The No-Girlfriend Rule by Christen Randall

First of all, the No-Girlfriend Rule is bullshit. If you’re new to role-playing games and are told that your partner’s group doesn’t allow girlfriends, I don’t want you to have to spend time reading this (excellent) book to learn that that “rule” is manifest garbage, and you either need to find a new partner or your partner needs to find a better group. The only valid reasons for a GM not wanting you to join a table is a) they have their upper limit of players already, or b) they don’t think your personality would be a good fit. Option b does indeed suck, but it’s valid. Not everyone likes everyone else, but to pretend that the reason is “ew, girlfriends” is super cowardly.

That said, you should really read this book, especially if you’re interested in gaming and are part of a traditionally underrepresented group in the hobby. So, basically, not a straight-passing cis white dude, tho straight-passing cis white dudes are absolutely encouraged to read this, too! Actually, every gamer or budding gamer should read this, so they know what’s acceptable behavior (Gloria’s group) and what’s not (Landon’s group, ugggh) when it comes to RPGs.

Anyway, the story itself is about Hollis, who’s wanted to be a part of her boyfriend Chris’ Secrets & Sorcery group for years. His Secret Keeper (basically the Dungeon Master) Landon is all “no girlfriends allowed”. Landon, unsurprisingly, is a colossal asshole. But as their senior year of high school starts, Hollis feels insecure about moving too far apart from Chris, and decides that she needs to learn more about his favorite hobby even if he won’t actually include her in it.

This leads to an unfortunate experience at a local game store (and hooooo boy, did I want to punch some of the stereotypical but not at all uncommon role-players she met there in the face) before she stumbles across a recruitment call for a girl- and LGBTQ+-friendly group. Gloria is the Secret Keeper for this group, which consists of her younger sister Fran, glamorous influencer Maggie, over-achieving Iffy and effortlessly cool Aini. They welcome Hollis in, even as Hollis herself isn’t sure whether she’ll be able to be “good” enough for the people she now finds herself surrounded by.

As Hollis learns to make new friends and to blossom as a person via role-playing, she also discovers an attraction to out and proud lesbian Aini. But Landon’s cruel words from when she first told him and Chris that she was joining an RPG group of girls still ring in her head. Besides, Chris is her boyfriend. Wasn’t the whole point of joining an S&S group so that she could learn more about his interests and get closer to him?

Reader, this book is not only a romance that made me swoon, it’s also a book about the powers of role-playing as therapy, unintentional or otherwise. Gloria may literally be the best game master ever depicted in fiction, and she and the other girls are a terrific support group as Hollis struggles not only with her diagnosed anxiety but with the growing pains of being a young woman finding herself after years of trying to fade into the background. Christen Randall also writes a fine fantasy RPG campaign, as the girls project themselves into Gloria’s storyline. Ms Randall’s depiction of their group is so, so positive, even as she tacitly admits that a lot of times groups and players can be desperately maladjusted. The point is for gamers to find tables where they feel comfortable, and hopefully where they can also grow as people. Lord knows I’ve spent so much of my own semi-professional career as a Game Master and writer trying to encourage exactly that.

This excellent RPG-themed YA romance did not disappoint on any front, and I’m so glad I had the time to fit it into my busy reading schedule. It’s incredibly worthwhile, and honestly essential reading for both novice players and experienced GMs who want to know how better to be inclusive and kind.

The No-Girlfriend Rule by Christen Randall was published March 5 2024 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers and is available from all good booksellers, including

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