How to build an LGBT+ friendly game as a DM?

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

I hosted recently a game for LGBT Youth Scotland. A terrible investigation at the international Waterdeep cat conference, where the Countess of Rosk was found brutally murdered by what might or might not have been a gobelin disguised as a sphynx cat. I’ve been trying to bring representation in my games for a long time, but playing with what is already the next generation of DMs and players made me reflect on how I could as a DM and member of the LGBT+ community adopt a more consolidated approach to running LGBT+ friendly games.

The first pitfall I often encountered was the “archetype character” – This one made me reflect on my own bias as a DM. As a generic rule of thumb, when building an LGBT+ NPC I always ask myself if I am falling under a stereotype and enforcing a certain iconography associated with LGBT+ people. Do I want to build a strong lesbian barbarian? There is nothing in itself wrong with this, but then how can I showcase her as multifaceted and not archetypal? Should she be a leader covered in a tattoo for each new flower grown by her herbalist partner? A mother teaching her teenage daughter in the battlefield?

The second pitfall I faced was more insidious: the “token character” – It is tempting to highlight in a campaign every new LGBT+ character. There is something empowering in making sure that a powerful dwarven sorcerer is described as kissing passionately his same-sex partner before helping your party sneak into this flying airship, but the question I try to ask myself is: am I forcibly showcasing their gender or sexuality, or can I display it in a more subtle way? In 2019, I attended a really interesting panel at MCM Glasgow talking about LGBT+ representation in tabletop rpg games. I unfortunately cannot remember the name of the speakers, but I one of the messages shared resonated with me: representation goes through normalisation in a game. As DMs, how can we make LGBT representation part of the fabric of our world?

1. Using multiple details in your descriptions to show representation - In a same town, the adventurers might encounter two drunk lads holding hands, a troupe of troubadours singing the sad story of how the Wildmother’s first wife got burned by the flames of the dragon Tiamat, a peddler presenting as non-binary, and a painting of a beautiful male nude in the Duke’s office.

2. Using RP – This elven druid one of your PC has been trying to woo for the past 3 sessions? They might be aromantic and not interested in a relationship at all. And if your perception roll is high enough, you might notice that your male barbarian goliath might have an easier time seducing the suspicious crown guard standing in your way compared to the foxy halfling bardess of the group.

3. Multiple pronouns used in mundane context – The kind innkeeper will prefer “they/them”, and every drunkard will still insult their prices colourfully while using the correct pronouns.

4. And most importantly offering a safe space to your player where they will feel comfortable becoming whomever they want to experiment as!

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