I honestly don’t remember the moment I was first introduced to D&D by way of pop culture, but I know that the general vibe I got, all the way up until The Big Bang Theory, was that Dungeons and Dragons was a game for nerdy straight men who also are often kind of mean? But if I’ve learned anything in the three years since my friend Taylor turned me on to Critical Role, and playing the game myself, it’s that straight D&D and queer D&D are two totally different games.
Take, for example, Meg Jones Wall, who is writing this post with me. I had met her through mutual friends at A-Camp but didn’t really get to know her until we started playing D&D together. Now we play in-game exes and she’s dating someone who plays her character’s fictional messy crush in an entirely different campaign. And all three of us are in a group chat about Taylor Swift. The lines between fantasy and reality are so often blurred in Queer D&D — and while in a straight game that might felt stressful or damaging, within these games it instead feels therapeutic.
But I digress. Meg and I are here today to discuss the queerest moments of Critical Role in 2020, which entirely center around two confirmed disaster lesbians. Marisha Ray and Ashley Johnson have chosen to play queer characters, and this year we are finally seeing real steps towards an actual, canon, in-game relationship.
Both women play their characters with such depth and complexity that it feels impossible to me that they’re not pulling at least a little from experience (side note: if Marisha or Ashley happen to be reading this, Autostraddle is the perfect outlet for the “queer-women-in-a-male/female relationship” convo if you’ve just been waiting for the right platform… our DMs are open) but even if they’re not, their characters feel authentic and dorky and sweet and super fun to watch.
We are going to rank our personal top ten gayest moments of 2020. (It feels worth reminding everyone, since time is fake, and I had to look it up myself, that the Reani stuff all happened in 2019.)
Yasha carries Beau, Episode 102
A wounded Beau asks Yasha to carry her back from a battle, and she obliges, and is oblivious to the fact that, during the walk, Beau and Jester are having a mimed conversation about how strong Yasha is and how good she smells.
Meg: Beau consistently asking Yasha to carry her, hold her, and fly around with her has been one of my favorite recurring flirty gags from this campaign, and watching her acknowledge it with Jester (a sweetly adorkable character that Beau has also acknowledging having a crush on) felt like it really shifted the narrative of this flirtation from never gonna happen to unless…?
Valerie: I love it too especially since Marisha is so tall and Ashley is so smol so the fact that Ahsley’s huge barbarian is lifting Marisha’s monk is so fun to me. That’s another thing that’s fun in D&D, you get to flirt in ways you can’t in real life!
Yasha sees the mirror above Beau’s bed, Episode 111
When showing them around the mansion he designed for them, Caleb reveals that there’s a mirror above Beau’s bed. Yasha peeks at it and dryly, confidently, says, “That’s going to be useful.” Beau declares Caleb her best friend on the spot. Jester nearly loses her mind in a giggle-fit.
Meg: I screamed. Loudly. And then watched this moment 100 more times.
Valerie: I feel like I texted you in all caps at this point. I also had to rewatch but mostly to make sure I heard them correctly. Absolute perfection.
Meg: Ashley is so good at those clever, quiet little lines, and this is one of her best.
Yasha flies with Beau, Episode 106
Yasha uses her newly feathered wings to fly for the first time, and takes Beau with her. It’s very romantic. And awkward.
Valerie: Hey remember that one time in our campaign that our characters still hadn’t worked out their shit so everything was tense but then I levitated with you like Supergirl carrying Lena Luthor? Good times, good times.
Meg: That was hot.
Valerie: My character has so much more game than I do.
— JMNP art (@jmnp7888) August 24, 2020
Beau talks about her crush on her family’s chef, Episode 118
During a conversation about whether Veth’s young son could have a crush or not, Beau tells the party about remembering feeling starry-eyed about her family’s personal chef. “Yeah, I probably wouldn’t have had that first boyfriend if I would’ve connected that I was having, like, ‘Oh, she’s really hot,’ type of feelings.” She also could not for the life of her remember said boyfriend’s name, but remembered her first girlfriend’s name, Tori.
Valerie: This moment felt so real, so authentic. I feel like every one of my queer friends and I have had a conversation like this, something from our childhood that we only realize in hindsight was absolutely a sign we weren’t straight. Like how I used to kiss the trading card of Kimberly the Pink Ranger goodnight every night.
Meg: Couldn’t agree more. This felt like such a real moment, one that just solidifies how authentic Beau’s queerness is – not just a casual choice made for punchlines but something deeply embedded in this character. Even the fact that Marisha couldn’t remember the name she wrote for the boyfriend but immediately knew Tori’s name was absolutely correct. (Also, a hot chef? I see you, Beau.)
Beau says the ball is in Yasha’s court, Episode 109
While dancing with Beau, Jester tells her that she thinks it’s romantic that Yasha told Beau she was glad she didn’t kill her, and Beau asks if Jester thinks Yasha likes her. Jester gives her an emphatic yes, but Beau says the ball is in Yasha’s court. “You know, because she’s the one with the dead wife.”
Valerie: Is there anything queerer than talking to your former crush about your (or their) current crush?
Meg: Especially when there’s a complicated ex involved. Beau isn’t wrong here, and it felt like a real moment of character growth that she knows with absolute clarity that this is not Beau’s decision to make. I firmly believe that Beau and Yasha are both bottoms, but this isn’t about making the first move or power dynamics – it’s about acknowledging trauma and respecting the time it takes to move on and be ready for a new relationship, and I loved Beau for it.
Valerie Anne: I also loved Jester’s follow up, that even if Beau is leaving the ball in Yasha’s court, Beau can still open things up to make sure Yasha knows that. The ball being in someone else’s court doesn’t have to mean complete inaction, she could still take steps to make sure Yasha knew she’d be open to it if Yasha DID want to make that move without taking that first move herself.
Meg: That felt like such a good and wise insight from Jester, since it allowed Beau to feel like she could still flirt and make her interest in Yasha clear while ALSO potentially reassuring Yasha that she isn’t alone in her feelings. They’ve both been so tentative, so slow to act, and while a lot of that has been due to their personalities and trauma, I think they are also both a little unsure about the other person’s desires. As someone that never thinks anyone is interested in them romantically, I deeply appreciated the kindness in this advice, and the ways that it made space for both of them to be strong and sure in their choices.
Beau tells Fjord about her crush on Yasha, Episode 108
Not unlike when Beau got drunk and confessed her crush on Jester to Nott this year, Beau got drunk and confessed her feelings about Yasha to Fjord.
MARISHA: I think– it’s easy to lust after Jester because she’s… sparkles and confetti and shiny. There was something about Yasha from the moment that I saw her…that I think I’ve been avoiding. I don’t know. ”
Meg: Who doesn’t love a drunk confession of love? This conversation was so sweet and self-aware, and I really appreciated that even while drunk, Beau managed to respect Fjord’s obvious feelings for Jester while also acknowledging her connections to both women. Her crush on Jester felt very genuine, but what she feels for Yasha clearly goes beyond that, and I love that she held space for both truths simultaneously.
Valerie: One horrifying thing I learned about D&D is that not every game has deep, meaningful RP like this? Which for me is at least half the point, if not more. I love when the Critical Role crew takes time to have conversations like this, moments that don’t necessarily move the plot or arc along, or aren’t about strategy or next steps, but are just about their own character’s evolutions and their interpersonal relationships. And I totally agree, I loved the way she talked about both women; and I can relate to that, a fun crush vs a serious crush. And how sometimes the fun crush is easier to latch onto because you have more stake in the serious crush.
Meg: I have heard that too. The horror! I’ve been so lucky to be in multiple D&D groups that have made space for intense vulnerability from players, where we’ve managed to create a really rich sense of trust in each other that allows for deep conversations between characters. I love so many things about this game, from the combat to the puzzles to the endless choices, but getting to RP with friends has been a really incredible gift. I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I do, but it’s such a big part of all of my games now that I can’t imagine playing without it.
Yasha writes a poem for Beau, Episode 112
Jester, the captain of the BeauYasha ship, encourages Yasha to go for Beau by perhaps writing her a poem. Chaos ensues.
Meg: It’s no secret that I have major do-I-want-to-do-her-or-be-her feelings about Yasha, but this conversation had me absolutely howling with laughter. Ashley’s delivery is so good, Jester is so eager and sweet and anxious to help, and the resulting poem is just ridiculous. But I loved Yasha’s desire to take that big next step, to make a declaration, to try to open a line of conversation that’s acknowledging the undercurrents that have literally been there since the beginning of the campaign. And making it a fully awkward, perfect disaster? Icing on the cake.
Valerie: I was cry-laughing at this part. I think Ashley is a more cautious role-player, but also a really thoughtful one, so this pairing was perfect because Jester was able to pull information from Yasha and let us in on how she’s really feeling while keeping the scene organic and playful and truly chaotic.
Beau reads Yasha’s poem, Episode 115
Beau reads the paper Yasha gave her, and the chaotic beginnings of a poem are scribbled out and instead there’s a beautiful letter inside about the things Yasha has noticed about Beau that she likes. An excerpt: “You stick up for the people you love, and you make me feel stronger. I can hold my own. I know that you know that, but you make me feel safe. I don’t even know if that makes sense. But I know, no matter what, you’ll have my back, no questions asked.”
Valerie: When Beau sank all the way down into the bathtub…I felt that.
Meg: I think I fully left my body during this scene. I loved how deliberate Marisha was with it, showing that Beau knew how significant this letter would be and preparing with wine and a bath. It was such a big step for Yasha, and Beau knew it.
Valerie: I think also Beau grew up in a family that wasn’t big on platitudes, always feeling kind of overlooked and underestimated, which I think is why she latched on to Fjord so quickly, because he’s so patient and supportive. And I think that’s maybe one reason why this letter hit Beau so hard and why she wasn’t jumping up and down and punching things with joy but instead crying in the bathtub and holding her breath until her lungs burned. Someone she cared about noticed her, and it’s a big deal. Someone saw all the strength in her she fought for, all the good in her she’s constantly doubting. Someone saw her.
I know a million people already did this one, but I just really wanted to draw it anyway. #beauyasha #criticalrole #criticalroleart #criticalrolefanart #criticalrolespoilers pic.twitter.com/7ea7RZE84l
— Vic Iddstar Hill – Commissions closed (@Iddstar) November 11, 2020
Yasha has a vision of her dead wife, Episode 105
Yasha has a vision in which she hears the voice of her dead wife. She makes the decision to move away from the voice and hears her wife call out to her, “I’m proud of you. Don’t let me be a shackle.”” When she wakes up, her wings are full and feathered again.
Meg: Fucking hell, this scene. I don’t even know how to talk about this. It felt like every single person at the table was holding their breath, and that moment when Yasha actually says goodbye to her wife, and chooses to move forward? When she accepts her wife’s blessing? Whew.
Valerie: I loved the way Matt did this, and how the way he set it up, it seemed like there was going to be another tragic goodbye, but when Yasha chose to move on, actually getting that approval? The “I’m proud of you”? Whew, indeed.
Beau asks Yasha out on a date, Episode 120
To finish off 2020, in the final episode before their holiday hiatus, Marisha gave us all a gift by having Beau ask Yasha on a date. They’re both extremely nervous and overly cautious and it’s very pure and sweet.
Meg: This whole conversation was absolute perfection, with full buy-in from both Marisha and Ashley, and I could not love it more. The looks on everyone’s faces around the table, the joy between them both, the pride that Beau had, the little strut Yasha left with – I absolutely fucking loved it. And the fact that Yasha immediately hedged her bets, preemptively saying that if it didn’t work out they could still be friends, was so unbearably similar to what I said when my girlfriend and I first got together that I felt a little offended. Sometimes representation is too close to home, you feel me?
Valerie: THEY’RE BOTH SO AWKWARD AND I LOVE THEM. I was like “these disaster lesbians are going to be the death of me” and it looked like everyone else at the table agreed.
Honorable mentions: Yasha calling the fish market her favored terrain, Caduceus confirms he is ace/aro, Nott/Veth’s trans-coded story, Wildmother is a queer goddess, Matt regularly introducing NPCs that use they/them pronouns
Meg: FAVORED. TERRAIN.
Valerie: Jokes like that are how I know that being queer isn’t just a box Ashley and Marisha checked for their characters. Like you said earlier, it’s so embedded. They make little side comments like this all the time and it’s exactly how we talk amongst friends and it makes me squeal with glee every single time. It’s how I know that even if they’re not queer themselves, they have queer friends and are consuming queer content and this isn’t just lip service. And similarly, it felt like Sam wasn’t playing the Nott/Veth story as a joke, he really tapped into her pain about the whole situation.
Meg: I think the Nott/Veth story was really beautiful, and while I’m cis and don’t feel qualified to unpack it in too much detail, I’ve loved reading comments from trans and non-binary CR fans about how closely they’ve identified with her story. I also deeply, deeply loved Caduceus acknowledging in-game that he’s ace – Taliesin has confirmed that on Talks before, but I was so excited to see it actually come out in a session, in a way that felt really lovely and organic.