This piece initially ran in The Adovcate magazine, read it on Advocate.com here.
There’s nothing quite like going on a road trip with friends, camping with your partner and a few other couples, or taking a vacation with loved ones to somewhere you’ve never been before. But so much of that came to an abrupt halt in 2020.
Thankfully, adventuring doesn’t have to stop just because you can’t travel and see people. You just need to get more creative with the types of adventures you take. Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game popularized in the 1980s and considered the first of the modern role-playing games, is one way to discover new worlds from home. And it’s gone digital.
“D&D offers an almost mind-melting range of imagination and wild fantasy,” says Ally Beardsley of Dimension 20, a popular D&D streaming channel from CollegeHumor. “Whether it’s an identity you yourself are curious about or a story you’ve never seen represented in entertainment! You can have it all, with one catch: You have to roll for it!”
Recently, there’s been an explosion in the popularity of the game thanks to the Netflix show Stranger Things and, in large part, the huge audiences that streaming channels like Dimension 20, Critical Role, Girls Guts Glory, Dicey Amazons, and many others have.
These streams, which are often turned into podcasts, allow you to take part in a D&D adventure even when you can’t find a group in real life. And they have great queer characters.
Beardsley, who plays trans man Pete the Plug in The Unsleeping City, a Dimension 20 campaign, doesn’t even question whether or not they’d play a queer character, especially when playing for such a large audience.
“I believe you cannot be what you cannot see,” Beardsley says. “I want to be for any queer viewer what I wished I had, which is someone popping out of the screen, holding my hand, and telling me that I can be so much more than I’ve ever been allowed to imagine.”
Kelly Lynne D’Angelo, a writer for the upcoming Netflix animated show Spirit Rangers and one of the members of Girls Guts Glory, says D&D is the perfect way to create adventures inside yourself.
“Instead of looking outside, we look inside to unlock magic, intrigue, story, and new worlds,” D’Angelo says. She understands that people might be reluctant to believe that sitting around a table rolling dice can be as fun as a group camping trip.
“There’s no comparison to adventuring in the real world, but there’s also no comparison to shared storytelling. They are both places that deserve to be explored!”
She also says it’s the perfect place to explore parts of yourself that may be scary to examine in real life.
“If the table is comfortable and trusts one another, Dungeons & Dragons can create a safe enough place for people to navigate those new corners of themselves, their queerness, and their identity,” she says. “From there, anything is possible, including things that others may be hesitant to explore in the real world. If your character wants to kiss the barmaid, kiss the barmaid!”
Kandi Williams is the executive producer of Dicey Amazons Entertainment, which livestreams tabletop games including D&D on its Twitch channel. She’s been playing since 2000. She says “the chance to slip into the skin of another character” who can be a “completely different person and make completely different decisions from you” is what draws a lot of queer people to the game.
Williams believes that more queer and trans people of color should play D&D, because it not only builds skills but is a great way to find community, especially in times like this, when socializing in person is impossible. Friendships are built on shared experiences, and the act of killing a dragon turtle and rescuing the cute nonbinary elf wizard is bound to make D&D friends for life.