It feels very special to follow a story to its conclusion. I wasn’t an original listener of the D20 Dames podcast, but I’ve been with this story long enough that reaching the end is both emotional—and joyful! D20 Dames is full of laughter and light. The players constantly pause to respect or bemoan their terrible puns, even awarding each other inspiration for the best and worst bits of wordplay. Kat Kruger, the DM, often surprises her players by having her NPCs try to understand an offhand joke within the context of the world, resulting in the invention of delicacies such as bagels and “gluten free” bread. Each of the players and the DM bring a joy and lightness to the story even when it touches on dark themes, and it’s that overarching sense of joy that would make D20 Dames a perfect all-ages comic.
The story begins in the quaint town of Phandalin. Sildar Hallwinter, a retired fighter, dedicated father, and town Council Member (played by the hilarious Brittni Liyanage) needs help: the newly released Volo’s Guide to Monsters is emboldening regular civilians to go out adventuring. As a result, a man has gone missing, and Sildar desperately needs some actual adventurers to try and retrieve him. Enter Rose Lao, a human monk played by Meris Mullaley, Nevar Moor, an elf warlock of the Raven Queen played by Essie Hollman, and Riot Bonezerker, a tiefling ranger played by Jen Vaughn!
While they are initially content to take on jobs from Sildar, each of the Dames has their own goals. Rose is investigating a dark sisterhood, and Riot is searching for her three missing siblings. Nevar unfortunately has to leave to take care of her ailing father, but the group soon recruits the sarcastic but caring Loraya Kume, an earth genasi druid played by Jessica Ross. Loraya’s fate becomes intertwined with the other Dames’ when she agrees to accompany them to her home city, Waterdeep.
Mysteries encircle them—why do they keep acquiring magical stones? Where has the evil hag Delsi escaped to, and what are her plans? What happened to Riot’s siblings—and to her evil father, the Wizened Mage Zerker? Why have creatures from the Shadowfell invaded their plane and stolen Rose’s tree friend, Bud? If they work together, they can solve all these mysteries—and keep sending orphaned children back to Sildar to grow his household.
It feels a bit like low-hanging fruit to suggest D20 Dames be adapted into a comic. Jen Vaughn, player of Riot Bonezerker, works in both comics and the games industry, situating them perfectly to work on such a project. However, it’s not just Vaughn’s participation that makes this opportunity feel apt. D20 Dames bills itself as a “family friendly” podcast, and there are several child characters with their own personalities and mini-arcs outside of the main Dames-focused adventure.
A favorite of mine is Carp Alderleaf, a young boy who Riot first encounters when she visits Alderleaf Farm to get help planting her awakened shrub. A running theme throughout early D20 Dames is that Volo’s Guide to Monsters, while popular, is a bit… lacking. Carp is immediately dismayed to find Riot, a red-winged tiefling, is not even present in his copy of the guide. Eventually, the Dames encourage Carp to work on his own guide, and he begins making and mailing them copies of a zine all about magical creatures and plants! A comic for young readers could place greater emphasis on the child characters like Carp, and I would LOVE to see issues or companion comics dedicated to his zine.
The early podcast also features a sort of ongoing joke that there is a bizarre number of missing children in Phandalin. The Dames rescue or support a number of kids who have been captured, gotten lost in dangerous locations, or have recklessly set out alone on a mission. DM Kat Kruger takes care to give all of these children unique voices, and each has their own journey of healing, grief, and heroism. In the third season, there is a particularly compelling mini-arc about a young drow boy and a bugbear child who have adopted each other as brothers. Their complicated story of found family and survival echoes Riot’s, which even includes flashbacks to her childhood in the Mage Zerker’s tower, where she was raised by her siblings. In fact, each of the Dames grapple with difficulties from their own childhoods, including themes of bullying and loss of a family member that would resonate with many young readers. Despite having adult main characters, the overarching themes in D20 Dames easily appeal to children.
This appeal for young readers begs a question—why a comic and not a cartoon? Aside from the creative possibilities of a side zine by Carp, I do think the emotional beats of this story would be more visually suited to a comic. While this is a D&D podcast and there is quite a bit of fighting, the Dames often solve problems without violence. They make deals with hags (D20 Dames’ hags are not exactly your typical D&D hag, which is for the best! Kruger deftly circumvents the misogyny baked into the hag monster by offering up several hag characters with varied and complex motivations), negotiate new business arrangements, and roll plenty of skill checks in addition to attacks. The battles are fun and could be wildly cool when illustrated, but it’s the emotional moments that are worth lingering on. As characters reunite, learn exciting new information, breach each other’s trust, forgive each other and heal, the comic format would allow an artist (Vaughn or anyone else) to linger on their faces and expressions. Comics also leave room for readers to go their own pace, putting down the book if it gets too heavy or flipping back to look for clues and relive emotional moments. Pacing would be key to a comic version of D20 Dames, but in the right hands the end result would be an absolute tear-jerker.
There is a bit of D20 Dames left—a Q&A, a couple live shows and, hopefully, an announcement of a new campaign. However, it seems that this is the end for these characters. It’s been a joy to follow them along their journey, and I would leave to meet them all again in the pages of a comic book.
Alenka Figa is a queer librarian obsessed with D&D podcasts that have solid queer rep. They frequently tweet about them @alenkafiga. Catch their reviews of zines and indie comics over at Women Write About Comics.