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Party Fowl
Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard
by Shelly Mazzanoble

WANTED: Unruly, unfocused, mead-loving adventuring group seeks nurturer and pugilist to complete the party. Innate knowledge of useless movie trivia and bathroom humor appreciated. Rules lawyers need not apply. Positions open IMMEDIATELY!

Never split the party. Ha! Tell that to the paladin and shaman who left us high and dry. These things happen. I get that. Groups fall apart for reasons bigger than ours. But we lost these two key members unexpectedly and almost back to back. So now when the unmarked monsters have their way with us, we’ll just… uh… die?

“Can we please focus on replacing the cleric first?” Marty, who plays our bard, asked. “I’m good at my job, but I'm not Jim Bakker.”

“The fighter spot needs to be filled too,” Kieran, our swordmage reminded. “No offense to those of you who love from afar but I could use some back up.”

This might come as a surprise, but filling vacancies in an office D&D game isn’t as easy as you think. I mean, yeah, it’s Wizards of the Coast. We’ve got more players around here than a South Beach hot spot running a Patron promotion during Spring Break. But party members aren’t light bulbs. You can’t just grab a replacement out of a drawer. The key to a successful game is a party that meshes. You have your habits, your inside jokes, your assigned seats. Plus, almost anyone who wants to play D&D is already playing D&D.

Or so we thought.

Because New DM won’t let us play until we fill the vacancies, we used our regularly scheduled game time to discuss our options.

“I don’t suppose anyone knows someone looking for a game?” I asked.

Apparently New DM did, as he had already begun scribbling names on the white board.

“Uh, excuse me,” Scott said. “You keep a list of possible replacements?”

“Sure. People have approached me about playing,” he said, trying to sound casual.

I wondered how many have approached him about playing a wizard.

“You mean play in our game or just play in general?” Marty asked.

No offense to the Wyld Stallyns but it was hard to fathom longing to be part of this brood. It was kind of like longing to be on the Reno 911 police squad, or the Bad News Bears, or the… well, you get the picture.

“We’re like queen size mattresses,” I said.

My fellow players looked horrified.

Maybe that came out wrong. I was trying to say that this situation reminded me of the first day of college when everyone was moving into off-campus apartments and scrounging for furniture anywhere they could. You needed something to sleep on and would pay even less regard to the mattress’s origin and condition than you did the cash to purchase said mattress.

“They don’t care who plays in the game—just that it’s a game,” I explained. “Sad.”

“And gross,” Scott said, moving his chair away from mine. “I can’t believe you slept on a used mattress.”

“Maybe they want to play in my game,” New DM said. “Ever think of that?”

“They obviously don’t read my column,” I muttered.

“You write a column?” Kieran asked.

I threw my d10 at him.

“If they can fight or heal, they’re in,” Marty said.

Really? It’s that easy? Shouldn’t it take more than a willingness to play a particular class to fit into a group? Even if you are desperate.

We agreed to review the list New DM posted.

The Funny Guy

Pros: Works on D&D as part of his every day job so has knowledge of the game. Is not currently in a D&D game. Easy to get along with.

Cons: Has a habit of derailing meetings by sticking pencil erasers up his nose or asking everyone to smell his marker and tell him if it “really smells like donkey ass or it’s just him.” Sometimes he smells like donkey ass.

The Little Sister

Pros: Read this great book called Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress and really, really wants to play D&D “because everyone else does!” Possesses strong desire to succeed at any given task.

Cons: Only knowledge of D&D comes from this really great book called Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress.

“Too-Many-Things-on-My-Plate” Girl

Pros: Boss wants her to learn how to play D&D. Ability to handle multiple tasks at once.

Cons: Work-a-holic. Almost didn’t attend the birth of her daughter because she was on a conference call.

The D&D Overachiever

Pros: Loves D&D so much he’s playing in six games inside and outside the office. Always has something interesting and homemade for lunch. Possesses strong communication skills.

Cons: Loves D&D so much he’s playing in six games inside and outside the office.

The Flakey McFlakerson Guy

Pros: Always fun to have around. Well versed in D&D. Probably uses sound effects for his spells. Strong sense of loyalty.

Cons: Has a touch of the wanderlust and takes off work for long periods of time. Sometimes “takes off” mid-sentence while talking to you.

The Encyclopedia Bitchtanica Guy

Pros: Has been playing D&D for decades and therefore has a wealth of knowledge that will help us contradict New DM. (Marty would love to take a break from being our go-to answer man.) Ability to hit the ground running.

Cons: Issues more corrections than national detention system, and not all of them game related.

(Transcript from actual conversation):

Me: "So there I was, drinking a Diet Coke—"
E.B. Guy: “It was Pepsi.”
Me: “Sure, maybe.”
E.B. Guy: “Not maybe. Pizza Hut only serves Pepsi. You didn’t know that?”

“I can’t play with that guy,” I said, much to Marty’s chagrin. “I can just hear him. Magic missile? Really? From where you’re standing? Ugh. I don’t need a commentator.”

The biggest perk these five possessed was that none of them were easily offended, but we whittled the field down to four candidates: Little Sister, Too-Many-Things-on-My-Plate Girl, D&D Overachiever, and Encyclopedia Bitchtanica (gasp!).

“Now what?” Scott asked.

“Treat them the same way HR treats all open positions.” I said. “First interviews, then references, then offer a probationary role in the party. After three encounters we review their performance and determine if we’d like to extend a full-time job offer.”

“Great idea,” Scott said, “but did you know our HR department doesn’t actually fill open party slots? They’re kind of focused on real jobs that pay real dollars.”

Well, duh. None of us would be here if that weren’t true.

“Not HR, Mr. Buzz Kill,” I explained. “Us.”

And there were those blank, somewhat horrified stares again.

“Okay. Me.”

“Ask them what kind of tree they would be,” Marty suggested. “The first one to say an aloe plant is in.”

The first order of business was to let the top four know they were contenders, so I sent an email to each.

Thank you for your interest in adventuring with the Wyld Stallyns. We would like to set up an interview to discuss your roles and goals as a party member. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.

I received the following responses.

Little Sister: “I’m available anytime!”

Bitchtanica: “Are you serious? An interview?”

Overachiever: “Ha! Bring it!”

Full Plate: “I’d love to but I’m swamped today! Unless you want to interview me while I run a few reports.”

First up: Little Sister. I met her in a conference room later that day.

“Why are you interested in playing D&D?” I asked.

“Well,” she began, “Everyone who plays it seems to love it. On Tuesdays you all leave for two hours and it’s so boring up here. And then when you come back you’re all giggly and laughing and talking about how much fun you had. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”

Good answer, I think, and I think speaks more to the game than our group. And lucky for us she doesn’t know much about D&D, or she’d be hearing how we totally biffed an encounter because none of us thought to roll a Perception check before barging into the tower.

“How do you deal with challenge?”

“Well, I recently climbed Mount Rainier, because every time I saw that mountain all I thought about was what the view must look like from the top.”

“You know you could see a great view from the Space Needle for like $23. And you don’t have to wear clamps on your shoes or eat your meals from a pouch.”

“If you’re into that sort of thing, sure.”

“Finally, what assets can you bring to the party?”

“I make a mean mojito,” she answered. “I even grow my own mint.”

“Thank you for your time,” I said. “We’ll be in touch.”

Bitchtanica is reluctant to meet with me, offering little more than “being too busy with his real job to be pestered about his fantasy job.”

“Just email me,” he said. “I’ll get to it when I can.”

“They don’t have email in the Forgotten Realms,” I said. Duh. Is this really someone we want in charge of putting us back together? “We can break it up into parts if you want.”

He waved me off, but I snuck up on him later. I should play a rogue.

“How do you like to be rewarded after a successful adventure?” I asked him in the kitchen while he waited for his Lean Cuisine to heat up.

“By being left alone to count my treasure and eat my lunch.”

“Describe a situation when you had to deal with a difficult person?” I asked him in the stairwell.

“You mean difficult like someone who stalks you in a stairwell?”

And finally, as he was coming out of the gym locker room I asked him “Why the Wyld Stallyns?”

“Good question,” he responded. Finally some positivity from this guy. “That’s a horrible name! Not to mention you keep spelling it wrong.”

Thank you for your time, Bitchtanica. There will be no further questions.

The Overachiever and I happen to be carpool buddies, so I interviewed him on our way home from work.

“Why are you interested in adventuring with the Wyld Stallyns?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” he asked. “To play my favorite hobby with my favorite coworkers? Plus, I work closely with New DM. I think it will be good for our professional relationship.”

I fail to see how that will help. Thankfully New DM and I don’t have to work together. Surely one of us would end up with a pencil in the eye.

“What qualities do you think make a good PC?”

He pondered this for a moment. “Someone who is unselfish and doesn’t need to take the glory all for themselves. Someone who likes working as part of a team and recognizes their strengths and weaknesses.”

Do people really talk like this? Hmm… methinks New DM may have been coaching him.

“What can you bring to the Wyld Stallyns?”

“Snacks from Costco?”

“Can you get trail mix there?”

“By the trough.”

“You’re in.”

What?! I’m a sucker for trail mix.

Full Plate wasn’t kidding about interviewing her while she ran reports. She had one hand on her mouse and one banging away at a calculator, while the phone was cradled between her shoulder and cheek. She motioned me to sit down.

First things first, I made it clear that D&D does not involve Excel, but it does involve sitting at table. For two hours. Uninterrupted.

“But what if I have a meeting?” she asked.

“You block out your calendar so no one can schedule one,” I said. “Just like the rest of us.”

“But what if it’s important?” she asked.

“Important like your party is up against a mind flayer and you’re the only one who can mark it?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Is that important?”

I’m certainly the last person to make judgments on someone based on their lack of knowledge about the game, but I’m beginning to think she’d rather save a spreadsheet than my life. Still, I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt.

“So tell me, what assets can you bring to a party?”

“Has anyone ever done a Myers-Brigg test on your group? Because I’m certified to assess you.”

This girl clearly has her strengths. And we shall leave her to them.

Little Sister and Overachiever were the front-runners, but they weren’t in the clear yet. Although she’s never played D&D, Little Sister has played the Star Wars RPG, and Overachiever is a D&D lothario, so it wasn’t hard to find references. I sent Little Sister’s former GM, Rodney Thompson, and the Overachiever’s best friend and former DM an email asking things like:

Are they on time? Do they share snacks? Do they like wizards? Have they ever done anything to put the party in jeopardy or end an encounter quickly because they were in a hurry to get home and watch Project Runway?

Rodney responded right away.

"She’s very nice and was respectful to all of the players and showed up on time, for the most part."

The “most part” we can work with. The current group is still a bit “start-time” challenged.

“She was not,” he continued, “as Obi-Wan might say, a guardian of peace and justice, but rather a bloodthirsty Gungan who enjoyed nothing more than using the Force to choke hapless stormtroopers to death.”

That sounds exactly like the kind of fighter we need in our group.

The Overachiever got glowing marks as well.

“He is one of the most thoughtful, creative, engaged, and knowledgeable players I have ever played D&D with.”

That’s great, I think, but he could be the only player this guy has ever played with.

“Regarding snacks, I think he can be counted on for proportional consumption. That is, of course relative to the fact that he is a human hummingbird and, as such, needs very regular sugar intake. He shows no real disdain for wizards other than that which they bring upon themselves—"accidental" inclusion in cone spells, and so on.”

Tabitha only got caught in her burst once! The Overachiever has been talking to New DM.

“It should also be noted that outside of his role as a D&D player, he flosses regularly.”

Our new party members gleefully accepted their probationary invitations. Little Sister rolled up an eladrin paladin named Galadriel Moonshine, and The Overachiever created a kenku cleric named Holden Cawfield—who conjured an image in my mind of Heckle in a trench coat… which is weird because neither Heckle nor Holden have even been seen in such a get up.

New DM has us meet at an inn, where our favorite presumed-dead NPC, a dwarf named Kalad, introduced the group to a new potential employer. Little Sister immediately took to the roleplaying aspect of the game—a refreshing change from our last paladin, who once ditched the game because she was bored with a skill challenge. She’s good too, asking lots of questions we probably would have forgotten to ask, as well as charming a hostile NPC into giving us the name of his elusive “boss.” Plus she wrote everything down!

“We have a scribe!” Scott shouted.

During our first encounter, Galadriel got up close and personal with a baby behir and lost nearly all her 60-some hit points.

“This game sucks!” she shouted. “Why is this thing picking on me?”

“Because you challenged it,” Marty reminded her. “It will take damage it if attacks anyone else.”

“Someone else should mark it,” she said. “Why are you standing all the way back there?” she shouted to me. “You mark it!”

“Because Tabitha is supposed to stand back here! She’s wearing robes—you’re wearing 86 tons of armor!”

Holden used his turn to heal Galadriel. She shows her gratitude by double moving and ditching the poor birdman to fend for himself, and within spitting distance of the behir.

“Are you serious? Get back here!” he said. “I’m holding her by her ponytail so she can’t move,” he told New DM.

“Why would I stay there?” she asked, so sincere and earnest I almost agreed with her. “I almost died.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want to do, Galadriel?” New DM asked. I could sense him circling Holden like a hungry hawk. The behir’s turn was next.

The group didn’t hide their disapproval. Marty shook his head and tsk tsked. Kieran kept repeating wow and Scott, the subtlest of us all said, “You’re about to majorly screw the party if you do that. Just so you know....”

“Sorry,” she said, and took her place next to Tabitha.

A week later, Little Sister pulled me into a conference room.

“I wanted to tell you that I turned in my resignation,” she said. “I got a new job!”

“That’s great,” I told her. “What are you going to be? A rogue? Or a sorcerer? You’d love being a sorcerer!”

“An associate brand manager,” she said. “At a different company.”

No! Not another paladin! This couldn’t be! We go through more paladins than Spinal Tap does drummers!

“But you just started!” I said. “Was it something we said?”

She shrugged. “It’s nothing personal. Just business.”

Next time I’m asking for two references.

WANTED: Unruly, unfocused, mead-loving adventuring party seeks dedicated pugilist to complete the party. Innate knowledge of useless movie trivia and bathroom humor appreciated. Rules lawyers need not apply. Position open IMMEDIATELY! Must be willing to sign one-year contract.

About the Author

Shelly Mazzanoble is dealing with some serious abandonment issues, which are conjuring up all sorts of childhood memories. But don’t worry—she won’t get into them here. You’ll have to wait for next month.