Thursday, September 20, 2007

REVIEW: Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress : A Girl's Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game, by Shelly Mazzanoble

Released: September 2007. Click on the cover to buy.
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

Are you a woman (or do you know one) who's never played Dungeons & Dragons but has always been curious about it? Do you have a friend/husband/boyfriend who plays, but you were intimidated by the stereotypes about nerds and geeks, or thought it would to be too hard, or have too many rules, or take too much time? Well if so, Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress is the book for you.

Author Shelly Mazzanoble writes from the point of view of an extremely (even hyper-) girly-girl young woman who loves to shop, watch soaps and get mani-pedis- and who also loves participating in the ongoing campaigns of Astrid the elf and her band of adventurers. She wants to convince women that D&D isn't all about smelly geeks in a basement casting arcane spells and speaking with cheesy British accents while dressed in chainmaille and Ren Faire outfits. Her thesis is that it's just about groups of friends coming together on a regular basis for a fun, wholesome activity that fires the imagination, fosters social skills and helps participants gain confidence.


Let me just say up front that I am exactly the sort of person towards whom this book is aimed. My husband is an avid D&D player, as have been many of my male friends throughout my life. I always thought it was a boy thing- a little seedy, a little smelly, and just a little weird. I was in college before I knew any women who played, and they weren't, uhm, people I could relate to. So I just thought, this isn't for me, and put it aside. So when this book came along I thought, okay, let's see if this woman can sell me on D&D. Cause if she can sell me, she can sell anyone.

Most of the book consists of a girly primer on the basics of D&D. She writes about spells, points, character sheets and dice; she includes cute illustrations and quizzes, and even some recipes of suggested appetizers to serve at your own D&D party. The tone is light and breezy, and peppered with pop-culture and fashion references, and the dominant color is pink. It's cute. It's informative. I enjoyed reading the story of how she came to play; she seems like someone I can relate to. Even though the stereotypes aren't the whole story, there is still a lot of truth to them and they do put people like me off the game. I mean, most of the reason I've rejected the idea of playing is that I think I just wouldn't fit in in most groups. But maybe I'm wrong.

As far as actual game-play, the rules and regs don't seem that intimidating or difficult. And I like the idea that it's not competitive. I like Mazzanoble's tone and style, and I think the information is presented in a way that's easy to understand. Her "I'm an outsider who became an insider" approach helps. And there's lots of humor and silliness. I love the little features like "Top Ten Spells Every Woman Should Know", quizzes, cute recipes and the appendix with a sample character sheet. All in all a fun little read. But did she sell me on playing D&D? Well, let's just say I'm not as hostile to the idea as I used to be. And every once in a while I catch myself checking out dice...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

an early birthday present was sitting on the table today for me(either that or my roomie doug was just too lazy to hide it/wrap it/wait till wednesday. or all of the above, knowing him...). a book that's gotten a lot of hype called "confessions of a part-time sorceress" by shelly mazzanoble. it's about the flipside of gaming: the female perspective of it all, coz lets face it, there are like... NO girl gamers out there; the one's i've met and played with are few and far between.

i hated it.

not to say it wasn't a decent book, nor to say that it was a terrible gift. i very much enjoyed the opportunity to read this kind of perspective. i just found this particular view aggravating, shallow and inaccurate.

i could not relate to any aspect of the main character besides her apparent vagina. make-up and nailpolish are for special occasions, ninja turtles were the coolest thing since sliced bread when i was a kid, and any woman who has more than one set of matching shoes/handbags strike me as pretentious and snotty, not to mention shallow and bland as their hairdye (not all of them... just most of them).

in the loving words of christopher moore (author of "it's a dirty job..."), shelly had all the pre-makings of a "f***-puppet." her venture into DnD could at best be described as n00b (the idiot kind, not the "i really am new to this" kind. after three sessions she damn well better know what the hell an initiative roll is...), at worst ... *insert colorful insulting metaphor here*

granted, i admire her zeal and interest in the venture of her own accord given her two-inch-deep personality--who would have thought someone like her could enjoy a game like DnD? alas, this is the only surprise that came to me over the 150 some-odd page paperback. i finished it in one sitting, and thought i could have weaned more from the blessed rule's compendium sitting next to it. she was a beginner, and it's expected not to be able to step too far out of one's box in the first few campaigns, but the player who sports a character who would rather ask where the nearest macy's in sharn was than defend herself from a rabid hellhound (or even question in game why there was a wandering hellhound on the streets of the mid-level of the city of towers), demand that her heward's handy haversack came from balenciaga and that her boots of levetation matched the perfect shade of pink (or so some illustrations imply...) strikes me as ... i don't even know, it just sort of disgusts me. to each player his or her own playing style i suppose, but even she acknowledged that the DM was getting a little annoyed with her lame little forays into cosmetic-land.

shelly is not a female gamer. she is a female n00b.

and there are blatant mistakes in some of her logic. for example, the classic "only six of the nine alignments are usable for PC's." BULL. playing an evil character grants ample opportunity for creative roleplaying, presents a challenge to the DM to motivate you're character and utelize books like "the book of vile darkness" or "exemplars of evil." i'm tired of the boring look on "smash the baddies. why? coz they're evil." evil characters can love as well as hate, and do just as radiantly good things as a paladin can--just for different reasons. the anti-hero can do the most holy of things and dastardly of deeds--even out of love. i've babbled plenty about my teifling rogue/ranger/mortalhunter/hellbreaker named y'lenn as a prime example of this, as my friends will sigh with familiarity and agreement. don't believe me? read dragonlance (specifically the brother's war trilogy), and behold raistin's wrath.

i'll give shelly a little credit though. her chapter on table ethics, guest/host etiquette and even those sickeningly cute recipes were both well thought out and useful. example: thou shalt not mooch off another player's dice. well said, shelly. too bad it took you until the second to last chapter to get your own freaking set (that some one GAVE you). at least she debunked some common misconceptions about DnD: no, you don't have to join a cult, no you don't have to be a nobody with no friends, and no, not just nerdy boys play it. for the record though, she's right about the doritoes and high sugar sodas... how else will your halfling psion last the night of turrasques and demon lords? (provided he's level 20+ that is... "i think i can, i think i can, i think i can...")

girls who play DnD are not all airheads!!! i like to think of myself with a minimal intelligence score of 14 on an average day, and despite the fact that i share the massive dice, mini and book collection of the classic mom's basement nerds, i still get phone calls and go out on fridays!! all the while still able to think and breath for myself, Cosmo and People be DAMNED!! (i could rant all day on how disgusting it is that women base their lives off of what celebrities wear or don't wear! but that's a totally different opinionated rant...)

this of course, means that "confessions of a part-time sorceress" was a great book. any work that can evoke a reaction is art, regardless if it was posative or negative. you disgust me, shelly mazzanoble, and for that i thank you (and doug, for the awful yet provocative read!).