Allonté Barakat (he/they) is a burgeoning content creator, GM/DM, player, and voice actor. When they grow up they hope to meld the power of gaming with the healing of therapy. Best known as Kryst Z’Grande, he evolved his talents in pursuits of elevating more voices. Be sure to look out at their social media for a new upcoming podcast and audio drama!
@ThatBearKat across all social media platforms.
Allonté, we first got to know you when you played in Rachel’s D&D session for Andrea’s Adventurers Charity RPG Livestream. You were enthusiastic, smart, and your character had a mechanical cat – obviously we liked you!
I liked you too! Also, I had fun with the party! I feel like I lucked out with your DM/GM style. Early on I remember you saying, “The collaborative aspect is my favorite part, if as the GM I haven’t spoken in 20 mins because my players are planning a talent show to boost the morale of their pirate crew, I am happy!” This is such a beautiful and refreshing sentiment, you gave us the freedom to be weird. If one is not weird, they might be boring, at least that’s my personal philosophy. So much platinum coins to you and/or maybe some churu for the kitten!
When did you first play Dungeons and Dragons? What was the experience like?
I played Dungeons and Dragons in the late 3.5 era… for a class! I dreamed of being a game designer and in the pursuit of an Interactive Media and Game Design degree, I found myself in a fun storytelling class. Until then, I didn’t know what it was or what it could be. The experience as a whole was interesting. I honestly can’t say I enjoyed it until a story moment just seemed to align like a constellation of badassary! Through an obscuring fog, facing imminent death from a plague rat in the musty murky sewers, a single, last-ditch spinning keen-edge of a dagger seemed to part this occlusion sea. This desperate edge pierced the skull of the mammoth plague beast and one-hit-K.O.’d it, saving our party (and our session). I walked away from that experience changed, knowing that a TTRPG has the power to evoke emotions in an ever-lasting way.
I went on to try to reclaim and recreate this experience but I have often gone up against huge gate-keeping walls. So many people like to tell others the “correct way to play” or hold on too strong to strict ideals that somehow a world where literally and figuratively anything could happen has to be a carbon copy of the real one with all its woes. No thanks. So I took a long break until about 2-3 years ago where I performed, or live-played, a character in 5e for an audience!
What is your favorite part of playing D&D?
I don’t know if I can just pick one thing! There is something so attractive about embodying, exploring, and experiencing a world that is (hopefully) so much better than our real one. I am gay. I am a person of color. This world is not, shall we say, often kind. Being in these worlds gives me hope. In that hope, I have seen the loving power to change people, to slay demons within and without, and have some fun! From all these experiences I want to see us bring these ideals back to the real world.
In a slightly less existential way, I would have to say I love pushing the boundaries of what things could happen, using my character and abilities in ways that are unexpected. As some would put more succinctly, the rule of cool. Say we were on a boat. The night is a heavy backdrop of deep night, with a single pale light source in the sky. Fog rolls in from all sides making it neigh impossible to decipher East from North from South-West. Why can’t I, as a Sorcerer, use Absorb Elements in a ritualistic dance to bring that fog into me as my compatriots light the way forward and steer? Or perhaps we should do a one-on-one duel, against a mighty wizard. My back against the wall, the arena engulf in flames, and I am inches away from death. I steal their prized tome, with a lifetime of lifeworks inside, and threaten to burn it unless they surrender. Are these ways of existing and playing bad D&D? I for sure don’t think so! (P.S. I’ve done all those things in previous games!)
Have you experienced any differences playing D&D with queer folx vs. predominantly straight groups?
I. Need. To. Play. With. More. Queer. Beings! It is a massive difference. So many straight groups come with this baggage-notion that there is one path, one right way to play, and/or one way to be. There may also be the dreaded, I’m going to play as [insert marginalized group or proxy] without understanding the depths or doing the work. Don’t even get me started on the dangerous implicit biases we have all seen or experienced firsthand. This is not why we play!
There may be that living and fighting for a life that is different from the majority of others gives us marginalized individuals an emotional superpower. I have had more fun, connected with, been accepted by, and every other positive and loving attribute possible by other queer gaymers! Queer people bring the love and space for you to be you at whatever stage of being you are at and willing to pull you towards the light. We are guardians of the ideal world. I love that prejudice has no place in our spaces, or at least not without proper talking beforehand and aftercare.
What makes a nerdy space feel safe to you as a queer person? Are there any (positive or negative) signals that you look for?
A quick visual cue for me is, how homogenous does space looks from the outside? Are there wonderfully out loud queer folk? Are there people of color? Are there women? If none of these exist, you should probably run away screaming. Well, use your best judgment. I have, a countless many times, had to be a pioneer of various spaces so that others can feel comfortable. I also say for joining a new group, or even looking at various content, look at the legacy. If women, people of color, or queer people are being cycled through or do not wish to come back to the game, while other more “palatable” people remain, there are core issues there that do not deserve your awesomeness.
So this is the part where I have to confess to you, that when I joined the charity stream, you were my absolute first choice in being my GM/DM! I distinctly remember making an audible sigh of relief when I got in your game, I naively knew, well hoped, that the wall of “this is what this is” didn’t exist. That let me be free to be the Fyrrin Brande possible in our game. By the way, my question to you is one unanswered in game, what does transmutation magic taste like?
It’s like eating a handful of every flavor beans – you don’t know what you’re going to get, and it changes as you eat them!
That being said, the positive signals are always openness, understanding, and making good decisions that keep our human need for connection strong. If people are making non-selfish choices, are being inclusive, and can recognize your human needs, then set some gaming roots!
You were a part of a live-play podcast. How did you become involved in that project? What were the highlights and lowlights?
I was, indeed. Truth be told, it was a bit out of the left field. A friend of mine I played card games with suggested I try out for this project that started from nothing. I never thought of myself as charismatic or anything but I figured why not try. I didn’t think I’d end up being first-choice casting. In my tenure as the Crystalline Sorcerer + Creation Bard, Kryst Z’Grande, I set out to tell a story that means something, so that even if the project failed, I did something that maybe someone out there could connect to and not feel alone. From the onset, I wanted to tell a story about trauma, that you, the listener, can know in the back of your mind that no matter what was done to you, you can and will overcome. It was also important to play a queer person of color because our stories don’t get told. We do not get to be heroes, just sacrifices. I also confess I played an idealized self. I think in some way everyone does that, they bring a lot of themselves into whatever they play.
My highlight is experiencing the power this story had. There were so many beautiful messages from many beautiful souls about being inspired, heard, seen, that I got to help people through tough times being someone they could reach out to. In that, I think there exists my lowlight, that even throughout all the good, through what was a great character performance (I hope), in my opinion, reality became just another sad tale-reflection of issues marginalized people face to this day.
Do you have any tips or advice for people who want to try playing D&D? Any tools that you recommend?
Dive. Right. In! There is no true right or wrong way to play! If you are new, grab your friends and do a one-shot amongst yourselves. You can also hire an understanding GM to run a game for you if that seems daunting. Be willing to have conversations before and after the game, not just about expectation but about actions that happen in game. Give kiddos the rule of cool or have a conversation about why a choice was harmful to others. A party of adventurers in a TTRPG is most often a reflection of the real-life relationship connections at the table, so if you want a strong party, build strong friendships.
For the more experienced folk, go out and play more games, more TTRPG, more everything! D&D is great but by no means perfect. Remember this is a world where literally anything can happen, so make it happen. Dust off those mechanics where you can, for example, fail a roll but with some advantage! There are some great tools out there like DnDBeyond to make characters, monsters, NPCs, and see other homebrews. Foundry or Roll20 for playing the game with, quite literally, all the bells and whistles. Check out r/dndmaps, Inkarnate, Watabou, to find or make maps. MyNoise.net to play around with ambient music/noise to get the room feeling like your scene or setting. 2MinuteTabletop is also great for tokens.
So to all you wonderful, beautiful, creative souls, get out there and get gaming!
Thank you, Allonté! And thank you for leaving us a picture of you with your oldest kitten, Sir Winston. If you want more of Allonté, check out their linktree.
If you are a queer person who plays or DMs/GMs Dungeons and Dragons and you would like to be interviewed, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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