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A series of illustrations of characters from a tabletop RPG campaign. They’re all darker skinned, and in a range of D&D classes. Image: Transplanar RPG

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While D&D reckons with its racist past, this actual play is way ahead of the curve

Transplanar RPG ‘started with ideals of trans representation at the table’

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It’s the final boss fight and everyone at the table is crying — but not because anyone has died. It’s because of how performer Sea Thomas is handling a game-changing moment between their character, a half-drow aasimar bloodhunter named Øka Hyen, and the season’s big bad. “Hitsagutan, after all of this is over, my mother is making soup,” they say. “I really think you would love it. Shank and radish stew. I’ll take the meat out of my bowl and put it in yours.” This is their attempt to leverage their personal relationship with the big bad to talk her down, rather than launching an attack or presuming violence to be the only form of resolution. And it’s just one of dozens of moments from Transplanar RPG that set it apart from other actual-play shows.

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At the end of 2019, Transplanar RPG game master and creative producer Connie Chang, who uses she/he/they pronouns, made a New Year’s resolution: Start a Dungeons & Dragons podcast. Initially intended to be an in-person campaign based out of Minneapolis, what became the first Transplanar RPG arc, “The Second Stranger,” instead debuted on Twitch in 2021 for the platform’s ease of use and access. Billed as “an all-transgender, people of color-led dark fantasy TTRPG show set in an original noncolonial, antiorientalist multiverse,” Transplanar RPG has grown into an actual-play series with a tight-knit community of fans.

Transplanar RPG is currently airing its second main campaign Saturdays on Twitch, with each live show split into two podcast episodes released the following Tuesday and Thursday. The series started with Dungeons & Dragons and has now moved on to a completed, 16-episode miniseries using Chang’s own Godkiller system. The new campaign, “The Chaos Protocol,” will use a different system for each arc starting with The Wildsea by Mythworks. At the end of September, Transplanar RPG put on its first live show at Big Bad Con in Burlingame, California.

Although Transplanar RPG technically started as a D&D show, Chang used their education in screenwriting and critical race studies to immediately dismantle most of the core concepts of Wizards of the Coast’s infamous ruleset. Until recently, the system had built-in “racial traits” and dice modifiers for its various races, including lower intelligence stats for orcs and a propensity toward evil for dark-skinned drow, which are a type of elf.


“Soup” got the whole table bawling like babies. Shoutout to @Sea for an incredible monologue as Øka Hyen in #TheSecondStranger on TransplanarRPG.

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Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast has come under significant fire in the past few years for perpetuating racist stereotypes and imagery in its fantasy world — in particular, anti-Blackness. Last year, the highly anticipated 5th edition release of Spelljammer: Adventures in Space included a race created in 1982 called the hadozee: formerly enslaved simian creatures with art that evoked racist minstrel shows. This was a huge step backward for Wizards, which came out against racism and owned its role in perpetuating it during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Following the Spelljammer controversy, Wizards apologized and revised errata for the hadozee and the Spelljammer: Adventures in Space set as a whole in a free PDF, and newer editions of the printed books also feature these revisions. Cultural consultants now play a bigger role in reviewing content for D&D books prior to publication, but many people began stepping away from the system even before Spelljammer: Adventures in Space.

“The [D&D] text itself is extremely troubling, and I think there’s been a reckoning in the past couple of years from Wizards itself. They are aware and I think they are trying to change for the better,” Chang says, though he also notes that Transplanar RPG doesn’t stand for many of the decisions and declarations made by the publisher. “When it comes to building a world that is noncolonial, anti-orientalist, and rooted in an anti-racist understanding of fantasy, you really have to interrogate what fantasy is from the ground up.”

Chang created Transplanar RPG’s first arc, “The Second Stranger,” which is set in Andake, an anti-orientalist realm based on Asian mythologies. After the Cataclysm, the realm is plunged into darkness, gods disappear, and monsters spawn everywhere. Four divine heroes are called upon to save the world through sacrifice, and they are joined by four ordinary heroes who strive to create their own destinies. Though fans love all 10 player characters who appear in the story, Thomas’ Øka Hyen stands out for how they grow from a monstrous, broken human to someone who realizes they can give love and deserve it in return. Likewise, Valiant Dorian’s Voska (who uses she/they pronouns), a yuan-ti bard who gives up her wandering lifestyle when she falls in love, stands out for how they leave behind her home when the Cataclysm gives them visions of destruction. Her story centers on how she reconciles the different parts of her during the war for the future of Andake.

“We think about people in our world and their relationship to each other and what conflict could look like without racism, which a lot of people insist can’t work,” Chang says. “In which case, I say you just have a tiny imagination. It’s honestly more rewarding to build campaigns with conflict where race is not just a natural, uninterrogated part of the conflict or even a part of the world-building, but is specifically critically interrogated and said to everyone above the table and at the table, ‘This is not a part of our story.’”

“The content that we make is not for everyone,” adds Thomas. “It challenges specifically white audiences in a lot of ways, especially white cis audiences, insofar as the story really unwraps a lot of white puritanical values of good and evil. And it’s interesting to see our fans contend with that sometimes. And sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t.”

Thomas recalls an episode in “The Second Stranger,” arc 4, in which Øka returns home after years away. They challenge their parent, the emperor, to a duel, and the emperor makes a decision that — were an in-game artifact not in play — would have killed Øka. Thomas says it was “a story-driven choice that I had asked for as a player,” but one viewer was upset enough about the scene that they took to the Transplanar RPG Discord to register their dislike by cursing out Chang in one of the main discussion channels.

“I think it stemmed from a lot of projections about Øka’s relationship with their family, influenced again by a puritanical understanding of conflict, sacrifice, and the complexity of their backstory and how it interacted with the world,” Thomas explains. “And, of course, feeling like Connie pulled a DM move that was too hard, taking away player agency by ‘killing’ a PC even though we had talked about it extensively beforehand and it was my idea.”

Chang has spoken about her approach to world-building in a free workshop posted on the Transplanar RPG YouTube channel. In a practical sense, this approach to playing D&D transforms the game into something almost totally detached from stereotypical ideas about what an actual play looks like. Still, Transplanar RPG references D&D in its branding because it’s much more recognizable, according to Thomas.

“If you’re not in the TTRPG bubble [...] you’re not going to reach out to a Monster of the Week podcast the same way you might reach out to a D&D podcast,” says Thomas. “After having built up an audience and delving deeper into how far D&D can take us, [it raised] another question, like, How far can this game push us until it actually is just becoming a broken cog in the wheel of our story?

As Transplanar RPG explores new systems, its community goes along for the ride. Cosplayer and film student Erika says Dungeons & Dragons has been their hyperfocus since the COVID-19 pandemic began. They started “The Second Stranger” after seeing TTRPG content creator Madeleine Mason recommend the show on TikTok, and immediately they became attached to Thomas’ character.

“I saw Øka and all of the characters in Transplanar […] and Øka uses the same pronouns as me. It was like the floodgates opened. Connie split the Red Sea, and I was like, Oh, I deserve to see myself in media,” Erika says, noting that they grew up in a small town where being queer was “a big deal.” They add: “Just seeing representation is so empowering, especially when it’s not necessarily experiences that are mine. I am a queer person. I’m a nonbinary person, but I’m also white and I grew up in predominantly white institutions. I’m not perfect.”

“If D&D is a coloring book, Connie chose the colors and then painted a picture they wanted to see,” Erika says, noting the show’s use of montage sequences and monologue mechanics, which allow players to challenge how the rules typically work and create stronger storylines that aren’t as reliant on dice rolls. “All of the things [Connie] changed in 5e really work for Transplanar’s platform,” they say. Erika recently shared their love of Øka in a cosplay at Fan Expo Canada, which Thomas cited as the character’s “first ever cosplayer in the wild” in an appreciation tweet.

Erika is just one of many fans of the show. Transplanar RPG has grown its platform to 6,500 followers on Twitch and nearly 10,000 subscribers on YouTube. It’s also getting more public recognition, including a nomination for Best Podcast at this year’s ENNIE Awards. Chang has appeared on Dimension 20 and the official Dungeons & Dragons channel, and he has been interviewed by The New York Times and NPR about D&D.

“We’ve always started with ideals of trans representation at the table, behind the camera and in front of it, from the ground up — specifically representation for trans people of color,” Chang says. “As our show has grown and expanded, we have also taken care about being very creatively driven. The art and the craft of what we do is a core value along with being very liberational-minded when it comes to telling trans stories, as opposed to just stopping the buck at We’re just going to be representational.”

But as the series continues to grow, its production needs are also increasing. The team is small and ambitious, but dedicated to making sure no one does any unpaid labor. This puts a heavy workload on Chang’s and Thomas’ shoulders. “Connie makes all of the decisions and I do a lot of the production work,” Thomas says, adding that they run Transplanar’s social media accounts, update Patreon, write episode recaps, prepare everyone for sessions, and run separate dramaturgy meetings with Chang and with the cast each week. They also manage side projects and weekly streams, including chat moderation. For “The Chaos Protocol,” Transplanar brought on Marisa Ewing at Hemlock Creek Productions for full-time podcast editing, which has lightened Thomas’ load enough that they can now take designated days off each week.

Though Chang originally conceived of Transplanar RPG as a podcast, both he and Thomas say they have no intention of moving away from the episodic livestream format. They also have no intention of leaving Twitch, for better or for worse, even if they do get “an occasional troll in chat,” Thomas says.

The community surrounding Transplanar, especially during livestreams on Twitch, is “nicer” than those for larger, monolithic series like Critical Role, according to Erika. “There are different commands like ‘Hot NPC introduced!’ or ‘Here’s a cat cameo!’ It’s very fun and very sweet, and I don’t mind missing Critical Role livestreams, but I always get sad when I miss Transplanar lives because it’s just such a fun community,” they said.

Thomas admits to being blown away by how deeply fans of Transplanar RPG connect with their characters. As for Chang, she says, “It has been so immensely humbling and touching and gratifying to see how I always look to say that the people who get it will get it. The people who matter will get it. So if someone doesn’t get what I’m trying to do, it’s fine. Someone else will. If even a single person has found that kind of meaning in the work we do, it’s worth it.”