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Interview With Beth the Bard

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Beth the Bard | @ItsBethTheBard

she/her

Our interview this week is with the wonderful Beth the Bard! We spoke to Beth about her work as a therapeutic DM and the positive influence D&D can bring to a group. It was great to hear about Beth’s own games and her new project, She is the Ancient. Read all about it right here!

How did you first discover D&D?

I’ve not played it for decades as my D&D friends have. I heard about it briefly in childhood via the church, informing our congregation of the game’s presence. I also remember being slightly interested in high school but thinking it was a game for boys, and how DARE I even consider taking energy from my educational goals for something so frivolous!

D&D popped up for me again while watching The Big Band Theory. It looked fantastic, but my fascination took over completely when Stranger Things aired. (The gatekeepers will likely disapprove of that.)

I went straight to Target and bought The Starter Set, sat down to play, opened the box, and was like, “What the hell is a d20?”

It took another six months to figure it out independently because my ADHD didn’t understand the starter set. I must have read it twenty times before giving up. I watched the Girls Guts Glory series on YouTube and finally learned how to play the game that way. I’ve been a dungeon master ever since with the added love of dressing up as NPCs and characters.

How can we encourage more women to get involved in the D&D space

Make safe spaces for women to play D&D. Support women (and non-binary) storytellers, players, creators, and even viewers/listeners. Share, like, subscribe, comment, re-tweet, and repeat. Water that shit and watch it flourish.

D&D has been a dude’s club for a long time. Men have been the standard, and women have been secondary. We can show more women playing and running D&D. We can include more women in our stories, altering existing content.

Can the story at your table pass the Bechdel test?

We'd love to hear more about your experience as a therapeutic DM and how TTRPGs can be used in such a positive way.

There is a joke that Dungeon Masters are cheap therapists, and, to some extent, it’s true. But DMs shouldn’t act as therapists, and gamers shouldn’t put them in that awkward position. 

That said, there is a big difference between therapy and therapeutics. I’m very passionate about this topic.

Therapeutic gaming utilizes safety tools such as X cards and Lines and Veils. You start a cohort by addressing house rules and player interests through Session Zero or other means such as private Discord spaces. You ensure that consent is critical – even in gaming. (Also, that consent can be revoked at any time.)

Our characters can be critical reflections of ourselves. When we play with race, we’re playing with culture and historical context. When we play with class, we’re tinkering with ideas of professions, ambitions, and how our character interacts with the world and with their chosen family (their party). Coming up with group backgrounds makes a more cohesive group feel safer and more established for both the characters and the players.

I work primarily with teenagers, so I feel it’s extra important to ensure their creative voices and ideas are heard. If a player comes to my class with a tragic backstory and a dream of finding their long-lost love, I ensure that it all gets fully integrated into my campaign content.

We come to the session as our characters, and their pronouns are listed for all to see and respect. If we make pronoun mistakes, we apologize and fix it. For some kids, D&D is the only place where their pronouns are acknowledged each week.

I never allow more than four players (five at the absolute most) to ensure that each character has time to shine. I follow a strict “Yes, And” policy to prevent “no wait, don’t do that, do this” among the players. I try to ensure forward-moving flow. I try to say yes as often as possible, but I also say no or hold a vote when necessary to ensure the whole group feels safe and heard.

Half the kids I work with have special needs such as ADHD, dyslexia, or autism. For these reasons, I don’t try to push note-taking or things like that because it can feel too heavy. I look for other ways to help them follow.

Sometimes my methods clash with certain groups where a player with ADHD thrives on visuals and sound but a player with autism struggles with sensory overload. That’s why catering the story and delivery to my groups on a cohort-by-cohort basis is critical. No two sessions of mine look the same. No two versions of Lost Mine of Phandelver are the same story or delivery style. It’s all altered, mixed, and tweaked to meet the needs of my party.

I also find it critical to include diversity and inclusivity in my games because I work with players of all races, cultures, genders, and abilities. Even in a group of all boys, it’s critical they see strong women and nonbinary people in the stories they play. In fact, it might be MORE critical for them in particular.

Acknowledging the problematic history of racism in D&D has been a massive part of therapeutic DMing. We can’t just ignore the past because we’re passionate about the game in the present. If we love something, we constantly set out to make it better for everyone to enjoy. I never label races as evil or adhere to rigid race ideas in character creation. I really love the forward movement towards ancestry and lineage.

Other than that, it’s all about little gameplay changes. A quick example is keeping players engaged in the story. I try to ensure that my players build this world with me, even if it’s a pre-written world. If you listened in on one of my sessions, you’d hear me say things like:

“What does this feel like for your character?”

“What does the party see as you do this?”

“How does this NPC connect to your backstory? Give me a reason you’re longtime friends.”

“Hmmm…what do you want it to look like? Your choice.”

“Oof, that misses, unfortunately. Tell us what happens, keeping that in mind. You’ll get inspiration if it’s something that makes the encounter more difficult.”

I try to find as many ways as possible to make this more of their story and to involve their voice in the game.

Some DMs think “me versus them” is the only way to be included in the fun at the table. I believe there are plenty of ways to have just as much fun as your players while supporting them and rooting for them along the way.

Tell us about your process when creating your character, Winifred, for Angel and the City of Glass

I just really love Winifred.

My process looks something like this:

I want to play a goblin and wear a witch hat. Let’s be a warlock. Archfey or fiend? There are goblins in the feywild?! Cool, we’re going archfey. Hags are fey, aren’t they? BABA YAGA. Okay, let’s flavor all these spells and features after creepy, witchy, Baba Yaga stuff. Wouldn’t it be funny if she couldn’t actually speak goblin? Okay, but why? I don’t want a tragic backstory; I want one full of family. Too much family… and they all love the hell out of Winifred.

I call Winifred “goblin-ish” because her mothers are human and elven. Her family has been patrons of Baba Yaga for generations, though they have no idea of the true identity of their patron. They’ve called her Grandmother as long as Winifred can remember. Her mothers asked for a baby and Grandmother gave them… Winifred. Hence the family saying, “Never look a gift baby in the mouth. Because of the fangs.”

Winifred appears goblin and has the stats of a goblin but ages like an elf and grew up completely separate from goblin culture, so she doesn’t even speak the language. As a teen, she began to learn the goblin language as her spellcasting verbal component and took on more hag-themed interests to impress her patron, realizing that Grandmother loved Winifred’s interest in death, creepy crawlies, and dark magic. She took it further and began to rebel against her elven mother’s cooking to try things like tasty rats on occasion. 

I think I created Winifred to surround myself with the motherly love of a hag patron, two mothers, and a cookie-baking “Meemaw.” She was rebellious, found parts of her true self, and was never rejected by her family for it. She was encouraged and loved completely. Now she travels and inspires those around her with a childlike love of life, nature, play, and antics. Though she seems vulnerable and weak, she’s profoundly powerful and will literally consume an enemy if needed. 

She was a therapeutic character for me. I still play her in my non-Twitch group. Her story isn’t done yet!

Your exciting new project, She is the Ancient, is such a joy to watch. What was the process and inspiration behind this new show (and upcoming book!), and where can people watch it?

Thank you! She is the Ancient is such a labor of love. I’m so passionate about it. When I’m not thinking about my kids, work, or housework, I’m thinking about She is the Ancient.

I was so excited when I first learned of Curse of Strahd (CoS). I grew up on Dracula, Nosferatu, and all things Anne Rice. This was definitely the campaign for me. As I prepared to run it, I was disappointed to discover that most of the significant NPCs were men and that the few female NPCs were victims on the run, hags, imprisoned brides, constructed brides or cursed by men. Otherwise, we’ve got Ez (Esmerelda). Having one legit female character in a sea of men made CoS a “Smurfette” story to me. (A term coined by Katha Pollitt that essentially points out that “men are the standard, women are secondary.”

I wanted Strahd to be a woman and more women as non-abused NPCs. I’ll admit I also have a deep-seated interest in genderbending everything. I once started a comic series called Harriet Potter, a gender-swapped Harry Potter that also addressed the Gryffindor/Slytherin problem at the school. I wrote a fanfiction novel of The Princess Bride where everyone was opposite, and Prince Buttercup was a helpless man being kidnapped, forced into marriage, and threatened his own “perfect [pecs]” with a dagger. I think I’m funny sometimes.

When I first thought of genderbend CoS, it came from that same comedic standpoint. That’s how I ran it the first few times. I had these men that were helpless and in danger, “coming of age,” and ripe for the taking by powerful women. At first, it was funny, and then I realized we all thought these storylines were pathetic… but only because men are never portrayed that way. When it was women, it was normal. 

That’s when I realized it’d all need to be re-written. Maybe rather than having sexual abuse and trauma victims, we cut that out because it’s unnecessary to make a good horror story.

After a few playtests in, I realized that the children of the story are also too heavily beaten up for the sake of thrills. It doesn’t need to be that way. We can have dark and scary without killing and torturing women in droves for cheap shock. Being a mom and a foster-care advocate, I think a lot about children’s rights, safety, and autonomy. It felt necessary to address. 

By this point, I was utterly entranced by the horror genre. If we don’t use these classic horror tropes to make scary encounters, what could we use? What makes horror? What makes a trope? How can we change stereotypes but keep the terror?

I hope the Gilding Light show will showcase the DMs Guild guide that I’ve been writing and peak interest! 

You can now find the Platinum Best-Selling “She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd Guidebook” on DMs Guild.

We want to say a huge thank you to Beth for speaking to us and sharing such an insightful interview. We hope you’ll all give her a follow and check out She is the Ancient!

Image description:
Beth is cosplaying as a tiefling devil and has long, wavy pink hair, pink painted skin, and red lipstick. She is also wearing a black top. Beth is also wearing straight pink horns with roses crowning her head. 

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