Rewrite & Reroll

A group of Singapore-based students from NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communications have been busy these past months putting together a short documentary focusing on D&D in Singapore. It’s finally out! The documentary is truly a labour of love on a topic that’s clearly compelling to many. (It’s a pleasure seeing so many familiar faces in it, too!)

In their words:

This documentary follows our filmmaking journey into the local scene of the hit tabletop roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). From understanding its origins and significance for Singaporean D&D players, we explore if such a euro-centric medium could be modelled into something familiar for Asian players. Through special interviews with professional dungeon masters and renowned writers in the creative gaming scene, we learn about the efforts taken and the obstacles faced to challenge a euro-centric genre and establish a new foundation for new Dungeons & Dragons’ stories ahead, and maybe even, the genre of fantasy as a whole.

Dop, Written, Directed, Edited by: Nur Sarah Jumari
Produced by: Ngor Cheng En
Assistant DoP: Lim Mei Pei

Defamiliarising D&D: Playing out Western fantasy in Singapore

I was fortuitously invited by Premeet Sindhu, Marcus Carter, and Jose Zagal to contribute a chapter to 50 Years of D&D, an upcoming book that will be published in early 2024 by MIT Press. In this chapter I sketch out Singapore’s engagement with Western fantasy through playing D&D. Here are some short snippets from my contribution:

This chapter looks at how D&D is being played and being played with in the island-nation of Singapore, a highly urbanised city metropolis home to 6 million individuals, by offering a brief, unavoidably partial history of Singapore’s tabletop role-playing scene. Singapore, briefly: situated in Southeast Asia; an ex-British colony; wealthy, globalised, and highly connected; and home to the largest Chinese majority population in the world outside of China mixed with diverse Indian, Malay and other indigenous Southeast Asian racial identities that are the legacy of Singapore’s long history as a trading entrepot. In Singapore, the experience and making of a white Euro-American world is experienced through a prism of class, gender, and race in a context that strays far from the young American men who played D&D in a police clubhouse in the 1970s (Fine 2002). I pay special attention to sites of play, the influence of actual play shows, the effect of colonial language policies, and nostalgia in the making of imaginary worlds in D&D. I also feature the bespoke tabletop role-playing studios active in Singapore in the 2020s and homebrewed D&D games which incorporate the Chinese genre of wuxia.

The relationship of Southeast Asians to the legacy of empire shimmers through game experiences in ways that are dissimilar from the perspectives and experiences of the Asian diaspora worldwide. Role-playing games, as fleeting and unwitnessed forms of creative authorship, can serve as indexes of social and cultural transformations as everyday sites of emergent narrative-making. Their transient and unrecorded nature also allows subaltern commentaries to take place beyond the public archive. Using ethnography to extend analyses of race beyond the text of the game book, as this research does, permits us to observe the quickly evaporating realities of playing the text as a game. It permits us to understand the disjunctures, fractures and dissonances that characterise Singaporeans’ relationship with D&D and other TTRPGs in ways that play reports and homebrewed materials cannot. Additionally, an emphasis on the material realities of the game coheres with the spatial realities and leisure expectations characteristic of Singapore, emphasising that where we play is also critical to how we play—and also that the game we strive to play rearranges the material constitutions of the conventional “table top” in TTRPGs.


With this in mind, answering the question of how D&D is localised or transformed through an Asian context is difficult. To work through the questions in turn, first, one asks: What constitutes Singaporean fantasy? What is considered canonical and influential in the way that we think about Singaporean imaginings of the non-mimetic, a world of otherwise? How, and should we, excerpt Anglophone Singapore from its position within the Southeast Asian region, keeping in mind the constructed nature of the nation-state—and even the region—as a project of imagined community? In his essay coining the term “spicepunk”, speculative fiction author Ng Yi-Sheng asks the same questions, pointing out the erasure of seafaring Southeast Asia from the world stage in favour of fantastical imaginations of Chinese bureaucratic empires (Ng 2022). Part of the difficulty of establishing Southeast Asian fantasy as a genre is also the marginalisation of non-English languages and the loss of local accounts of history and social life from Southeast Asia as a consequence of colonial violence. The writers of The Islands of Sina Una, a critically acclaimed D&D 5e supplement that offers races, subclasses, and settings based on precolonial Philippines, reflect astutely how historical accounts on the Philippines are “filtered through the colonial machinery and non-Filipino perspectives, which renders the ‘truth’ they present as relative to the authors’ own biases” (The Islands of Sina Una 2020, 323). In short, Southeast Asian fantasy is read and circulated by a niche group of readers, and knowledge of Southeast Asian fantasy is not detailed amongst the gamers that I have met. Even in formal education, students earn qualifications such as the UK-administered GSCE “O” and “A” Levels, which is more likely to centre around British and American literature or Asian realist fiction. So if a D&D player in Singapore wants to play or create an Asian D&D game, where do they look?

Image credit: The amazing Charsiewspace, who offers Southeast Asian RPG art for free usage–thank you and PLEASE check out their work!

Migrant Workers in Singapore: Lives and Labour in a Transient Migration Regime

A book I’ve been co-editing was finally published this year. In the time since its conception early in the pandemic to the time that it was published, migrant construction workers continued to have their mobility severely restricted as they were subject to strict rules on movement–inviting us to reflect on migrant workers’ access to and experiences of public space in Singapore. I am grateful to the considerable work put in by the contributors and the co-editors to bring this book to life.

This collection looks beyond the immediacy of heightened concerns surrounding the migrant worker population in the time of the COVID-19 crisis. It gives attention to broader questions of migrant lives and labour in a city-state that has thrived on migration since its beginnings as a colonial entrepôt. Serving as a primer for the general and academic reader interested in developing a richer understanding of the structural conditions of migrant construction work, the book draws together key studies on migrant construction work in Singapore.

The chapters in this volume, contributed by a range of academic experts, spotlight the processes of unequal global development, precarious work, and welfare exclusion that have rendered low-waged labour migrants especially vulnerable to the pandemic. They also highlight migrant men’s social identities beyond the sphere of work by attending to their experiences and strategies as members of transnational families and social-cultural communities. Accompanying the chapters are short reflections from the authors that not only summarise the findings but also provide updates on the research context in view of the recent situation.

The rise of the professional Dungeon Master in Singapore

Getting paid to run Dungeons & Dragons games! It is a thing, and it is growing fast in Singapore. I love that storytellers and community organisers are being valued in this way, but I also wonder about this shift from hobby to business, and about the understanding of what a Dungeon Master’s skills are (as rule-enforcer, shared-space-maker, world-builder, keeper-of-secrets, and softcore mathematician).

In case you missed the first link above, I talked to professional DMs from Tinker Tales Studios and TableMinis, as well as Melvyn Sin, a freelance DM, here. We discussed safe spaces, the terrors of improv, and D&D for kids, among a thousand other things I wasn’t able to put into the piece but which I hope to transcribe and publish on the internet sometime soon.

Come talk to me on Twitter @KellynnWee or Instagram @braided or email me (kellynn.wee [at] gmail [dot] com) if you have any interest in collaborating or also if you want to discuss favourite D&D classes or recommend good one-shots to run as a DM.

Ang Mo Kio under lockdown

I’ve shared this widely and had it widely shared by my very supportive and beloved academic and friend community (thank you, thank you, thank you), many of whom read it carefully and wrote to me with their own reflections, but I want to archive it here, too.

Here’s an essay about everyday life during lockdown in Singapore, what walking Chai has taught me about my neighbourhood, and how people challenge surveillance by building new community spaces, published on

I miss smiling at people unmasked; I miss the civil inattention we practise in trains and lifts and bus stops; I miss being alone in a sea of strangers while feeling cosseted and amused and calmed by the very many quirks of a crowd. I miss being an observer of the populated city.