On November 8, we hosted a live online chat with Shelly Mazzanoble. Shelly writes the monthly "Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard" column in Dragon online, and she's also the author of two books: Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress and Everything I Know, I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons.
WotC_Huscarl: OK, we're on the air.
WotC_Huscarl: Let's start by letting you tell us about yourself.
Shelly_M: Hi everyone. Thanks for being here.
I want to apologize in advance because many of you know brevity is not my strong suit. Neither is spelling.
I've been working at WotC for over 10 years now. I'm the Associate Brand Marketing Manager for D&D. I work closely with the Senior Brand Marketing Manager (and sometimes write about her) to set the marketing strategy for D&D. And work very closely with the cross-functional teams to execute upon it. For a day job, it's pretty dreamy.
I still wish I had a trust fund, though.
WotC_Huscarl: We're going to drop you right into the deep end with a tough question.
Shelly_M: Let's do it!
WotC_Huscarl: When we asked people to line up their questions beforehand, one theme came up several times, and we’d like to tackle it head-on—
How do you respond to the charge that your humor column is sexist? Does it bother you that people assume that you are perpetuating negative gender stereotypes rather than trying to be satirical and ironic?
Shelly_M: This is a great question—thank you for asking it.
Bear with me. This one might take a bit to answer.
Writing is subjective. It resonates with everyone in different ways—some positive, some negative. Personally that's what I love about it. It’s an extremely solitary act, which usually ends up in a very public form. Everyone takes away something different from the very same words. A writer has to understand that putting your words out there means people will have an opinion of it. Whether it's a book, blog, article, column, whatever.
And just as a writer has the right to publish their work, a reader has the right to express their opinion. That is certainly true with my writing. It works for some, doesn't work for others. I get that. I even agree with some of the "negative" things I read sometimes. (My mom forwards them to me.)
My goal with writing about D&D has always been to write about the social side. The friendships I have made because of this game, my desire to be a wizard in real life, how D&D can and does impact your life in innumerable, positive ways. I'm absolutely fascinated by the fact that people have been playing the same game for over 30 years. To me that says there's more to it than rules and roles. There's a social and emotion connection here and that's what I like to talk about. Again, not everyone's cup of tea.
And what I write is just one person's opinion. I write from my own experiences and use my life as an example. I'm certainly not claiming to represent the masses.
Do I sometimes use myself as a foil for the sake of humor? Sure. Am I self-deprecating? Yep. Can that be taken out of context? Absolutely.
One thing I always try to be is genuine. I am the things I write about as well as numerous other things I don't think are funny enough to write about. If I wrote the way I do under the assumption that I was representing every woman who has ever played D&D, then I'd be the first to call BS on myself. That would be impossible, not to mention incredibly narrow-minded.
There are a lot of people—men and women—writing about D&D. If something doesn’t work for you, keep looking. You’ll find something that does. And if that doesn’t work, then there’s always room for you to jump in and share your experiences. The more the merrier, right?
Jeez, sorry! Brevity! I promise! I'm so glad I took typing in high school though.
WotC_Huscarl: Good answer. And no typos that I saw.
Shelly_M: I corrected them.
From Njelu: You are such a card! Were you a laugh when you were younger?
Shelly_M: I think I was brilliant, creative and charming. My mom says problematic and troubled.
From Njelu: Do you use music when you game? If you do, then what is your favorite battle tunes?
Shelly_M: Oddly enough, we don't, probably because we're at work and don't have access to speakers and stuff. But if I did, I would play AC/DC. THUNDER!!!
From StormKnight: D&D is going through a lot of changes right now, with new designers coming in, D&D themed board games, and a new miniature game coming out. What are some of the marketing changes and challenges that are going along with these changes?
Shelly_M: Good question. D&D is growing and expanding into different categories and for us that's very, very exciting. Challenging too from a marketing perspective because that means there's more audiences we're trying to reach.
You might have noticed that with Neverwinter all of the products were connected by story. It's a really solid message I think—all of the different ways you can engage with D&D now. You can get as deep into the story as you like. R&D is making our job easy!
WotC_Huscarl: Your book came out just a short time ago. Are you doing any book tours?
Shelly_M: My book is in the WotC Product Room, so I have been doing desk-side tours. No "official" tours though. But my mom has been pushing for her own tour.
WotC_Huscarl: How did you get started in writing?
Shelly_M: I wrote my first story when I was 7. It was a knock-off of Cinderella with my mom as the lead. She was very kind—never told me that story had been done before. In high-school I was the only kid who liked our creative writing classes. I ended up winning a scholarship for creative writing and theater so I decided to study both in college. Writing stuck. I had some wonderful teachers that served as great inspiration.
From 3clipse: How do us East-Coast adventurers get a signed copy of your new book?
Shelly_M: Are you anywhere near Upstate NY? Because I'll be in Binghamton for the holidays!
From Mogrothir: How do you describe what D&D is to people who think that games are for nerds, and who don't mean that as a compliment?
Shelly_M: That's probably coming from someone who has never played D&D.
I would try to explain what D&D is—at it's core. Storytelling and using your imagination (scary for some people who maybe are "challenged" in that department.) I say it's no different than fantasy football or poker nights in that it's a great reason for friends to get together on a regular basis and just hang out.
And then I'd use my mage hand to punch him in the nose. And then run away.
WotC_Huscarl: How do your books fit into the overall culture at a place that seems to take D&D so seriously?
Shelly_M: Do you mean WotC? I'm assuming you do.
Shelly_M: I think it seems like we take it seriously because here is the place where the game is actually made. But I don't think that's necessarily true. I remember talking to R&D once when I was trying to DM and Mike Mearls told me I could make things up as I went along.
I thought that was nuts! This guy makes his living making up the rules and he said I could break them! But what he was trying to say is that the rules are guidelines and the overall objective with D&D is to have fun.
I think that sentiment is what really resonates around here—games are meant to be fun. And it's OK to write about D&D from a lighter point of view. There are many perspectives. There's also the gamer lifestyle—which I think I fall more into. It's not just about what happens at the table.
WotC_Huscarl: Do you have a blog or public Facebook and Twitter accounts, for fans who want more?
Shelly_M: Yep. I'm on FB. You can find me at my personal page (/shellymazzanoble) or writer page. You can friend me on my personal page but I warn you. It's a lot of me talking smack about The Real Housewives and my cat.
I'm terrified of Twitter. But I'm on it—@shellymoo
From AuricRAvenhelm: Does WotC have tours for people such as writers who are interested in that field? (I'd like that for my birthday in March).
Shelly_M: Not officially but I have been known to tour people around if I just happen to run into them in the lobby.
From Dargurd: I'd love to get my wife to give D&D a try—do you have any advice Shelly ?
Shelly_M: Have you given her a copy of Confessions of a PT Sorceress?
OK, for real, I think this holds true for anyone new to D&D—male or female. First, don't make them be the only newbie at the table. D&D can be scary and the rules seem overbearing. It's awful to feel like you're the only one at the table not knowing what's going on.
Try to get one of her friends (or more) to play as well. Then you can customize an adventure that's suited for them. My friend tried to get his wife to play for years. Didn't work until he told her she could play Harry Potter. She was all over it.
Making the adventure personal really helps get new players invested. And the character creation part does, too. As soon as my first character was created I was hooked.
And please don't kill her character! At least not right away.
WotC_Huscarl: Who was that first character that hooked you?
Shelly_M: My beloved elf-sorceress, Astrid Bellagio (named after the Bellagio in Las Vegas—home of the world's greatest breakfast buffet).
From Njelu: As a DM, I focus a great deal on ethics and consequences in game terms. I try not to be heavy-handed. Do you think I am putting too much into the game?
Shelly_M: I think just asking this question shows that you're a good DM. That's the beauty of D&D—you can put as much or as little of yourself into it as you want. It really depends on your players. Do they respond well to how you run your games?
From Mogrothir: ...you talk smack about your cat?
Shelly_M: She terrorizes us. She's a monster. She can handle it.
From Ghostrider: I think what I like most about Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons is the sneak peek into Wizard's corporate culture and employees lives/viewpoints. Can we look forward to any future projects that will have more of this type of writing?
Shelly_M: Thank you, Ghostrider! I do think WotC is a fascinating, unique place to spend 10 hours a day in. It also provides me with endless fodder, so yes, I plan to write more about WotC. At least in my columns.
From AuricRAvenhelm: What do you think of the new Feywild setting?
Shelly_M: I love it. I feel like the mothership has come to take me home.
From Dargurd: Next year is my 30th year playing and DMing (mainly DMing) D&D—any ideas on how to celebrate? I'm thinking travelling across the pond to GenCon might be one option!
Shelly_M: Ha! I was going to suggest Gen Con. You won't be disappointed. It's going to be great this year.
From Alphastream1: How well do you see D&D appealing to women? What would make it more appealing to women?
Shelly_M: It might be naive to think that if more women knew what D&D was really about, they'd be more apt to try it. But I honestly believe that. I think it would be cool to have more adventures written by women. I'm just curious to see if they play out different.
There's a lot of wonderfully talented women out there writing about D&D. I think the more women speak up in the community, the more likely other women will feel comfortable joining in.
WotC_Huscarl: Have you ever encountered behavior that you consider sexist during a game?
Shelly_M: Well... that's a tough one. First, I usually play at work and it's just an environment that doesn't foster that kind of behavior. Thankfully.
Second, I play with people I'm pretty good friends with, so something that might seem inappropriate coming from an outsider generally "slides" when you know the person and understand the context of the comment.
WotC_Huscarl: We need to get this one out there before I forget: Is your mom really like that?
Shelly_M: Ha! Ask HER!
WotC_Huscarl: I didn't get a chance to meet her at the wedding.
Shelly_M: She's like that and more. And she's really, really wonderful. I'm lucky to have her in my life. We have always been close. Even when I was an a**hole teenager.
From Butcha: Is it better to focus on the RP of RPGs or the G when you try to introduce girls to gaming? I can't really figure out if the hardest threshold is the rules bit or the acting out bit.
Shelly_M: Butcha, good question. I used to think the RP would be more enticing but lately the women I've been playing with are all about the combat.
Here's the deal—I think highlighting the story is key. However, roleplaying is daunting to a new player. You just sit there like, "am I supposed to say something?" I wouldn't put them on the spot like that. They tend to feel awkward.
Try putting the emphasis on their characters. I found that when you make people come up with a backstory, it's way easier to get into the RP'ing. It feels more like your character doing the talking than someone playing a game trying to make their character talk.
And don't worry about the rules with new players. It's one of those things you just have to do a few times to get. Tell them how their turn works and guide them through it. Taking the emphasis off the rules right away will help make a new player feel at ease.
WotC_Huscarl: How did you get started at WotC?
Shelly_M: I answered a help wanted ad in THE NEWSPAPER! Seriously, how old am I? It was for a Promotions Coordinator and I had experience doing promotions for radio stations and record labels. I was hired as Promotions Coordinator for Magic.
From Njelu: Will you ever give writing an adventure a shot? I'd love to see what you would think is a good adventure.
Shelly_M: No! Well, maybe. Never say never.
From Dargurd: Do you have a favourite campaign setting, official or otherwise? If yes, why is it your favourite ?
Shelly_M: I can't believe I'm saying this but I had sooooooo much fun in Dark Sun. We were totally out of our element and that fight or flight element really kicked in. It was a whole different game for those 12 weeks. Loved it.
From TandorMynkin: We just had two women join our group only a few weeks ago, who never played before. It was a bit challenging since they didn't know the rules, and they were a bit like kids (in a GOOD way) in that they had no preconceptions of what could and couldn't be done. They are definitely more into the RP aspect, which also works well for our group.
Shelly_M: They sound ripe for D&D! I just thought this was an interesting side-note, so I'm putting it in here.
From Style75: Where do you find the time to write your books? I mean, you have a full time business job with WotC and you obviously play a lot of D&D, have an active social life, and you write your monthly column. That's gotta be busy. Any tips on juggling all those things?
Shelly_M: No. Ask my editor.
Just kidding. I respond well to deadlines, so when Greg Bilsland sends me an email saying "hey, where is your column," then I start writing it. As for the book, it was sad but my television watching and beer drinking had to take a back seat. I wrote a lot after work and on weekends. I was very boring for quite a few months.
From Style75: You get asked the "How do I get my wife/girlfriend to play D&D" question all the time, so I'm flipping it around. A good DM friend of mine is trying to get her husband to play in her campaign but he's very resistant. He says he thinks it's goofy, but we all think he doesn't want his wife to have that much power over him. Any ideas I could give her?
Shelly_M: Wow—good analysis! I don't know if it's true but it sounds like a viable theory. Would it be possible for someone else to DM so they could be on "equal footing?"
From AuricRAvenhelm: There are stories about couples who play and their characters have interesting relationships. Can the same be same about yours and Bart's?
Shelly_M: This is awful but ... OK I'll just say it. I don't like Bart's character! He is impetuous and was constantly making things way more difficult then they needed to be. Can't you just go around the bookshelf? DO YOU HAVE TO KNOCK IT OVER?
That's definitely his play style though. He likes to push limits, see what's behind Door #3. I'm much more reserved. Thankfully he's not like that in real life. See? D&D is good for couples. You can take your bad habits out on your character.
From m0shing_smurf: I've given my wife your Confessions book and she read it, I've got her to play the D&D board game (she wasn't much of a fan). She still has no interest in even trying full-fledged D&D. Should I just cut my losses and leave her alone?
Shelly_M: Aw, that's sad. But maybe? I mean, you can't force people to do things (no matter how incredibly fun they are.) Does she know why you want her to play? Why it's important to her she joins you once in a while (if it is important, that is. I'm assuming it is.) The only thing I would suggest is what we were talking about before. Try to get other new players—her friends—to play. Make the adventure personal. Like if she loves animals, maybe put the PC's in charge of rescuing puppies and kittens from a haunted animal shelter. Don't laugh—I used that one. Totally worked.
WotC_Huscarl: We're a bit after 2:00. Do you have time for one more?
From Style75: How would you define your role as "Player in Chief"? What sort of responsibilities do you think come with a title like that?
Shelly_M: My role as Player-in-Chief is to harass R&D on a daily basis and then make them baked goods when I think they're getting REALLY annoyed.
Actually, Player-in-Chief is an important role. I think there're people out there better suited for it than I might be. Perhaps we have an election?
From m0shing_smurf: Yeah, I'd love [my wife] to join in with our group. I think I have just convinced myself that she would like it if she would just try it. She knows everyone at the table, so the intimidation factor should be minimal. We share few interests and I'd love to have her be a part of something I love to do. I take part in doing things she loves.
Shelly_M: You should tell her exactly that. And then take her dice shopping.
WotC_Huscarl: That's excellent. I'm going to unmoderate the room now, so everyone can thank Shelly.
Shelly_M: That was really fun. Thanks everyone!
WotC_Huscarl: Here's my thanks to Shelly and to all of you!