We are in a golden era for radically queer RPG content. Quivering on the edge of a straight, cis, male dominated dark age we’ve seemingly shot toward orgiastic rainbow dice rolling. There are cute, pastel d20 stickers being sold at major cons. There are Kickstarters for D20 Pride pins 17 times funded with 20 days to go. Artists are creating pins and stickers that both announce our sexuality and are clever plays on classic Dungeons & Dragons terminology. These keep selling out!
How did the only D20 rule system your mom’s heard of get so… gay? I suspect the truth is that it’s always been gay. It just depended on which basement you played in.
D&D created personal, life changing experiences. The culture it encourages is more about the people playing it than whatever edition we’re currently in. In fact, it’s helped many discover more about their identities and key aspects of themselves for a long time, now. We just haven’t gotten the chance to hear all of those stories.
Jeremy Crawford brought the LGBTQIA gaming community to the forefront for the 5th edition release when he mentioned that there would be more queer content. As a gay man, he was uniquely positioned to both change the published D&D content to more inclusive canon narrative, and announced that ‘people like him’ (people a lot more like us than the past images of D&D players portrayed) had made it in the gaming world.
I don’t know what the outcry of that announcement was. In the past I would have been arguing in forums and fighting on Facebook and whatever else. But there’s a large enough community that I’ve been able to encase myself inside of Queer TTRPG and never have a reason to leave. That wasn’t true for me just a few years prior.
The new canon content has not been perfect. As part of the this edition, Wizards of the Coast brought back some vintage adventures for updates. One of these was “Tomb of Horrors.” The rebooted module, for reasons that remain unclear, kept a component of the original adventure where characters ‘switch’ genders upon entering a specific room. The language in the adventure as its written specifically refers to flipping the player characters’ gender on a binary. So, male to female, female to male. The problems with this were already covered by Christine Prevas in the above linked essay.
If that wasn’t confusing enough, the reasons for keeping that gameplay element are even more mysterious. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which the original adventure was written for, female characters were capped on their strength score. They could never get as strong as a male character could. From a mechanics standpoint, a room that “switches” your PC’s gender had the possibility for very real stat consequences. This has not been the case with Dungeons & Dragons since 3rd edition. Your chosen gender has no bearing on the game beyond roleplaying, so putting it in with seemingly little narrative thought was a bizarre and possibly lazy choice.
Dungeons & Dragons remains the most popular tabletop roleplaying system of all time. Its popularity has fueled interest in the medium like never before. There have almost always been other Table Top RolePlaying games, but with the advent of crowdfunding and media of all sorts in the mainstream introducing unquestionably queer characters, the market has exploded. Each new funded project is proof that there’s room for all of our systems. People want to play more, and they want ways to play differently.
Creators have imagined systems that explore new frontiers of fandom, created settings that stretch our imaginations beyond the high fantasy/hard sci fi binary, and crafted systems that groups can mold to their own narratives.
That being said, Dungeons & Dragons may not be the queer TTRPG we’re looking for. We can queer it up, and we should continue to do so, but progress has been achingly slow. While seemingly shooting forward, getting two genders of players acknowledged in the core rulebooks took over 26 years. How much longer will we have to wait for more than two genders? When will we see explicitly queer content in modules from queer creators released with the distribution of the D&D mainstream?