🏳️‍🌈Pride Month- Celebrating Representation in TTRPGs (2024)

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
This is an update and edit from a prior post. Please note there will be references to mature subject matter in games in this post. While it is not explicit, it is present.

June is LGBTQI+ month* in the United States (aka Pride Month), and I wanted to make a post celebrating that Pride in the TTRPG sphere by posting a little bit of history related to representation in TTRPGs and some general thoughts about that representation and why it matters. In addition, I hoped that people could use the comments to discuss some of the amazing contributors to the hobby we have had over the years, or any other positive things in light of the month.

*That's the official proclamation.

THE HISTORY OF QUEER REPRESENTATION
1. The Early Years- From the 70s through the Aughts.


The early years of TTRPGs have a reputation, not entirely undeserved, of being an unwelcoming space for those who did not fit in- whether due to gender, skin color, or (as befits this post) queer and LGBT+ issues. That standard surface view, reinforced by some retrogressive attitudes today as well as stories about games like FATAL, isn't a completely accurate portrayal of what was really going on.

(Note, I will be using "queer" as an inclusive term from this point on.)

The earliest years of TTRPGs, before the "Egbert explosion," were dominated by college-age and older individuals. As such, there was a much more mature style of gameplay. This doesn't necessarily translate to "open" in the way we think of today- after all, this was 50 years ago, and Stonewall had just occurred in 1969! While there aren't a lot of contemporaneous accounts of what exactly was going, we can see the hints of it, especially as younger players began to flood in and playing in 1979. Dragon 36 recounts the experience of one DM at a convention being flustered when running an adventure for a group with mixed ages that had prostitutes (of both genders) that were offering their wares to the party. Earlier, there had been articles discussing how TTRPGs were useful ways to explore psychological aspects of the character you are playing, and in so doing, perhaps gain greater insight into yourself.

Given the mature nature of the market, it is unsurprising that we can see that sexuality was part of the hobby from the beginning. In 1975, Greg Costikyan had made a system for sex in D&D, and it contained affiliations for heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, transexual, or "extraordinary" (with fetishes) for characters. (All terminology from original article). This being the era of dicing and tables, it had rules for generating a "sex drive" attribute, with admonitions that a Paladin's sex drive could not be higher than 14. Further explanation of the article would run afoul of the board's rules. (Source- The Elusive Shift, A&E 12). Further, while I hesitate to mention it because of other ... more recent issues regarding the creator of the setting that have come to light, it was also the case the Tekumel explicitly referenced a non-heteronormative relationship.

Arguably, the 1980s changed this approach, at least in America; I would say that the combination of overall culture (the "Reagan 80s" and the moral panic over HIV), the massive influx of young players starting in 1979 to the point where pre-teens and teens were buying the majority of TSR's products, and the Satanic Panic combined to make overt sexuality a much more fraught topic for TTRPGs. The changes in the rules, the art, and even in material around it (such as Dragon Magazine) in the 1980s made for a game that would either present a chaste (if violent) look, or a heteronormative "teen-safe" approach, with manly men and scantily-clad (but clad) women. This greatly increased over time, as evidenced by the changing art styles from the 70s and early 80s onwards. By 1984, TSR codified this as follows: “Rape and graphic lust should never be portrayed or discussed. Sexual activity is not to be portrayed. Sexual perversion and sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.” ...While the last sentence is undefined, I don't think it takes much creativity to understand what it is referring to. In other words, much like American society writ large, the 1980s saw a massive retrenchment in what had been a more open atmosphere.

But ... the remnants of transgression remained for players, even younger players, to explore. D&D (and other RPGs) let you play different characters and different roles- for that reason, it was possible for people to play characters that were different genders or do different things than they "should" do, without being called out on it. And the lack of social mechanics could also allow for some more free-form roleplaying in social situations within the game. Finally, there remained elements of the fantastic- such as Corellon Larethian (male or female, both or neither), that provided inspiration for queer players. This goes to what was a benefit of having "fluff" take such a large part of the game when it came to social cues; simply put, you could not have crunch mechanics for these issues at that time, and the nebulous boundaries within all the fluff provided a safe space for some queer players to explore issues. In what was otherwise a difficult time for many queer youth, D&D and other RPGs provided some amount of respite.

However ... only some amount of respite. I do not want to leave a false impression of what was a hobby that was male-dominated and catered to a certain fanbase. While we laugh and mock it now, a game like FATAL did not arise in a vacuum; while it has a questionable sample size, Fine's book Shared Fantasy indicates that among all-male groups in the late 70s, there was widespread sexual assault of female NPCs within games. Publishers, such as Task Force Games in the late 80s and beginning of the 90s, would write that expressions of queer sexuality were a perversion and using roleplaying materials to explore it would cause people to "ultimately be held accountable for their actions."

Over time, as we moved from the 80s to the 90s, what was implicit became more explicit. Games, from Vampire: the Masquerade to various cyberpunk games, began to market themselves as edgy or (to use the 90s term) "extreme" compared to the vanilla D&D counterpart. There was also the beginning of fan-published content on the internet; as it was the internet, sex was involved.


2. The Independent Game Explosion and Queer Representation.

The turnover from the the 90s into the 00s saw an explosion in games that had explicit references to sex, or, more importantly, queer representation. While it was the case that you might (if you were lucky) have positive representations of queer characters in materials by certain publishers (e.g., Steve Jackson Games and Green Ronin), increasingly we began to see games with mechanics that allowed for romance, and queer romance.

As an aside, I am not always a big fan of the concept that rules determine the nature of the game, but it is inarguable to me that having express mechanics for certain types of interaction, and romance, necessarily increases that type of representation. And the rise of indie games, such as Blue Rose (2005) and the troika of games by Emily Care Boss starting in 2005 (Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon, Under My Skin) show that the expression of these issues in mechanics was important for many people.

Eventually, this leads to games like Monsterhearts (2012), where players are put in a position of exploring romantic issues without the preconception of heteronormativity- as some have put it, an evolution from mechanics that are explicitly inclusive of queer romance, to mechanics that are queering.

At this time, then, issues of visibility and queer representation are at the best point within the hobby that they have ever been in history. The largest mainstream publisher, WoTC, explicitly acknowledges queer characters within its texts, and Jeremy Crawford (lead designer) is openly gay. There are indie publishers and numerous, numerous games you can get:

Find physical games tagged Queer and Tabletop role-playing game like Wanderhome (Full PDF), Michtim: Fluffy Adventures, LORDSWORN, Wickedness, the girlfriend of my girlfriend is my friend!! on itch.io, the indie game hosting marketplace
itch.io

WHY REPRESENTATION MATTERS
For RPGs, the three things that I think matter for queer representation are:

1. The roleplaying aspect. This is sort of the "fluff" that I was documenting in the 70s and 80s, and is always a part of the game. The ability to role-play, to perform, to act as someone not yourself- that's incredibly important when it comes to a lot of things in general, and queer identity specifically. This ability to roleplay as different personas, as different genders, as different people, has always been an aspect of RPGs that has been important.

2. Representation within the game. Seeing others, whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, or queer, within the game materials is important. It's especially important that they are presented as normal, and not as "deviant" or just as villains.

3. Mechanical support. While I personally am not a huge fan of certain aspects of "system matters" it certainly the case that when you start putting in mechanical support in games for romance, etc., you want to see support for inclusivity in the relationships- explicitly by allowing for it, or by making it a gameplay aspect (the difference between mechanics that allows queer romance, and mechanics that are queering).

Representation matters, and it always has. There are numerous resources on this, so I'll just re-use this one that I was given previously. H/T @Malmuria


Finally, it would be remiss without nothing that there have been numerous contributors to our hobby. I'll start by naming one- Jennell Jaquays, who is a foundational game designer in the hobby. Feel free to name others!


CONCLUSION
Obviously, not everything is perfect in the industry or, certainly, the world. But the continuing growth of the hobby, and the growth of the explicit inclusivity of the hobby, has been amazing to watch. It is something everyone should all feel proud of, even while acknowledging more work needs to be done.

🏳️‍🌈 So, what do you want to discuss this Pride Month? 🏳️‍🌈
 

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Meech17

WotC President Runner-Up.
I'm not queer myself, but several of the players in the game I run are. They invited all of us to a local Pride Festival? Street fair? I'm not sure what the event itself is called. Regardless there seems to be a huuuge overlap in the venn diagrams of queer people, and nerd people. Among all the venders there were quite a few selling D&D/TTRPG related goods. It was a good time and I got some really cool pins and dice.
 



TheSword

Legend
So I kid you not. I’m running a long time pirate campaign for gay players. Including me.

It’s exactly how you would expect it to be… It makes One Piece look somber.

Though surprisingly our gay pirates are far more bloodthirsty! One player actually hid a serated knife inside a bread roll to get that all important surprise. It surprised me at least.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
One player actually hid a serated knife inside a bread roll to get that all important surprise. It surprised me at least.
Just imagine what he'd be capable of if his character ever discovered the baguette.

16847.jpg
 

Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
I would like to propose a toast to Rufus and Burne, who I consider to be, at least one of, the first queer-coded npcs in published D&D adventures.

Did EGG ever get asked about them here or at Dragonsfoot? The characters certainly seem queer-coded, I agree.
I don't know that EGG deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one, but kudos to all the tables whose headcanon made these characters (and thus their games) just a little bit more queer.
 


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