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Book Review: CONFESSIONS OF A PART-TIME SORCERESS by Shelly Mazzanoble

Dungeons and Dragons isn’t the most straightforward game in the world, especially to a person who is new to role-playing and dice with more than six sides. I speak from experience because I remember how utterly confused I felt during my first few gaming sessions. That’s amplified if you’ve never watched a game in progress and have no idea what to expect. In that regard, Shelly Mazzanoble’s Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons and Dragons’ Game is helpful. Unfortunately, the book relies heavily on gender stereotypes to get there, and it’s not always clear when she’s joking.

Mazzanoble worked at Wizards of Coast for several years (note: Wizards published this book) and decided she should get to know Dungeons and Dragons. I would imagine gaming is an essential part of that company’s culture, and if you’re going to learn how to play D&D, Wizards seems like the best possible environment. She joins a new gaming group, becomes a sorceress named Astrid, and finds herself enjoying all aspects of the game. It’s entertaining and educational to see the game through the eyes of a newbie.

While it’s not a complete instructional, the book serves as a fine primer to someone interested in learning about D&D. Mazzanoble covers the basics: character sheets, classes, races, different types of dice, combat, the importance of skill variety in a group, and initiative. Besides being explained in the text, the book includes several sidebars that highlight those points and Mazzanoble explains things in a more accessible way than the Player’s Handbook. The target audience of the book is women, and Mazzanoble goes too far to try to be relatable to a certain group of women sometimes. But, at the end of the day, I would have liked to read all the “how-to” sections before I played the game for the first time.

confessions of a part time sorceress cover

Watching Mazzanoble learn the game and get to know her gaming group and their characters is fun, too. There’s nothing like the high of understanding that you can become a completely different person when you play D&D. You can slay creatures and perform dashing heroics, you can be a healer, you can be a thief – there are so many options. The author definitely captured the gaming table vibe and spirit. I felt like I was right there watching the triumphs and fails and feeling the icy glare of Tenoctris (another character in the game).

Now, back to those stereotypes I mentioned. Mazzanoble says from the beginning that she’s a “girly girl.” Awesome, there are all types of women in the world. However, she writes the book specifically for “girly girls.” The subtitle of the book is “A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game,” but it’s not for all girls. While it would be challenging to write a book that appeals to all women, an attempt to do so would feel more welcoming than narrowing the field to one personality type.

Mazzanoble’s humor relies heavily on general stereotypes and on gender stereotypes. The problem is that the humor doesn’t always shine through and instead feels like it’s pandering and reinforcing stereotypes. The line blurs and by the time I got to these particular lines on page pages 118-119 in a section about how to find a gaming group, I couldn’t tell if she was kidding and my knee jerk reaction was annoyance-fueled anger:

On going to boys first and asking them about a D&D group: “Readers beware: If he doesn’t already have a crush on you, this will most likely seal the deal.”

On walking into a gaming store: “Walking in there is also a great self esteem boost. You’ll feel like the homecoming queen in the middle of an A/V club meeting.”

The only word I have for both those lines and many others like them is nope. So much nope.

Regardless of its flaws, Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress has one powerful thing going for it: When I finished the last page, I felt an itch to finding a new gaming group so I can play D&D again.

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  1. Brandi says:

    Thanks for featuring my photo!

  2. Simon says:

    “While it would be challenging to write a book that appeals to all women, an attempt to do so would feel more welcoming than narrowing the field to one personality type.”

    As she’s a girly-girl she’s presumably just writing what she knows, for a like-minded audience. Tech-nerd girls (for instance) presumably don’t need this book, anyway, since they’ll already be au fait with the relevant culture. Reminds me a bit of how nerd girls hate ‘Twilight’ but it’s not really aimed at them.

    • Simon says:

      Oh, I hope the book includes some discrete advice to girly-girls on how to fit in with geeks (esp female geeks) and not annoy them. It can actually be an issue and I’d worry that Mazzanoble is maybe not terribly introspective and this may not have occurred to her as a possible problem. Geeks are pretty welcoming as a rule, but can be very sensitive to any whiff of “Naturally I am better than you, feel honoured I condescend to play your game”.

  3. Did they republish the book?  I remember getting this for an ex-girlfriend over 5 years ago! 

    It’s a great book!

  4. Chris Cox says:

    She’s reaching out to a certain demographic… A demographic that is often mocked, criticized and regarded with general disdain among many who “game”. Is it plausible… You’re not mad at Mazzanoble?… you’re angry and perhaps afraid that “Suzy homecoming queen” may soon be injecting herself into “your” game?… “your” thing? The helpless cheerleader who dates the handsome jock from a wealthy family now wants to sit at the same table as kids who may not have been in the “in” crowd… kids who felt socially rejected by Cheer-girl and her ilk… and now she wants to splash pink glitter all over your basement card table. Might THIS be the very thing that has so many rpg enthusiasts so worked up? (I’ve been rolling d20 since ’82, Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms.)

    • Alyssa says:

      The author of this review acknowledges that the book is reaching out to a certain demographic and that many of those lines are jokes. She also points out that those jokes may alienate other audiences — a valid criticism. Moreover, this article never says that there’s nothing wrong with the “girly girl” stereotype learning DnD; she has an issue with enforcing a false stereotype.
      There’s not need to insult the reviewer. Please be civil.

    • Not at all, I love pink glitter! The jokes just came across as alienating to me.