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Dungeons and Dragons and the Pride Community

Ahh, pride month! That special time of year for LGBT+ folks (such as yours truly). When that one aunt/uncle on Facebook gets especially uncomfortable and corporate logos change colors for thirty days.

Oh, and also when Wizards of the Coast starts selling digital dice and playmats displaying a hot spring rendezvous of large hairy men. (Though, to be fair, profits actually do go to the Trevor Project. Also, genuine props to WotC for actually featuring men who aren’t hairless glamour models.)

But then again, D&D really isn’t exactly a stranger to bears.

Originally, this was going to be an article where I looked at LGBT-themed supplements and such. However, I ended up stumbling upon an interesting link between Dungeons and Dragons and the pride community. This in turn lead to the discovery of a history rife with bitter rivalries, prejudice, and acceptance.

It’s also far too complex of a subject for a blog post without turning into a graduate school dissertation. So the trip I’m offering here is brief, but hopefully quite interesting!

Men & Magic, or Did You Know D&D Had TWO Dads?

Before we talk about queer people finding acceptance/identity at the D&D table, we need to address something. Namely, the rough start to the game.

D&D was, not to mince words, made with white/strait men in mind. The original D&D cared as almost as little about inclusion as it did untangling problematic race tropes. Or featuring female characters as something other than scantly-clad NPCS.

The joke honestly writes itself here.

This, actually, can be traced back to the father of Dungeons and Dragons himself– Gary Gygax. Or rather, one of two fathers, because this is were things get really stringy real fast. In addition to other brow-raising activity, Gygax has since been painted as having very outdated views. For example, he believed that women didn’t enjoy RPGs because our brains function differently. Another example comes in the form of the Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity, a cursed item that changes a target’s gender and comes off as transphobic in modern times.

However, as I said, Gygax’s views towards gender/sexual identity can possibly be attributed to the times that he lived in. (And he certainly wasn’t the only D&D-affiliate guilty of such views.) After all, other TTRPGs were going so far as to list various queer identities as optional psychological issues to give characters.

That snapping sound you just heard was me shaking my head hard enough to break my neck.

D&D is very much a reflection of the times that it finds itself in. Eventually, the game found itself in the later half of the 20th century. Namely, when society began a shift towards accepting queer identities more and more. As such, the people behind the game altered their treatment of LGBT+ identities…

Also, about that–

Seelie (You In) Court(, Mr. Gygax Jr.)

With a history that includes the notorious 1.1 OGL to rule them all and having their anti-racism efforts declared racist, you’d imagine that Wizards of the Coast would drop the ball hard enough to split the earth in half in regards of the pride community. Which is where you’d actually be pretty wrong. Not only has WotC held onto the ball; they’ve practically welded it to their hands.

…Well, okay, unless you ask a Magic the Gathering player who actually bothered to read the expanded universe novels. (But even then, the blame lies more with the author than WotC.)

Long story short: the novels hinted that these two were a couple, until the author went out of his way to emphasize that red over here was into very, VERY hunky men. (Original artist over here, btw.)

Back in 2017, WotC’s lead game designer Jeremey Crawford announced at Gen Con Indianapolis that he was going to make inclusivity a priority, owning back to his own open gayness and desire to see more representation.

In fact, he had already started even before this announcement with modules such as the classic itself– 2016’s Curse of Strahd. The queer presence is subtle- one of the key moments being a male NPC mourning over the body of his former same-sex lover- but continued across modules. Another prime example is Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. Not only did it feature same-sex couples, but a non-binary NPC that would even correct people who misgender them. (In fact, Waterdeep itself is pretty much a shining example of all-around inclusion.)

But of course, not all this good stuff can be said about TSR.

Okay, the whole saga of TSR is…well, a saga, but here’s the gist. TSR was the original publisher of Dungeons and Dragons, started by Gary Gygax in 1973. After running into financial issues in 1997, WotC swooped in and acquired the D&D IP and TSR name…That is, until they accidentally let the trademark lapse in 2004. Initially secured by magazine editor Jayson Elliot, the TSR trademark ran under his control.

Well, until he let the trademark lapse in 2020, allowing it to be snatched by by Ernie Gygax (son of Gary). The two mostly had a mutual non-bothering agreement over the usage of the TSR name, due to the lack of funds for a proper legal battle…

Then Ernie decided to make his old man proud by really doubling down on the old-fashioned values front one year later. An appearance on a podcast had him spouting transphobic/racist rhetoric under the guise of “being old-fashioned, possibly [having] anti modern trends.” But that was fine, because Ernie clarified himself on Twitter with a statement…which I will only say was about as well thought-out as a screen door on a submarine.

That feeling when someone fails a DC 1 Wisdom check…

In addition to firing their twitter manager, TSR made it a point to emphasize how ol’ Ernie’s values didn’t match their own. But despite this, people still began cutting off TSR left and right. In fact, it was so bad that Jayson Elliot of the second TSR even gave up trying to get the TSR trademark. In addition, WotC actually filed a lawsuit against TSR to block the release of what they deemed harmful content, the legal proceedings only stopping due to TSR filing for bankruptcy.

So yeah, good on you, Wizards of the Coast.

You know, until your next scandal.

Parched Blade Warriors of the Sapphic Variety

As any queer person can tell you, homophobia is still around. And yes, this includes gaming tables. Whether it’s older gamers still clinging to the values from Gygax’s time or teenagers throwing brimstone proverbs, there’s still prejudice.

But thankfully- and I say this without a hint of irony- we have the internet. Thanks to platforms like Roll20, players even a hundred miles away from a gaming store can find a table. (Not to mention that you’ve got shows like Critical Roll actually making what’s essentially fantasy math look fun.) With an increase in players and accessibility, LGBT+ dungeon divers had not problem popping up more frequently at tables, the increased acceptance of the queer community no doubt also playing a part. (Though some will also point out that queer people have played D&D since the beginning, albeit without as much openness.)

Say what you will, but you know this DM’s got an absolute fire playlist for tonight’s game.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of playing the game. Queer content creators are very much a thing in the homebrewverse. And while you do have some misfires, a lot of the content is very robust. For example– Thirsty Sword Lesbians, a TTRPG system/setting that revolves around telling queer-centric stories with an almost Mother/Undertale-esque vibe. Also, flirting is very much a game mechanic.

“Those claws aren’t the only things that are looking sharp today. “

But the question might still be begged: why is Dungeons and Dragons so popular in the pride community?

…You know, aside from the fact that you can fight giant laser eyeballs with giant angels and that totally rocks.

While this article can’t speak for every case and the sheer love of fantasy/gaming can certainly play a part, many queer people have cited the escapism offered. Granted, this includes spending time in a world where billionaires don’t launch themselves into space with money better used for cancer research. (Not a billionaire that you can Polymorph into a slug, anyway.) But in addition, Dungeons and Dragons can also be used by queer people to be the true selves they can’t be in real life, or explore an identity they’re still trying to figure out/are in the middle of transitioning into.

A queer person who isn’t completely out can openly venture without fear of rejection. Gender becomes a triviality in character creation. Bisexual/pansexual/so on people can explore a same sex relationship when all they’ve experienced is hetero relationships. Heck, I myself appreciated the possibility of my character finding a love interest that shares her/my asexuality, which is hardly something I see in media (or, for that matter, real life).

By taking on the identity of someone else, the pride community can truly be who they really are.

About the Author
Went to film school instead of real college. Writes stuff, animates things, and programs whatchacallits. Currently playing a rogue/cleric (trickery) warforged that's basically a life-sized Victorian porcelain horror doll. You can find more of her stuff at kerahildebrandt.com, including D&D modules/such!

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