Dimension 20’s Dungeons & Drag Queens: A cultural reset for queer nerds

Dimension 20's Dungeons & Drag Queens: A cultural reset for queer nerds

Dungeons and Drag Queens is a gift to nerds and the LGBTQ+ community — one that brings both groups closer together.

The latest season of Dimension 20 — its 18th — is anything but a gimmicky celebrity Dungeons & Dragons stream. In true Dimension 20 fashion, everyone at the table commits to the story they’re telling together (even if they don’t quite know the rules yet). What results is a perfect showcase of the Dropout ethos, the art of drag, and the magic of playing your first tabletop role-playing game.

The full cast of Dungeons and Drag Queens—including Jujubee, Monet X Change, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Bob the Drag Queen.  Dungeon Master Brennan Lee Mulligan sits with his back to the camera.

Picture: Dimension 20/Dropout TV

Fans praise indie streamer Dropout for its inclusive programming, and Dungeons and Drag Queens embraces the LGBTQ+ community in no uncertain terms. However, while many of the D&D players (and Dimension 20 fans) I know are queer, most of the queer people I know don’t play D&D. They’ve been told it isn’t for people like us. Up until the last decade, they weren’t exactly wrong.

For most of its history, the system of D&D itself was not a safe space for queer people and people of color. Early guidebooks were written as if speaking to exclusively white, cisgender, heterosexual males. The primary goals of early D&D were looting the ruins of ancient civilizations and destroying strongholds of intrinsically evil races. In the last decade, the rise of actual play shows like Dimension 20 and Critical Role has brought more force behind collective pushes to decolonize the canon of D&D (to various levels of success). Even before that, though, marginalized folks prospered and made community in TTRPGs despite an actively oppressive system — something we have centuries of experience in.

Today, in a time when the LGBTQ+ community is under constant attack, Dungeons and Drag Queens is a beacon of nerdy, queer joy. Throughout the miniseries, each of the four queens (Jujubee, Monét X Change, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Bob The Drag Queen) experiences the range of emotions your first D&D campaign can evoke. The initial awkward discomfort of role-playing, the chaotic choices and tangents of new players working out a social contract in real time, and the emotional transcendence of surrendering to the game and telling a story with people you love.

“I know this isn’t real…” Jujubee said about her emotional journey in an episode of Dimension 20’s talk-back show Adventure Party (season 13, episode 2, “The Bloods and the Crypts”). “We just stepped into it, and we’re having a good time, but there’s some real-life energy that goes into a game like this. […] We’ve all been lost and we’re going through this little made-up board game, but there’s a goal. And that goal is to fix something. And I think anybody can relate to that.”

Dungeons and Drag Queens offers an easy and entertaining access point for queer people who have never felt safe entering D&D’s complex (and occasionally infuriating) world of rules, lore, and role-play. One could watch these four episodes, along with a few episodes of Adventure Partyand walk away with a basic grasp of the game.

Dungeon Master Brennan Lee Mulligan assumes no level of prior knowledge from the show’s four legendary queens. In a master class on DMing for new players, Mulligan creates invisible bumpers to guide his players through their first time playing D&D. He explains every mechanic patiently, comedically, and most importantly in a way that keeps the momentum going. This “yes, and” style of play encourages his players’ commitment to the bit while teaching new viewers that making big (and occasionally consequential) choices can make your game more joyful — even if you don’t know what number to add or what dice to roll.

Brennan Lee Mulligan grins against the dome, turned purple and lavender.  Meanwhile the cast of Dungeons and Drag Queens looks on, laughing.

Picture: Dimension 20/Dropout TV

Conversely, experienced TTRPG players who have little exposure to the world of drag get to understand how immensely talented, charismatic, and funny these four queens are, and in a rarefied space veteran players can clearly understand and empathize with. Once they get a handle on the mechanics, all four fall naturally into the rhythm of this new medium — and they slay.

Dungeons and Drag Queens (a name gracefully borrowed from a Seattle in-peron actual play show) casually blends two seemingly unrelated art forms: drag and actual play. It shows the two communities have more in common than one might initially think. Both rely on an exchange of devoted energy from everyone in the room. Both have been the target of misguided moral panic. Both involve embodying a new identity for a collective experience. On multiple occasions, Mulligan has said playing D&D is like performing a version of yourself filtered through stained glass. “That’s sort of what stories are, right?” Mulligan said on Adventure Party. “It’s a place to feel safely. […] If you want some catharsis, if you want to feel sorrow, if you want to feel rage, if you want to identify with somebody, come to this story.”

As Dimension 20 exemplifies not just this season but in all of its programming, D&D should be a safe place to be who you are. As a trans DM and player, embodying the characters at my tables allowed me to explore aspects of my gender in a space that was safe and with people I trusted.

Dungeons and Drag Queens welcomes that type of exploration with open arms. I can easily see this season of Dimension 20 rippling out through queer culture, inspiring a wave of people to adventure, explore, and create worlds where we not only belong, but are celebrated.

The first episode of Dungeons and Drag Queens premiered June 28, and can be watched for free on Dimension 20’s YouTube channel. The fourth and final episode premieres July 19, exclusively on Dropout.tv.

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