Welcome to Tavern Talk Thursday! This is a weekly column where we chat with a member of the TTRPG (tabletop role-playing game) community to learn more about how they found themselves at the table, what they love about tabletop gaming and other fun things. Think of it as a little sneak peeks into the minds of our fellow players and DMs.
Welcome fellow adventurers, pull up a chair, grab a drink and ignore the mimic in the corner. This week we are chatting with the sensational and firey Shelly Mazzanoble. She is the author of the upcoming book Welcome to Dragon Talk: Inspiring Conversations about Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Love to Play It alongside her Dragon Talk Podcast co-host Greg Tito. Shelly has also written numerous short stories and articles about this, that, and everything else. While working for Wizards of the Coast, she began playing Dungeons and Dragons. Check out her interview below for everything she loves about our TTRPG community.
Julia Roth: Let’s chat your TTRPG back story! How did you find yourself at the table?
Shelly Mazzanoble: Well, my employer forced me to play! 😊 Just so happens my employer was (and still is) Wizards, so it made sense. I had been working for Wizards for several years on almost every brand except D&D, which suited me just fine because I was convinced D&D was not for me. I’m not what you’d call a typical fantasy fan (if it’s not on Bravo, I probably haven’t seen it), I’m not great at math, I didn’t want to wear a costume and speak in a funny accent. But then I got my dream job on the Publishing team at Wizards working on the marketing of novels.
Suddenly I was working alongside the same people who published those D&D rulebooks. Hmm, I thought; they don’t seem so bad. In fact, these were some of the nicest, most creative, and most passionate people I had the chance to work with. It wasn’t long before my boss suggested I might want to learn how to play the game if I was going to help market it. I can’t believe I had not answered an ad for a Promotions Coordinator many years ago; I may not have discovered this wonderful hobby. D&D is, in fact, for me.
JR: Favorite world to adventure in?
SM: I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Eberron because that’s the first setting I played in. However, I do believe the Feywild was made for me. I’ve always been drawn to fairy tales and the idea of something being so happy and innocuous on the surface but dark and sinister below. I’m all about that weird, wild, and whimsical energy of the Feywild, and I love the creatures who call it home. Give me cute animals and mischievous pixies and wild magic! But also, give me the threat that all of this could turn horribly bad at any moment!
JR: Favorite one-shot adventure?
SM: I had a blast playing through Michael Polkinghorn’s Candlekeep Mysteries adventure, The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces. I played a hexblood sorcerer (Fairy tales also taught me witches are cool!) and thoroughly grossed out my party using Magic Token, which allowed me to yank off a fingernail and use it to send telepathic messages to whoever was the lucky recipient of it. In that case, it was a cat who sadly couldn’t speak my languages and was unable to communicate with me, but I’m sure she appreciated hearing the party telling her what a pretty kitty princess face good girl she was.
JR: Backstory or class first?
SM: Oh, good question. I have led with both, but I lean towards a class of classes meaning I’m almost always going to be a magic user and start there.
JR: Favorite spell and why?
SM: Whenever I don’t have fireball, I miss fireball. It’s a classic for a reason. But one of my most D&D memories involves mirror image, so I’m definitely partial to that one as well. I don’t remember who we were fighting, but there were multiple enemies. My elf sorceress cast mirror image, and the Dungeon Master surprised me by placing SEVEN more of the exact minis I used to represent my character on the table. It was the most awesome scene, seeing her and her reflections all in formation like she was some spell-slinging, staff-wielding Beyonce. I kept getting attacked but never hit because the enemy couldn’t figure out which one was me. Such a fun memory!
JR: Who has been your favorite character to play?
SM: I love all my characters! Definitely, Astrid Bellagio, my first character and the elf sorceress mentioned above, will forever have my heart. I also loved Tabitha Sparkles, my tiefling wizard who had an ex-circus showbear named Oso de la Fez as a familiar. I love Drunky Two-Shoes, the tabaxi sorcerer, because of her relentless quest to find and/or save her errant brother Daryl (played by Greg Tito), and I’m currently loving Jelly-Goo, my plasmoid warlock, because it is great fun to play a pile of ooze and also WARLOCKS! Where have they been all my life?!
JR: Do you have a particular race/class you enjoy?
SM: I think I need to explore druids more because shapeshifting sounds pretty amazing. I love magic users (wild magic sorcerers are my current favorite, but warlocks are coming in hot), and I tend to gravitate towards elves. I do enjoy the history of tieflings and think they provide wonderful inspiration for character backstories.
JR: Is there something that you build into every character? A fun trait or a special item?
SM: I like having an animal companion or best friend in the party. I also enjoy not being the party leader who is always chatting up guards or trying to negotiate with a quest giver. I feel like I do that stuff in real life all the time, so it’s nice to sit back sometimes and let someone else take control.
JR: What is your favorite system to play within?
SM: I’m all about the D&D 5E!
JR: Tell us about the wildest adventure you have been on?
SM: Well, Spelljammer has been pretty wild so far! We spent 45 minutes fishing in our last game, and it was ridiculous fun and entertaining! I also love the Drunky Two-Shoes mini campaign Greg and I play at the end of every episode of Dragon Talk. It’s been going on for years because we only play a few minutes a week, but on her quest to find her brother, Daryl, she’s traveled around the world from the jungles of Chult to Waterdeep and is currently journeying through the Radiant Citadel! She found her brother, lost her brother, found him again, and of course, lost him again. One might think he doesn’t want to be found, but Drunky isn’t great at taking hints.
JR: What has been your most impactful moment at a table?
SM: The first time a member of my party died. I was not prepared for how hard that would hit me or how real it felt. The player, on the other hand, handled it great! I think he was excited to create a new character. But the rest of us took it really hard. RIP, Anwar!
JR: Favorite dice to use?
SM: A d20 because it’s the easiest to find! I’m terrible at deciphering the difference between a d10 and a d12, especially under the pressure of battle.
JR: Would you rather face off against an entire dungeon of undead or charm your way through a royal court?
SM: Let me get my burning hands on those undead!
JR: Favorite TTRPG Monster?
SM: Beholders! What’s not to love? They are the Swiss Army Knives of Aberrations! Also, I can’t help it, I think their smiles are kind of cute.
JR: Good luck charms or rituals before a game?
SM: I usually roll my d20 a bunch of times to get the bad rolls out.
JR: Who is sitting at your dream table?
SM: My dream table might happen in a few months when I start the first official D&D club at my son’s elementary school. I can’t believe I’m saying this but playing D&D with kids is pretty much the closest you get to real-world magic. In the meantime, maybe we could round up a few Real Housewives because, my goodness, they need to learn a thing or two about teamwork and collaboration!
JR: What are you most looking forward to within the TTRPG world?
SM: Watching our community grow and seeing people discover D&D who maybe wouldn’t have thought of themselves as fans before (like me!) I’m also so excited about our educator outreach plans and continuing to provide teachers, librarians, and educators with the tools they need to incorporate D&D into their classrooms and start clubs at their schools or libraries.
Personally, I’m excited to introduce more kids to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s such a positive force in people’s lives, not to mention a powerful teaching tool. I think they will be better adults, having had these magical, memorable moments as children. It’s my civic duty as a D&D fan!
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