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On Dealing with Gaymers at the RPG Table

Jason Beck
United States
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Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love heteronormative campaign settings

[With apologies for how late in the week I am posting this.]

Last week, I discussed gaymers, RPGs, and how the nature of a role-playing game makes it more likely for issues of sexuality to surface. I’ve done a post before providing practical tips on how to "deal with" gaymers at the gaming table, and so this is a follow-up post on how to "deal with" gaymers at the RPG table.

As I noted in my last post on "dealing with" gaymers, ‘mos don’t actually need to be "dealt with" like a problem; rather, I mean "deal with" in the sense that anyone deals with the other, the different, the way we deal with most other people in our day-to-day lives.

The last article was about making the gaming table a more open, inclusive place for gaymers, but this one will be targeted, more specifically, at making a role-playing game environment more fun for the queers at the table (and, by extension, everyone else).

1. Make sure no one is going to make an issue out of someone’s sexuality.

Since role-playing games are, by their nature, more personal, it becomes more difficult to separate out our personal beliefs from the game at hand. This is not to say that everyone is just going to play a copy of themselves in the game-world (what fun would that be, anyway?), but a spill-over of real-world beliefs into game-world-play is more likely when you’re playing an RPG than when you’re playing Dominion.

As a consequence, making sure that a player’s sexuality isn’t going to be an issue can be an important ingredient for a harmonious table. If you’re a DM, it can often fall to you to "police" the table, or to help settle issues between players, and having an understanding of where there might be friction is a good idea.

Of course, it can help if the queer player is also aware of this, too (though, to be fair, they almost certainly will be, and probably more so than anyone else). Talking to your DM beforehand about whether or not s/he thinks there’s going to be a problem can be a helpful way of either putting your mind at ease or finding out that maybe this group isn’t going to be right for you.

2. Understand the campaign setting and be willing to bend or break aspects of it.

That is to say, as a DM, it is incumbent upon you to run the world, as it were. Having a clear understanding of sexuality in the campaign setting can be important: there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about an adventurer having a night with a tavern wench, but what if the adventurer would rather have a night with the strapping bartender? Are there going to be in-world consequences? And, if so, why?

Some campaign settings don’t make an issue over the ‘mos (Forgotten Realms, for example), and this is nice. Some might, however, but it can be worthwhile to either a) alter the setting so that it isn’t an issue or b) spin it such that the player can still be involved with that aspect of the setting, but in a way that is meaningful and story-driven (i.e. Sure, you can have a romance with this hot elf guy over here, but you two might get run out of town, or maybe his family will send him far away, &c.).

Allowing a player at the table to be more involved in the setting itself is always a good thing, and that should be extended to issues of sexuality, too.

3. Don’t make a big deal over queers in the game world.

That is, just treat them like you’d treat any other characters. If an issue arises- see previous example with the bartender- just carry on like you would a hetero-equivalent issue. There isn’t any reason, as a player or as a DM, to draw undue or unwarranted attention to a queer issue that you wouldn’t also draw to a hetero issue.

It’s all very well and good to be tolerant and accepting, but there’s no need to be like, "Okay, I’m going to let you flirt with this male bartender now" if your reaction to flirting with a tavern wench would simply be, "Sure, make me a Diplomacy check".

Similarly (and I mentioned this in my other article on this), don’t act like homos are totally gross. We aren’t. Two dudes getting it on isn’t your cup of tea? That’s fine. Two dude-elves getting it on in the game world? Not a cause for commentary on how gross it is. (Oh and for heaven’s sake, please don’t trot out the, "Hey, I’m totally cool with the gays, but I just don’t want to see it because man, two dudes making out is just gross.")

4. Be able to separate the player from the character.

Because of, as noted above, the inherently personal nature of an RPG, it can oftentimes be difficult to separate ourselves from our characters. However, if you’re a little uncomfortable with the thought of two dudes snogging, that doesn’t mean your character would be.

Realism and immersion are important, after all, in a role-playing game, and breaking it just because you’ve got a personal quibble with something isn’t necessarily a good thing. Have a problem with gay marriage? Well, okay, that’s your prerogative. But what if there happen to be two dudes getting hitched in-world? Well, would your character have a problem with it? No? Time to keep your cake-hole shut, I guess!

5. Be open-minded and willing to try something different.

You know what would be super? If all the heteros playing Dungeons and Dragons had to play a homo character, just once. I don’t say this because I think it’d be hilarious to make a bunch of nerds uncomfortable, but rather because RPGs have the potential to offer an unique vehicle for experiential dialogue: that is, because you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes- since, indeed, that is the point of an RPG- it seems that this kind of mental exercise could be beneficial.

I’m not saying everyone needs to run around playing characters that they don’t want to, of course, but why not have your totally ripped Paladin be fighting to avenge his fallen husband (inevitably killed in an orc raid on the small, outlying village where you two were living, I assume), or have that elf-witch-of-terrible-power fall for the local princess? (Okay, to be fair, hetero dudes should probably play a homo dude rather than a homo chick, lest things fall into fanboy-wank territory.)

Expand your horizons! You’re not gonna catch the gay, after all.


And finally, a brief, illustrative example. Last year I had the good fortune to play in a weekly campaign (in the Forgotten Realms setting, with Pathfinder, if you’re interested) with a good group of people. I didn’t know any of them, however, so I was coming into the group more or less as an outsider. I was inevitably worried at first (what if they’re terrible people who hate the gays?), so I didn’t bring it up until I was comfortable enough with the DM to talk to him about it.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem at all. I ended up incorporating a love interest into my character’s backstory, and no one ever made a big deal over the fact that it was a dude. Similarly, I was able to discuss the issue of sexuality in the FR setting with my DM in a manner that was mature and learn more about what ‘mos were going to have to deal with in the campaign world (short answer: nothing that heteros didn’t have to, really).

Issues of sexuality came up (there were some tavern wenches), but it never really seemed to matter that my character was flirting with that attractive ranger (whatever, don’t judge me) while theirs were getting it on with tavern wenches. This is, in short, the best way to deal with things: maturely, and in a way that makes the queer player not feel like an outsider, or a complete weirdo, or whatever.

(A word of warning: If a fellow player’s character is busy flirting with aforementioned attractive ranger and you aren’t paying a whole lot of attention to the proceedings and then you suddenly decide it’s a good idea to start rolling dice and participating in whatever is happening... things might be hilariously awkward. Just sayin’.)
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