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Roleplaying the Other: The Queer Experience

Hello, and welcome to Roleplaying the Other. In this column, I’m going to be largely focused on roleplaying, worldbuilding, and interactions at the table. They will be filtered through my own personal lens of queer experiences in the hobby. Firstly, I should define that when I say “queer,” I am referring to LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) experiences. This is a blanket term that encompasses asexuality and other distinct identities, as well. If you are not one of these letters of the acronym you may be asking yourself what you’re doing here. I’m glad you asked. I’m going to be sharing insights I’ve gained that can, hopefully, help anyone’s table run a better game. I am not a spokesperson for all identities and I’ll be reaching out to people within the community for their perspective from time to time.

RPG player
The cover of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide illustrates a diverse group of D&D characters. [Art by Tyler Jacobson]

Why RPGs are a good space for exploring identity

The tradition of using role play to explore aspects about oneself is as grand and old as the hobby itself. The ability to do this in the relative safety of a group a player trusts is valuable to anyone but even more so to marginalized players. The world is a scary place and sometimes it just isn’t safe to explore aspects of yourself in public. Roleplaying games have an allure for people looking to do that. D&D and other games like it were instrumental in my own journey and played an important role in my eventual coming out. The thing is my story is not particularly rare. Many of you probably know and play with queer gamers yourself. It goes beyond the players, though. With RPGs you have the ability to shape the fiction and that includes building a world with room in it for people from a wide spectrum of personal experience. This means if someone’s fiction does not include marginalized identities then a choice was made to create the world that way, even if the choice was made unintentionally. On the flipside, this means RPG fans can create worlds with things they want to see in their game even if those things are not well represented in popular fiction.

Queer creators and the state of the roleplaying game hobby

The responsibility of creating an inclusive hobby does not fall solely to the people playing and running the game. In my own experience, it was very affirming to meet a nonbinary florist in the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist campaign I’m playing in. I found out after the fact the character is from the book, and not a Dungeon Master creation. It’s rare to see nonbinary identities represented as people in the text of a fiction. There are more queer content creators working hard to give us exciting new games to play than ever before, including 5E D&D’s own rules designer Jeremy Crawford. Crowdfunding has allowed people to create RPGs that may not have been able to in the hobby’s youth. We’re lucky enough to be at a point where queer experiences are not merely tolerated but embraced within the text of our games. Buried Without Ceremony did great work on this front in their Monsterhearts 2. The game includes a rule stating your character does not have control of what they find attractive, merely what they choose to do with that attraction. I’ll be exploring mechanics like this in more depth another time, but it illustrates a point of what it means for an RPG to put queer concepts into the text rather than the subtext. I’m looking forward to exploring the concepts of roleplaying and what it means to everyone.

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Hoffner is a long-time role playing gamer with a background in education and IT. They come from nerdy stock, raised by a couple of geeky parents. Being a couple letters of LGBT and having a lot of geeky influences growing up, getting into RPGs was a natural fit for them. They like to talk about role playing as an avenue for exploring things in the relative emotional safety of a game. In particular, they like to find new RPGs to play with and spread the word about them.

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