This is not the Gay Future I Imagined

Several months ago, I posted about imagining gay futures through science fiction. That vision also includes more gay content in all settings, not excluding roleplaying games. While we may be having more LGBTQ+ media representation these days, much of it paints us in the same tired light as an American 1940s cautionary tale.

I touched on Star Trek: Discovery in the previous post, which features a male/male couple (with on screen kissing!!!). [Spoiler alert] One half of the couple dies. After the traumatic murder at the hands of a Manchurian candidate of the most bizarre variety (who we’re then supposed to forgive completely), the Emperor is introduced when the Discovery is thrown into an alternate universe.

The return of Michelle Yeoh was triumphant, especially when her character is triumphantly revealed to be bisexual when she decides to have a mixed gender threesome in the middle of a Starfleet mission. However, this triumvairing (I tried?!) ends when the Emperor pulls a weapon on the two she just made love to and coerces information out of them. The extreme use of force, and implied brutality of the character it cruelly offset by the revelation of their bisexuality.

Instead of fleshing out a more complex personality (which we were granted flashes of during her development with main character Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green), the Emperor seems without real motive and instead follows their gut down a disastrous path. Every possible shortcut is taken to show them as bad, including painting their bisexual tendencies in an amoral light when they jeopardize the mission to follow their own fancies.

Depicting bisexuality as an accessory to a lack of morality is not exclusive to science fiction. Games published Wizards of the Coast made waves when they rereleased the notorious adventure, “Curse of Strahd”, including LGBTQ+ subtext. Many reporting outlets picked up the story that the adventures for Dungeons & Dragons‘ 5th edition would be more gay, more diverse, more queer. But that’s proven, and continues to be, problematic.

Taylor of Riverhouse games threw a quote from Curse up on twitter and commented on the depictions of bisexuals in media:

Don’t get me wrong. Complex LGBTQ+ villains of all identities are really important. I want to see them. Other genres are already giving us these. For instance, the terribly sexist show Versaillefeatures one of the most well depicted homosexual relationships and complex bad guys I have perhaps ever seen on television in Philippe and the Chevalier (also named Philippe).

Varied depictions are also not completely absent from Fantasy. The wildly successful A Song of Ice and Fire adaptation, Game of Thrones, wisely decided not to remove the complicated love affair of Lord (KING) Renly and Loras Tyrell. I think we’ve come far enough to where we should not longer have to grasp at straws. I think Wizards of the Coast and other games publishers can make our future roleplaying a hell of a lot more postively queer.

Private Rooms: Gender, RPGs, & MUDs

CN: Author describes nonconsensual sexual experience that happened virtually while they were underage.


While browsing my usual internet sources, I found myself on Panoplit.org. On there, the founder posed a series of questions near the end of her article “What Do I Write About?. One thing she asked really stuck with me and I felt compelled to respond. After receiving a reply, I felt encouraged to tell a story.

My first experience playing an RPG (unless you count Rogue on the computer…does that count?) was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I bought it while perusing the computer software section at Barnes & Nobles (does anyone else remember when B&N stores used to have a software section?).

My sister and I always loved games and eagerly cracked it open at home. We found something unlike any other game we had ever seen. There were figures, books, pictures, maps, and numbers. So many numbers, yet also so much freedom. “Make your own adventures” the guidebook said. So we did. She took the role of Dungeon Master and I took Slinker the thief (no girls in this game, unless you count the drow in the Monster Manual). I don my sneaky black cloak and enter the gates of a broken castle, my eyes set on finding treasure and adventure. I meet my first monster three steps in: a horrible gargoyle! Slash slash went my dagger! …nothing. Bite bite went the Gargoyle.

Game Over.

We switch sides. She took the Cleric (also not a girl). She met her first monster: a Gnoll. Bash bash and she won. Roll for treasure: 100. On a d100. Three diamonds, netting her 3,000 gp in the first room. I was so jealous.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m now a freshman in high school. I still love RPGs. My sister and I have played 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons with her friend’s dad as DM. Final Fantasy VIII takes up much of my time outside of school, but I have also discovered text based RPGs called MUDs, Multi-User Dungeons. I spend many of my study periods in the compute lab “studying”. I created a male cleric and it took me some time to get out of the training areas.

I made a few mistakes and got bored of the character once I figured out the game better. I made a new character, and pause when it asks for the character’s gender. For the first time, the question strikes me as odd. For the cleric, I had just typed in ‘m’ because I guess I was used to male heroes. Or maybe because I was afraid? I don’t know. This time I pressed the ‘f’ key. A strange feeling goes through my body: almost like a mixture between fear and relief, I can’t really explain it.

I begin to play my female bard. I spend my study periods questing, getting better equipment and levelling up. I learn how to use the ‘charm’ spell to force NPC to type things into chat. It is hilarious. The other players are friendly and helpful. A few of them are very friendly. Much more friendly than they were to my cleric.

This goes on for a couple months until I was a regular. People cheered when I came online, and I cheered for them. We chatted a lot. I began to private chat with some of them. Some of the private chats became much more personal. I do not give out personal information.

One of my game friends wanted to show me an area of the game I have not seen before. The admins have made a section with apartments that players can purchase with gold. They have a lockable door, and players can use these apartments to sleep when they log off or to safely drop off items that they don’t want to carry around. I thought it was cool he had so much gold. He took me to his apartment. He has customized it with a beautiful description. I told him I think it is so cool. He gave me a flower. I said thank you. He locked the door. He used local chat to say he is happy we could have some alone time. I agreed. We chatted a little more. He asked me a lot of questions about if I liked parts of his apartment. He gave me a cookie item from a Valentine’s day event.

I am young and inexperienced and I do not know what is going on until he emotes to kiss me. I stared at the screen. I had never been kissed before, irl or in a game. I am nervous, but also really curious. I saw no harm in emoting kissing back. Then the emotes traveled south. I was confused and a little scared. I thought I understood what is going on because I have watched movies and heard stories from friends’ older siblings. I feel awkward. This is someone who has been very friendly to me. I feel bad and do not want him to feel the same awkwardness. I feel like this is somehow my fault.

I emote back some kind of response based on what I think an experienced girl would do in this situation. He does not respond for a bit. I sat there staring at the rated R material on my screen in the high school computer lab. He responded by asking how old I was. I type 16 (this is a lie). He was silent again for a time. Then he unlocked the door, said he was sorry, and left. We did not have private chats anymore. I did not tell anyone.

I went back to playing my cleric for a little. People were friendly, but not overly so. There were very few private chats. There were no invitations back to private apartments.

This was only the first experience of many to come. Over the next years, I join other online RPGs, but I begin to see a pattern. Whenever I am a boy, I can hide in the crowd unnoticed. Whenever I am a girl, there always seems to be a group of boys trying to stick their parts into mine. I do not “send pics”. I use the block or mute button when it is available. I stay off of voice chat.

Now I play D&D 5e with a group who is very open to players and characters who do not conform to binary gender expectations. I think I am lucky. But that is a story for another time.


Artemis V. is a writer, designer, and avid tabletop gamer.

Kickstarter to Watch: Spell the RPG

A play on words, and a fresh take on roleplaying game mechanics, Spell: the RPG is a magical system currently on Kickstarter. While already funded, the campaign runs until March 9th, 2018. Reserve your copy early!

Games publisher Whimsy Machine describes its mechanics best:

“Players roll dice to complete tasks using their character’s Impulses—twelve basic stats that describe a character’s motivations to act. Players can also draw random letter tiles in order to spell out magic for their characters to cast. This unique system balances creativity and potential with fair and streamlined mechanics.”

With colorful art by Nathalie FourdraineMariah CurreyChristina Gardner (Magic Moon Warriors), Carlos Aón & Jok (The Crystal At Skymouth), Kuropin (Hijinks At Huntsville High), Leland Goodman (Godqueen), and Fusspot (Wakeful In Reverie), the books are beautiful as well. The first two books provide everything needed to make characters and start playing a campaign.

Community Lore: The Miskatonic Repository

Call of Cthulhu publisher Chaosium partnered with distributor Drive ThruRPG last December to launch “The Miskatonic Repository”, a creator-led space for CoC content. This initiative opens up new doors into the abyss, with an pseudo rubber stamp from the creators of the classic canon under this new distribution platform.

The “Repository” has a flat fee structure and standard style guidelines to keep everything in line with Chaosium‘s content for 7th edition. Note that scenarios using previous rules systems or copyrighted content beyond the standard rules books are prohibited.

Get investigating now, and let us know your favorite materials! Here’s hoping it leads to more platforms like this in the future, and a universe of queer creators making creepy stuff!

“The Quest to be myself in a Magical World”

I first rolled the dice at age 15. My friends and I were teens with big dreams, so we each rolled characters who were idealized versions of ourselves. My friend Brent, who wanted all to view him as a gentle giant, rolled the half-orc Grobath, a barbarian with a gruff exterior but a heart of gold. Josh, the charismatic smart aleck, became the charming rogue Jack Wylder. Ben, who prided himself on his vast stores of knowledge, rolled the elf wizard Leewon. I—filled with fury, and always feeling like an outsider—created the half-elf sorceress Ceridwen.

As I neared thirty, finally coming to terms with my gender and sexuality, a powerful wave of nostalgia engulfed me. I wanted to make up for the dice-slinging adolescence I’d lost while living as a confused, angry girl. However, I now faced the dilemma of rolling a character who felt like me—a gay trans man—in a medieval-style world of hijinks, mishaps, and magical transformations.

Playing a transsexual character in the world of Dungeons and Dragons is quite like wearing a sign that reads, “Use me as a Plot Device!” You risk being discovered and exposed for what you “really” are. There’s also a good chance you’ll become the butt of hackneyed jokes. Worst of all, you risk losing whatever magical or physical changes you’ve accomplished to make your body more comfortable. Do you take a potion every morning to keep your manly physique? Well, now your supply has been stolen, and your party must catch the thief; all the while, you’re jogging around in the womanly curves you thought you’d finally escaped.

However, the thought of playing a male character who has never shared my struggles with gender did not appeal to me, either. A gay man who is not transgender might approach the world in a fundamentally different way than I do. Absent might be that maelstrom of confusion that kept me so long from realizing not only that I am a man but one that likes other men as well. I knew that, in order to solve this issue, I would have to travel back to my past as that furious young girl to discover how I could be myself in the world of D&D.

Ceridwen did fulfill some emotional needs for me, after all. I was an angry kid, and she had explosive fire spells in her arsenal and cast fireball every chance she got. As a Charisma-based caster, she had the ability to make others bend to her will, something I’d always felt inadequate in as a nerdy young pipsqueak. She was a half-elf, too—an eternal outsider in both human and elf societies. It bothered me deeply, however, that Ceridwen was apparently heart-stoppingly gorgeous. That’s typically what happens when you have an astronomical Charisma score. I didn’t know what to call it at the time, but I’d always experienced the most powerful dysphoria in relation to prettiness. It’s hard enough dealing with beauty as a young girl, and I can guarantee it’s no easier when you throw gender dysphoria into the mix.

As I tried to envision Ceridwen as a half-elf male, I realized playing such a character would present precisely that confusing, complicated relationship to masculinity I know so well. Now, I have no patience for thinly-veiled allegories; in other words, I would never posit that half-elves are the transgender people of this world—just writing that makes me want to fireball something. Nevertheless, certain details about how this half-elf would relate to human masculinity feel quite similar to how I relate. Corvus, as I’ve decided to call him, is slightly smaller than your average human guy. He’s somewhat delicate-looking, and his beard took far too long to grow in properly. In the elf village where he grew up, Corvus was too loud, too awkward, too hairy and smelly, but in the face of burly human men, he can’t help but wonder, “How could I ever be considered one of them?”

Thankfully Corvus, like myself and Ceridwen before him, wears his outsider status as a badge of honor. Traditional society is simply too small to contain him. He is charismatic in a witty sense, can talk his way out of anything, and is handsome in his own way.  The elves and humans of that world may treat him with disdain, but that only fuels Corvus’ desire to become more skilled and powerful than ever before. He is, unapologetically, himself—and thus he allows me to be myself as well.


Jonathan Smith is a Cajun Ravenclaw living in Texas who loves craft beer, shrimp tacos, and reading nonfiction.

5 Fantasy Races for your Next Queer Gendered Character

How important is gender to you while roleplaying? For me, it doesn’t matter if a game’s universe is populated with dragons or Victorian socialites, the question of what’s between the legs of a bugbear chieftain, or how much facial hair a given debutante is sporting, are not the most interesting topics of conversation. That’s why it’s up to agender, non-binary, and gender-disinterested players to take the game into their own hands, creating roleplay opportunities that are more relevant and interesting.

While most of the examples below are drawn from a fantasy-style background, they’re really designed for imaginatively-minded homebrewers and Game Masters who play their in-game fiction loosely. Don’t feel shy about adding them to your next intergalactic space exploration or murder mystery.

Genasi

Playing a genasi character gives you the opportunity to think outside of the gender binary and embrace the elemental quaternary. This half-genie race comes in four flavors, and whether you prefer to sport skin of rough-hewn onyx, an ability to summon fire, water-breathing, or levitation magic, chances are the rest of your party won’t have time to notice whether or not you like to wear skirts.

There’s a lot more cool things to learn about gensai in the Elemental Evil Players’ Companion.

Lizardfolk

Early in 2018 I started playing as Halloo, the third-level Lizardfolk druid. Biologists tell us that the sex of some reptile species is determined by the temperature of their egg during incubation. In Halloo’s case, her egg was situated right in middle of the clutch—not too warm or too cold. And while she uses she/her pronouns as a matter of habit, she’s usually more interested in talking about (or with) the local fauna.

Get started with on your own Lizardfolk with Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

Eladrin

All of us have good days, bad days, and days where we don’t get out from under the covers. For Eladrin, this is a way of life. However, the weather changes with their mood, rather than vice versa. It’s like Seasonal Affective Disorder, but more, and chock-full of roleplay potential for those who feel more defined by their mental state, than their gender.

Always seeking transition and change, Eladrin are most at home in places where the borders between the material plane and Feywild are at their thinnest. Really,  the only thing that puts them off-balance is stagnancy.

Check out the Unearthed Arcana source material for more.

Nilbog

Think of these happy little friends as reverse-goblins, who love nothing more than getting thwacked by a sword or spell, and run in terror from healing magic.

Nilbogs also offer practically endless role-play fodder, letting you swap-out whatever gendered in-universe social norms you want, and replace them with their bizarro-world equivalent. Maybe your Nilbog comes from a society filled with distressed male damsels and hilariously relatable romantic comedies? Maybe Nilbogs really have nine different genders—because that’s the opposite of two, right?

There aren’t any official rules for creating a Nilbog character, but you can see some starter stats for goblins on page 119 of Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

Gnome

This is just a personal theory, but I really believe Gnomes are intended as an in-fiction manifestation of everything good about tabletop games (and democratic social-groups in general). Curious and friendly, they’re always eager to embrace the unfamiliar and celebrate life in all its forms. They seek to improve the world around them with science, and have a surprisingly killer Montessori-like educational system, especially given the fact that they often live in hollowed-out trees.

While there isn’t a ton of official source material on gender-queer gnomes, we can take courage in the fact that their main deity, Garl Glittergold, seems like a pretty open-minded guy.


Brad Fiore: TTRPG writer, fictionalist, and Iron Chef Wisconsin 1993-97. Found on Twitter at @brad_fiore

D&D’s Trouble with Trans Characters

I was drawn to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons when a friend told me the Player’s Handbook explicitly mentioned the possibility of creating a trans or nonbinary player characters. He said it encourages players to think outside the box when it comes to gender, and remarks that “you don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender.”

“You could play a female character who presents herself as a man,” the Player’s Handbook told me, “or a man who feels trapped in a female body.”

“Finally!” I said to myself. “I can play a nonbinary hermit who grew up not understanding gender. Or even better: a badass orc who happens to be trans.”

I got into roleplaying games at the height of my own gender dysphoria, in the midst of coming to terms with my newly adopted identity as a nonbinary person. Playing Dungeons & Dragons (and, eventually, dozens of other roleplaying games) gave me an outlet to be other people, of any gender, without having to worry about the stress I had associated with my own pronouns, presentation, and identity.

Games became an escape for me, and an important outlet for trying things out: I tested out my friends’ reactions to they/them pronouns by having a nonbinary NPC in the campaign I ran. I created characters based on the future I wanted to see for myself: nonbinary characters who were masculine, nonbinary characters who were feminine, nonbinary characters who were interchangeably both or vehemently neither.

I never needed to defend myself, when it came to a character’s gender, but in the rare case I thought I might — I played, for a while, with some work friends who didn’t know that I was trans — I felt justified and supported by the section of the Player’s Handbook that told me I was allowed to make my character whatever gender I liked.

When I didn’t have the time or mental energy to play the game myself, I turned to actual play streams, like Critical Role or Rooster Teeth’s Heroes & Halfwits, to get my fix of gaming when I was feeling down.

But it was during one of these streamed games, as one DM led his group through the 5e adaptation of Gary Gygax’s classic and notoriously punishing 1978 module, “The Tomb of Horrors”, that I started to question just how welcoming Dungeons & Dragons really is for trans and nonbinary players and player characters.

In their playthrough of “Tomb of Horrors”, one of the characters entered a room and was told, in a pull-aside by the GM, that his Lawful Good male Dragonborn character was now a Chaotic Evil female. This was followed by a rather inappropriate set of descriptions about the character’s brand new breasts and his lack of a penis, and several distasteful jokes as the situation was revealed to the rest of the cast.

I thought I must have misunderstood what was happening. I had to pause the video and confirm with a friend who had also watched. Yes, that’s right: adapted for 5th edition in 2017 in the collection Tales from the Yawning Portal, “Tomb of Horrors” includes a room that, upon entry, “reverses” your character’s physical sex and alignment — whatever “reverse” means, with regards to sex.

I couldn’t help but think: what does “reverse sex” mean for a trans character? What would one of my characters do, in that situation? A trans character forced back into a body that makes them dysphoric? A nonbinary character for whom there isn’t, exactly, a “reverse” or “opposite” sex? Is it defined by what sex the character was assigned at birth? These weren’t the kinds of stories or problems I wanted to explore with my trans characters, or the kind I wanted to encourage my players to tell.

In a terrible wave of understanding, I realized this: Tomb of Horrors was updated for 5e mechanics, but it wasn’t updated for 5e sensibilities.

Or maybe that 5e wasn’t as welcoming to trans characters as it pretended to be.

This isn’t to say, of course, that there isn’t a place for trans and nonbinary characters in 5e. At the end of the day, it’s up to the DM to create a welcoming environment for trans players and characters. Certainly, more and more trans and queer people are making spaces for themselves in gaming with or without the assistance of inclusive rule books. And maybe a different DM would have run the Tomb of Horrors module in a way that wouldn’t have been quite so… well, horrifying.

But for a system that had been sold to me as one that would finally be inclusive not only of women and people of color, as much of D&D had never been, but of trans and nonbinary people like me, it felt like a serious misstep and an inexplicable oversight for Wizards of the Coast to not understand the harm they might do by including a “gender-bender” trope in an official module. The fact that the game I had lauded widely to friends for its inclusivity had failed to take into consideration the experiences of trans players shouldn’t have surprised me, but it hurt nonetheless.

At the end of the day, we can fit trans players and trans characters into any game system, and there are plenty out there that welcome us with open arms. But in a world that’s so often hostile to us, it would be nice for game designers to remember that trans people have to create new spaces for themselves every day, and we’d love for our escapist hobby to not make it harder than it needs to be.


Christine Prevas is a writer, graduate student, perpetual GM, and host of the delightfully queer actual play podcast The Unexplored Places.

Kickstarter to Watch: Trinity Continuum

Already well into its stretch goals, game publisher Onyx Path launched its kickstarter for Trinity Continuum January 30th, 2018. The initial two books, a core rule set and setting, present a near future ripe with the possibility of several narrative styles within a single timeline. One of the many attractions of the game is its ability to adapt to varying play styles and genres.

“I loved working on Trinity Continuum because it presents a multitude of possibilities in a single core book. I can play a story focused game that never falters from a failure to roll dice,” said Danielle Lauzon, Trinity Continuum Core’s co-developer. “The game encourages forward momentum even when blundering around.”

Built on the Storypath System by Onyx Path itself, the Trinity Continuum is narrative-centric. The mechanics rely on a dice pool like many other alternative systems tied to setting-specific games. However, the Storypath System gives the option of three “modes”, designed for specific story mechanics. A preview of the system is available for free on Drive ThruRPG.

The game was developed by Danielle Harper, Ian Watson, and the initial setting was developed by John Snead. A bevy of talented writers worked on both books, including Jacqueline Penny Hart, Danielle Lauzon, Matt Miller, Jack Norris, Craig Oxbow, Lauren Roy, John Snead, Monica Speca, Stephen Tasker, Ben Walker, Peter Woodworth, Tara Zuber, Christopher Allen, N. Conte, Topher Gerkey, Cassandra Khaw, Alex Melchor, Quinn Murphy, Clayton Oliver, Neall Raemonn Price, Chris Shaffer, Leath Sheales, and John Snead.

The Kickstarter will be going until March 1st, 2018. The game itself is definitely worth the money, but be sure to get in there and claim your rewards before all slots are filled! Did I mention the art is also beautiful?

Black History Month: Creators to Support

It’s Black History Month, so now’s the time to get acquainted with Black writers, artists, and designers to show them love all year!

Game publishing company New Agenda Publishing is an all star team devoted to hiring people of color, “especially women of color”, for their projects. Misha Bushyager, Jerry D. Grayson, and Eloy Lasanta were recently published by podcast The Jank about their company. It looks like their first game will be Orun, a science fiction game set post human space colonization.

To support creators of color, buy their products and hire them for your projects (we are currently accepting submissions, by the way). If you’re looking for a starting point, Black Game Developers is a list of… it’s in the title. As they say on the site, “Here they are. Hire them. Buy their stuff.”

Finally, if you’re a supporter of RPGs on a budget, Tanya DePass of I Need Diverse Games has the following suggestion: