We were deep beneath The Happy Beggar, a bed and breakfast for the downtrodden run by a sweet, retired, paladin couple, when I decided I needed a career change. This particular encounter was hard, and Tabitha was having her wizard's robes handed to her by an aggro shadar-kai and a pantload of dark creepers. There were no minions in sight, and we were grossly outnumbered. Additionally the room was so tiny that there was no way you weren't in spitting distance of at least two enemies.
"This encounter is broken," Scott said. "We're getting our butts kicked."
"This is a perfectly appropriate encounter for your level," New DM said, so smug and confident he might as well have painted his face and waved a foam finger in the air chanting, "TPK! TPK! TPK!"
"It does seem a little more aggressive than usual," Marty said.
"Well, again," said New DM, "sometimes that happens."
Right. Good advice, New DM. Thanks for clarifying. Tabitha's hit points were down to single digits, which is unheard of for my cautious wizard. Aggressive was an understatement.
"I'm going to use scorching burst on that gaggle of creepers," I announced to the group.
"Uh, no you're not," New DM told me. "You can't see that far ahead of you, remember?"
Oh, yeah, how could I forget? Tabitha's line of sight was limited to 2 squares thanks to the witchy shadar-kai who blasted her with beshadowed mind. The creepers were 3 squares away.
I'd already used two of my encounter spells and wasn't going to risk using my daily if I couldn't see the target.
"Then I'll use burning hands," I said. Limited sight be damned! I could do that spell with my eyes closed.
"If you do that, you'll hit Aaeon and Teemu," New DM warned. "Which is totally fine by me."
"You can hit me," Kierin said, throwing Aaeon into my hot, little hands. "I can take it."
"You mind, Teemu?" I asked Scott.
"Yeah, I mind!" he shouted. "I'm bloodied from these bastard creepers. I don't need to take any crap from you."
"So duck," I told him.
"He can't duck," New DM said. Always the wet blanket.
"He can if I tell him to."
"First of all, ducking, or dropping prone, would be a minor action and it's not his turn. Second, the dark creepers would hear you say 'duck' and they would do it, too. And third and most importantly, ducking in an area spell doesn't help your Reflex defense or magically whisk you out of the power's area, so it's all really pretty pointless."
"Fine! I'll just toss out a stupid magic missile. Fingers crossed everyone."
It didn't hit, and don't even get me started on that.
I've always suspected New DM took liberties with the rules and never to our favor. But what are we supposed to do about it? He works in R&D. It's highly possible this alleged new rule or mechanic or that new monster was called into action minutes before our game. They probably come up with this stuff while waiting for their microwave popcorn to pop.
Worse is how R&D sticks together like taffy. I'm always ratting out New DM to his co-workers, and they just smile and say something innocuous like, "Sounds fun!"
It's not fun, and neither is watching your fellow adventurers roll high teens on their attacks and still miss.
"That's a lie!" Sara called out. "No way does 19 not hit them!"
"Stop cheating, New DM," I warned him. "Karma is going to get you."
"And this dark creeper is going to get you," he told Tabitha. "Does 26 hit your Armor Class?" He laughed when he asked this, because he well knows this not only hits Tabitha's Armor Class, it practically knocks her out of her boots. "That's 7 points of damage."
"Oh no!" I shouted. "Tabitha is down to 1 hit point!"
It was then that Bill Slavicsek, Director for RPG R&D, came to visit. He does this once in a while and it always turns us into paycheck-starved paparazzi stalking an A-lister at a courthouse.
"Bill, tell us! Why can't I trade my minor action for two standard actions?" Sara asked.
"Bill! Isn't ducking an interrupt action?" Scott demanded.
"Say it isn't so, Bill! Can New DM really make me tell him when I have my shield up?" I asked. "Can't we just assume Tabitha uses it anytime there are daggers flying around?"
"Isn't it an encounter power?" Bill asked.
"Did you already use it in this encounter?"
"Well … kind of."
"Then no, you can't assume you always have it up. It's good for one turn."
"That's a lame shield, Squishy," Scott said, stating the obvious. "That's like having an umbrella that disintegrates when it gets wet."
It's nothing like that, but more importantly, why was he getting mad at me. I'll tell you. It's because whenever two or more members of R&D get together it's like the rest of us get caught in a cloud of turn on your allies.
Bill's proud smile was like a figurative pat on New DM's head. "Sounds like you're in good hands here." It's clear Bill was proud of the tizzy his little minion has stirred up. Good hands? Ha! New DM's hands are the devil's workshop.
It made me think that with D&D, you're either a Dungeon Master or you're fighting for your life against them. When did it become so perilous to be a player?
Our game ended with Tabitha barely hanging on. Marty whispered a majestic word that got her back into double digits -- more than enough to finish out the fight. But Tabitha wasn't the only one to leave that encounter inspired. As soon as I got back to my desk, I sent Bill an email to set up a meeting.
"It's urgent," I wrote. "The future of D&D rests on this meeting."
Bill wrote back right away. "Sure. Come down anytime tomorrow. My door's always open when the future of D&D is at stake."
And thus my new career was set into motion. The players needed a voice. Someone to stand up to those maniacs in R&D who spend all day crafting scenarios full of pitfalls, traps, and beasts with super powers. They're out to get us! But fear not, D&D Players of the World! I've got your back. And somewhere in R&D, there's going to be a cubicle with my nameplate on it.
I woke up the next morning with an odd feeling in my stomach. It could have been a result of all that brownie batter I consumed while concocting desk-warming treats for my soon-to-be new co-workers. Maybe there is something to that raw egg warning. But it was more likely anxiety. Today was sure to be a momentous day in the history of D&D. The People were counting on me. I would not let them down.
My soon-to-be-ex-coworkers noticed the paper plates and matching napkins on my desk and started sniffing around.
"What's in there?" Marty asked, pointing to the mound of tin foil.
"Oh, nothing, just my lunch."
"That's a mighty big veggie burger," Scott said, poking at it.
"I'm trying to increase my protein intake," I said. "Please stop touching it."
"Is that powdered sugar or do we need to have an intervention?" Kierin asked.
"Fine. If you must know, I'm interviewing with R&D today," I told them. "It's been fun working with you guys."
"Interviewing for what position?" Scott asked. "Senior Sugar Pusher?"
"Personal shopper?" Marty added.
"Celebrity blogger?" Kierin suggested.
Clearly they were jealous, and their sullenness was meant to veil their sadness at losing me to R&D.
"I'm going to be the voice of The People," I told them. "The Player-in-Chief, if you will."
"I won't," Scott said. "But good luck with that."
"I won't either," said Marty. "But make sure to come back and visit once in a while."
"I would love to, but I'll probably be really busy in my new position. Maybe we could schedule a lunch or something."
"But R&D is one floor down," Marty reminded me. "That's like sixteen stairs. It's not as if you need a malaria shot and a passport to get there."
"More importantly," Scott added, "Your 'new' position doesn't even exist. Your buddies in R&D are humoring you in exchange for baked goods. That sounds fair."
Funny they were laughing about having a Player-in-Chief on their side, but I bet that once they see my changes hit the playmat, they'll be thanking me.
I know a lot of hard work went into 4th Edition, and I'm not one to poo-poo someone's blood, sweat, and tears. Well, at least I wasn't until yesterday. But it wasn't hard to come up with things I felt The People would want fixed. I'd been keeping a list since we started playtesting 4th Edition.
Bill, being a man of his word, welcomed me into his office when he found me camped outside of it.
Contrary to what some might say, I am not afraid of Bill Slavicsek. Afraid implies I would not want to ride alone in an elevator with him, and I have no problem with that. In fact, I'd much rather be riding in an elevator with him than sitting across his desk with a plate of brownies on my lap. Okay, maybe I am a little afraid of Bill.
"I hope you weren't waiting long," he said. "I didn't realize we had a meeting."
"Time is of no consequence, Bill," I told him. "Not when the future of D&D is at stake."
"I appreciate your dedication," Bill said.
That's the thing about these R&Ders. They are nice and welcoming, and they really are appreciative. But I won't be fooled! That's part of their guise! Their warmth and generosity are mere breadcrumbs in the Ambush Forest. Keep your eyes open …
"What? Why?" Bill asked, looking around his office.
"You told me to keep my eyes open."
"That's right, Bill. I meant keep your eyes open for the new voice of the people. Brownie?" I asked him, holding up the plate.
"You brought baked goods?"
"Sure. Doesn't everyone who interviews with you?"
Bill shook his head and smiled. "Interviews? Not everyone, no."
Ha! This job will be easier to get than a bloodied minion with one foot in a bear trap.
"Well, technically my job experience might not be applicable to game development, but baking is one of my skills. Consider this my resume."
"Are you applying for a job?" Bill asked, biting into the brownie.
"Indeed! But I'm not applying for just any job," I said. "I created it. You're looking at the new Player-in-Chief."
Bill stared across the desk at me, making me wish we were in the elevator again.
"Or Director of Player Experiences works too."
Still no response.
"How about Player-Developer Liaison?"
Finally I got a reaction. "I see. Maybe you could tell me a little about this position?"
I was practicing this speech on the way to work today. "I almost lost my little wizard yesterday," I began. "The only possible explanation for this madness is that your R&D team is going off the rails and creating rules that do nothing but put PCs in jeopardy."
"Combat is sometimes perilous," Bill said. "That's what makes the game exciting."
Seriously, this whole "sometimes that's life" mantra is getting tired. What am I? A teenager?
"You know, it doesn't have to be just about running for your life," I told him. "I spent half of third grade pretending to have a dentist appointment at 2:50 so I could beat it out of school before the the Three Meankateers."
"You want to create some monsters? How about designing a pack of 8-year-old girls? But I don't want to talk about them. What I do want to talk about are some ways in which we can make D&D better."
"Familiars," I begin, pulling out my ten-page list. "No one should be denied a familiar. I mean, unless they have a criminal background or a history of animal neglect."
"All arcane characters can have a familiar now."
"And that's a step in the right direction, but I think you downplay some of the benefits of having one. Studies have shown that familiar owners live longer, have less stress, and fewer heart attacks than people who don't own familiars."
"Weird," Bill noted. "A similar study was conducted on pet ownership."
"Add to that the fact that people seem to trust you more if you've demonstrated an ability to care for another living creature," I continued. "Therefore, familiars can offer bonuses for healing, Diplomacy, and even Perception if they're properly trained."
"What if it's a bat?" he asked
"You think people would still trust you if you walked into Trader Joe's with a bat on your shoulder."
"Pugs are ugly but they're still dogs," I said. "Who am I to discriminate? Bats need nurturing, too."
Bill nodded his head and kept smiling, which I took to be a good sign.
"Did you ever wonder what happens to familiars when their masters die?" I asked.
"There's got to be thousands wandering around out there alone."
"Sad," Bill said.
"How about a website so PCs can adopt homeless familiars. We can call it Familiar Finder!"
"And then there's treasure. I have a serious issue with it."
Bill began typing what I could only assume was an email to Facilities asking that my computer and phone be delivered to the third floor. "Uh-huh."
"Every time we find loot, it's chock full of weapons Tabitha can't wield and armor she can't wear. If I unearth another piece of dwarven chainmail, I'll find a use for that battleaxe and it won't be pretty."
"Hmm … don't do that."
I go on. "Why can't there be a pair of magical boots or some bracers or, better yet, a gift certificate so Tabitha can buy something she really wants?"
"We do offer gift certificates. In a way," Bill said, turning away from the computer and back to me. "While there may be a certain number of gold pieces and a few potions, there's also, say, a level 6 magic item of the DM's choosing."
"So New DM is holding out on me?"
"Sounds like it," Bill said. I hope this will be reflected on New DM's next performance review. "We encourage the Dungeon Master to ask the players for a wish list of magic items. It's not guaranteed you'll get them, but it makes it easier for the DM to decide what you'll find."
Interesting. I seem to remember New DM sending out an email to this effect that I quickly filed away in the "Pointless Requests from New DM" folder.
This next one is a major source of contention. "What about the ability to call the DM's bluff?" I asked. "You know, for those times when New DM isn't following the rules."
"The rules are meant to be guidelines," said Bill. "We do allow the Dungeon Master a certain level of freedom."
What? That's preposterous and totally goes against my rule-abiding sensitivity. "All that time and effort that went into creating the core rulebooks and you're saying you don't care if people follow them?"
Bill shrugged. "D&D is supposed to be fun. Rules are subjective. They can't possibly appeal to everyone."
"Clearly I have my work cut out for me," I said.
"As whacky as they are," Bill said, "not all of your ideas are bad. Sounds like you have a lot to talk about with the team."
That had to be the verbal equivalent of rolling a natural 20. I hadn't even gotten to The Soap Opera Effect or Power Naps or skill challenges associated with shopping. A smattering of "not all bad ideas" can only mean one thing.
Then Bill's phone rang, and I expected it was my former boss begging him to recant the job offer. But it was too late. The People had spoken.
Bill covered the mouthpiece with one hand and pointed at the receiver with the other. "Sorry. I need to take this."
"Sure, Bill! So it's okay if I start moving my desk? You guys could use some plant life down here."
Bill smiled while returning to his phone call. "Uh, sure, whatever you want," he said. "Go forth and conquer for The People."
I had so much to do! Decide on my job title; figure out what to bake next; plan my new wardrobe; set up meetings with R&D. The future of D&D was at stake. And I was going to save it.
TO BE CONTINUED …
About the Author
Shelly Mazzanoble is much too busy with her new job as Player-in-Chief to write a proper bio.