Can Dungeons & Dragons help you rack up experience points in real life? Is D&D more welcoming to girl gamers now, compared to the dark days when few females were allowed into the basement? And what is it like to work at the D&D mothership lair, Wizards of the Coast?
Wired.com spoke with Shelly Mazzanoble, one of D&D’s fiercest advocates, about her latest book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons: One Woman’s Quest to Turn Self-Help for Elf-Help, which came out in September. It’s a light-hearted memoir showing how D&D — a hobby many non-geeks consider to be a frivolous game — can change lives. (FYI, this is a topic near and dear to my heart.)
Mazzanoble’s short stories and essays have appeared in the Seattle Times,Carve, Whetstone, Skirt and SomeOtherMagazine.com. Her plays have been produced in Seattle and Manhattan. You can read her ongoing column, “Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard,” every month at DungeonsandDragons.com. Originally from upstate New York, she now lives in Seattle with a bipolar cat named Zelda, a step-dog named Sadie and a very patient man who has turned “Harpy” into a term of endearment.
Read on for the Wired.com interview, and find out more about Mazzanoble — whose first book, Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons and Dragons Game, was nominated for an Origins Award and won the 2008 ENnie Award for Best Regalia — at her website. (Full disclosure: She also works for Wizards as associate brand marketing manager for Dungeons & Dragons.)
Wired.com: Your book is full of ideas of how D&D can help you in “real life” and how life lessons can be gleaned from game time. If you could name the top three things “you needed to know” for life that come from D&D, what would they be?
Shelly Mazzanoble: One: Not knowing what’s inside every dungeon before you enter is part of the fun. Two: Men can’t resist a lady in an “I Brake for Owlbears” T-shirt. Three: You will not win Citizen of the Year for calling out people who take 17 items in the 15-items-or-less express lane.
Wired.com: During the narrative of the book, you begin to DM (aka “to Dungeon Master,” or referee) some D&D games. As a first-timer to DMing, you must have learned some key lessons. What did that experience teach you?
Mazzanoble: DMing is much like hosting a party — something I am very familiar with. You need to have the right mix of people, provide a comfortable atmosphere, and be flexible so you can respond quickly to your guests’ needs. If you’re having fun, your guests will too. However, also like DMing, I tend to overcomplicate matters. I really like cooking so I make every little thing from scratch. Why buy a chutney when you can make your own in 16 easy steps?
Once, at a dinner party I hosted, I labored over making my own butter. I mean, seriously? I live 38 seconds from a Safeway but I insisted on making butter. It was delicious — garlic- and rosemary-infused — and of course in the flurry of all the other activity such as enjoying my friend’s company and shoving puff-pastry pizzas into my face, I completely forgot to serve it. The same thing happened in a D&D game I ran where I insisted on writing the whole adventure myself. I had every monster strategically hidden away, ready to pounce when the [player characters] dared step in its aura. Only my gargoyles were hidden a little too well and I forgot about them. All that work and they never even saw combat. In both cases, no one was the wiser. And my butter-making days are over. I feel so liberated.
Wired.com: You also make a rather grand pronouncement at that beginning of your book: “That’s the thing about D&D. It changes lives. And was about to change mine. Roll for initiative, universe.” So, without giving away too much, how did it change your life?
Mazzanoble: Well, you and I both know how much D&D can change a person — for the better, I might add. Even before I wrote this book, D&D had changed my life because I’ve met some of my best friends and most inspiring people because of it.
I have some … quirks … shall we say, and thought I might benefit from working on some of them. During the course of writing this book, I tried to live my life the way my D&D character would and it has helped me to loosen up, lighten up and even in some cases live it up. I seem to spend more time in taverns now.