Released by Dying Stylishly Games in 2021 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Dungeon Bitches is a queer TTRPG that drops players into a harsh world where just about everything is out to kill you. You’ll quickly find that you need to band together with other queer women in order to make a place for yourself in the unforgiving setting—dealing with trauma and finding community along the way.

Here, two members of the Dying Stylishly Games team behind Dungeon Bitches, designer and author Emily F. Allen and artist and graphic designer Sarah Carapace, chat with us about the game, the creation process, and some of the inspiration behind it.

Note: The following interview has been edited for length.

Firstly, for anyone who may just be hearing about Dungeon Bitches for the first time, what’s your go-to elevator pitch for the game?

Sarah Carapace: Who wants to go first?

Emily Allen: You should!

Sarah: Awright. Dungeon Bitches is a snarling, feral, lesbian RPG with teeth. You wanna add your pitch?

Emily: Dungeon Bitches is a game about how dealing with the same horrible bullshit pulls queer women together and forges bonds between them, and also there are giant snake monsters.

I love the tagline for Dungeon Bitches: “A game wherein disaster lesbians get fucked up in dungeons.” Can you talk a little bit about the initial inspiration behind the game? Was a main goal always to explore lesbian romance and sexuality?

Emily: Initially, the idea was that your typical “adventurer” character in TTRPGs probably wasn’t coming from a particularly privileged background. In one of my previous games, Esoteric Enterprises, I’d started exploring this, tying it in with crime and social inequality, and Dungeon Bitches built off that.

The idea was that you’d be messing around in dungeons because the surface world wasn’t giving you a fair shake. Then, separately, there were a bunch of character archetypes based around queer- or feminine-specific horror that had been knocking around in my head, and a few other ideas around that area, and I just kinda threw all these disparate ideas into one soup to see what’d come out.

So that was where the initial ideas came from. At the beginning, the strong focus on romance and sexuality wasn’t so central—it was a horror game with queer characters—but pretty quickly it emerged that the game would be about the bonds that formed between the player characters (PCs). So it made sense to put more focus on character relationships, which provides something to contrast the horror with too.

Sarah: By the time I got involved, Dungeon Bitches had already evolved into a game brimming with feminine anger, sapphic love, and sexuality. Emily had posted an early version of it on her blog and from the get-go I was hooked. I reached out to her saying I’d love to do some art for it, and that’s actually how we met and became friends. We started talking about the game [and] the more we talked, the more serious the project became.

It almost just stayed a blog post, but Emily decided to turn it into a fully fledged book and hired me to do the art. It was important to me that the themes of the game were visually expressed in just about every facet of the book, reinforcing the rawness of Em’s writing with illustrations and graphic design. I’m into grunge, riot grrrl, and queercore music from the ’90s, and was inspired to take some visual cues from those overlapping scenes and turn the game into what looks like this mutated, medieval riot grrrl zine. I think a lot of people can read, play, and enjoy Dungeon Bitches, but I wanted to make it clear that it really is a work for and by sapphics.

I think this is the first TTRPG I’ve seen that handles damage the way you do: all pain is combined into one single tracker, “Hurt.” Was this element especially important to the gameplay and storytelling in Dungeon Bitches?

Emily: So, this came from wanting to simplify things. You could have ways to track all the different bad stuff that happens to a character—injury, starvation, exhaustion, etc.—but that would be way too fiddly, so I condensed them all together, and it worked pretty well. The key was consolidating emotional harm into that same mechanic, which was kind of an experiment in “how far can I push this mechanic.”

But the more all-in on it I went, the more it clicked with the other themes I was going for. At the time, I thought I was being very innovative, but it turns out I’m far from the first person to do this.

Sarah: Yeah. A lot of Apocalypse Engine-styled games have a similar mechanic. For example, Monsterhearts by Avery Alder has its Harm track, and notably (one of my favorite games) Velvet Glove, by Sarah Doom, has an Angst track in place of a more typical health point situation. Both of those games use their tracks to combine physical and emotional trauma as well. I think this shared approach says a lot; these are all pretty queer games and we are all treating psychological harm as seriously as physical.

Emily: Exactly. I knew pretty early on the tone and themes I wanted for the game. The key was getting the mechanics to reflect that, and that took some fiddling when it came to Hurt, because of what it said about the bad stuff that happens. The very early version of the mechanic was much more punishing, but as we playtested, we learned we wanted a situation where emotional and physical pain worked together to slowly wear you down, compared to very quickly overwhelming you. We didn’t want a situation where a single incident could put you close to losing your character completely.

Sarah: There was a lot of back and forth in the early playtests about how harsh Hurt should be. I helped out a little here by suggesting we add points of Damage. It’s one of those words that has become a little abstract and meaningless, like Health or Life points. Here I was thinking of pejoratives—”What’s your Damage?,” “Damaged Goods,” that kinda thing—something that fits with the title and tone.

3 women are sitting close together in a cave, around a campfire that is casting a warm glow across the otherwise dark space. A pile of weapons sit just next to them, including a mace, bag and chains. Two women are sitting next to each other, with an arm wrapped around each other, while the third lays across the floor in front of them, naked.

Art from Dungeon Bitches by Sarah Carapace.

Your initial Kickstarter received quite a bit of support! Since the game was first released in 2021, what has the general reception been among players?

Sarah: Dungeon Bitches has a gritty little niche that appeals to some of the most wonderful folks I’ve ever met. It tends to either glance right off people, because it’s simply not for them, or it really deeply connects. The core book has twelve playable character types—we call them Deals, as in “Hey, what’s your fuckin’ deal?”—and most of them have a clear queer or trans allegory that Emily built directly into them. Players have told us stuff like, “I don’t see myself in most games, but the Invisible Girl is literally me.”

Emily: One of the first Deals I came up with was the Wounded Daughter, which went on to kinda be the game’s mascot. She hits this rich thematic vein of being able to endure and survive anything but with the costs of going through that, which resonated with a lot of our audience.

You just released a setting supplement to Dungeon Bitches called Death Spiral, which offers players settings for one-shots and full-length campaigns. Can you talk a little bit about Death Spiral and what players can expect?

Sarah: If you’ve ever watched a Mad Max movie or flicked through a volume of Dorohedoro and thought, “Gosh, I wish I had this except it was wall-to-wall lesbians,” then, by golly, have I made the book for you! Death Spiral is a hyper carnivore, diesel-punk, body horror setting built from the ground up specifically for Dungeon Bitches.

Going back to the Wounded Daughter Deal, these are girls who have suffered some terrible, soul-shattering harm and who find themselves on the verge of death. Before they bleed out, a deity called the Wounded Mother takes sympathy on them and gives them her blessing, turning them into one of her Wounded Daughters.

Becoming a Wounded Daughter means survival at any cost. Their bodies are indestructible, they can grow fleshy weapons to defend themselves, and can literally shed entire identities by ripping off their skin and emerging in a new form as easily as a frightened lizard can drop its tail. The drawback is that their trauma fuels their whole existence. They can never quite escape their pain and if they end up dying again, they regenerate and lose a little part of themselves in the process, slowly changing them, becoming less lucid and more feral. They are very tragic figures.

In Death Spiral, I’ve taken those ideas and pushed them to a horrible extreme. The supplement is set in a city called the Corpse, built using the semi-alive skeleton of a gigantic creature and totally isolated, sitting in the middle of a corrosive desert on some unknown alien planet. The only thing keeping the desert from eating the city and everyone in it is the influence of the Wounded Mother. The Bitches that are trapped there form rival gangs to survive, fighting amongst one another while avoiding the attention of the Death Spiral, a gang of warlord Anti-Bitches.

This setting is filled with monster babes, bug monsters, cyborgs, mutants, blood-magic, motorcycles, chainsaws, and bats with nails in them. It’s a nightmare world, but its still a place where people live. There are underground dyke bars, pirate radio stations, and all kinds of communal spaces where the girl gangs of the city could potentially be united and revolution could grow.

A map of the Corpse, a city that is built within a giant rib cage. Different locations are pointed out on the map, including Bitch Mountain, Signal Spire, Cage Town, and Right Claw.

A map of The Corpse from Death Spiral. Art by Sarah Carapace.

Dungeon Bitches centers around community and survival on the edges of “polite” society, with Death Spiral promising to further explore harmful but crumbling systems in the Corpse. What about these themes caught your interest as creators? And how can players expect to explore these in their own play-throughs?

Sarah: Emily and I are pretty close and tend to share a lot of feelings, but we are also super different. She is more into vampires and fae creatures and discussing theology than making out. I’m more into werewolves and want to hit things with a big stick, then make out. So Death Spiral is sort of in conversation with Dungeon Bitches.

Emily: I think a lot of the themes—particularly around community and solidarity—just emerged naturally. I set out to write a game about being marginalized, and so, based on my own experiences, the idea of relying on others like you and finding safe spaces away from the mainstream emerged pretty naturally as reflections of that.

There’s a lot of anti-assimilationist sentiment in Dungeon Bitches, and that’s largely a reflection of my own politics. Like, in my experience queer people have each others’ backs in ways that the straight masses don’t, and capturing how powerful that community support can be was key to what the game was about. This is all reflecting my own experiences, though. In a lot of ways, Death Spiral takes the same ideas and gives you Sarah’s response to it.

Sarah: For me, I’m less interested in these themes of oppressive systems failing us and more in that they are impossible to avoid and actively ruining lives. When we first started working on these books, things were bad. And now? Things are worse, much worse.

I think that is one of the things that sets Dungeon Bitches apart from other queer TTRPGs: that there is a simmering anger at the injustice of it all that spills from the page. A fair amount of modern queer media tends to be quite gentle—and I get that, because, God, it’s nice to escape and imagine a cozy place where you could just live. But I’m into action and horror and darker stories and wanted something that reflected my experiences and interests. I feel that Emily’s writing in Dungeon Bitches is holistically incredible work, the themes and texture all fit together. Death Spiral on the other hand is even more aggressive but is also a lot more messy, it complicates things a bit by centering not just around external harmful systems, but also intra-community conflict.

What do you hope for players to take away from Dungeon Bitches?

Sarah: I hope that after playing Dungeon Bitches, spinning yarns of defiant comradery and romance in the face of oppressive horror, that they’ll feel seen and maybe get some well-deserved catharsis.

Emily: RPGs are an evolving medium. People who are into Dungeon Bitches seem to be really into it. I hope people get inspired and use it as a basis to make their own things that explore things that are important to them, just like Dungeon Bitches deals with themes and ideas that matter to me. So, you know, what Sarah did with Death Spiral.

Dungeon Bitches is available on Itch.io and DriveThruRPG.