It’s the ultimate boss battle and everybody on the desk is crying — however not as a result of anybody has died. It’s due to how performer Sea Thomas is dealing with a game-changing second between their character, a half-drow aasimar bloodhunter named Øka Hyen, and the season’s large unhealthy. “Hitsagutan, in spite of everything of that is over, my mom is making soup,” they are saying. “I actually assume you’d find it irresistible. Shank and radish stew. I’ll take the meat out of my bowl and put it in yours.” That is their try to leverage their private relationship with the large unhealthy to speak her down, quite than launching an assault or presuming violence to be the one type of decision. And it’s simply one in every of dozens of moments from Transplanar RPG that set it aside from different actual-play reveals.
On the finish of 2019, Transplanar RPG recreation grasp and inventive producer Connie Chang, who makes use of she/he/they pronouns, made a New Yr’s decision: Begin a Dungeons & Dragons podcast. Initially meant to be an in-person marketing campaign based mostly out of Minneapolis, what grew to become the primary Transplanar RPG arc, “The Second Stranger,” as an alternative debuted on Twitch in 2021 for the platform’s ease of use and entry. Billed as “an all-transgender, individuals of color-led darkish fantasy TTRPG present set in an unique noncolonial, antiorientalist multiverse,” Transplanar RPG has grown into an actual-play collection with a tight-knit group of followers.
Transplanar RPG is at the moment airing its second predominant marketing campaign Saturdays on Twitch, with every dwell present cut up into two podcast episodes launched the next Tuesday and Thursday. The collection began with Dungeons & Dragons and has now moved on to a accomplished, 16-episode miniseries utilizing Chang’s personal Godkiller system. The brand new marketing campaign, “The Chaos Protocol,” will use a special system for every arc beginning with The Wildsea by Mythworks. On the finish of September, Transplanar RPG placed on its first dwell present at Large Unhealthy Con in Burlingame, California.
Though Transplanar RPG technically began as a D&D present, Chang used their schooling in screenwriting and demanding race research to instantly dismantle a lot of the core ideas of Wizards of the Coast’s notorious ruleset. Till just lately, the system had built-in “racial traits” and cube modifiers for its varied races, together with decrease intelligence stats for orcs and a propensity towards evil for dark-skinned drow, that are a kind of elf.
Dungeons & Dragons writer Wizards of the Coast has come below vital fireplace prior to now few years for perpetuating racist stereotypes and imagery in its fantasy world — particularly, anti-Blackness. Final yr, the extremely anticipated fifth version launch of Spelljammer: Adventures in Area included a race created in 1982 known as the hadozee: previously enslaved simian creatures with artwork that evoked racist minstrel reveals. This was an enormous step backward for Wizards, which got here out towards racism and owned its position in perpetuating it in the course of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Following the Spelljammer controversy, Wizards apologized and revised errata for the hadozee and the Spelljammer: Adventures in Area set as an entire in a free PDF, and newer editions of the printed books additionally function these revisions. Cultural consultants now play an even bigger position in reviewing content material for D&D books previous to publication, however many individuals started stepping away from the system even earlier than Spelljammer: Adventures in Area.
“The [D&D] textual content itself is extraordinarily troubling, and I feel there’s been a reckoning prior to now couple of years from Wizards itself. They’re conscious and I feel they’re attempting to alter for the higher,” Chang says, although he additionally notes that Transplanar RPG doesn’t stand for lots of the choices and declarations made by the writer. “In terms of constructing a world that’s noncolonial, anti-orientalist, and rooted in an anti-racist understanding of fantasy, you actually should interrogate what fantasy is from the bottom up.”
“You actually should interrogate what fantasy is from the bottom up”
Chang created Transplanar RPG’s first arc, “The Second Stranger,” which is about in Andake, an anti-orientalist realm based mostly on Asian mythologies. After the Cataclysm, the realm is plunged into darkness, gods disappear, and monsters spawn in every single place. 4 divine heroes are known as upon to avoid wasting the world by sacrifice, and they’re joined by 4 unusual heroes who try to create their very own destinies. Although followers love all 10 participant characters who seem within the story, Thomas’ Øka Hyen stands out for the way they develop from a monstrous, damaged human to somebody who realizes they may give love and deserve it in return. Likewise, Valiant Dorian’s Voska (who makes use of she/they pronouns), a yuan-ti bard who offers up her wandering life-style when she falls in love, stands out for the way they depart behind her house when the Cataclysm offers them visions of destruction. Her story facilities on how she reconciles the completely different components of her in the course of the warfare for the way forward for Andake.
“We take into consideration individuals in our world and their relationship to one another and what battle may appear to be with out racism, which lots of people insist can’t work,” Chang says. “By which case, I say you simply have a tiny creativeness. It’s actually extra rewarding to construct campaigns with battle the place race isn’t just a pure, uninterrogated a part of the battle and even part of the world-building, however is particularly critically interrogated and stated to everybody above the desk and on the desk, ‘This isn’t part of our story.’”
“The content material that we make shouldn’t be for everybody,” provides Thomas. “It challenges particularly white audiences in a variety of methods, particularly white cis audiences, insofar because the story actually unwraps a variety of white puritanical values of fine and evil. And it’s attention-grabbing to see our followers cope with that generally. And generally they’ll and generally they’ll’t.”
Thomas recollects an episode in “The Second Stranger,” arc 4, during which Øka returns house after years away. They problem their guardian, the emperor, to a duel, and the emperor decides that — had been an in-game artifact not in play — would have killed Øka. Thomas says it was “a story-driven selection that I had requested for as a participant,” however one viewer was upset sufficient in regards to the scene that they took to the Transplanar RPG Discord to register their dislike by cursing out Chang in one of many predominant dialogue channels.
“We take into consideration individuals in our world and their relationship to one another and what battle may appear to be with out racism”
“I feel it stemmed from a variety of projections about Øka’s relationship with their household, influenced once more by a puritanical understanding of battle, sacrifice, and the complexity of their backstory and the way it interacted with the world,” Thomas explains. “And, in fact, feeling like Connie pulled a DM transfer that was too arduous, taking away participant company by ‘killing’ a PC despite the fact that we had talked about it extensively beforehand and it was my concept.”
Chang has spoken about her method to world-building in a free workshop posted on the Transplanar RPG YouTube channel. In a sensible sense, this method to enjoying D&D transforms the sport into one thing nearly completely indifferent from stereotypical concepts about what an precise play appears like. Nonetheless, Transplanar RPG references D&D in its branding as a result of it’s way more recognizable, in accordance with Thomas.
“If you happen to’re not within the TTRPG bubble […] you’re not going to achieve out to a Monster of the Week podcast the identical manner you may attain out to a D&D podcast,” says Thomas. “After having constructed up an viewers and delving deeper into how far D&D can take us, [it raised] one other query, like, How far can this recreation push us till it truly is simply changing into a damaged cog within the wheel of our story?”
As Transplanar RPG explores new methods, its group goes alongside for the trip. Cosplayer and movie pupil Erika says Dungeons & Dragons has been their hyperfocus for the reason that COVID-19 pandemic started. They began “The Second Stranger” after seeing TTRPG content material creator Madeleine Mason suggest the present on TikTok, and instantly they grew to become connected to Thomas’ character.
“I noticed Øka and the entire characters in Transplanar […] and Øka makes use of the identical pronouns as me. It was just like the floodgates opened. Connie cut up the Pink Sea, and I used to be like, Oh, I need to see myself in media,” Erika says, noting that they grew up in a small city the place being queer was “a giant deal.” They add: “Simply seeing illustration is so empowering, particularly when it’s not essentially experiences which might be mine. I’m a queer individual. I’m a nonbinary individual, however I’m additionally white and I grew up in predominantly white establishments. I’m not good.”
“If D&D is a coloring e book, Connie selected the colours after which painted an image they wished to see,” Erika says, noting the present’s use of montage sequences and monologue mechanics, which permit gamers to problem how the foundations usually work and create stronger storylines that aren’t as reliant on cube rolls. “All the issues [Connie] modified in 5e actually work for Transplanar’s platform,” they are saying. Erika just lately shared their love of Øka in a cosplay at Fan Expo Canada, which Thomas cited because the character’s “first ever cosplayer within the wild” in an appreciation tweet.
Erika is only one of many followers of the present. Transplanar RPG has grown its platform to six,500 followers on Twitch and practically 10,000 subscribers on YouTube. It’s additionally getting extra public recognition, together with a nomination for Greatest Podcast at this yr’s ENNIE Awards. Chang has appeared on Dimension 20 and the official Dungeons & Dragons channel, and he has been interviewed by The New York Instances and NPR about D&D.
“The artwork and the craft of what we do is a core worth together with being very liberational-minded”
“We’ve at all times began with beliefs of trans illustration on the desk, behind the digicam and in entrance of it, from the bottom up — particularly illustration for trans individuals of coloration,” Chang says. “As our present has grown and expanded, we have now additionally taken care about being very creatively pushed. The artwork and the craft of what we do is a core worth together with being very liberational-minded relating to telling trans tales, versus simply stopping the buck at We’re simply going to be representational.”
However because the collection continues to develop, its manufacturing wants are additionally rising. The staff is small and impressive, however devoted to creating certain nobody does any unpaid labor. This places a heavy workload on Chang’s and Thomas’ shoulders. “Connie makes the entire choices and I do a variety of the manufacturing work,” Thomas says, including that they run Transplanar’s social media accounts, replace Patreon, write episode recaps, put together everybody for periods, and run separate dramaturgy conferences with Chang and with the solid every week. Additionally they handle facet tasks and weekly streams, together with chat moderation. For “The Chaos Protocol,” Transplanar introduced on Marisa Ewing at Hemlock Creek Productions for full-time podcast modifying, which has lightened Thomas’ load sufficient that they’ll now take designated days off every week.
Although Chang initially conceived of Transplanar RPG as a podcast, each he and Thomas say they haven’t any intention of transferring away from the episodic livestream format. Additionally they haven’t any intention of leaving Twitch, for higher or for worse, even when they do get “an occasional troll in chat,” Thomas says.
The group surrounding Transplanar, particularly throughout livestreams on Twitch, is “nicer” than these for bigger, monolithic collection like Crucial Function, in accordance with Erika. “There are completely different instructions like ‘Scorching NPC launched!’ or ‘Right here’s a cat cameo!’ It’s very enjoyable and really candy, and I don’t thoughts lacking Crucial Function livestreams, however I at all times get unhappy after I miss Transplanar lives as a result of it’s simply such a enjoyable group,” they stated.
Thomas admits to being blown away by how deeply followers of Transplanar RPG join with their characters. As for Chang, she says, “It has been so immensely humbling and touching and gratifying to see how I at all times look to say that the individuals who get it can get it. The individuals who matter will get it. So if somebody doesn’t get what I’m attempting to do, it’s tremendous. Another person will. If even a single individual has discovered that sort of that means within the work we do, it’s price it.”