Happy Pride! In light of these month-long rainbow-colored festivities, it seems like a good time to reflect on gender, sexuality, and inclusivity in gaming. And if that’s our task, I can think of no better example than Handbook-World’s premiere couple.

Thief and Wizard have been through quite a bit in their relationship. From intraparty thievery to clashing playstyles, and from dramatic drama all the way to the altar, they’ve managed to overcome their (mostly self-inflicted) obstacles to wind up happily wed. None of this was intentional on my part.

Back when I wrote the gender-bender plot for Wizard, I’d only intended a one-off gag in the tradition Futurama or Final Fantasy VII. After an enthusiastic response from fans, however, we made a Patreon poll asking whether Fem!Wizard should become a permanent addition to the comic. The results are history, but the creative process remains instructive for me, both as a writer and as a GM.

When you’re doing the world building thing, it can be easy to consign gender and sexuality to “afterthought” status. I mean OK sure, the designers will slip a note somewhere in the far reaches of their rulebook, but they more or less have to do that in this day and age. That’s not really what gaming is about though, is it? We’re all here to slay dragons and grab the gold! Deciding who the horny bard happens to be horny for isn’t that important, right?

The aforementioned Patreon poll begs to differ. When you’re in an interactive medium, what seems important to one player is BY NO MEANS what’s important to others. Your group might prefer to handwave issues of gender and sexuality, and that’s OK. But let’s not pretend that these questions aren’t absolutely critical to a broad swath of our community. Identity formation is a popular topic in my academic circles, but even outside of scholarly pursuits, making room at the table is good policy. The three-sexed Shirren in Starfinder, the androgynous elven deity Corellon Larethian, and even the bearded ladies of Middle Earth all serve to make their worlds richer and more complex. Even more than the world-building opportunities though, helping players to feel welcome inside your world is the mark of a good GM.

The phrase “representation matters” makes for handy shorthand, but I find that it undersells the concept. What we’re actually talking about is the ur-fantasy that undergirds D&D. We’re talking about the power fantasy. Think of dustjacket blurbs and back-of-the-box exclamation points: You can become the hero of your own adventure!!! Making sure that others can see themselves holding aloft the Sword of Power or wielding the Word of Blasting is essential to the experience. So when I discovered that, Holy crap! Issues of identity are important to my audience!, you better believe that I sat up and paid attention and took it seriously. How could I do anything less? We all make stories together, player to player and author to audience. Our hobby is fundamentally a co-creative one. And even if I don’t get everything right 100% of the time, I do believe that learning to listen to those other voices — especially when they’re very different from our own — is at the heart of co-creation.

Question of the day then! Have you ever adjusted your game world to make space for LGBTQ+ folks? From a design standpoint, is it better to build those ideas into your game from the beginning, or do you wait until they show up at the table? And just as important, how do you do so elegantly and naturally, avoiding the pitfalls of tokenism and pandering? Keep in mind that the answers to these questions may look different for a large gaming company vs. a small gaming group. So with all that in mind, sound off in the comments with your own take on gaming with Pride!


ARE YOU THE KIND OF DRAGON THAT HOARDS ART? Then you’ll want to check out the “Epic Hero” reward level on our Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Like the proper fire-breathing tyrant you are, you’ll get to demand a monthly offerings suited to your tastes! Submit a request, and you’ll have a personalized original art card to add to your hoard. Trust us. This is the sort of one-of-a-kind treasure suitable to a wyrm of your magnificence.