Tabletop roleplaying games are a world of wonder. They allow us to explore things wholly imaginary through frameworks of dice, cards, pens, paper and people. If there’s one thing we could all agree on it’s that there’s really nothing like them.
Something else that’s brilliant about tabletop RPGs is that the things they let us explore and express aren’t limited to the imaginary; if you’ve spent time going through Itch.io’s Physical Games page you’ve very likely seen some magnificent works of art that allow their readers and players to explore different aspects of the human experience through these very same tabletop frameworks. They explore all sorts of aspects of life from all sorts of peoples’ perspectives. There’s a specific segment of the indie RPG space that we’re here to talk about today: Queer games by Queer folx about Queer things.
Queer tabletop RPGs
- Coffee Shop AU
- Underground Broadcast
- Butterflies & Hurricanes
- Together We Write Private Cathedrals
- This Party Sucks
There are so many deep, meaningful games (and plenty of hilarious works) filling the indie RPG space to the brim with both subtle and unsubtle metaphor and direct statements about their creators’ experiences and views. Coming to and engaging with LGBTQ+ RPGs, regardless of who you are, can greatly open your eyes to new ways of thinking about yourself and the world.
Below is a list of some brilliant roleplaying games that are fantastically Queer. Some you may have heard of, others may be totally unknown, but all are absolutely wonderful.
1. Coffee Shop AU
Low-stakes slice-of-life romcom fan-fiction “action”!
You know about fan fiction, right? A common genre of the medium is the Coffee Shop Alternate Universe. Often romantic in tone, it puts the characters from a creator’s favourite story smack-dab in the middle of a coffee shop and just kinda sets ‘em loose to see what happens.
S. Donnely’s game gives some tools and plenty of guidance to make that exact thing happen in RPG form, and it’s all the right kinds of cute, cozy and Queer that’s perfect in a game like this. One player acts as the Barista, another the Stranger, and both as side characters as you tell the kind of “Will They/Won’t They?” story you’d find in an adorable romcom anime or fanfic.
The writing is warm and the subject matter at hand fully welcomes an exploration of Queerness, flirting and playfully getting to know someone that makes your heart flutter, all while embodying either characters from another story - like your long-running campaign in another tabletop RPG - or wholly new characters created just for this.
Plus, y’know, it pretty clearly gives you a delightful and intimate space to explore Queer relationships and to put yourself into those shoes.
Buy Coffee Shop AU on Itch.io.
2. Underground Broadcast
Skate, tag and overthrow the government in a stylish rebellion
Your city is controlled by The Organization, a major corporation stifling the creativity and beauty of the citizens with their bogus laws and iron fists. They feed the cops that chase you and your friends, and you know what? It’s just about time for a rebellion.
Underground Broadcast puts you and your friends in the skates of Rudies, young graffiti punks out to stick it to The Man and free their city from the megacorp’s trash-house rules. Play involves building momentum through acts of rebellion to break The City’s laws and gradually free citizens from corporate control.
The City itself has five laws that are true both fictionally and mechanically, and as you build Momentum you choose laws to remove; things like “Citizens will always obey the organization” and “You cannot hide from the organization”. Designer Will Uhl’s mechanic creates flavour and easily allows different stories to be told.
Underground Broadcast is a game about praxis, resistance and being yourself in spite of an overwhelmingly aggressive and controlling government all wrapped up in a solid bundle of Jet Set Radio-inspired style. Each of these aspects are inherently Queer; there has always been a need to resist forces who don’t want us to be through action both direct and indirect in whatever form you can. Before you ask, yes, Jet Set Radio is also very Queer.
Buy Underground Broadcast on Itch.io.
3. Butterflies & Hurricanes
Make promises; break them; grow together before you drift apart
Every now and then there’s a game that comes along and punches you right in the gut. Johanna Bosley’s Butterflies & Hurricanes will reach right in and tear you apart every single time you read it.
It’s an RPG about promises kept, broken and forgotten amongst a group of high-school friends parting ways, their last summer spent together and the relationships they build and break during those final weeks of being so directly close. It’s nostalgic, sentimental and it’ll remind you of times long-past with old friends and crushes. It’s explicitly Queer through the character options and the way the relationships and promises are explored. It can be romantic, at times, and - while it’s not required - the framework at play lends itself very well to exploring those themes.
The stories this game lets you tell are unabashedly personal and very easily explore intense emotions and relationship-defining events during the pivotal last days of a group of best friends.
At the end of play, you see how many of the promises you made during the game are kept and how many were broken, then explore how the last summer changed your character.
Buy Butterflies & Hurricanes on Itch.io.
4. Together We Write Private Cathedrals
Tell a story that will make historians say “They were very good friends”
Every RPG listed so far is a different kind of emotional gut-punch, but this one by Ben Roswell is honestly on a whole other level. The opening paragraph sets the tone perfectly: “To be queer and look for yourself in history is an exercise in reading what was left unsaid in what was able to pass uncensored.”
In Together, two players take on the role of Queer lovers in a world that does not want them to be, or where they must not be found out. They pass real correspondence through physical letters, journal entries, email, text messages or whatever other means back and forth with varying degrees of secrecy, comfort and even censorship, ending with the writing being destroyed.
It’s an intense framework built to mirror historical Queerness; the ways we have to comb through what we’re allowed to find those in history like us. Roswell makes these aspects explicitly and abundantly clear throughout all of Together’s text.
There’s a level of anger and disappointment in the writing. Queer History has been stifled and shunned and hidden away by historians and scholars, tucked behind statements of “Oh, they were, you know, really good friends.” Together We Write Private Cathedrals is so very intense, and may not be for everyone to engage with - but if you can find a partner to play this with, it’s highly recommended.
Buy Together We Write Private Cathedrals on Itch.io.
5. This Party Sucks
Go to a party you don’t want to be at and do everything you can to not think about your ex
For a lot of people, going to parties is a pretty key part of the high school and college experience. Coincidentally, so is getting broken up with and denying, or not even considering, your Queerness. Those things often meet up in the middle and it can do a lot to a person.
Moss Bosch’s This Party Sucks is like looking into a film of my past. It’s a frame by which three players play out the story of a Queer individual going through an incredibly relatable and pretty sad time in their life as they fade from party to party, doing everything they can to just not think about their ex.
It uses tokens, moves and strong collaborative storytelling to guide players through this story, seeing bits and pieces of their own pasts in this young, Queer individual who’s just trying to get by.
At only 13-ish pages it’s a short game, but simply reading those pages does so much work towards telling this story and getting the players to feel things and reflect on their own lives and Queerness. The most important part here, though, is that the character always ends better than they began. The epilogue and its unique moves don’t let you stay static; your character always grows and comes into their own. It’s simple, and it’s beautiful.
Buy This Party Sucks on Itch.io.
Become an immortal lich so you can get healthcare
Trans Masculine bottom surgery is, at the time of writing, unavailable in the UK. In a world where the NHS is already notorious for an exceedingly long waitlist for transgender healthcare, it seems unfortunately fitting that you’d think to pursue lichdom to guarantee you actually get your surgeries and care.
Laurie O’Connel’s Litchcraft is a game about that. The year is 2069, you’re trans and you’ve been on the waitlist for ages - and it looks like it’ll be another 300 years before you get even a shot at care (if you even live that long). So, of course, you decide to become an immortal, all-powerful death-mage so you can outlive the wait.
It’s a hilarious game, honestly. O’Connel’s writing hits a striking tone, the kind of sarcastic comedy that’s really only funny because you can recognise and relate to how ridiculous it is that people would ever need to wait so long for anything (let alone healthcare) that they decide, “You know what? Screw it, I’m going to do some dark magicks and become immortal.”
It’s wonderful, it’s sad, it’s frustrating, it’s funny and it’s a very real work that reflects on a very real problem in our world. Its systems lend well to various one-shots and modes of play, and it’s something that very much hits just the right tone.
Buy Lichcraft on Itch.io.
Edit: The designer of This Party Sucks has been corrected to Moss Bosch.