Let's be honest. Adolescence can be a crappy time for any kid, but I feel like it could have been easier if I had played D&D.
I just left my weekly D&D game, and the only backstabbing going on involved a bastard sword and a strategically placed minion. With no rest and only a handful of healing surges between the six of us, we took on an endless stream of orcs, a body-pierced shadar-kai warlock, and a weeble-like Captain Bad-Ass who had the maddening ability to keep popping up every time we knocked him down. Multiple times in the two hours, everyone made choices that put their PCs in danger all so they could save someone else -- including the NPC who got us into this mess!
D&D isn't about sabotage or sacrificing your friends to make yourself look good. This sure isn't middle school! Who do I contact to make D&D as much a requirement as PE and Health?
I would have had real friendships -- not the on-again-off-again, tumultuous, celebrity-like relationships 10-year-old girls are prone to. Maybe I would have been focused on things like the best defense against a bugbear or figuring out how to defuse a trap rather than cigarettes, dressing like Madonna, and Brenden Wendle's hair. And after facing villains like hellcats, frostworms, and chimeras, maybe I wouldn't have been so terrified of that mysterious camp in the Poconos my parents used to threaten my brother and I with.
I've met D&D-playing kids at conventions or around the office, where they show up with their books and pockets full of minis and regale us with their tales of Dungeon Mastering. (They often take turns because everyone wants to DM!) I marvel at their ability to rattle off stats straight from the Monster Manual and argue with R&D over the virtues of a beholder versus a zombie. I listen enraptured to the epic backstories they give their characters and how they wax poetically about them like one of my friends does when she meets the latest man of her dreams. He's big and he's strong and he can swing a masterwork greatsword with only two fingers. They were crawling in dungeons before they crawled in living rooms.
And it's cool to be smart! Not true in my day. In an effort to be accepted by the dumb, shoplifting, ripped-jeans-not-because-it-was-cool-but-because-their-jeans-were-really-ripped crowd, I failed a vocabulary test on purpose because it wasn't cool to have an A in English. The next day, Mom's green Cordoba was in the parking lot, and she and I were in the principal's office where it was determined that I did in fact know what conceited meant, and clearly I was trying to act out. Did I need attention? Were things OK at home? Was I eating?
I also knew what mortified meant and not because I was quizzed on it. My mom used the word at least twelve times on our way home from school. She made a deal. "Every week you don't fail a test, stay away from those girls, and quit pretending you're riddled with this pre-teen angst crap, I'll take you to K-Mart and buy you two new books."
Wow! Two new books every week? Can Judy Blume and Francine Pascal even write that fast?
So why the stroll down memory lane? Because I stumbled across my childhood diary the other day. My 3"x4", green, vinyl-covered book with the words, "One Year Diary" etched in gold across the cover. Here I wrote down all my innermost thoughts. I was barely a decade old and apparently had multiple-personality disorder, because most of my entries are scribbled out with the words "No I didn't!" or "Gross! Not true!" scrawled across the pages.
I love Brenden Wendle!
I hate Brenden Wendle!
I hope my parents don't make me go to the Poconos!
The inside front cover has the words "Property Of," which I filled out in my nine-year-old script, SHELLY! If that weren't clear enough I wrote "Not you Mike!!!! Or Mike's friends!!!! And then, as if foreshadowing my future life as a part-time sorceress, I added, "Read it and be cursed with bad luck!"
I do not look back on this time with any sense of nostalgia. If I look back at all, it's more with a sense that I'm about to break out in hives and need to throw my face in a paper bag to regulate my breathing. Flipping through some of my diary entries, I realize much of what I anguished over could have been avoided if I had had the benefit of a D&D group twenty years ago.
Yeah, I've heard the tales of woe from the kids who did grow up playing D&D -- getting beat up in gym class and called names like freak and nerd and Orc Face. But guess what? I was called names, too. Like "Brenden Wendle Lover" (TLA!) and "Smelly Shelly" (OMG!) and "Turtle Head" (WTH?). At least if I was part of a D&D group, I'd have had the benefit of returning to a group of friends I knew would have had my back. And my turtle head.
So, in the spirit of the season, I'd like to give thanks to D&D for imparting these important life lessons. For some of you, it may not be too late. Go on without me! Save yourselves! Back to middle school we go!
January 13, 1982
I am in so much trouble. I walked home with Liz like we do every day. Only this time I dared her to take the shortcut! (Adult Shelly's Note: The shortcut was in fact a very effective timesaver, but the risks were immense. If you got busted running through the old lady's yard, she would hold you hostage while she called your parents and made them come get you. She was like 80 years old, yet no one ever tried to outrun her.) I told her she was too chicken to try it and even lied and said I did it all the time (I only did it once and that was because Brenden Wendle was watching). She did it and got caught! Now her parents are on the phone with my mom and I'm going to get in sooooooo much trouble! Oh diary, how could I have been so stupid?
Yeah, that was kind of silly, as you broke a cardinal rule of D&D -- Don't split the party! Not ever! And especially not to impress a boy. Look, these are your fellow adventurers. If one takes a shortcut, you all go. Sure, the risks are high, but the rewards are plentiful. You'd have a great story to tell the class the next day and witnesses to prove you really did it. That said, you're not the most stupid person involved. Liz is. See what else you can make her do.
March 24, 1982
I hate Liz! She is dumb at speling (Adult Shelly's Note: And yes, this is my actual spelling.) and I tried to help her study for a test. I should have been studying for my own test but helped her instead. She got a 90 and I only got 83! She bragged all around school about how smart she is and never told anyone I helped her study! I hate her. I hope she fails the next test and I get 100.
P.S. Brenden Wendle told her congratulations! Ooooh I hate her guts!
Dear Bad Speler,
Umm, hi. I know you. And I know spelling never was and most likely never will be your strong suit. Sorry. But yeah, it sucks when you help make something good happen and someone else takes all the credit. How do you think editors feel?
Look, not everyone can be the hero every time. Sometimes you have to settle for an assist. But a party's success is a collective effort. Everyone takes a turn and everyone contributes to the overall goal. Even if it wasn't your dagger that finally took out the beast, you probably knocked it down a few hit points yourself. Good friends split the treasure equally.
June 17, 1982
My babysitter is the jerkiest person in the whole world! I hate her! I wasn't supposed to have Liz or Ellen over and I was going to tell my mom that I did. Stupid Kathy comes in and tells everyone that I'm not allowed to be friends with those two and makes them go home! Now I have NO friends! Why does she get to tell me what to do?
Dear No Friends,
Why? Because she gets paid to. And let me tell you, she gets paid big bucks, because you and your brother have driven out every other teenage girl in the greater Binghamton area. You need to learn some respect for the rules, young lady, even if they are stupid. I think it's silly that a wizard can have three daily spells in her spellbook* but still only use one a day. And what's with only being allowed to use shield until the end of her next turn? If it's raining out, would you only use your umbrella for a few blocks before tossing it aside and spending the next three miles getting drenched? I mean, if you got it, use it. Or better yet, just add 4 points to her Armor Class and Reflex defense permanently so she can keep her hands free. You know what I wish Tabitha was doing right now? Sleeping. That's right. Sleeping. But she's not. She's stuck between games, about to head off to the next level of a dungeon where she knows trouble is a brewin'! Take a chill pill, Tabitha! But noooooo, New DM said there wasn't time to rest. If we dared plop our butts down we would surely be eaten by trolls.
Your parents are the Dungeon Masters, and when they can't be there to control your fate, they get to call in a sub. And trust me Little Shelly, when you're an older, pseudo-independent PC running around with overdraft charges, living above meth labs, and you're devastated because your favorite jeans got a real hole in them -- not one you strategically sliced one inch above the knee with a steak knife -- you're going to wish you had a Dungeon Master telling you what to do.
September 8, 2008 1982
I think boys like Liz! Why don't boys like me?
You win some, you lose some? It's just the roll of the die? Liz is dumb? Sorry. Not even D&D can prepare you for this one.
October 31, 1982
It is Halloween and I want to go trick or treating but my mom said I can't because of the poisoned candy. Well, she didn't say I couldn't go. She said she'd pay me $2 not to go. I don't want to take my chances. My life is more important than candy.
Dear Sugar Free,
Wow. I don't even know what to say. I had no idea you were this big of a nerd. The only thing you apparently like more than candy is not having to walk for it. Good adventurers are sometimes on their feet, moving through difficult terrain for days. With no rest. Beaten, bruised, sleeping on dirt if they're lucky enough to get some shut-eye. Do you have any idea how much a masterwork dagger weighs? Not everyone has a bag of holding. Or a sucker -- I mean friend -- like Adam willing to carry it all. And FYI, your life is worth more than $2. If Mom wants to sweeten the deal, ask for more money. Or a temporary reprieve from Sunday school. Use your skills wisely. Train up in Diplomacy. Brush up on Bluff. Would it kill you to try some Athletics once in a while? You have no idea how often you'll need these skills.
November 29, 1982
It's starting again. Mara, Cara, and Tara are picking on me. They are so mean! They scare everyone! They steal Shari Tucci's clothes! They make kids cry! But not me! They even wrote on the bathroom wall about me. My dad taught me how to make a fist. I hope I don't need to use it! Why do I have such stupid friends?
What's wrong with this sentence: Why do I have such stupid friends? Nope, it's fine to call those girls stupid. They are. But friends? Are you serious? Why are you trying so hard to be pals with these girls? They're awful! And trust me, they don't ever grow up. A good adventuring party cannot consist of one wizard with a decent vocabulary and three dumb rogues. Do you honestly think Cara would take ten points of psychic damage for you? Do you think Tara would act as a shield for you? Do you think Mara would make sure you're safely out of the dungeon before she tried to defuse a trap? You have to find balance. Seek people who aren't afraid of being themselves. There have to be other girls in your class you could befriend. Form an alliance with them and take Mara, Cara, and Tara down!
By all means keep those dukes up. It feels damn good to know you can use 'em when you need 'em!
December 17, 1982
I wrote a play for extra credit. It's about dogs going to school. Mrs. Dancy loved it but Mara, Cara and Tara said it was stupid because dogs don't talk and they don't go to people schools! They wouldn't let anyone be in my play even though a couple of kids wanted to. My mom said they pick on me because they are jealous and know I have a gift. I hope she's right. I hate them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to be a dog!
First of all, quit telling people you want to be a dog!
Second, Mom was always good at saying the right thing, and you were always good at believing it. This is why you grew up to be incredibly delusional. But your "gift?" Who are you? Drew Barrymore in Firestarter? Have you heard of a game called Dungeons & Dragons? It's a roleplaying game. You would like roleplaying! You can be a dog! Most importantly, you can play D&D with other "gifted" friends who understand the joys of reading, writing, using analytical skills, and math! You can use your imagination and work as a team! The only people who get picked on are the bad guys, and they deserve it! D&D will help you make real friends! Most importantly, it's cool to have imaginary friends! Well .. cool might be stretching it.
But one thing's for sure: Adolescence is as baffling as any ziggurat you and your future party ends up in. There's an attack of opportunity around every corner! Don't go out there unprepared! D&D is the best defense against pre-teen angst. If that doesn't work, I have some brochures from a lovely camp nestled deep in the Poconos.
P.S. Brenden Wendle was arrested last year for attempting to carjack an officer in an unmarked police car.
P.P.S. Lots of nice boys play D&D.
Your Future Self
* If you have the Expanded Spellbook feat.