What do you do when you can’t find representation in your favorite hobby? You make your own. And that’s just what the women and queer people behind the veritable flood of Dungeons & Dragons Actual Play Podcasts did. You don’t have to look very far to find hilarious and talented people saying, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’d like to roll to fall in love,” carving out space in the stereotypically white and straight male-dominated space of Dungeons & Dragons. From the family-friendly content of D20 Dames to the raunchy hilarity of Dungeons, Dice, & Everything Nice (DD&EN) to the emotional story arcs of The Broadswords, there are D&D podcasts for everyone, and the underlying message of them is the same: Dungeons & Dragons—and tabletop gaming—is for everybody.
To introduce you to the beautiful world of woman- and nonbinary-helmed, queer D&D podcasts, Alenka and Kate—two D&D podcast-obsessed fangirls—interviewed each other about why we love ‘em.
Alenka: Before we get started, I want to talk about our personal relationships with Dungeons & Dragons, and D&D podcasts. I started playing Pathfinder about a year and a half ago, and I play two very different games. My first character was a human slayer, and my second is a halfling vigilante. I never played or was interested in D&D as a youth because every cultural reference to it I’d seen made it seem very much like a straight, nerdy boy thing. It essentially had “NOT FOR YOU” stamped on it (not that I was self-aware about my queerness as a kid). Playing Pathfinder with queer women and nonbinary people has been one of the best things about the last couple years of my life—and I say this as someone who finished a grad degree a year ago. I listen to the following D&D, 5th edition, actual play podcasts: Dungeons, Dice & Everything Nice, Dames and Dragons, Venture Maidens, Rivals of Waterdeep, D20 Dames, The Broadswords, and Dungeons Delve, Wizard of the Coast’s official D&D podcast.
Kate: I started playing Pathfinder around the same time as well, roughly a year and a half ago, and my experience in my two games has been wildly different as well, for different reasons. My first character is an Elf archer not-so-secretly based off Kate Bishop, AKA Best Hawkeye, and my second character is… everybody in that world because I’m the GM! I’d always had an interest in tabletop RPGs, but never really had the opportunity to commit to a game—it was too nerdy for my friends in high school, or for my college clique [it was] just too much effort. I tried the Star Wars TTRPG once or twice (loved it), and even daydreamed about developing a Monty Python-themed game (ONE DAY), but ultimately my idea of role-playing growing up was two kids on AOL Instant Messenger writing fanfiction. I listen to Dungeons, Dice, & Everything Nice, The Broadswords, Venture Maidens, Dames and Dragons, Roll Like a Girl, I try to listen to Critical Role when I can, and an honorable mention goes to Queer Dungeoneers, which has been sitting downloaded on my phone’s hard drive for a few weeks now.
Playing Pathfinder with queer women and nonbinary people has been one of the best things about the last couple years of my life—and I say this as someone who finished a grad degree a year ago.
Alenka: Ahh, Kate, I will confess here and now that my early RP experiences were all on Xanga! I mostly remember doing a Harry Potter one with all made-up characters, and a homebrew vampire one that didn’t last long? Good, nerdy times.
Kate: Oh gosh. Yes. I did so much. I had a wild Star Wars/Trek crossover with a friend where I first discovered my preference for female characters (Leia is love), and my first “GM” experience was a pretty great Matrix game, and that’s just scratching the surface. Suffice to say I was primed and ready for tabletop gaming and to surround myself in the actual play community around it.
Alenka: I wanted to start by discussing why D&D or Pathfinder, and tabletop roleplay in general, is a good vehicle for queer content. (Not that there is any bad vehicle for queer content, queer all your content!) The GM who runs the game Kate and I both play said something that got me thinking about this—she described the way she designs games as creating a loose structure that can adapt, or that has holes that can be filled in by players. I liked the idea that in games unlike ours, where there are straight people present, a straight GM could allow queer players to fill in that content in careful and appropriate ways.
There’s a great example of this in a more recent Dames & Dragons episode. They recently brought in a new player, Slake, who is nonbinary, and I believe the PC, Hannah, is nonbinary or genderqueer. Currently they’re in a “High Society With Intrigue!!” type storyline that has involved learning etiquette and getting a bunch of fancy clothes. When they were being fitted for clothing and giving instructions to tailors, Kat described the current, prominent fashions for men and women and then stepped back and let Hannah decide how Slake would handle the clothing. It was AWESOME and involved the creation of a very spooky, cool headdress. I loved that moment. Kate, do you have thoughts on why tabletop works so well for queer people and queer content?
Kate: I think that’s a question with a lot of answers. Tabletop gaming works for queer content because it’s so well suited to almost everything. When you have so much player agency—both the Player Characters (PCs) and the Game Master (GM)—there’s tons of potential for unique storytelling. There’s no “well, they just wrote the character that way”—it’s up to us to decide how we play our characters and the GM to decide what their world looks like.
An additional level that I love is that this is beginning to be included in the very language of the games themselves. I was recently reading through the new Pathfinder 2.0 sourcebook, and it dedicated entire sections to exploring how tabletop gaming is meant to be inclusive and welcoming for all. “My character is a jerk” isn’t a reason to act like a jerk to the people at your table, and the community seems to be enforcing that. I haven’t read it myself, but I’ve been told similar things were included in the D&D 5e core rulebook.
Alenka: That is so awesome to hear, and speaks to how marginalized players have made the tabletop community less toxic! Power dynamics in tabletop are really interesting. I attended a panel at GeekGirlCon for first-time DMs, and the panelists talked a lot about having a session zero during which you talk about what players want out of the game, how gender and diversity will function in the world, and address how to avoid players’ triggers. Kate, as a GM, do you have thoughts on how GMs treat queer players and characters with respect? Who in the D&D podcast world do you see doing a good job?
Kate: I absolutely love the Session Zero and I think my biggest mistake as a first-time GM was not doing one. It’s just a great way to get everyone on the same page, and introduce people to each other if you haven’t met before. I recently listened to a Session Zero where the GM took the time to get what kind of limits everyone had content-wise and they established a respectful way to let everyone know “hey, I’m not okay with this scene” in the form of the Green/Yellow/Red signals. I absolutely loved it and want to institute it going forward in my own games. It’s a great tool not just for making queer people feel comfortable, but really anybody—we all have things that push our boundaries and having a safe way to express that is invaluable.
Instantly when you asked this I thought of the way Victoria Rogers approaches DMing The Broadswords. The amount of care and forethought she puts into making sure her table is inclusive, diverse, and respectful is incredible. That’s not to say that other GMs aren’t putting this same thought into their games, but Victoria has done it in an extremely transparent manner that I think is a good template for others to emulate. From queer cast members, queer characters, queer NPCs (Bronlei + Kenethar make me believe in true love), and queer guests, it’s made abundantly clear from the start that this is a podcast and an environment where it’s not only safe to be queer, but celebrated.
Coming at it from a different viewpoint, Alenka, since you’re a player in two wildly different games, what has your experience been with players creating an environment of respect? What podcasts stand out for you where the players really take the initiative (pun absolutely intended) to set that tone, or where they back up the GM?
Alenka: Hah, “wildly different” is a pretty good description, although both games are very queer! Each of the GMs gave us ground rules beforehand. I remember going in knowing there would be no gratuitous sexual assault or anything like that, which I greatly appreciated. I actually have an early email from my first game, and the GM told us that, because “escapism is a valuable part of fantasy,” queerness and gender identity would always be accepted by NPCs without question.
The more podcasts I listen to, the more I see GMs using this blanket rule, and with fantastic results. In the games I play, this has led to a lot of carefree and often hilarious interactions in which we learned that various characters are terrible at flirting, surprisingly DTF, and have ex-girlfriends who had questionable fashion choices. (For inexplicable but helpful plot reasons, my character’s ex was really into veils?)
In podcasts, I’ve seen a wonderful reflection of my own in-game experiences. DD&EN has established a kind of queer-until-proven-otherwise narrative, in which DM Katie Mae will happily allow her unstoppably awkward players to flirt badly, talk about unrequited crushes and, every once in a while, hook up with someone! It helps that the players in DD&EN are all friends and comedians, so they have a pre-established understanding of each other’s boundaries, but Katie Mae is careful to present opportunities and let her characters roll with them however they desire. For me, as both a listener and player, the joy I feel goes beyond experiencing an environment where queerness is accepted and normal; queerness is baked into the bones of these worlds! It’s very fun.
Kate, do you have any thoughts on how queerness factors into the worldbuilding of podcasts? Do you have any favorite scenes or moments that played out in a unique way?
Kate: First off, I love that line about escapism in fantasy. It perfectly encapsulates my feelings on the genre.
To your point, I’ve found that the queer side of their worlds is something very much informed by the podcast creators themselves. They have an understanding of what it really looks like to be queer—and what we want it to look like!—and they work that into their games. It’s not a party of straight cis folk and there’s The Gay NPC. Queerness is baked into these worlds, and a lot of that comes from the queerness of the creators.
A favorite moment of mine that stands out and that warmed my bitter gay heart happened in The Broadswords. It was maybe three-quarters of the way through their first season and they’d been building up to the meeting between one of the main characters, Yllairies, and her father, Bronlei, whom she’d never met. To this point we’ve only caught glimpses of his relationship with Yllairies’ mother, and it was very much a Fated Romance kind of thing—young lovers fighting society’s disapproval even as a terrible curse sends Bronlei searching for a cure. Fast forward to when we finally meet him, and we’re introduced to both him and his husband! The reveal was handled so marvelously that I literally squealed out loud in delight. I’ve also found myself quoting DD&EN with “stow your gay rage” fairly regularly, but that’s more advice than anything else.
Alenka: Since we are talking about queer podcast moments, I would love to hear about a few more of your favorites! Tell me about some times you saw your own experience as a queer person and player/GM reflected in podcast form, or felt so much queer joy that you yelled out loud!
Kate: Honestly, I’m so thirsty for representation that any slight queer moment sees me getting crazy excited. The amount of thought that went into not just Cawen from Broadswords, but their whole world is really encouraging. Even in a lot of LGBT and queer circles trans characters can be an afterthought and the care Victoria and Kristine Chester brought to Cawen is really heartwarming.
A moment that always stands out for me that I always come back to was Zil’s date with Olivia towards the beginning of DD&EN. They were just having a brief moment of being normal kids with crushes on each other—no tragic circumstances to their attraction, no fated romance, just two girls who like each other.
Alenka: First, I’d like to pay tribute to all the thirsty characters who make D&D podcasts great. Pretty much all the characters on DD&EN but especially Kai and Dylan, Arrnadelle and Kara from The Venture Maidens, the teens of Dames and Dragons who are always rolling to fall in love, Rinn from Rivals of Waterdeep (so young and foolish, but deserving of love and patience) and maybe Cawen from The Broadswords?! They tried to flirt with Yllaries but apparently she didn’t notice so, sorry Cawen. There was a lot of snow in the way.
Regarding bigger queer moments, I really love Kara’s growing relationship with Gidget on Venture Maidens. It’s clear that a lot happens offscreen, so Celeste and Kara find moments to improv little interactions and reveal how cute and intimate their relationship has become. This is very silly, but they were woken up and attacked suddenly during a recent episode, and had to describe their sleep clothes. I think Sage, Kara’s PC, said they were essentially wearing v-neck t-shirts and plaid boxers, which is just the gayest thing.
I’ve already discussed how Kat, the DM behind Dames and Dragons, is very good about creating a world where her characters can casually and joyfully be queer. In the most recent Dames and Dragons arc, Kat subtly revealed that a prominent NPC is trans, and it was a really beautiful opportunity for Slake, a nonbinary character, to have a brief bonding moment. Rivals of Waterdeep provides a similar environment; both Rinn and Selise were gay married in the past, although under very different circumstances, as Selise is a LOT more mature and less impulsive than Rinn.
If you, like us, are looking for vibrant, joyous and exciting queer stories created by queer people, we cannot recommend these D&D podcasts enough. Through collaborative storytelling, puns, and a whole lot of absurd improv, podcast creators are making tons of queer content that is satisfying and fun. Check out Dungeons, Dice and Everything Nice, Dames and Dragons, Venture Maidens, The Broadswords, Rivals of Waterdeep, D20 Dames, Queer Dungeoneers, and Roll Like a Girl at their websites or on your pod player of choice. Tell them Kate and Alenka sent you!
Kaitlyn Lyons is a flailing Chicago queer fueled mostly by iced coffee. She won’t shut up about comics or her Pathfinder games and is an unrepentant fangirl of all things Elf-y. She tweets about this and more at @ArrowShootyKate.
Another great D&D podcast that is LBGTQ is Tales of Swordfall. I really support this movement and applaud your efforts.