It was hot and the air felt heavy with humidity. I was glad to be adorning a small Deathly Hallows dress; it was form-fitting, represented a fandom I enjoyed and helped to keep the heat at bay. There was no escaping that hot air, though, once entering Dueling Grounds – the Friendly Local Gaming Store. The Air Conditioner was broken and the numbers of attendees for our weekly Adventurer’s League game was climbing each week. The mass of bodies shoved into one place was overwhelming and made the oxygen suck out of your lungs.
I settled in my usual spot at the backroom table. It was quieter there, easier to hear (or attempt to) while playing. Unloading, I withdrew my dice tray; a vibrant pink embroidered with a custom pansexual pride-themed string inside. My dice bag was heavy, always full, and I rifled through for my sets to be used for the session. My binder full of characters, new and old, was splattered with stickers from every company I had done business with for role-playing accessories. I decorated it in the way I recall decorating my locker in high school…minus the black garbage bags.
Hanging around my neck was a d20 encased in a steel ring prison, it felt heavy against my skin but also provided a nice, cool reprieve from the heat at each new touch. It was an exhausting business getting ready for gaming. Not only did I always make a mind to bring all the needed ‘tools’ to play but I had to ensure I looked the part. That with one look it was undeniable that I belonged at that table.
“Are you waiting for your boyfriend?”
“Do you know what that is in your necklace?”
“This is a really violent game, are you sure you want to play?”
“You know, you have to do some math to play…”
“Do you need help making your character?”
“Here, let me explain how that spell works for you…”
The questions I’ve heard in the past, even in my friendly local gaming store who knew me well, still found me and caused me to want to wear my tabletop nerdy attire like armour to keep from being questioned. And to keep me from being denied a seat at a table, or rather yet, given one out of pity.
Ever since I entered into tabletop gaming in a more public space, it has been a subconscious goal to work for my seat at the table. It wasn’t enough that I knew how to play, or that I always brought my own books, dice, characters, and accessories – hell, it wasn’t even enough when I was the Dungeon Master and spent hours preparing maps and props. I remember hand-crafting a letter seal with my partner one weekend and becoming frustrated.
“Why don’t you just leave it alone then? It’s just a seal,” he said.
“It’s not. We need to finish it and I need to use it,” I responded. And at the time I still wasn’t fully aware why it mattered so much. But when I finally saw what my efforts were for, I was filled with resentful anger.
The next time I went to the store, I made a point to observe the other players around me. Some players brought with them the only dice and wore plain clothes, others came empty handed but still sat at the same table and enjoyed themselves. Why couldn’t I let this go and come just as I was, the way I have seen so many others do it?
Because I was afraid – and I still am, even once I recognized it.
Afraid that my seat will be questioned. That I will forget a rule or ruling and be pitied at the table, seen as lesser than the other players, specifically the non-queer, non-disabled, men. Afraid that I will slow the game down at any point in time so I ensure to always be quick with my turns, ready, and avoid faltering as much as possible. I reread my character sheet before every session despite having them all memorized, I check my spells in a thoroughness I’ve never even studied for a school exam for. Whenever I run a game, I read ahead, backward, behind, in the lore, older editions, to such excess that when it comes to running the game my head is so muddled with all the information I still end up sputtering.
To what end?
To feel more confident in my ability to sit and play at a table that was not originally created for me. To have it so I am never a crutch on the other players. Because when you’re a part of the community that at one point was much less welcomed (and to some, still you are not), a desperate need to prove them and their viewpoint wrong outweigh all other options.
When I go into the store now, I bring only the dice I adore with me. I still have my tray, my inspired jewellery, my character sheets, decorated binder, and the ink on my skin showcasing who I am, but as I found a consistent and welcoming group, I am less concerned with fumbling on rules, or lore, and I can relax in my seat and if at a point my ears or eyes fail to catch a word, I let it go. But, when new people sit with us, I am quick to sit straighter and show them my badges not as a brag but as a validation that they need not question my ability at the table.
The more queer, disabled, and women or non-binary players I see out in the community creating and making the game better for all of us, the less this feeling takes over me. It is with a great hope that one day, I could come empty-handed to the table and feel just as confident in claiming a seat – instead of having to sing for it.