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Come at me in the comments, you short rest dependent motherfuckers.

A Dungeonmaster’s Guide to Defeating Debt

Let’s talk about D&D&D! That’s Dungeons & Dragons and debt. Strictly 5e. Live in the now.

Guys. I don’t mean to brag, but I run a fourteenth level wizard that I’m pretty damn proud of. She is a cold-hearted bad-ass lawful-evil murder-machine.

My steed is a magic broom with a fifty-foot move-speed. My staff turns into a friendly giant constrictor snake on command. My Contingency spell is set to Polymorph me into a T-Rex if my hit points drop below 20%. I know, I know, it’s basically a massive free heal! And I’m a resourceful motherfucker. I once used a level one Disguise Self to convince two-dozen hostile Kuo Toa that I was Blibdoolpoolp, lobster-headed mother deity of the sea. I ordered them to pray until they died of exhaustion. #lawfulevil

If you play Dungeons & Dragons, you already know the best way to handle enemies depends on your class strengths. A barbarian has no business casting spells. A wizard has no business grappling. (And a warlock has no business in any campaign, period. Come at me in the comments, you short-rest dependent motherfuckers.)

Life, as I have so often found, mirrors games. Here is some wisdom for humans and demi-humans of all alignments.

Advice from a barbarian

The key to taking a straight-melee approach is positioning. The first time my party ever had to straight-up retreat was when our barbarian stepped one square past a bottleneck. It was a bloodbath. It was like the elevator at the Overlook Hotel, but more generically medieval.

The barbarian must always know where his threats are. Take a good look at your debts. When are they due? What’s the minimum payment? What’s the balance? What are the interest rates on each one? This information is boring and sometimes scary, but if you push that information out of your mind, the debt won’t go away. It will just surprise you.

Advice from a fighter

The single most important combat tactic in D&D is knowing whom to hit and when. If there are six weak enemies and one super strong boss, it’s better to focus on cutting down the small fry first. It’s a numbers game. The boss only gets one chance to swing at you, and he could miss and waste his turn, but trifling enemies can gang up on you and pull you down, subjecting you to a death-by-a-thousand-cuts.

The fighter knows it is better to focus fire and eliminate the small threats first. It’s exhausting and inefficient to fight a battle on multiple fronts. So if you owe $45,000 on student loan debt, $4,000 on one credit card, $1,000 on another, and $40 to your roommate, start with the roommate and move upward. As your niggling debts shrink, your ability to focus on your larger debts grows. This is referred to a lot in personal finance circles as “snowballing” but please do not google the word “snowballing” because it’s also a pretty unhygienic sex thing. (No judgements. The fighter was young once. I’m just saying that it’s an excellent way to get hepatitis. Do your homework first.)

Look at this cool bro.

Advice from a wizard

The wizard is a real bootstrap class. They start with a few cantrips and work their way up to Basically God. The secret to a wizard’s success is their constant acquisition of skills. They never stop learning and adding new spells to their book. Some spells are more useful than others, but all of them have some potential application.

Being a lifelong learner benefits your finances in a ton of ways. A diverse set of skills makes you more employable, and generally more resilient to change. Doing things yourself is almost always cheaper than paying someone else to do it for you. If you’re reading a finance blog like this one, you’re already on the road to learning everything you can to better position yourself. That’s a good thing! A wizard is exactly as flexible as her spell book.

Advice from a sorcerer

The sorcerer doesn’t learn magic—he is magic. He’s also a specialist. He doesn’t know every spell, but the ones inside of him are strong. An important thing to remember about magic is that almost every spell has a verbal component. No matter how powerful you are, if you can’t speak aloud, you’re useless.

The sorcerer teaches us to make our goals specific and name them aloud. “I don’t want to feel poor anymore” is a totally understandable wish, but it isn’t an effective goal because it’s too big and too broad. Make your financial goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound). Once you’ve landed on them, speak them aloud. Write them down. Plug them into a goal app. Tell them to friends and family members. There’s science behind it. One study found that participants were 42% more likely to achieve a goal if they wrote it down.

Advice from a rogue

Rogues are not very powerful in a one-on-one fight. Their specialty is waiting for the exact right moment to move. That’s because the rogue knows that one precision strike is better than ten wild stabs.

Going off half-cocked is the best way to waste money. Don’t invest significant time or money in anything without thoroughly vetting it first. That goes for everyday products, cars, houses, hobbies, education, career opportunities, and relationships. Hang back. Be patient. Observe. Weigh the pros and cons. And strike when the moment is right.

Advice from a paladin

The paladin is an interesting mix of hitter (offense) and healer (defense). In D&D, the best defense is always a good offense. She can swing her sword as much as she wants to, but her capacity to cast healing spells is limited. Eliminating enemies from the board is the better use of a paladin’s time unless one of her buddies is close to death. Running from ally to ally expending heal slots is a great way to waste a paladin’s potential. It’s better to show the Big Bad the business-end of your Smite damage.

The paladin teaches us the value of having a plan to deal with emergencies. Running from crisis to crisis is a draining prospect. It can tie up your finances and leave you tapped for energy and resources needed elsewhere. If you don’t have an emergency fund, start one. When you’re debt-free and things get a big more comfortable, you can invest your fund and reserve your credit for inevitable emergencies. You can’t stop them from happening altogether, but you can at least try to keep them from derailing all your other efforts.

And this rad lady!

Advice from a bard

Bards may sound like a joke-class to the kind of people who stroll into the office each week with a hearty “HOW ‘BOUT THEM SEAHAWKS,” but nothing could be further from the truth. My life has been spared by Cutting Words. One successful casting of Hypnotic Pattern can bring an immediate end an otherwise unwinnable fight. In addition to general utility, bards are often charismatic and charming figures able to role play their way around a fight. The bard is exactly as useful as her player’s imagination allows. Many of her tricks and spells are indirect.

The bard knows that to conquer seemingly insurmountable challenges, you have to get creative. Lots of people put off defeating their debts because an obvious solution isn’t handed to them. (“I’m trying to get a new job with a big pay bump—so I’ll keep making minimum payments until that happens!”) The bard doesn’t hang back just because she doesn’t have a war hammer. She’s got a lute and she is serving Vicious Mockery realness. Work with what you have right now, any way that you can.

Advice from a monk

The monk’s overpowered nonsense comes from a spiritual pool of energy within themself. The monk who expends his ki judiciously is insanely mobile, difficult to hit, and able to pack an extremely respectable wallop. But the monk can only reach so deep inside themself before the well runs dry and must be refilled through rest and meditation. The monk knows how to prioritize self care.

The most pervasive negative impact of poverty is stress. The strain of ceaseless work takes a physical toll, and constant worry about running out of the life-supporting resource or money takes an emotional toll. It can leave your ki depleted. You cannot live your life as a mechanical, money-making machine. You are a living, breathing human being (or possibly a wood elf or air genasi). You have spiritual needs. Make time for fun, frivolous stuff like hobbies, travel, and friendship. Don’t prioritize debt-destruction to the exclusion of whatever fills your well.

Advice from a ranger

In ranked tiers of class usefulness, rangers often come in dead last. This is shocking to me, because the hands-down most reliably high DPS character in our game is our ranger. As a long-distance archer, he rarely gets hit—but his AC is still respectable. His accuracy is nuts. And if he puts a Hunter’s Mark on you? Son, all I can say is I hope you’ve followed our advice about advanced directives.

The lesson of the ranger is to not underestimate yourself. There are lots and lots of high-earners out there who spend damn near every penny they make. The hare really can lose the race. You may be fretting about low income and high debts, but you have to have faith in yourself. I’d put money on the frugal low-earner over the lazy high-roller any day. You are what you make of yourself.

Advice from a druid

As the rogue and the wizard have taught us, there’s great value in being precise and prepared. But sometimes things just don’t go as planned. The druid is a fantastic hybrid class, throwing spells and shillelaghs around like it’s going out of style. But these are conventional combat approaches, and when conventional approaches fail, it’s good to have a backup plan. Like turning into a bear.

Druids aren’t afraid to change and redefine themselves. It can be really scary and disheartening to quit a career that isn’t panning out, or sever a relationship that offered stability, or drop an investment that’s underperforming. But remember this: the dinosaurs died out not because they were weak or uncool (they were very cool) but because they couldn’t adapt to change. When you’re up against debt, agility and flexibility are just as valuable traits to have as persistence and perseverance.

Ugh. So classic.

Advice from a cleric

Look, sometimes, things just don’t go your way. Sometimes a troll wanders into your campsite, eats your beloved horse, and fucks your life up because nobody in the party has a fire cantrip and your DM is a joyless scumbag. Sometimes you just get sucker-punched. And that’s when you need a cleric.

As a dedicated healer, the cleric knows the importance of living to fight another day. Sometimes life will throw exactly the right curveballs to fuck your shit up and wreck your finances. Maybe you were plugging along, paying off your debts, and then wham! You get laid off and your car breaks down and your dog gets sick and your washing machine breaks and a troll eats your horse. If that happens, it’s time to say “fuck it!” Do whatever you have to do to survive, even if it means adding to your debt again. You have to survive before you can thrive.

Advice from a warlock

Pffft. Okay, okay, I have a low option of warlocks. Their power comes not from study or innate ability, but from a magical patron. It’s a pretty literal deal-with-the-devil sort of arrangement. Forgive my wizard’s snobbery, but it seems lazy. And the results don’t impress.

However! If there’s one thing a warlock knows how to do, it’s to ask for help. As we’ve said before, nobody gets anywhere in this world without help. You can’t become wealthy by willpower alone. Whether it’s asking for advice or for direct help, seek to cultivate a group of friends and peers who love you and want to help you succeed. You will absolutely need their help. And don’t forget to pay it forward with a well-timed Eldritch Blast some time in the future.

Now get out there and roll for initiative.

8 thoughts to “A Dungeonmaster’s Guide to Defeating Debt”

  1. Brilliant!
    Though the best use of bards is in my experience to “hide behind the mountain of dead bards” in true Gamers 2: dorkness rising style 🙂
    /fellow wizard

  2. This. Was. Incredible.

    Also a wizard, while my fiance is a ranger (who is ALSO the group tank……..amazing). Such a seamless piece, well written, very true. LOVE IT!

  3. As a fantasy lover, you got me with this post, however (shame on me) I never had the chance to play D&D, just read dozens of novels of its world.
    While reading your advice I was thinking what does it tell about us how we choose our characters. Somehow in games, I always picked the rouge/ranger type of characters and surprisingly what you described fits me very well. I think I should bring a little bit of wizardry and warrior spirit into my life.
    Thanks for sharing, really made my day 🙂

  4. To think that you guys were in the same pool at FinCon and I did not talk to you because we had not met yet. I hate myself, I feel like a bumbling umberhulk. This post is great.

    1. We were DEFINITELY at the same pool at FinCon because we were NEVER NOT IN THE POOL. We’ll be there next year, please come up and introduce yourself! And you’re surely not an umberhulk, but a noble thri-kreen. An easy mistake to make…

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