Roll for Representation: Tabletop Gaming

The Long Road and Rough Patches to Where We Are Now

In today’s Play It Loud, we explore the group activity of tabletop gaming. While considered a straight boys’ club until relatively recently, we’ll examine the journey to create more inclusive, Queer-friendly adventures where are players feel welcome, included and represented.

Tabletop gaming has a long and storied history, almost exclusively relating to nerds in their parents’ basements. But there’s another hiding place for tabletop gamers as a whole. If you guessed “in the closet,” congratulations! You figured out the cheap joke I was going for with such an obvious set-up!

Low-hanging fruit aside, tabletop games have always been a group activity, especially Dungeons & Dragons, which until recently was pretty much seen a boys’ club. Straight boys, at that (although, just as anecdotal evidence, of my 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons group, of the five players, more than half of us have eventually come out as bisexual or trans. So, maybe it was never all that straight to begin with?). At any rate, tabletop gaming is something best experienced with friends, although this doesn’t mean things like Adventurer’s League are entirely out of the question! But how does this tie into Queer communities [ 1 ]?

Which is another thing I want to quickly address and was likely addressed in the introduction, but redundancy on these matters is paramount: The usage of the “Q-Slur” as it is called. I will be using it a lot in this series. It’s a nice quick shorthand for LGBTQ+ that doesn’t exclude anyone and can usually be a quick way to describe someone who is either unspecified in their identity or just prefers to keep the specifics close to their chest. This is not an okay thing for a straight cisgender person to say, however, so please understand that the word I use is reclaimed, and only truly acceptable for Queer people (see?) such as myself, a trans woman. This is not a blanket statement on use of the word, either. Many within the community use it, while others dislike it. It is not my place, nor anyone else’s, to say otherwise.

Dungeons & Dragons as a game has been around for over 40 years, going through various iterations including Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition, 3rd Edition, 3.5 Edition, 4th Edition and finally, 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. This isn’t even discussing Pathfinder or BECMI. Or… look it’s been 47 years; it’s only reasonable to assume they’re gonna have a lot of different versions, alright? We’re currently at 5E, with Wizards of the Coast saying they have no plans for new editions anytime in the near future. What I’m saying is the game has history, and it hit its stride in a major way. But what does this have to do with the LGBTQ+ community? Quite simply, it’s embraced us. But it hasn’t been without its… failings.

One of the most unfortunate pieces of history from the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons lore is the cursed item, the Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity [ 2 ]. Let’s, for a moment, excuse the notion of binary gender. There’s a lot more to unpack with the girdle than just that, at any rate. First of all, and likely, the least problematic part about it, the belt doesn’t do anything. As a magic item, it’s absolutely pointless. Its only purpose is to change your sex from male to female-presenting. Nothing more. Nothing less. Second, it’s incredibly hard to undo. Polymorph Other into your initial gender causes a “System Shock roll,” whatever that might be, making a Wish spell one of the only surefire ways to fix it. Except, if you read the source, it’s not quite surefire. It’s got a 50/50 shot of working. The belt is so inexplicably powerful, that the most powerful spell in the game might not even work.

If you think women get off easy, you aren’t paying attention!

But here’s something else that kind of raises eyebrows: Why does that page mention that there is no strength adjustment for different genders in 2nd Edition? Oh, because there was in older editions! Because of course there are [ 3 ]. It’s not only baffling; it’s frankly insulting. So, women and trans people basically got the short end of the stick, being treated as cursed and weak by the old-school rules. Luckily, things have gotten better. Much better.

How, you ask? For one, the Forgotten Realms style guide actively prohibits writing anything racist, sexist, homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic. No, really [ 4 ]! The style guide acts as a series bible, essentially dictating what is “okay.” This is where, for other series, character personalities and identities are discussed at length. For example, you might read that a character cannot under any circumstances be seen drinking, because the series bible establishes a history of alcoholism in their family. This might never come up in the series, but it’s still part of the series bible.

A clever bit of retcon, D&D’s new inclusivity has utilized the Elven Deity Corellon Larethian as a key figure in gender identity and queer representation, as he allows elves to freely determine and change their sex.

Meanwhile, the Forgotten Realms, for the uninitiated, is setting where most of Dungeons & Dragons adventures take place nowadays. As one of the most popular campaign settings, it has the widest range of magic, fantasy, and everything you know and love about the game. The style guide is not perfect, however. It still uses some unfortunate terms such as “Eskimo,” but for the most part, it makes it clear that the purpose of the game is that everyone feels included and accepted, not just the white, straight, cisgender men sitting down for their weekly game. While it’s not exactly a massive step forward, the fact that it is company policy to avoid alienating players makes it a lot better than “Rainbow Capitalism,” which is the complex idea that corporations are simply profiting off of the Queer community in lieu of actually offering to help us [ 5 ]. Though there is something to be said about becoming such an accepted part of society that it’s a safer bet to cater to us than to exclude us, meaning our money is more valued than any individual bigot’s money, and it’s unfair to discount the idea that some of these people are allies of the cause and not just cashing in on us having money and being a viable demographic now… But that’s an entirely different article in its own right, and a lot to unpack, so back to tabletop games!

In truth, this kind of acceptance is hard fought. The Queer community has struggled to get where it is today, and it has, arguably, paid off. It’s a small victory, niche even by niche standards, but when Dungeons & Dragons now officially, in its own player’s handbook, says that gender, sexuality, and identity are all absolutely up to the player, it’s a win in my book. This, of course, seems like a no brainer, but there is a big difference between the implication that “I can play a genderfluid Elf Rogue” and the lead developer for the system as a whole explicitly stating this as a possibility [ 6 ]. Simply not being restricted is different from being encouraged or vocally supported. There is a subtle difference between “Yes,” and “Go right ahead!” As for Strength scores, the same reason you can take a battle axe to the sternum is the reason they’ve decided to do away with the differential; you’re a heroic adventurer. Can the average woman out-lift the average man? It’s very likely the answer is no. But your Barbarian isn’t average. Her strength is bordering on superhuman even before setting out to adventure. There’s no reason why she can’t be just as strong (or, likely stronger) than the Half-Orc Cleric, even though he’s a male of his race. And this is not even considering the fact that it’s not like it’s impossible for women to be physically stronger than men.

This, coupled with a great deal of pro-LGBTQ+ representation in popular tabletop gaming-centric podcasts and livestreams has made Dungeons & Dragons, especially, something of an all-inclusive safe space, most notably for Queer people who might otherwise be hiding their true selves in their real lives. It gives them a sense of belonging, and something that is sorely needed in the world today—a sense of power to make change. It should be pretty clear why, then, what with the prospect of being who you want to be, so many podcasts and live play streams have become so popular [ 7 ]. But let’s explore how allies have helped shape this hobby in such a way that has made it more welcoming to the Queer community as a whole, shall we?

Spinning out of Matt Mercer and his friends’ Critical Role phenomenon, The Legend of Vox Machina’s heroes (most notably Scanlan Shorthair) will definitely be pushing boundaries in representation.

‘Bad news, Compadres, this place is magic as hell’

Tabletop gaming as a whole has come a long way, both in terms of representation and in terms of popularity. The two, thankfully, have been fairly closely linked, but it’s not solely because Queer people have been taking the reins for their favorite games and activities. In speaking of the strides the community has made, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the allies who have helped us claw our way into modern acceptance. While it’s important that one remembers what side of the line they are on (in this case, firmly in the “not a victim because of the gender I identify as or am or am not in love with”), it’s also important to realize that as much as our numbers grow, Allies to the cause are still important in that they can display a sense of pride (see what I did there?) in our sexualities. Love and kindness and caring makes us feel less alone and bolder in embracing our truths. I could not have come out to my family and friends had they not expressed an acceptance or love for the community beforehand. This is how things like Critical Role and The Adventure Zone come into play (As well as, very likely, many, many more shows, but we’ll focus on the big two right now).

The Adventure Zone is a podcast done by three brothers, Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, and their father, Clint McElroy. It follows them as (usually) Griffin brings them on a journey through the world of Dungeons & Dragons and, more recently, Monster of the Week. The Adventure Zone is notable in that both campaigns feature more than a few LGBTQ NPCs, but Justin and Travis, both straight men themselves, made their characters Queer. Justin playing the Elf Wizard Taako in the first game, known as the Balance arc [ 8 ] and Travis playing the bisexual Aubrey in the second full game, known as the Amnesty arc [ 9 ]. There was a bit of controversy, of course, with the idea that Taako’s voice was “stereotypically gay.” This, along with the McElroy’s adamant belief that they’re not doing it right, they’re just doing their best has made them perfect examples of how to be an ally [ 10 ]. When they screw up, they apologize. When they are told something they did has not landed the way they intended, they backtrack and make it right. They are not afraid to go, “Yeah, I don’t know any better because of my circumstances, thank you for informing me.” There are no excuses. Justin did not say “it wasn’t offensive, the man I based the voice after was not gay.” He said he could see why it was taken as such, explained his reasoning for it, and in subsequent episodes gave Taako a slightly different voice that came off as less stereotypical.

This is simply the brothers as people, and not as storytellers. There is a huge lack of representation for Queer identities in storytelling today. But what’s worse is when some of the representation comes across as less than enlightened. While it can be nice to introduce a transgender character, having them be little more than the butt of a joke is worse than simply not including them. While having them as a serious character is not unheard of, treating them like a tragic misery case can also be upsetting. So Griffin subverted this with Taako’s twin sister, Lup. Lup was, in Griffin’s introduction, assigned male at birth and transitioned at a young age [ 11 ]. But her story is not tragedy. It is not about how miserable her life is and how lucky she is her brother loves her. In fact, the fact she’s trans kind of never comes up again! She’s never the victim of unfriendly jokes, nobody makes any remarks about her looks or identity, and we never even learn her dead name. Although, I can’t exactly say it’s “perfect,” to top it off with a dollop of positivity? Lup is the target of affection from a (presumably straight) man she works with named Barry Bluejeans. I kid you not. Look, The Adventure Zone has some very serious, very heartfelt, and very touching moments about family, love, acceptance, and the things we do to keep the people we love safe. It’s also a comedy podcast by three comedy podcasters, so expect lots of Barry Bluejeans and Graham the Juicy Wizard-style goofs is what I am saying.

That aside, however, this is something that is virtually unheard of. Lup was the object of desire. Barry sought her out and fell in love with her. She was not some lovestruck fool grappling with Barry’s inability to love her because of her identity. It was played, pardon the pun, straight! Barry fell in love with Lup for her passion and beauty, and the podcast never once plays it as tragic. It’s the simplest love story between two dorks on a space ship (and I promise you that makes sense in context), with no element of tragic loss.

Meanwhile, on the more serious side of things… relatively speaking… Critical Role is a much more serious “real play” D&D show, with no lack of Queer characters in their campaign, including Beauregard [ 12 ], described by her player, Marisha Ray, as a Disaster Lesbian, and, until recently, Mollymauk Tealeaf, a bisexual genderfluid Tiefling [ 13 ], played by a bisexual man himself [ 14 ]. Critical Role is much more of the D&D you probably recognize from you and your friends’ game on Friday nights, around a table, enjoying a slice of pizza and overacting. Well, alright, full disclosure, these people are professional voice actors. They’re not over-acting. It’s literally their job to be over the top.

But being much truer to the game also means that… anything can happen. Including a Queer player’s Queer character dying, and fans feeling attacked [ 15 ]. Now, I won’t stand here and say, “you’re out of line to feel targeted by the random death of a character.” Because, unfortunately, there’s a very notorious trope named after the concept of Queer characters being killed off [ 15 ]. Although, admittedly, sometimes the dice don’t favor you, and while Dungeons and Dragons rules give the DM total control to simply have a monster walk away, it can be tricky to simply have a character seem strong enough as a threat by having them simply not kill someone because it can be problematic otherwise.

Critical Role, however, has no lack of LGBTQ representation. Major players, guest characters, NPCs; Matt Mercer and Griffin McElroy went through great strides to make sure their campaigns are welcoming to the LGBTQ community.

In summary, tabletop games have come a long way in the past few decades to be more welcoming to the Queer community. We’ve carved out or niche, we’ve pushed our way into the community and planted our roots, and dammit we’re gonna have a good time while we’re here! So, come with me on this journey as we discuss the LGBTQ community and its connections, both good and bad, to tabletop gaming.


  1. “A clever bit of retcon, D&D’s new inclusivity has utilized the Elven Deity Corellon Larethian as a key figure in gender identity and queer representation, as he allows elves to freely determine and change their sex.” Source: (Cite Demihuman Deities Forgotten Realms supplement).
  2. “Spinning out of Matt Mercer and his friends’ Critical Role phenomenon, The Legend of Vox Machina’s heroes (most notably Scanlan Shorthair) will definitely be pushing boundaries in representation.” Source: (Cite The Amazon Series)

A cosplayer who’s worked with Nerd Caliber and Cosplay Court Case, Juno Rebecca Delphi combines an academic approach to otherwise “flippant” subjects with significant attention to detail. In addition to her love of gaming, Juno’s an accomplished fiction writer, performer, and nerdy historian, but is most passionate when it comes to social justice and queer culture. Originally joining Steam-Funk Studios in 2014, Juno’s personal journey has been revelatory, as she continues to evolve.


  1. “Organized Play D&D Adventurers League.” Organized Play | Dungeons & Dragons,
  2. North, Jenny. Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity, 2016,
  3. Spalding, Oakes. Gender Based Strength Maximums in Old School D&D, 30 June 2017,
  4. Adventurers League site, “Forgotten Realms Style Guide”,
  5. Gardner, Luke A. “Op/Ed: Dissecting Pride Today and the Problem of Rainbow Capitalism.” Hornet, 13 June 2018,
  6. Zoltar. “Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes Is the Book with the Gender Fluid Elves, Right?” Sage Advice D&D, 26 Mar. 2018,
  7. Kickstarter, “The Legend of Vox Machina”,
  8. The Adventure Zone Wiki, The Adventure Zone Podcast transcript, 17 March 2016,
  9. The Adventure Zone Wiki, The Adventure Zone Transcript, Episode 5, “Experiments in Post-Mortem, More on Season Two!”, 5 April, 2018,,_More_on_Season_Two!/Transcript.
  10. Enlow, Courtney, “The McElroys are Doing Their Best: How The Adventure Zone Developed One Good Good Fandom”,
  11. Enlow, Courtney, “The McElroys are Doing Their Best: How The Adventure Zone Developed One Good Good Fandom”,
  12. Sandssavvy,, “Beauregard, the Disaster Lesbian, Epw 1-18”, 19 May 2018.
  13. Mercer, Matthew, DnD Beyond, “matt talks about fans connecting to characters”,
  14. Geek and Sundry,, “Wednesday Club: Love is Love! w/Mark Andreyko and Taliesin, Matt, and Amy #PrideWeek, 2017,
  15., “Bury Your Gays”,