Christen Randall on tabletop gaming and The No Girlfriend Rule

Christen Randall on how her tabletop gaming experience and her own anxiety help shape The No Girlfriend Rule.


To prove she’s a girlfriend worth keeping, Hollis decides to learn Chris’s favorite tabletop roleplaying game, Secrets & Sorcery—but his unfortunate “No Girlfriends at the Table” rule means she’ll need to find her own group if she wants in. In comes Gloria and her all-girls game of S&S! Crowded at the table in Gloria’s cozy Ohio apartment, the six girls battle twisted magic in-game and become fast friends outside it. With her character as armor, Hollis starts to believe that maybe she can be more than just fat, anxious, and a little lost. To celebrate the release of The No Girlfriend Rule, we chatted with debut author Christen Randall about how her tabletop gaming experience shaped her book:

Congratulations on writing such a delightful debut novel! What are some surprising similarities and differences between writing and playing a tabletop game?

Thank you so much! My tabletop experience definitely informed my writing on this one. A lot of Game Master skills translate to writing—crafting engaging plots, world building, getting folks to care about your adventure. And creating book characters isn’t too different from creating gaming characters. We’re all just telling stories here, whether it’s in novels or around a table! But writing a novel is a solitary act, without the element of collaborative storytelling you get around a gaming table. Some days I really missed that! There’s just something special about building a story you love with people you care about, and I tried to capture that on the page.

Do you think it ever makes sense to have a strict no partner rule?

I don’t want to be the boss of anyone’s table, but for me and my table, no. No spoilers, but as we see in the book, I find those sorts of rules are often about something else entirely.

In fact, most readers are ready to fight Hollis’ boyfriend. Why did you make readers and Hollis deal with Chris and his friends for so long?

To be fair, I’m ready to fight Chris, too! But I think Hollis’s relationship with him might feel familiar to many readers. Often we’re told, especially as fat folks, that we should settle for good enough when it shows up. And for a while, Chris is that for Hollis. It’s not until she sees another option—a group of girls who are actually great—that she starts to believe she’s worth more than just good enough. When someone has been told something different their whole life, that realization can take some time to come to. And then we add the romantic element that the person who helps Hollis get there is a girl, this whole new world for her of queerness, and I think it makes sense that it takes her a little while to step into that truth.

The portrayal of anxiety was done super well in The No Girlfriend Rule, especially with Hollis editing her messages on Discord. How did you come up with details like that?!

I wish there was a really brilliant answer here, but the honest one is that I also have an anxiety disorder and many of my own Discord messages look the same. When I was writing it in, it was mostly as a silly little joke for myself, one I didn’t think anyone would notice. It’s been a wonderful surprise to hear from readers who are also anxious how seen they felt by this!

You called your game Secrets & Sorcery, instead of Dungeons and Dragons. What was the reasoning behind it?

D&D has set rules and mechanics that are well-established within that universe. I wanted to be able to mold the game the girls’ play to what the story needed, so I made one up.

Were you worried that people who don’t understand tabletop gaming might be confused by the content? How did you try to balance it?

I was—gaming jargon is certainly its own special language. The way I handled that was to let Hollis be new to gaming, too, so that readers who might not have played before could learn along with her. I really wanted the reading experience to feel like being invited to Gloria’s table: everyone is welcome. But the story is still firmly-rooted in the real world. The Secrets and Sorcery sessions are just like a fun weekly actual play show (live TTRPG shows, like Dimension 20, for those new to the hobby) we get to tune into as readers.

And finally, for those who are intrigued to start tabletop gaming after reading The No Girlfriend Rule – any advice? Are venues like ‘Games-A-Lot’ really that bad?

Oh, goodness, no! Your local gaming store can be an absolutely wonderful place to get started. I think the key is to find your people. Find folks who want to tell the same kinds of stories you do—your friends, a sibling—and just dive in. The true magic of tabletop takes place when you’re playing with people you trust and love.

Check out The No Girlfriend Rule by Christen Randall on

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