When Drag Meets Dungeons & Dragons, Magic Happens

Drag collective Queer Arcana are enchanting audiences with their take on a classic game.
Tim Fraanje
Amsterdam, NL
Three drag artists. Left: green-haired male character with an axe. Centre: pink-haired female character with a gun. Right: female warrior character in black and gold with a sword.
All photos: Desiré van den Berg

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

At first glance, drag and Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) do not seem like natural partners. One’s a flamboyant art form that mocks gender roles from nightclub stages; the other’s an intimate tabletop role-playing game traditionally best enjoyed in the privacy of one’s home. But the drag collective Queer Arcana, based in the Netherlands, doesn’t see it that way. 


Combining a mix of drag, cosplay and theatrical performance, the Dutch queens play D&D on stage in elaborate costumes complete with axes, swords and, of course, a giant 20-sided die. Film it all on camera, add a bit of music and some dazzling digital effects, and you’ve got an up-and-coming English-language web series available on Youtube.

Queer Arcana – seven people getting dressed and putting makeup on in a crammed room. In the foreground there's a big ring light

A behind the scene shot of the Queer Arcana adventuring party getting ready.

Iris de Grauw, Queer Arcana. Female character wearing a purple kimono with gold accents, a black bob wig with a ball on top, white and blue face paint and horns.

Iris de Grauw, a member of the collective, spent a year developing her character only to be killed off in the first episode. Thankfully, she could rejoin the game in episode three.

Derk Over, the project’s initiator, studied game architecture and design at the Breda University of Applied Sciences and subsequently obtained a master’s degree in Design from the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. Over has been playing Dungeons & Dragons since 2014 and has been working as a drag performer for about four years. After graduating, they decided to combine the two hobbies by starting a theatre project named Dungeons & Drag Queens, recently reborn as Queer Arcana. 

Over said they and another member were originally the only ones both into drag and D&D. “Alain Chaney and Lars Reen started out as drag queens, they had never played Dungeons & Dragons before,” they say. “Billy Cain, Iris de Grauw and Tiva Pam were gamers before and then started doing drag. John Togba is studying Music, and both were new to him.” 


Over says that D&D, just like drag, can be an interesting way to explore new identities through the power of fantasy and imagination. “They are both transformative processes that help you learn more about yourself,” Over says. “Someone once told me that they didn’t know they were bisexual until they played a bisexual character in Dungeons & Dragons. When you play, you can try out a queer identity in a very safe way.” 

Similarly, drag is all about trying on different identities and seeing which one fits best. “In drag, you put on a dress or a weird pair of pants, look in the mirror and think to yourself, ‘How do I like this?’,” Over said. “It's important to note you can never predict someone's life based on how they look. Gone are the days when we thought we knew what a nerd or a queer looks like.” 

John Togba, Queer Arcana – female character wearing a black and gold patterned bodysuit, a black leather tutu skirt and golden horns, brandishing a sword.

John Togba playing a warrior character.

Billy Cain, Queer Arcana – gnome-like character wearing a long green wig and beard, a brown leather ensemble and brandishing an axe.

Billy Cain started off as a gamer and got into drag later on.

But as some high-profile cases have shown, gamers can be a pretty homophobic bunch. “Gaming culture has been a safe haven for a lot of people, not just progressives, but also non-mainstream conservatives,” Over said. “They tend to think their community will be destroyed if the identity of what a gamer is is stretched further and further. That leads to homophobic behaviour.”


But Queer Arcana seems to be weathering the worst of the storm, at least for now. They have been mostly welcomed by the D&D community, whose members seem to like their refreshing approach to the game. Both drag and D&D have received unprecedented attention in recent years, with TV shows like RuPaul's Drag Race becoming an internationally syndicated hit and Hollywood stars like Vin Diesel publicly declaring his love of the game.

“When you cross subcultures, you create an increasingly powerful critique of normality, because these subcultures don't fit into the mainstream in different ways,” Over said. “It really tells me that society is ready for a post-normal worldview.”

Scroll down to see more pictures.

Alain Chaney, Sasa Hara, Queer Arcana – bare-chested character wearing orange tights, platform combat boots, a red, yellow and black fur shawl and a braided orange wig.

Alain Chaney are also known with their drag name, Sasa Hara.

Alain Chaney, Sasa Hara, Queer Arcana – Character reflected in a mirror placed on top of a table full of make up

Sasa Hara is known for their androgynous, gore-inspired drag style.

Kevin de Wit, Miss Vanity Love, Queer Arcana – female character with a pink wig, a pink sparkly dress and a gun.

Kevin de Wit, also known as Miss Vanity Love.

Derk Over – female character wearing a long platinum blonde wig, a white shirt, a black lace skirt and black pumps, holding up a plant while sitting down and posing in front of a white backdrop.

Derk Over, also known as Jessie Depressie.

Queer Arcana – Miss Vanity Love, Sasa Hara, Jessie Depressie, Iris de Grauw and John Togba posing all together.

The Queer Arcana collective posing all together.

 Freya Terpstra, Derk Over, Queer Arcana – Two female characters wearing platinum blonde wigs, a frilly white shirt, black skirts and black lips.

Freya Terpstra and Derk Over.

Lars Reen, Queer Arcana – character sitting down in front of a white backdrop and wearing a helm, a knight's armour on top above a shirt and a big grey skirt, holding an axe. Another person is helping them pose.

Lars Reen is one of the members who started off in drag.

Tiva Pam, Queer Arcana – character wearing a hat, a pink long wig, a red leather suit with a fringe, black shorts and patterned tights, playing a giant sword like a guitar.

Tiva Pam got intro drag through the collective.

Tiva Pam, Queer Arcana – close up of the character face, revealing an elaborate purple and black make up look and golden

Tiva Pam