It was the first D&D table I sat at where everyone went around and shared their pronouns before play. I had been invited to join a newly-formed queer D&D group, as a player. I’ve been a DM since got into D&D, so I’ve often found it difficult (to put it lightly) to transition to the other side of the screen. But there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to queer up the world’s most popular roleplaying game.
The game itself was very tropey – meetings at inns, kidnapped blacksmiths’ daughters, goblins in abandoned tombs, escorting rich benefactors through an Elven wood – but it was done in a way that felt simple and charming. “Trope” has become something of a swear word nowadays, but when employed right, they can make a gamespace give off that warm, fuzzy “embarking on an adventure” vibe.
Our DM sprinkled in a few neat mechanics to build on that vibe. The first was handing out rumours to players at the beginning of the game, which we were encouraged to let filter naturally into the party through roleplay. It gave the whole “inn meeting” trope a little extra crunch, lending authenticity to that first conversation over mugs of mead. Then, during our daytrip through the Elven wood, the DM had us go around the circle and each invent a problem, which the next player in the circle would have to solve. It was a hell of a way to make travel feel grand for once, instead an unengaging mess that was either prepped into the ground or an unwieldy mess generated from encounter tables.
But the kicker was how these comforts were subverted at the end, as a levitating bald dude in black-red robes paid a sobbing inkeeper one blood-caked gold piece for each man slain on his grounds, as goblin cohorts with red bandanas on their arms collected the dead, the same goblins that we fought in the tombs. This whole time, this innocuous, trope-laden sandbox was masking the scent of something sinister that had been lurking right under our noses.
I’m getting way ahead of myself. You see, this whole reveal felt like cosmic justice for my Half-Elf Paladin of Silvanus, Tell. Tell couldn’t handle being shunned by both sides of his heritage, so he blamed the whole thing on civilization at large, using an oath to Silvanus and the Ancients as an excuse to isolate himself in the wilderness. He’s a filthy, spiteful boy who refuses to sleep under roofs or practice basic hygiene. He’s not just stinky, he’s d4 poison damage within 10 feet stinky. The one-and-a-half people’s worth of Halflings in the party added that to the fact that Tell carries an oaken warhammer to whip up this cute little moniker: Stinkhammer.
Being a Paladin of Silvanus and an ardent isolationist, Tell’s got quite the beef with buildings. While burying Goblins in a shallow mass grave (he cares, but not that much), he muttered cryptically about a “a scar on the land that will never heal,” gesturing wildly at the tomb entrance. Tell was quick to assert himself as a warden of nature to an Ent barring their passage, and even quicker to swear an oath to Silvanus that he would bring back the critters of the forest. Their disappearance coincided with the founding of a new city deeper in the wood; not a scar this time, but a festering wound.
Then, the party reached an inn at the center of an abrupt clearing filled with withered saplings.
Four cloaked bandits brooding at a corner table jumped the party as they approached the bar. As one charged, Tell misted them with his glowing warhammer, burning with the righteous fury building in him throughout the day. His companions blanched, the bandits fled, and the innkeeper screamed “I told you not to kill anybody!”
And that was never the intent. I thought it important that the innkeeper was begging us not to kill anyone as soon as we stepped foot in his inn. So I thought it keen to relay to the rest of the group how knocking someone out works: drop them to 0 hit points with a melee weapon and you’re good. But in my mind – clouded by tropes – equated their black cloaks to more hit points, 15 at least. I wagered a smite with a melee weapon would win me a one-hit knockout, but instead it caused instant death, the damage enough to kill the poor sap twice over. Tell knocked the spine and organs out of the bandit, leaving a sleeve of skin mounted on two thighs in mid-stride, which led to the reveal that turned our happy little world topsy-turvy.
Seriously, it was never my intent to kill anyone, but according to the dice, it was certainly Tell’s. All that guff about giving the goblins a proper burial and swearing up-and-down that his brutish companions wouldn’t even snap a twig under his watch, and here he is putting a undeserved end to some desperate thug. Quite the paladin he turned out to be. We’ll see what Silvanus has to say about this, and how many bloody coins Tell is about to put in this innkeeper’s coffers.
Edit: I realized just after writing this piece that I really didn’t talk about what made this session queer. But that’s just the thing: queer D&D doesn’t look that much different from normal D&D. The only difference is that when a player or the DM says “this character is nonbinary” or “this character is black,” the response is “okay,” rather than claiming that it’s unrealistic, or fishing for some justification for why the character is like that. Character’s don’t need a reason to not be white or straight or men, especially in a world of magic and whimsy. It was just so refreshing to not only have openly queer characters, but to be openly queer at the table without some sort of tension hanging in the air.