DC 10 Wisdom (Perception): From Vancouver, Canada, The GM Tim is a busy gaymer: He dungeon masters private games for multiple roleplaying groups. In the before-time he hosted the Quests + Queers board game nights, and DMed Fierce Adventures – a monthly live D&D Drag show which is on hiatus until COVID19 restrictions end. The GM Tim currently streams Star Trek Online and Star Trek: Lost Voyages.
DC 15 Intelligence (History): Through years of gaining experience and levelling up with the D&D Adventurers League, this Theatre of the Mind Game Master has multi-classed. Now an adventure writer, The GM Tim continues to run games at conventions, like Winter Fantasy, for Baldman Games, playtests for the League and Dungeons & Dragons, and is a featured DM at D&D in a Castle.
GM Tim, how did you become the GM that you are today?
I was lucky to have a DMing Yoda who taught me to play at the table. We played TTRPG Star Wars, Star Trek, Star Gate…all the Stars! Star Trek was my favorite – that’s my nerd jam. I ran my own Star Wars game with him, and he coached me through it, showing me how to listen to players and roleplay.
I started DMing two groups in Vancouver many years ago; they were weekly games that grew bigger and bigger. The players trusted me enough to – well, not screw around, but to dive into their characters’ backgrounds. One had a whole story created that his mom was evil, and his dad had trained him. I later built up a huge Darth Vader reveal that his dad was the one who was evil and had killed his mom. There were tears at the table! But you can’t do something like that without trust. I have a table rule that I call The Golden Box. Anything players put on their character sheet is untouchable, but if they share anything about their characters in game, like memories, I’m allowed to twist that into a story if I want.
The other group was all women, a mix of cis and trans women. I was super lucky and really honored to run this group for them. It was one of the big wake up calls for me. It was enlightening in how different the sessions were. The dynamics at the table, the way they interacted with NPCs and monsters – it was so different from typical grognard BS. The experience allowed me to be more narrative and creative as a DM.
What do you love about D&D?
When I first started playing, it was total escapism. It was a way to not be me. Today it’s a little bit of that, but I just love it. I don’t know that there is One Thing. The power for storytelling is incredible. Maybe the thing I like most is that you realize you’re more creative than you think you are. You can play with tropes and twists of tropes, and people love when you do that. It’s like someone who thinks they don’t have a mind for math, but soon they’re pulling off complex equations! It showed me that I can write and conceptualize things, and it’s opened a lot of avenues for me.
Have you experienced any differences playing D&D with queer people vs predominantly straight groups?
Oh yeah! In 2017, right as I became “The GM Tim,” I had a group of all queer guys. It’s the most diverse group I’ve ever had, and we all met through Grindr of all places. It was a lot of fun with a lot of jokes and great interplay. The best thing about it was that it was unapologetically gay. There was a complete normalization of queerness with zero worries or concern. We didn’t have to think or second guess ourselves. We didn’t have to worry that the straight guy across from us thought we were hitting on them. There was no body shaming or ageism. In fact, we had a recurring NPC called Mondo the bugbearian (a bugbear barbarian) who wound up dating a player’s rock gnome character. There were a lot of top/bottom jokes. They got so attached to him that when they thought he was dead they went on a quest to find a wish spell to bring him back to life!
I have another group that’s been playing with me for 4 years that is a group of straight cis guys. With all of my groups, I am unapologetically gay, and I make that known on the first night. If you’re not okay with that, the game is not going to go beyond that night. I will make just as many jokes about hot guys as they make about hot girls. Honestly, one of the things I’ve noticed is that straight cis players are less likely to get into relationships in the game if they’re dating someone in real life. Their monogamy extends into fiction. But gay or straight, any group can be just as good at story, and the trust factor between GM and players should exist no matter what. The vibe is just different.
Tell me about the D&D Drag Show you ran before the pandemic. It sounds amazing!
Matt Baume, a colleague in Seattle, started the concept with Queens of Adventure, first in bars and now a podcast. I asked him if I could do something similar in Vancouver. Fierce Adventures is mix of drag show with D&D starring four queens. A couple weeks before the event, we sit down to go over plot outline. We’ve only got two hours to perform, so as a group we agree that we need this and that to happen by this time, and by the end, we have to be there. Then we decide what numbers they want to do. We theme the numbers to what is happening in the game, so they can use the number as a way to defeat a monster, play into a joke, solve a trap, or reveal what the character is thinking.
There is heavy audience interaction. We charge cover, but queens are largely dependent upon tips, so we let the audience purchase bonuses throughout the game. We have someone walk through the audience to sell +2 and -2 cards. Throughout the game, a queen will yell out “I need a two!” and someone can boost their roll. But early on, it changed to applying any time I say a number. “There are five trolls, no three trolls. Okay, there is one troll; nope, negative one trolls…the trolls have joined your group.” The audience can also decide on voices. Once when I asked what draconic sounds like, someone said, “Bad Swedish,” so that’s what happened.
We hope to restart soon, but we’re waiting for venues to open up. Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be performing again.
How do you create safe nerdy spaces for queer players?
I learned a lot when I did Quests & Queers at Stormcrow Alehouse and Tavern. It was a queer board game night, and everyone working there understood that for the night, the bar was a gay bar. It was hands down a safe space. All the servers wore pronoun tags and we introduced ourselves with our pronouns to normalize it.
What does “safe space” mean, though? It’s very individual. I think it just means making a space comfortable, welcoming, and supportive. I do that for all of my games, even with a bunch of straight guys. If you help someone feel safe, you can teach someone or encourage them to grow as an individual because they’re not on the defensive. When someone is on the defensive, their guard is up and they won’t have an open mind.
Representation can also create safe spaces. When I normalize nonbinary NPCs in my adventures, it makes it easier for players to normalize nonbinary people away from the table. I created a polyamorous relationship between two nonbinary characters with they/them pronouns and a third whose pronouns were he/him for the Adventurer’s League, and one of the nonbinary characters was so popular that they’re in other adventures now! I hope that anyone who is questioning their gender identity feels welcomed and safe because that character exists.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to try playing or DMing D&D?
If you want to start playing D&D, there are a lot of DMs for hire [like The GM Tim himself]. You can also look for D&D podcasts with discord channels for “looking for games.”
If you want to DM, try to remember that it is not some mystical role. DMs are players in the game too. Like with all games, you play and get better as you go. If you think you need to be ready for anything, there’s no way that’s going to happen. Just grab an adventure in Adventurer’s League – they’ve got everything you need to get started.
If you want to create your own adventure, grab a piece of paper and write down a couple of encounters. The easiest hook is to just “collect the thing from the forest.” What are they going to fight? Maybe it’s the ghost of the last person who tried to get the treasure. Throw in some traps – quicksand is a good one – and maybe some monkeys who cause havoc and try to steal your stuff as you go by. The process doesn’t have to be complex.
Tips and Tricks from The GM Tim!
- If a character gets knocked out during a battle, give them something to do. Usually I give them the monster’s stat sheet and a note with a plot point that needs to happen and let them go! This accomplishes two things: it keeps them invested in the game, and it gives them a small taste of being a DM. Of course, if they don’t want to, they can just roll death saves and wait.
- Subtly take notes of what your players think is going to happen in the campaign and adjust accordingly. If you’ve planned for the Big Bad to be an Umber Hulk but they’re convinced a Black Dragon is behind everything, they’ve just given you a storyline that they are invested in. Give someone the opportunity to say, “I KNEW IT!”
- A good test to see whether you like creating adventures is to use the charts on pages 99-101 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide to create a dungeon. As you roll for Dungeon Location, Creator, Purpose, and History, a story will probably start to take form. [Note: The GM Tim walked me through this exercise, and we created a dungeon stronghold beneath a mesa, ruled by elves who had moved there to escape an ancient green dragon who had corrupted the nearby forest. It was a surprisingly easy way to create the foundation of an entire adventure or even campaign.]
You run a book club for gamers: How does it work? What queer nerdy books do you recommend?
I wanted to have more ideas for my adventures, so I went to books for inspiration. I started re-reading the Dragonlance Chronicles. While it has a special place as my first foray into fantasy and the catalyst for all this, they are a product of their time, and it’s an inherently white story. For so long, white men (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne) told us what fantasy is. I wanted to change that, so I made a list of books called Appendix Lit and formed a book club around them. Our first book was The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, a Canadian author. Ten months in, we are reading our first white male author with Agency by William Gibson. I made the list 50% female identifying, 50% BIPOC, and at least ⅓ Canadian. The next list I make will be even more diverse.
We read speculative fiction, historical fiction, and science fiction. My hope is that the stories we read inspire you as a DM or player to come up with different ways to see the world. One of my favorites that we’ve read so far is Stealing Thunder by Alina Boyden. The author is a trans woman with an anthropology doctorate in Indian/Pakistani studies, and the book has a trans main character.