Dungeons, dragons, turtles and a divine, gay love story

by MJ Lyons

(Credit: Aram Vartian)

(Credit: Aram Vartian)

[Some spoilers for Season 1 of the Godsfall podcast]

Boy meets boy, boy falls in love with boy, boys find out they’ve been granted supernatural powers and have become earthly manifestations of lost gods, boys have to save the world with their newly discovered divine powers. Not exactly your typical love story.

If you haven’t heard of the storytelling sensation of Godsfall: A D&D Podcast you may be (temporarily) forgiven. A Dungeons & Dragons “actual play” podcast may sound like a niche interest, but Godsfall is storytelling that is unconventional, refreshing and extraordinarily addictive. The podcast is also an epic, fantasy narrative story with a strong queer backbone.

Godsfall is headed up by openly gay, Washington, DC-based media worker Aram Vartian, creator and “Dungeon Master”— for the D&D uninitiated, the person who runs the game—alongside a dynamic and genuinely charming cast of players. As an “actual play” podcast, Godsfall consists of Vartian, in charge of the story, leading his four players (in the roles of their characters) through an action-packed, high-fantasy mystery; think radio play meets Lord of the Rings meets improv comedy group. Vartian’s story follows the four Player Characters (PCs), and a Non-Player Character (a NPC, controlled by Vartian) discovering that they’ve somehow become avatars for gods long thought lost.

Once you hear this highly-edited podcast, you won’t be surprised to find that it has seen considerable success in its short run. Since beginning at the end of last year Godsfall has seen more than 150,000 downloads over only a couple of dozen episodes—and it’s audience grows by the day. The consistent fan acclaim has put them at the top of the iTunes charts, especially gaming and Dungeons & Dragons podcasts… and there is a lot of them. Vartian also devotes impressive amounts of time and energy to create maps and other resources so fans can follow along more easily with the story.

Vartian's map of Ani, one of the city's central (literally and figuratively) to the Godsfall world.

Vartian’s map of Ani, one of the city’s central (literally and figuratively) to the Godsfall world.

Even those who’ve never even considered the possibility of listening to a Dungeons & Dragons podcast will find some comfortable character tropes. There’s a drunken dwarf, or a puckish rogue of a Halfling (think a hobbit, but more likely to pick your pocket), or a witheringly condescending diva of an elven noblewoman who would be welcome at the table of canon high fantasy storytelling. Godsfall’s twists come in the comic book superhero-inspired powers granted to the main characters, and in the refreshingly queer story arcs.

“Michael (who plays Xion) had always intended his character to be gay, and I always intended for LGBT characters to exist in my world,” Vartian explains. “The Gods of my world viewed sexuality and gender as fluid and the mortals that worshiped them adopted those ideas.”

(An incredible rendition of player Michael’s character Xion Praeten, one of Godsfall’s central protagonists, by artist/fan Francisco Manzo.)

In a couple of recent episodes, conveniently released during the Pride season, Michael’s character, Xion, confessed his love for one of his male companions, and the aforementioned witheringly condescending elven noblewoman, described within the podcast as “heteroflexible,” became the second most powerful woman in the Godsfall world through an arranged marriage to a powerful, god-descended queen, “Which I am fairly sure is a first,” Vartian says. “but you never know these days.”

Dungeons & Dragons launched their fifth edition of the game’s rules set last year, and has been striving to provide a more sexual and gender diverse game system. This is an encouraging change in nerd culture, historically heterosexual and male by default, which Godsfall can claim to be a part of. “We got a note and follow-up from a listener who had tried to play a character that identified gay, as he did, only to have it become the source of jokes around the table,” Vartian says. “He told us that Xion and Pera’s relationship gave him the courage to find another group that would accept him, and a lovely description of the first game when he did.”

“We also get a lot of emails from women who thank us for simply treating them like equals, which really underlines how misogynistic gaming culture can be.” Vartian and his players have addressed sexism within the fantasy/roleplaying genres on a number of occasions, including a fantastic conversation with the witheringly condescending elven noblewoman’s player during her first appearance. Gloriously unapologetic and amused at misogynistic reactions to this, Vartian will often share disparaging, sexist reviews of the podcast on social media with an emphatic commentary: “THIS PODCAST IS NOT FOR YOU.”

Since Godsfall will be releasing their season finale and taking a brief hiatus to begin work on season two—plus a hotly anticipated worldbook in the works—now is a fantastic opportunity to jump into this epic, fun and often laugh-out-loud hilarious story. Vartian also promises a continuing tradition of weird and wonderful queer characters… like, say, a sentient cactus “who is both male and female and expresses either rather eagerly.” I roll to befriend the transgender sentient cactus!

You can stream Godsfall through Soundcloud on their website, godsfall.com, or download the podcast for free on the iTunes store