

Category: Best Supporting Characters

I’ve realized that it’s okay to branch out once in a while and try a new class or race—maybe experience a completely new role in the party. I have also learned that I make a terrible fighter, despite my best efforts. It’s no surprise how attached I get to my characters. All of them. That’s why this was an especially tough category. But there can be only one winner.

The nominees are:

Tabitha, for her role as tielfing wizard in the Wyld Stallyns. Surprise! Not having Tabby in this category would be like not nominating Meryl Streep for Best Actress. Tabby’s had her ups and downs. Down as in offering up a part of her soul to bring her beloved bear friend to life at the expense of her party members. And up as in casting flaming sphere nineteen = times this year and hitting every time. And selling part of her soul to bring her beloved bear friend to life. Come on, that’s pretty badass.

Lunesto C. Crabb, for his role as razorclaw shifter avenger in The Big Baddies. Lunesto was a suave, shifty, little beast. I loved his affected accent and ascot-adorned self. It was noble of him to vow to avenge the murder of his brother Carlton C. Crabb, whom he was told died of natural causes. Lunesto begs to differ. One eyewitness claims he was drowned in a toilet bowl.

Lunesto never found out the truth, but he did get pushed around by a minion and almost kicked in the head by a horse. And surely greatness would have been his if only his player had been functioning with a sound mind. Sorry about that, buddy. Next time we’ll play on a work night.

Kevin Rogers, for his role as minotaur barbarian. Yes, minotaurs can be named Kevin. (Bite it, Mike Mearls!) Kevin had grand artistic aspirations, but alas, minotaurs aren’t exactly known for their sensitive souls. He was a poet with a penchant for sonnets and sunsets, but his size and clumsy strength forced him to take up barbarian as a day job. He never thrived in this career, and never was it more evident than when he faced off against an orium dragon in a playtest. Maybe it was his pacifist nature. Maybe it was the sun just about to set in the distance. Most likely it was that damn crumbling bridge.

Whatever the reason, Kevin couldn’t bring himself to attack the beautiful dragon. She was a mother! She was protecting her young! So he took damage. Then he took more. And more. And then he missed on all three of his attack rolls (perhaps deliberately). And then he died. Quickly. And not “quickly” as in, “he never felt a thing.” But as in, within the first 25 minutes. It practically took me longer to create him than to kill him! I was devastated, as I happen to love minotaurs and playing D&D for longer than 25 minutes. Rest in peace, Kevin. I’m sure someday we’ll find out this was all just a bad dream.

Herteus Maximus, for his role as tiefling psion in D&D Encounters. So technically his given name is Heretus but he prefers to go by Herteus. Why? So he can say things like “Bring on the Hert!” before he ignites his infernal wrath.

Herteus is the kind of a guy you meet on spring break, and three weeks after you come home, you’re still talking about what a tool he was. Cocky, clicky, and clubby in his attire, Herteus would be more at home working at a Jersey Shore-style t-shirt shop than working the crowd at the Yawning Portal. You want to hate his guts. You want him to button his shirt past his navel. And yet he’s got the goods to back up that attitude. He can blow up your head just by thinking about it! Watching those beautiful ribbons of pain swirl around his opponent’s head is just too cool. Or maybe he’s just making you think he is.

And the award goes to . . .

Kevin Rogers! Sorry, Meryl. The tragedies always win.

Category: Best Adventure

Every great D&D game consists of those “OMG” moments strung together like the links on a chainmail shirt. The Wyld Stallyns have had their fair share and most came from these stand-out adventures.

The nominees are:

Keep on the Shadowfell: The other day I was at Target and wandered over to the patio furniture section. In the garden section I saw these innocuous, ceramic cherub statues. I screamed. I couldn’t help it. Every time I see those pudgy-cheeked angel babies, I’m reminded of those horrible Shadowfell infant statues that turned an innocuous nook in the dungeon into a toilet bowl trap of doom. Getting beat up by babies—even stone statue babies—is not cool!

It pains me to remember our time in the Keep on the Shadowfell, but not just because of those horrible statues. This is where the Wyld Stallyns lost a beloved party-member: Herbert Brown, a brave dragonborn fighter who got up and close and personal with a deadly portal. We should have known things were going to end badly when New DM greeted us in the Shadow Rift, our last encounter, with the words “Orcus statue” and “Crimson streams spill from above.”

Tabitha’s Arcana check resulted in the knowledge that if anyone passed through the portal, they would probably die instantly. And there was Herbert Brown. Inching toward it—drawn forth by the portal’s whispering lure. He went 5 squares, then 5 more. Then he was hit with a grasping claw that knocked him prone. He was only 1 square away from entering unspeakable evil and certain death and yet the rest of the Wyld Stallyns weren’t close enough (or brave enough) to save him. Except Tabitha. (Why she was that close to the portal, I’ll never know.) She ran up to Herbert’s lifeless body and managed to carry him a safe distance away. Impressive, yes, but Tabby’s heroic deeds proved futile as Herbert Brown failed three death saves in a row and died right there in Tabitha’s aching arms. R.I.P. Herbert, you big lug.

Siege of Bordrin’s Watch: One thing comes to mind when I think of this adventure: Orcs. Those bastards are responsible for the demise of not one, but two Wyld Stallyns.

The adventure lead us to a seedy districk of Overlook appropriately called The Blister. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a welcoming band of bounty hunters who ambushed us in the street. Our halfling warlock, Atticus was taking a beating by one of the human guards and decided to use his fey pact ability to teleport onto the roof of a tenement 20 feet up. Teleporting may be cool, but climbing the ladder that was perched next to the building in plain site proved just as effective.

Poor Atticus found himself alone on the roof with not one, but two guards who proceeded to beat him unconscious. Figuring they’d loose interest in a comatose halfling, our healer opted to wait a round before coming to Atticus’s rescue. But we were wrong. On their next turn, one of the humans coup de graced Atticus! The warlock survived, but only so that he could be killed by the falling damage he took when the other guard kicked his comatose body off the roof. .

Was that really necessary, New DM?

A little later, with the carcasses of several orcs and fire beetles in our wake, we came to the Nexus—an eerily empty room with a stone catwalk leading a hundred feet above to the ceiling. It was our task to climb to the top and seal the Nexus. It was the job of the orcs to stop us. To add to the fun, every round more orcs spewed into battle from one of the six tunnels surrounding the chamber.

And then there was the skill challenge (and the fact that our paladin hated skill challenges) that would allow us to activate the control panel if we succeeded, but bring more orcs into combat if we failed. We succeeded, but the scalding water that gushed from the pipes to fill the room hardly seemed like a success. Most of us managed to make it to the top of the catwalk, damaged, bloodied, but alive. But our skill-check-hating paladin was lollygagging below, and she became the object of Tusk’s scorn. She took enough damage to be knocked out, but she was too far below the rest of the party for anyone to get back to her in time. The boiling water kept pouring in and eventually overtook her lifeless body. Dragonborn soup for the adventuring party’s soul. R.I.P Freya.

Shadow Rift of Umbraforge: This is the adventure where I decided I would:

  1. Always hate shadar-kai
  2. Open a bed and breakfast called “The Happy Beggar.” This dream would be even better if I could find a nice retired paladin couple to run it for me.

But this adventure certainly wasn’t about getting a little R&R. Quite the contrary.

The Wyld Stallyns were hot on the trail of that bugger, Sarshan. And what a pleasure it would be to catch him. I fancied myself a soldier of PETA, stopping a madman from shaving bunnies with lavender scented shaving cream and squirting pheromones into the eyes of rats. Hey, the read-aloud text says Sarshan “magically augments living creatures for combat” in his creepy arcane tower. What sorts of images does that conjure in your mind?

But it wasn’t so much Sarshan or the shadar-kai that were the problem. It was Sarshan’s former underling, Modra, and his pet death boar. Death boar! We fought them both at the foundry along with a crew of shadowgoblins, two of whom managed to immobilize half the party with their snaring shot. Once immobilized, the death boar had its way with us, especially our new paladin and swordmage. And then there was that whole lava river thing.

It took us three weeks to finish this encounter, but we did so with everyone intact and dare I say some valuable lessons learned about strategic combat.

And the award goes to . . .

Shadow Rift of Umbraforge in honor of all the bunnies and rats that sacrificed themselves for Sarshan’s empire

Lifetime Achievement Award

While it’s fun to bond with different coworkers and roll some dice while drinking beers on a Saturday afternoon, the Wyld Stallyns don’t have any competition when it comes to my favorite adventuring party. Although we’re technically not the original cast, it’s the spirit of the Wyld Stallyns that we’re all about: A bit ragamuffin, a tad underdog, and a whole lotta Bad News Bears. I’m often shocked and amazed when we make it out of a dungeon alive. Sure, we may forget who was carrying the Ironfell signet ring that could have opened the portcullis without our backbreaking skill checks. And yes, sometimes we do rush out of deadly spaces without so much as a cursory glance around to spot the bucket of gold and level 9 magic item leaning against the stairwell. And oh yes, you know all about how the Wyld Stallyns handle the distribution of magic items.

“I guess we forgot about it,” we sheepishly tell New DM when he asks who the lucky recipient was.

“You forgot to give someone in your party a level 9 magic item?” he asks in disbelief. “That’s like forgetting to open your Christmas presents. When they’re wrapped up right in front of you and labeled with your name on them!”

And yet, it’s not quite the same when I play D&D without them. So here’s to you, Wyld Stallyns. Please keep your speeches short.

That concludes the awards portion of this column. May the coming year bring you many award-worthy adventures. Until then!

About the Author

Shelly Mazzanoble loves doling out awards and hopes one day Joan Rivers will recognize her talent and ask her to co-host the Fashion Police.