Kick-A*s Sorceress Shelly Mazzanoble '94

“Girly girl” Shelly Mazzanoble ’94 has a dark side as elven wizard and D&D guru. And she’s funny.  By George Sapio

“I am a girly girl,” wrote Shelly Mazzanoble ’94 in the introduction to her recently released book, Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress. “I get pedicures, facials, and microdermabrasions. I not only embrace my inner girl, I full on squeeze the stuffing out of her.”

She is also, as she puts it, “an ass-kicking, spell-chucking, staff-wielding 134-year-old elf sorceress named Astrid Bellagio.”

Shelly’s dual personality emerged after she began working as an associate brand manager at Wizards of the Coast, a Seattle-based developer and publisher of entertainment products including the massively popular games Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, and Dungeons & Dragons.

Life at Wizards of the Coast was not what the theater arts graduate had anticipated. There was the dragon hanging from the lobby ceiling. And the coworker who dressed as a Star Wars storm trooper. And the “creativity stations,” where staff relax and play games during the day. And then there was D&D.

Shelly demurred each time colleagues invited her to join their ongoing D&D game. Her reasoning: It belongs in a basement; players talk with weird accents (“and I only do Count Chocula”); people use silly medieval monikers; and most of all, “it’s a boy thing.” Finally, because she’s fond of her coworkers (not all of whom are male) and was curious, she agreed to try the game.

To her surprise, she actually liked it, especially the storytelling part. “We would be socializing and working together as a team—sticking by each other, healing one another when injured,” she explains. “At the core of D&D is so much of what women do naturally: gathering, socializing, telling stories, protecting. And tea parties, games of pretend, Barbie—those are all role playing. So why aren’t more of us playing?”

Shelly was so thrilled with the game that she wrote an article about the paradox between her “girly girl” persona and her alter ego, the “girl who slays orcs in her part time.” It was never published, but she realized she had more to say than an article’s worth. She pitched the idea of a D&D book geared toward women to her employer, and set to work as soon as Wizards of the Coast agreed to publish it.

Response to the book, subtitled A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game, wasn’t what she expected. “I don’t think any of us were ready,” she says, “for the firestorm of negativity, hatred, and old-boys-club chauvinism that was splattered around the message boards.” 

That went on for a few months until, slowly, other voices began championing the book. Men said they bought it for their girlfriends and wives . . . who now wanted to play. Women said they hadn’t realized they could be a strong sorcerer or ranger and still be feminine.

The icing on Shelly’s cake came when Confessions was awarded the gold 2008 Gen Con EN World RPG Award (“ENnies”) in the category “best regalia.” The ENnies are a people’s choice award, which means she’d won over the tough audience who had initially dismissed her.

Shelly is also a freelance essayist and short story writer and an avid blogger (“Confessions of a Full-time Wizard”), with humorous takes on everything from chocolate to TV. Her writing has taken her back to theater, too: Her comedic play Blue Malls was produced at Seattle’s 2003 Mae West Fest, with the playwright in the cast. Another play, The Chicken and the Egg, about a woman’s decision about whether or not to have a baby, was produced at the 2006 Mae West Festival and Manhattan Theatre Source’s Estrogenius Festival.

Comedy comes naturally to Shelly. “I come from funny stock,” she says. “My parents are hysterical. My brother has such a dry sense of humor we didn’t actually know he was funny until about five years ago.”

She’s not sure what she’ll write next, but it will probably feature her mother, Judy. “She has always been one to foster creativity and give praise for almost anything we did,” Shelly says. With such nurturing, it’s not surprising that Shelly wrote her first story, a fantasy loosely based on a well-known fairy tale, at age eight. 

She’ll definitely continue playing and writing about D&D — “It’s endless fodder,” she admits, “and I love it.”

There’s good reason for that. “If you ask anyone why they play D&D,” says Shelly, “they’ll probably say because you get to be a hero once a week. Who doesn’t want to be a hero?”