UNC student Nathan Wetzel plays Dungeons and Dragons with the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center’s (GSRC) Queer D&D affinity group. In this episode they talk about what the GSRC and affinity groups are. He also talks about how D&D impacts the queer community and has been helpful in learning more about himself and his friends.
I am Nathan. I use he they pronouns. This is my second year and I am a theater education major with an English minor.
Welcome to Bear in Mind, I sat down with Nathan Wetzel, who has been playing Dungeons and Dragons with the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center's Queer DND affinity group.
What is the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and why is it important to you and your students?
The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center is a safe space for the queer community at UNC. And as I say that that also answers why it's important is because it provides that space for people to gather if they want to need to if they need resources, especially when it comes to like hormone replacement therapy, or if they just want someone to guide them as a queer student in university, which can be an unnerving experience for some.
An affinity group is a just kind of like specific group for people with maybe just one specific identity that they want to like. Just talk to people with the same identities or as with and just talk to people who have the same interests. So the affinity group kind of narrows down the queer community as a whole into the little subcategories that exist for those people of those labels, identities or interests to come together and have an even more succinct and smaller group.
So how long have you been a part of Queer DND?
This is my first year doing it. I started at the beginning in the fall and have continued on through the spring.
So why did you join it?
I found that DND was really enjoyable last year and I just wanted to continue playing and I was like, This exists. This will be so much fun. And especially with this community, I think it'd be. I also thought it'd be fun to play with new people.
Did the campaign switch up often?
Oh yeah. We always have new people coming in and out every year, so it's difficult to keep the campaign running in the next year unless you have some really talented DM who's able to just introduce characters at that same level.
Although I know there are many who enjoy it, and I also know that not everybody knows the terms that Nathan and I are using. So to start a campaign is a storyline or a set of adventures that the characters go on. And Adam is a Dungeon master who is the person who is essentially running the show.
Me personally, I had a campaign run last year that my friend was DMing so much fun. And then that ended with Summer, and then this year was a whole new campaigns.
So have you ever like DM'd?
Oh yeah, I DM'd, I, I attempted to do a 12 person campaign, which I quickly realized the way I deemed it was wrong. And so I stopped before everything just, you know, went downhill. But I also was doing two smaller campaigns at the beginning of the fall, and then my schedule just filled up. So it's been really hard to keep up with those.
Seems like a 12 person DM campaign is a bit chaotic.
It is, especially when they're all neurodivergent, queer, and have different needs. It was a lot of one on ones that I didn't ask the right questions. I needed more growth from each character that I wasn't really given from the players. It's a lot of just realizing how much more I needed to be and to have and then how specific it needed to be.
But I it was all so much and I was just like, All right, taking a step back from that one.
So it's like you had to, like, just downsize a little bit.
Not necessarily even downsize. I just completely stopped it. And I was like, All right, I'm willing to revisit it with the same amount, but I need the time and space to actually, like, finalize everything and create the questions in the world that I actually could work with.
That makes a lot of sense. So how has a deep and influential for you specifically?
For me, it's like I just originally thought it was a pastime, that it could just, you know, be whatever you wanted it to be and it'd be a lot of fun. But then I quickly realized how much you can explore through it. It's been a lot of learning about myself through characters and then also through the world-building I create with other people, and then also learning a lot about my friends and what they want to be or what they might just experiment with.
Because of like learning a lot about like your friends, about yourself through like characters and stuff like that. Would you say that it is influential to the queer community?
Oh, definitely. One of my friends is starting not a DND campaign, but a campaign with a different system called Cyberpunk Red.
So I've never heard of Cyberpunk Red before talking to Nathan, but it has very similar mechanics to DND and is based on a future between Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077. So it sounds super cool, but I have never played it. Therefore that is my very basic understanding of it from looking it up on Google.
And in it, I actually personally requested from them to explore a relationship with another not player but NPC and through that also explore the ideas of polyamory and just expanding on things that I don't know about just so that I can see what I'm comfortable with in a place where there's no risk to insulting a real person. Of course, there's risks to insulting the people around you, but you're playing with an NPC that at the end of the day is just a character on paper.
And the worst thing you can do is rip that paper up. There's also the fact that this group and community can have a place to just, you know, not have to worry about the restrictions that are applied to them from parents or from society. They can just be free with what they want to do.
Can you tell me about the character that you're playing now?
I haven't actually started playing it yet, but the character I created, their name is Bailey Blue Moon, Their performance name because they are a punk rock performer, is the Succubus. They're kind of this, you know, sassy, sneaky little person who just talks their way through everything. They have a really good charisma to be able to just talk themself out of everything.
Part of that was and one of the nice things about cyberpunk red is it makes you create relationships as part of the character sheet. One of the things I just coincidentally got was a tragic love affair of someone who's been imprisoned. And so with that, I was like, Hey, I want to explore the primary relationship with this person, of course, and still hold that love for them while also being like, well, there's other things too.
Just romantic love. Why don't I explore that with other people? And especially having those connections when you don't have full access to the one primary. So it's just I don't know. It's been a lot of fun creating this character, especially with the way Cyberpunk Red runs.
So besides the prison love story. Do they have like a bit more to their backstory?
Oh, yeah. So Bailey is a performer for, like, most of their life. They grew up very poor, and so performing has kind of been their outlet and also their moneymaker. Their parents, who are currently not in the picture, were just kind of there. And so since they were free to do what they wanted, they decided that performing was their favorite thing and so they got into that.
They originally started as a duo with their sibling, their sibling is also imprisoned, and the plan is to have them be found together, which would be fun to see how that grows. But yeah, they just grew into a performer. And you know, also with the setting in which it takes place, they also had to be able to do under-the-table and underhanded things.
I'm just going to like make a quick guess. Is there class like a Bard/Rogue?
So the classes in cyberpunk are much different, but it is the like. It is definitely the bard of cyberpunk and it's known as a rocker boy. It's a it's a funny little class. One of the abilities is that you can just pull an audience or a fan from somewhere and get a favor. Like, and like, depending on how well-known you are and like the level of your character, you have more people.
So when we are talking about classes, we are talking about what defines a character's skill set. A bard, which is the one that we were just talking about, for example, is typically a performer who can use magic. They tend to be charismatic, which Nathan described his character as. So I jumped the gun and assumed a bit on what it is.
It's a really cool progression and I like how it's built-in and it's definitely different than just, you know, leveling up every now and then. It's you have to meticulously build it into the story.
So it's not just like, Hey, I'm going to ask my DM if I can level up.
Like, it's not like we successfully fought a dragon here. So everybody at a level it's it's a this performance got you a connection with this executive so I'm going to increase this ability here so that you now have this written down and it can be like improved.
So do you like more of a story-based gameplay than a combat-based one?
Yeah, I'm I've realized that as much as fun as the combat is, it just becomes crunchy, you know, rolling the dice, adding the numbers, seeing what you can use. But when combat has story and puzzles and outlets, that isn't just, you know, to the death. I find those a lot more fun. I found myself building combat scenarios in my previous campaigns where there was a like your goal here isn't to necessarily kill the guard, but to get the object that the guard is guarding.
Now, you can do that in any way, shape, or form, but you don't necessarily have to fight that guard, which is much more powerful than you like. It's finding those outlets so that it's not necessarily fully combat, but it's a this makes sense to the story and there's ways to build on it.
So who's DMing your campaign?
My friend Ian is for the cyberpunk one. Yeah.
Have they like, done multiple DM sessions?
This is actually their first full campaign that they're doing. There's a lot of experimentation to it, but they weren't they played in my campaign the 12-person one, and quickly realized my mistakes. So I think learning from me, they've also run two one-shots before. And so learning from those, they already have a really good start.
Yeah, they know that DMing is like a whole other-like level.
I mean, it's it's a whole other level, but it's also kind of the same as playing, cause you're just basically taking everything rather than the one character.
Like having to figure out where all the fun little things go.
Balancing is probably the hardest thing in DMing.
DMing Yeah, because I know in my campaign, like my DM this past weekend, he's like, I'm sick. I'm not playing, like we're not doing this. And it takes a lot out of you.
It does and if you're like from for instance, I was the one to just improv a lot of it, but I like realized that you need to have a plan to start somewhere. And I was like building some of those plans. But it's more about finding the not necessarily even or equitable balance. It's just being able to know that your characters or your players will be able to find a way out.
And if they end up completely losing their character, then it has to make sense. It has to be on their mistakes and not yours.
That's very fair.
Has theater played a role in your wanting to be a part of a campaign and your joining DND?
Honestly, originally I was part of the group that was like DND’s weird This is not my thing, but it was also the people who played at my high school. They were toxic. It was a bad group. So there was a strong disconnect. So I don't think theater really made me want to play DND. It was definitely the friends around me who were like, Hey, you're doing this right here, right now.
I don't care what experience you have, you're going. And I'm like, Okay, fine. But it was more that they have this nice balance of a relationship. It's like being a DM is like being a director and like, having to build the whole world. Now, unlike theater, you're building this all on your own. Everything's up to you. You have full freedom, but it still is a very integral relationship that they have together, and it's very tightly knit because a lot of DND is acting and improv and role-playing that while theater might have a script for you, DND has a character sheet.
Especially getting into education. I've been thinking about like lesson plans and just ideas, and one of the things I was like, that could be used is the idea of a character sheet for a character building in a play. And it's like, you know, maybe you don't have an idea for what you want your character to be. You can just roll a die and see the reaction and see how that feels and like, you know, level one can be no reaction. You're just like on the couch, just slouched back versus a level 20 being jumping up and down and excited or whatever that whatever fits there.
Yeah, I've definitely seen a lot of people be able to like, use dice for like different things than just like I've seen a lot of like small businesses, like on Tik Tok, the like, let's roll for what you're going to get.
Yeah. It's it helps with that decision making, especially in theater where you know, as much as you need to make decisions, you also have the freedom to explore on those decisions. And when you need to get out of a rut or get out of somewhere where you're stuck, it's kind of helpful to just have that randomness go on. But I think like as much as DND is, this whole hodgepodge of world-building theater is definitely more organized.
It's more I don't want to say professional, but it's more like professionally built for the world we live in.
Would you say that it has played more like it has played a role in like your wanting to, like, play more role play based rather than like combat based? And like.
Definitely, you can tell based on what a person does, what kind of DND they want to play. I've learned my two friends. One of them's in computer sciences, you know, doing crazy things that I couldn't even fathom to imagine. And another one originally came in for biochem. They both were combat-heavy. They really enjoyed the crunching of numbers and getting the balances of, you know, rolling the highest you can.
And like maxing out as much as possible. And then my other friends who are like 3D art design and psychology and all these other things, they're the ones creating that story, build a story based campaign, and they're the ones that build the characters to have a fully fleshed back story.
If somebody wanted to join a campaign later on with the GRSC or the GSRC like I was like sitting there. Like, I know I'm saying it wrong, but it sounds close to being right.
Yeah, because it all sounds the same.
So. If somebody wanted to join Queer DND, like what would they have to do?
Just talk to us. The nice thing about the affinity groups and also kind of the hard thing about it is it's really student-led. So you have to find the students, not necessarily the people who work at the GSRC, which, you know, it's kind of hard to find us if we're not there. But I mean, that also applies.
You can just talk to Stephen or somebody who works there and they should be able to find contact information if that just means finding a Bear email or phone number. It's really easy to get involved, but it's also a lot of communication because DND is fun and as creative as it can be, requires planning ahead and a lot of a lot of planning.
So you really have to like be willing to talk to the DM or the GM of that of that campaign to be able to write your character in because you're definitely going to make them write your character in. You're going to have to give them the availability for where it makes sense in that story.
If you were to do a podcast, would you do it on?
Oh gosh, there's so many ideas. Something I have actually been thinking of is making my own system and kind of relating to DND, but instead of leveling up, you know, like one through 20, you take one thing at a time and you write it into your story. I've been listening to a podcast speaking of called Worlds Beyond Numbers, which really good, and it's so well done.
But they're taking a level zero campaign where they're creating the backstory of their character's childhoods and just adding things as they go. So like the GM will ask, Hey, there was this period of time in which your character just has some downtime to go explore or do whatever. What do you want your character to work on? And it's like, All right, you're going to gain a proficiency in acrobatics because you were running through the woods and jumping over logs and things.
So I want to create something where that's the full campaign, though, not just a session or a level zero beginning of building the back story, kind of like in a video game progression where you start with a baseline skill like you, let's say you want to get into sword fighting and then you expand by adding different little levels of what kind of techniques you want to use.
It's much easier to do. I found with Magic. I, It just sounds like a fun idea and I'd love to also just turn that into a podcast because I feel like you could get a lot from that and especially from a community to have that back and forth.
Yeah, I think that's very interesting because I know like when I play a lot of like what gets lost is the character progression and like the growing from just being like a little morsel of a being into like, you know.
Because you get lost being forced to level up the way they want you to level up. I want to, you know, like let's say you want to be a fighter, but you also want to know magic with your fighting. Well, you know, now there's this branch that you could just add flames to your sword and you're not bound by the subclass that you chose.
You actually have the freedom to choose that. And then, of course, you could just go on a class and, you know, maybe if like, if I decide to fully commit to something like this, you know, bring some classes so that there are templates.
There are many other affinity groups that the GSC hosts got it right that time. Queer DND is one that has been influential to Nathan and help them find a sense of community. Thank you for listening to him talk about his experience. I'm your host, Isabella Marcus Porter, giving you a taste of unity.