Gayme Night: Gather Your Party, Let’s Play Dungeons and Dragons

Thank fuck for D&D. Seriously. This political climate has got me way, way down. So you know what’s been really excellent? Not being in this world for a dozen or so hours every month.

Let me back up and explain.

Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game played with dice and a character sheet on which there are statistics, numbers that represent what your character is good at. Players roll dice and then add the appropriate number and that lets the group know if they succeed or fail at their plan. Most players play as one character, but one player, typically called the Dungeon Master, plays as all the monsters, all the other characters in the world there are to talk to and, occasionally, the world itself (you bet each day has weather in my game!). The main thing keeping folks from playing D&D, at least in my experience talking to people, is the lack of this one player willing to put in a couple hours prep and run everything, which sounds a whole lot like work when I put it that way. Except it’s fun. I promise. I love being the DM. I love being the DM more than I love being a player. And I am telling you this because you might too — I didn’t expect to. I got into DMing because I quickly realized that the only way we were going to play was if I did it.

Feel free to use my lil’ cartoon for your invites!

Some people think D&D is a game for straight white dudes. It’s not. In fact, because one person is responsible for inventing the entire world, it’s a game for whoever you are and whoever your players are. That’s why I’m featuring it in more than a comedic capacity. Tabletop role-playing games that are as expansive as Dungeons and Dragons are excellent when you normally don’t see yourselves and your friends in the games you play. They’re excellent for when you want to process through difficult stuff you’re seeing in the world with little consequence. And, if you have a feminist group like mine, it’s excellent for giving your friends a lot of opportunities to subvert problematic tropes in awesome creative ways and, yes, to skewer the patriarchy on their swords.

But how to get started? And how to include your friends, some of whom may have never played before? I’ve got you covered. Here’s the lowest cost way to get going and some different kinds of formats depending on how many friends you’ve got who want in.

Getting Started

You can get started for the price of graph paper, pencils and dice. Here, there will be enough dice in here ($10.18) for everyone to use. Depending on your group size, that might even give everyone a set. Players really treasure sets their DM friends give them. I still use a set my very first DM got me. I recommend everyone bring a notebook too—you want your players to take notes about what interests them, so they can come back to them later and pursue a line of inquiry. You also want to take notes because you’re going to invent things on the fly (believe me, your players will ALWAYS surprise you). Here’s a pack of five Muji grid notebooks for $10.95.

Here are the very most basic rules for free. Start here if you’re not sure you want to invest in being a DM. If you want a little more detail (and a good deal of searchability options), check out the D&D Beyond Beta.  Here are pre-generated character sheets so you don’t spend time doing math when you could be going on adventures. And speaking of adventures—

Campaign v. One Shot

Before we decide how you’re going to grab up your first adventure, you have to decide how much time you want to dedicate to playing. There are two main sorts of play-lengths: a game that takes more than one session to play and a game that only takes an afternoon or an evening.

The first sort is a campaign—a series of adventures strung together to tell a larger story. To see a good example of a campaign, check out Penny Arcade’s C-Team. There’s only four episodes so far, so you can catch up pretty easily if you enjoy watching! This is also a good example of a game that doesn’t use a combat grid or minis, which is the least expensive way to run a game! The second sort is a one-shot — a whole story arc that can be completed in one gayme night. One-shots are good if you aren’t sure about your time investment desires OR if you want to do something crazy with your characters just to experiment. For good examples of one-shots, check out this one episode of Critical Role that is kinda its own thing or this Critical Role one-shot (queer lady characters, but beware, it’s a group of evil characters and this one-shot is violent as a result!).

Once you know your level of investment, it’s time to decide on your adventure! But where to find them? Well there are tons of adventures on something called the DM’s Guild, an open marketplace for DMs to share the things they make up for free or profit. Do be aware: there are some hella problematic things on the DMs Guild! If you want to skip that and get a more curated look at it, Dragon + Magazine often features some of the best adventures on the DMs Guild (and includes free downloadable adventures as well). If you want a more direct rec, I bought this adventure for $2, which is good for first and second level characters (there’s some weird tropey relationship stuff at the end of it, but you can feel free to not!).

If you want to save yourself sifting through adventures (or memorizing anything), you can do what I do and MAKE SOME SHIT UP. Take the plot hooks from your favorite books and D&D-ize them. It’s just your home game so STEAL WITH ABANDON. Give life to your weirdest fever dreams. A crew of halfling bards on a river boat that they operate by all pedaling it like a bicycle while two of them play a giant tuba coming out the middle of the boat as a morale boost? THAT EXISTS IN MY GAME. And you know what doesn’t? Weird tropey relationship stuff! The merits to making up your own adventure are that you don’t have to deal with any eyerolling storytelling, you can just cut to the stuff you love and that’s that. The drawback is, of course, time spent. Might I recommend borrowing maps and ideas and tweaking them just a bit? Here’s a good wizard’s mill that I’ve used — the motivation for going there? The sorts of people they talk to on the way? That’s all up to you. (I also recommend tweaking the choice of boss monster for your first level players, or they will all die.) If you want a good primer on how to make your own adventures, I might recommend Matthew Colville’s series for beginner DMs. While Colville is cool and all, he sometimes uses clips of classic movies to illustrate his point. These classic movie clips, well, how do I put this…the breath-stealing isms present in many classic movies are the reason I’m not a movie person. But I’ve never heard anyone explain how to make an adventure from scratch better than Matthew Colville, so here you go.

Now to decide on a few other kinds of things regarding your adventure.

If You Have Two or Three Other Friends

One thing to note if you’re running for a smaller party is that most adventures you can buy or download are perfectly suited for exactly four people.This is great if your group has exactly four people. If you don’t, the main thing to keep in mind as you’re scaling adventures up and down is that, because math, whichever side has more people on it has a significant advantage REGARDLESS of how badass your adventurers seem to be. So even if you’re using something like Kenku or Gnolls and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to do that much damage, if your group of two goes up against four of these fairly weak enemies, they’re likely going to find themselves in trouble anyway. Remember, the point is not to destroy your friends’ characters. The DM isn’t adversarial. You are there to make your friends look like badass heroes and to tell a cool story. There is no “winning” D&D (that’s the other reason I love it). So if you’re running for a smaller group and you’re brand new and you don’t have a sense of how powerful your monsters are yet, I recommend using an encounter calculator so you set up the kind of battles you mean to.

If You Have A SHITTON OF FRIENDS

You may have the opposite problem — you sent out the email seeing who was interested and BOYHOWDY 10 people replied. First off, congrats on having the biggest, queerest D&D game, you’re gonna have a grand ole time. But second, I played in a group of eight. It was my first D&D experience. And while I loved that group, Imma tell you right now: DO NOT DM FOR EIGHT OR MORE PEOPLE. It is difficult — the group gets sidetracked a lot more, combat takes FOREVER, it’s just a mess. My group is capped at six. But the point of gayme night is to get your community together to play, so what’s a queermo to do? Well there’s a style of play called The West Marches that might suit you, wherein you cap the number of players at four or five a session, but a different group of players is always playing. Instead of you prepping an adventure, you give the whole group a set of plot hooks (like a treasure map with a bunch of cool sounding locations or a book of faerie stories, something like that) and then the players decide what they’re interested in, put together a group of players into the same, and say hey, we want to go visit the [insert whatever it is here]. You decide how much time you need to get it ready, when to schedule, etc. and then that group shows up. They go on their adventure, head back to town and add what they found to the collective map, and then a new group reforms based on another plot hook, maybe something they discovered along the way. This is great if you want to make up your own adventures and setting and such, but don’t want to do a ton of work up front just to have your players turn and go in the opposite direction. Here’s Matt Colville again with a really excellent description of what a West Marches game looks like and how you might encourage your players to really own it.

But What Kind of Things Do I Do For The Hosting Part of It?

Okay, so D&D has a particular culture of pizza and soda to it. Basically the name of the Gayme is to make it feel like the basement or dining room table from when you were a kid. Think Stranger Things. Don’t lean into making things medievally (though sometimes I do bake up a loaf of bread for my crew and serve it with some grapes and such). Lean into making things feel downright comfortable. Have everyone throw down a couple dollars for pizza. Pick up any of Mey’s fave sodas. If someone wanted to swoop in like a hero with their mom’s old cookie recipe, that’s extra cool. And if you drink, beer is the way to go here (but lets everyone be cogent. D&D is really hard to play at any level more than tipsy). I highly recommend pajamas and/or onesies. As you can see, we don’t get dressed up for our game:

See? This is my group! They don’t know it in this picture, but they were about to stumble upon a murder mystery that would force this group of chaotic misfit toys to align themselves with AUTHORITY and they feel all kinds of ways about it hahahahaha I love it.

If you get invited to a game, remember that your host is DMing, which takes preparation work. Offer to organize the pizza-getting or the weird-soda-tasting portion of the evening to take something off their plate. And please! Send me pictures of your queer games: ali [at] autostraddle.com. It would bring me joy (and you might get featured here on Autostraddle!). And please do comment if you’ve got questions. I want to make a million queer DMs give this a try. I’m sick of walking into tabletop spaces and being stared at because I’m the only one of me there. Let’s queer this space up, friends.


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Geekery Editor for Autostraddle, Part-time Faculty at The New School (teaching digital storytelling), Managing Editor for Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard Center for Research On Women. Follow me on Twitter @AEOsworth or on Instagram, also @AEOsworth.

Ali has written 493 articles for us.

39 Comments

  1. 3

    All my D&D junk is in 3.5 or Pathfinder and I haven’t had the heart or the money to upgrade all of my rule books. I used to play regularly in college, with a group of straight dudes, but actually it was always hella fun and our DM wrote his own campaign. I dragged some more women into the group down the road. The most fun I ever had was creating a campy gay man Spanish swashbuckler (I had a flaming, singing sword). D&D can be really amazing as a collective story telling experience and if you have a lot of creative and artsy friends who like theatre it sometimes turns into just your friends doing drunk improv… so don’t be scared to try. DMing is so time consuming though, I never really liked it – props to every DM who really loved their job.

    If anyone wants the 3.5 rule books in a digital copy, I actually think I have every single one saved as a .pdf.

  2. 2

    See I’m the odd one out of everything, while I’ll play anything, I’ve found that my favorite edition is 4th. It’s really hard to get other players on board with that if they have any exposure the the amount of hate thrown at it.

    I’m currently in a 5e game, I’m the only queer in the group, but not the only woman.

    I think everyone should try a tabletop roleplaying game at least once in their life, though honestly D&D might not be the best choice for beginners.

  3. 3

    I started playing way back in high school before I transitioned, and just recently picked it up again with my old group. I run our game, a 3.5e game set in Eberron, now with added queers! It’s been a great way to reconnect with old friends, and the one time we managed to get together in person to play was just like old times 🙂

    Incidentally if you wanna play online, Roll20 is a great free resource for D&D and a whole host of other RPGs, but nothing beats in-person play.

  4. 3

    I’ve been itching for a new campaign ever since I graduated college and all my D&D friends moved away. If anyone wants to start a super queer online campaign via Roll20, I’m in. (It’s definitely true that in person play is better, but when your favorite DM and best friend moves to Austria…)

  5. 3

    This is such good timing! After a great experience at magfest, I was really stuck on how I could help make safe and fun collaborative spaces, and a close friend said, “dm a campaign you knave.”

    I’m running a 5e game on roll20 in a homebrew world I sort of based on the x files meets legend of korra tech. I was so nervous for the first game but the second a player rolled to see if the office coffee was bad, we were off and running.

    Really excited to use these resources, and even more excited to see the other games people are running on here. Also would play in a roll20 game or in a NYC area based game.

  6. 1

    Over the past year or so, my board game friends and I have slowly getting into RPGs, and I like it a lot! I thought the open nature wouldn’t work well with my quiet and introverted nature, but I really enjoy it! Only problem we have right now is that it’s hard for us to meet very often, so we try to do one offs, but they don’t happen as often and I’d wish 🤓

  7. 4

    Crit role! They’re doing another one shot tonight, of the evil Conan O’Brien variety.

    I have to go do grown-up stuff instead of watching it, but it did get my brother and his friends into playing, so it’s not so bad.

  8. 1

    I’m in several 5th edition D&D games right now. I was always more fond of Pathfinder, because it was WAY more inclusive and had a larger variety of storylines in the official lore (of course you can do way more with homebrews). I still love Pathfinder, just enjoy the lore, setting, and iconic characters a bit more than the gameplay.

    5th Edition D&D I’ve come to like almost as well. It’s a lot easier to learn the rules, less getting bogged down in numbers, and Wizards is making a pretty good attempt at being inclusive. My local game shop’s D&D Encounters sessions generally have high turnout, and draws in a good number of women and queer people, many of whom had never played before, which is enjoyable for me. 5e feels a lot easier to get into when you’re brand new, and seems to have a better learning curve. I still like Pathfinder for the tactical game, but there are fewer new players starting it just due to the complexity and how many books you need to make your archetype character.

  9. 2

    Matt Colville’s videos (especially the first few, which are the only things I’ve seen that actually explain how to build and run an adventure) are incredibly useful. I would warn, though, that he’s coming from an older, straighter, maler tradition of the game, so he’ll say things like “I wish this weren’t the case, but if you’re watching this, you’re probably male”, which is a little awkward for me to hear as a queer women whose long-running D&D groups have tended to be majority queer and non-male.

    I’ve seen other people in the comments mentioning roll20, and it’s definitely a different experience (and perhaps not the “quintessential D&D experience”), but there are also up sides, especially if you want to run the sort of long-running campaign that will take over a year to completely and you’re at a point in your life where people are likely to move frequently. On the one hand, you definitely have to account for the time it takes to resolve technical issues, and you also have to accept that the pacing will probably be thrown by the fact that inevitably players will start browsing Facebook when the game gets slow or when another character is pursuing a personal plot. On the other hand, if you can deal with the pacing issues, you can get through a lot more game, just because I’ve found that it’s significantly easier to get people to block off a week a night to be online than to get people into the same place twice a month. I played my first campaign last year during my senior year of college and we only managed to play 9-10 sessions throughout the entire school year, and those had to be self-contained, since I graduated at the end of them. On the other hand, I started a roll20 game in August, and we’ve now played 25-30 sessions and are still going strong.

    (I’m not saying everyone should play online games by any means, but I see a lot of vague comments about how “it’s not the same”, and I thought it might be helpful to delineate how.)

    • 2

      I have a funny story re: Coleville’s videos. I have this very good friend, also of the straight white dude variety. And I’ve been trying to get him to DM since FOREVER. So when he was last at my apartment, I sat him down and made him watch Matt Coleville. Now I didn’t always get Coleville’s movie references or his jokes, but I find the advice to be super solid. Well this friend, my age, is ROLLING with laughter and quoting the films as they’re playing and I was like OH! OH I DON’T GET IT BECAUSE I’M NOT A STRAIGHT WHITE DUDE AND THIS RIGHT HERE IS WHY STRAIGHT WHITE DUDES THINK THEIR THINGS ARE DEFAULT. Like it’s one thing to get it in your brain, it’s another thing to watch it play out in front of you with someone you grew up with.

  10. 3

    how do you always time these kind of articles so perfectly with my life? i sent “we should finally try tabletop role-playing” to my not so straight group chat literally yesterday

  11. 0

    I adore gaming in all kinds of flavors and have loved 5e. I am about to try running my first online game through Roll20 but I have a lot of worries about tech distractions or difficulties. Gaming is and has been the main social outlet I have always had. My current local game is great, I run it for 1 Trans guy, 1 cis dude, and 1 genderqueer person. It is easily the queerest and best group I have known. 🙂

  12. 0

    …well this is timely. I’ve been invited to participate in a remote D&D game with some old friends, I’ve never played, and I’ve been trying to research…everything. This article and the comments are a helpful resource! Thanks!

  13. 1

    I love love love this. Unfortunately D&D does require real human friends, which I sort of lack, but my dreams of a badass feminist campaign continue nonetheless. DMing seems scary but breakdowns like this lower the barrier to entry a lot.

    Also every time Ali me writes a gaming article my heart grows two sizes. When it namechecks CR, it grows five.

    • 0

      DMing is scary at first, but then you get halfway through your first session and that “I didn’t prepare enough” feeling turns into “I am the DM and I can literally make everything up if I get stuck” and things get easier. One time, I set up an encounter that was supposed to take half an hour, and one of my players freakin’ teleported into the damn vault the creature was guarding. Keeps you on your toes for sure, but it’s a lot of fun.

  14. 0

    I’m much more of a story gamer (I’d rather play Monsterhearts than D&D) but I would love to explore the crunchier games more! I wish I had more of a local gaming community. Does anyone have experience with Roll20? The idea of an online community is appealing, but I’m not sure if it’s worth delving into.

  15. 0

    Ok, I’m going to tip my super-geek hand here and say – I’m actually doing a write up of very simple mechanics for playing rpgs with no DM (the secret is probability charts). I say this as someone who likes DM-ing: the most immersive, rich, and interesting rpg sessions I’ve every played involved no DM and no story prep beyond character creation. I used to think of myself as a power gamer then found this old pdf called the Mythic GM Emulator and it changed everything. The pdf needs re-working (hence my write up!), but I lovelovelove what it’s done for my game table.

  16. 0

    Yay, I’m excited Gayme Night is back! I loved the previous articles and I can’t wait to see what you make next.

    D&D has been kinda hit or miss for me. I’ve enjoyed playing in both the campaigns I’ve been in, but my first love has always been board games over D&D/Magic the Gathering and sometimes it feels like my friend group leans way hard in the direction of those. It’s nigh impossible for me to get people to sit down and learn to play Caverna or Scythe while Magic is something they already know and D&D is a store sponsored event 2-3 times a week.

    • 0

      My group has been trying to get it together for Bruncheons and Dragons for a LITERAL YEAR but we have two members who work weekends so we haven’t been able to nail that one UGH.

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