FlameCon Ignites TTRPG Inspiration

My first Dungeons & Dragons character was a 6’3” tall, 300-something-pound black dragonborn cleric named Alina. Her childhood nickname was “Mender” and when our campaign began, she had just come into adulthood and was on a year-long pilgrimage away from her clan to decide if she wanted to commit herself to hermitage or if she wanted to leave behind her people and live amongst others. She made new friends by offering them “calming herb” and despite the fact that she literally spat acid, she was terrible in combat; her strength modifier was -1, which was comical because of how big she was. She swung her quarterstaff like a baseball bat and missed her target almost every time.

I love Alina. I didn’t love how battle-focused our campaign was, or how much of each session was spent crunching numbers to determine who won a fight. I enjoyed the group dynamics of our campaign, but I wanted more from the story, and I didn’t know how to communicate that. I don’t think I even realized that this was what I wanted at the time; I just knew that after each session, though I’d feel a sense of accomplishment for leveling up, only a handful of moments really stuck with me until we played again. When the campaign fizzled out, it was partially because I decided that D&D wasn’t for me.

Since then, I’ve gotten heavily involved in an Apocalypse World campaign, which is (literally and figuratively) a whole different world. My partner runs that game and we play every other week with two of our friends. All of us identify as lesbians and all of us are as invested in the fighting as we are in the kissing. There’s very little math involved in our sessions and as we grow more comfortable with the characters and the story, it’s becoming a Real Adventure.

My partner keeps insisting that I should give D&D another shot; they’ve even asked if I would consider being a Dungeon Master, though I’ve always balked at the suggestion because it seems like so much pressure.

Then we went to Flame Con, and everything changed.

Among the many incredible panels at Flame Con 2018 was “Dungeons & Dragons & Queers & Comics,” moderated by Kate Sheridan. Vita Ayala, Noelle Stevenson, Molly Ostertag, Emily Cheeseman, Barbara Perez Marquez, and Little Corvus participated on the panel and the room was packed; I sat between my partner and a friend I’ve known online for years but only met in person for the first time at the con. The energy in the room was, in a word, palpable. It was exciting to hear some of our favorite creators talking about their OCs and why they love tabletop roleplay games, especially D&D.

Somewhere between Stevenson discussing her first character, a “chaotic evil disaster baby” tiefling warlock, and declaring her love for Misty Step, something clicked into place in my head. When Ayala told Stevenson that her character sounded “stressful,” when Marquez told the audience that after just a few months of campaigning, she realized she wanted to “be in charge,” when Cheeseman talked about how the latest installation of D&D 5E, allows for more character- and story-based games than just numbers- or combat-based ones, I heard a whirring in my head that slowly grew louder.

When the panel ended, I turned to my partner and said, “I want to play D&D like that.”

Their whole face lit up; for over a year, they’ve been playing D&D, building OCs, and working with me to develop an Apocalypse World character that isn’t one-dimensional. I’m a journalist, not a fiction writer; building characters isn’t my strong suit and it never has been.

I am, however, very into the concept of world-building. I love exploring scenery, including cultural norms and ideologies as they are represented in a story. I’m fascinated by high fantasy that’s well-structured and takes into account the vastness of the world where it takes place. Series like The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Temeraire, and the Tamora Pierce books spark my interest because they are so completely immersive. Although I have my fair share of issues with Harry Potter, I grew up with the books and I gobble up every bit of fanfiction that I can when I’m in a mood to sit in that world. I enjoy world-building because it allows me to set the scene. If I don’t understand the nuances of a setting, I don’t feel comfortable reporting on what happens within it.

That panel at Flame Con made me realize that Dungeons & Dragons absolutely has the capacity and the history to be the kind of chewy, immersive storytelling that I crave. My first-ever campaign was incredibly crunchy, too battle-focused and very mathy, but that doesn’t mean that my next campaign has to be that way. If I’m running the show, I make the rules. When Marquez said it took her just a few months of playing DND to realize she wanted to DM, that whirring in my head went haywire. As a dungeon master, the rules would be mostly up to me. As noted by several of the panelists, the hard-and-fast guidelines for telling stories through tabletop roleplay games are just that: guidelines. The fun is in playing, which includes keeping on your toes so the game doesn’t lose interest for your players.

When I sat in that panel room and felt the passion exuding from the panelists and from the audience, I remembered why D&D piqued my interest in the first place. And although we went to another panel right after, then trekked through the city for food before heading back to our AirBNB, that feeling didn’t leave me.

I thought about D&D all night, to the point that I had a dream about Alina running through an ancient forest with her friends. It felt like I’d been hit over the head in the best way possible; I couldn’t believe how deep the itch went. The next night, while we were still on vacation, I created a Pinterest board and a title for the campaign. I started thinking about NPCs. And immediately upon coming home, my partner made me a DM binder. I bought supplies to organize it and reserved a copy of the player’s manual from the library (because I’m so bad at working with PDFs).

Apparently, when Ayala was a kid, they found a TTRPG manual that they read cover-to-cover, thinking it was just a regular book. It taught them a lot about world-building, something that they’ve since used in campaigns as well as in their professional work. As someone who used to read science-for-kids books cover-to-cover, while taking notes, this approach appealed to me, even if Ayala presented it as a funny anecdote. I enjoy reading and researching; sliding into a DM role offers me the ability to do that across a broad spectrum of characters, as created by the players in my campaign, as well as the world that I’m building for them to play in.

Going into a brand-new campaign as a first-time DM is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. I keep remembering things the panelists said at Flame Con (Ostertag discovered she could make friends through offering to DM campaigns; Stevenson is playing a new character who’s “trying to be good” in her latest campaign; each of the panelists explored identity through D&D) and welling up with the feeling of warmth and acceptance and safety that I had for the entire weekend, surrounded by other LGBTQ fans and creators. Every time, I get another inkling of an idea for the campaign and every time, I think about how my partner’s face lit up when I said I wanted to run the game.

I didn’t expect to walk away from Flame Con feeling like my whole world had been flipped upside down, but I did. And I’m ready for the change.


Samantha Puc is the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag, as well as a freelance essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bustle, The Mary Sue, Rogues Portal, and elsewhere. Samantha lives in Rhode Island with her spouse and cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. For more, follow her on Twitter.

Kickstarter to Watch: Behind the Masc Zine

The cultural norm for tabletop games is a powerful man… on paper. In real life, we’re advertised young outcasts in the 70s and 80s rising to found a niche dynasty of exclusionary dice rolling. But that’s not the reality many of us live in.

Behind the Masc“, currently on Kickstarter, offers an alternative to that by reframing the TTRPG conversation:

“Behind the Masc” is a game zine using historical and cultural archetypes to re-envision masculinity through the eyes of non-cisgender masculine creators. The creators include experienced game designers and illustrators as well as newer people to the game industry. The project hopes to draw attention to indie creators in tabletop games who are still marginalized people, but can fall into the ether when it comes to representation and people campaigning for their work to be seen.

Currently with 15 days to go, the zine is within sight of its goal, and includes some cool gaming extras. Throw in your dollars and enjoy the content coming your way!

Skip the Game Master!

Feeling the need to get away from Dungeons & Dragons for a few sessions? Want to give your hard-working Dungeon Master a break? Looking for a new game to try out in your fantasy world? These four GM-less fantasy games are a perfect starting point for exploring the world beyond D&D, and give players an equal hand in working together to create a world and tell the story they want to tell.

Kingdom by Ben Robbins

Kingdom is a game about communities and the decisions they face; it is about confronting crossroads and making critical decisions, and about utilizing whatever kind of influence you have — be it the power to make decisions, the power to predict outcomes, or the power to understand your community.

For 2-5 players, Kingdom allows players to step into the roles of influential people within a larger community, and play through their wishes and fears. While your kingdom doesn’t have to be fantasy, it’s a fantastic system for playing the misguided kings and idealistic warriors the histories of our fantasy worlds are populated with.

The Deep Forest by Mark Diaz Truman and Avery Alder

A re-imagining of Alder’s excellent map-building game The Quiet Year, The Deep Forest is billed as “post-colonial weird fantasy.” Players draw cards and maps to tell the story of a year in the life of a post-war community of monsters after they have driven off invading humans. Players know that the community might not survive the winter, but the community does its best in a brief ellipses of peace to heal, to discover, and to live, in the wake of colonial influence.

Like The Quiet Year, The Deep Forest is a gentle game with room to breathe, which questions in its very concept the categories of heroes and monster as we use them in fantasy.

With Fire Thy Affections Hold A Wing by Taylor LaBresh

A two player game about the growing bond between a dragon and its rider at the end of the world, With Fire Thy Affections Hold a Wing is a give and take in which players build scenes together to explore the relationship between dragonrider and dragon as their world hurtles towards catastrophe.

With Fire is a particularly resonant game if you can play it in person: the mechanics ask its two players to physically bind their hands together as they strengthen their bonds, a tactile representation of the way relationships feel as the grow, change, and eventually end.

The Chronicles of… by Jonathan Semple

Reminiscent of Vincent Baker’s The Sundered Land games, The Chronicles Of… was a finalist in the 200 Word RPG Challenge in 2017. While there is no GM in this game, one player names themself the Archivist — a “traveller, tale-keeper, and stranger to these lands” — and the other players become inhabitants of this land. By asking questions, the Archivist prompts stories about the land, slowly building a new place through the stories its people tell.

Any number of players can participate in The Chronicles of… and the rules are just under 200 words, so there’s no reason to worry about forgetting any of the nitty gritty details.


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

Data! Dice! Dough!

PanopLit will be changing its data collection format… but before we do that, we want to collect as much data as possible! So we’re giving everyone the chance to win one of two $25 gift certificate to DriveThru RPG (sent via email). That’s not all! We’ll also be giving away two sets of dice. What kind of giveaway would it be without free dice thrown in the mix?

Take 5 minutes and tell us how and why you play RPGs. Here’s all the ways to win:

  • Follow PanopLit on Twitter and retweet this post. Current followers are eligible! One of our followers who retweets the linked tweet will receive a $25 gift certificate! Another will receive a free set of dice!
  • Take the May Survey (a collection of previous survey questions). Already took the previous 5 surveys posted on PanopLit? Email info@panoplit.org to be entered.
  • Share this tweet on Twitter about our survey to be entered to win a dice set! (A different one than the other dice set. There will be two dice sets.)

All entries must by made my June 30th, 2018. Winners will be announced and contacted after this. Any questions? Email info@panoplit.org.

Podcast Feature: PanopLit on Game Closet

LGBTQIA+ podcast “Game Closet” interviewed founder Josephine about her work with PanopLit. The interview covered a wide range of topics, from queer imagery to collaborative storytelling theory, to plans for PanopLit in the future. Take a listen below:

https://riverhousegamespodcast.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/game-closet-27-josephine-the-archivist-of-panoplit/

A big thanks to Taylor at River House Games for featuring us!

5 New Ways to Introduce Player Characters

Here are 5 questions to ask your players that aren’t “Are you a male or a female?” These 5 introductory questions will provide a clearer image of the visions of your players without limiting them to the binary of “strong female characters” or “flawed men.”

How is your character dressed?

What someone wears says more about them to strangers than perhaps anything else ever will. Are their trappings more expensive than what they can afford? Are they excessively simple? Have they dressed themselves to hide something, or reveal?

What markings can we see?

Is your character tattooed? Ritually scarred? Striped, spotted, or painted? Body markings can speak to a rich connection to their past, a traumatic history, or evidence of a fresh fight.

How does your character introduce themselves?

A strong relationship to a higher power is often felt in the first meeting with a religious PC through their blessings, or curses as the case may be. Alternatively, a greeting might open the doors to quirks a character’s picked up along the ways. Do they timidly offer their name? Does their voice boom in jolly greeting?

What does your character notice first?

Inevitably, your story starts somewhere. Once establishing the setting of the opening scene, find out what’s important to your PCs by seeing where their eyes land. Lay plenty of objects and NPCs around to trap them into revealing something deeper about their character. Who notices the coin purses at the hip and who notices blasters? Does anyone notice just how alien the architecture is, or how cold the unnatural chill in the room?

What does your character smell like?

Maybe more character development than introduction, what a character smells like can also define them. The adventurer’s will be on the road (or in the ship, no board the balloon) for what may turn into a long time. Might as well find out now who will be attracting the fleas.

How a character smells can also let you know more about their job, their upbringing, and social class. Do they smell of expensive oils? Stink like mechanic’s grease? Have the scent of a long journey without bathing still on them?

Smell is also one of the first things we react to as humans, whether passively or actively. Maybe a character doesn’t like strong perfume, or only feels at home with more earthy travelers. Using this sense also gives other PCs a threat for constant interaction beyond planning who will hit the orc, and who might delay their action.

However you choose to have your players introduce their in-game personas, make sure to get the action moving immediately to encourage the players to begin interacting.

How do you introduce your PCs?

Kickstarter to Watch: Star Crossed

Star Crossed is a two-player roleplaying game of characters destined to love each other, but kept apart in-game by a world against the match, and in real life, by a tower of blocks and your imagination. The world is truly of your making: designed to support small fictions in a variety of settings, the goal is to build a world together to keep your characters apart, while also yearning for them to be together.

Pulling from the tower in Star Crossed signifies the risk of acting on their feelings. This game adds a level of complexity to your draws by making the number of bricks you’ve successfully taken build toward a “triumphant” love.

The creative use of the tower mechanic and beautifully queer art set this game apart, and while the Kickstarter has already been funded, you still have a chance to grab everything needed to play! Reserve your copy now!