The Last Session Vol. 1: Roll for Initiative by Jasmine Walls, Dozerdraws & Micah Myers

So on the one hand, I love any book with an inclusive portrayal of role-players and depictions of how out of game dynamics can affect in-game performance. On the other, yikes, these people need to play something that isn’t Dungeons & Dra– I mean, Dice & Deathtraps. I guess it’s unfair of me to stereotype ppl who play only D&D as being predisposed to the wildly immature behavior on display here but woof, maybe try something that encourages less grandstanding than cooperation and it’ll help with the attitudes? Disclaimer: I run and play and enjoy D&D on the regular but have found that ppl who don’t care to diversify aren’t the best adjusted, ijs.

Tho I guess that since these are all basically college kids who first got together in high school, I can’t really expect a display of full-fledged maturity. And in fairness, Shen and Cassandra are both quite level-headed. I just… well, I felt a little personally angered by Lana’s character because, in my experience, players like her don’t change for the better. They enjoy gatekeeping and it takes A LOT more than what happens in this book to get them to grow up.

Anyhoo, the story is that Jay has been running a Dice & Deathtraps game for their friends — Drew, Lana, Shen and Walter — since the days of getting together for their high school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance. Now that Jay’s girlfriend Cassandra has moved to the East Coast, they want to introduce her to the game by inserting her Dragonkin Bard into this original, long-running campaign. Lana, Shen and Walter are on the cusp of moving away, and Lana especially is dealing with the idea of change poorly, lashing out at Cass for not being “good enough” at gaming to meet her bizarre standards. Everyone else starts sidelining Cass too, until catastrophe strikes the party because the rest of them ignored her character’s warnings. Can they salvage the campaign and fix their friendships before ruining everything for good?

While this is ultimately a feel-good story (and oh how I loved that ending!) I’m honestly not convinced by Lana’s change of heart. I guess I’m just not a huge fan of the immaturity on display here, or the scapegoating of Cass and her character, even by the GM. There’s this weird “both sides” nonsense going on where it’s implied that Cass is being obnoxious because she… cares about the story? Literally, one of Lana’s main complaints is that Cass’ character keeps looking for clues when it’s “obvious” the bad guy is some rogue necromancer. And the GM, who happens to be Cass’ partner, doesn’t call the rest of the party out on their bullshit until Cass leaves the table in tears?! Like, they even agree when Lana says Cass is messing up the game! There are several ways to mess up a role-playing game, but Cass was definitely not doing any of that in this volume. If anything, everyone else at the table was doing their best to give role-playing a bad name.

That said, I actually did enjoy a lot of the character flashbacks to high school, though thought it weird when Shen and Walter defined their relationship as queer-platonic instead of as, you know, a friendship. But whatever, kids love labels. I also can’t say enough good things about the art and lettering. It was so nice to see a group of queer players of color, and the illustrations of them all at the table while their shared visions of their characters played out overhead was so neat. I’m intrigued to see what this creative team has in store for Vol 2. Hopefully, it will only improve on this one.

Edited: my lovely friends over at the Space Gnome Discord server took the time to explain to me the difference between queer-platonic and friendship. The grammarian in me is still annoyed at the conflation between an adjective and a noun, but now I understand that it’s meant to indicate a stronger bond than mere friendship, entered into primarily by ace people. So it’s a little weird that it was applied here to a close friendship between a gay dude and an aro person — in high school! — but at least I learned that it’s a real thing!

The Last Session Vol. 1: Roll for Initiative by Jasmine Walls, Dozerdraws & Micah Myers was published digitally yesterday June 22 2022 by Mad Cave Studios and will be available in print July 19 2022 from all good booksellers, including

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