Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sex and D&D

Okay, I know this has been done before. Phil and Dixie did a 'strip tease' for many issues before they actually never covered the topic until years later. And not in the Dragon.

However, I am not doing that so let's just let that go. I am talking about the massive sexual dimorphism between human men and women and how it relates to gaming especially in the early years. So if you are offended by the natural differences between people stop reading. If you are intrigued or bored and willing to read for a couple minutes stick around.

In the beginning, shortly after the Great Flood and before the A-Team man made roleplaying games and made the first player type characters and saw that it was good. Being that this was before Buffy the Vampire Slayer or second wave feminism women were not allowed to play.

No wait, that's entirely wrong. Women were allowed to play and for many male players the only female contact they had that was not deliberately making their lives hell at school or related to them or both (sisters and cousins can be mean). The games themselves were rooted in the war game tradition that came before and the fiction of the time. In that benighted era nobody knew that everyone was identical there were differences in the capabilities of the different sexes.

In general male player characters could be stronger than women. And this was wrong. They got it wrong but probably not for the reason you think.

You see, the players are not 'Joe Average' who just happens to own a sword or a grimoire and a burning desire to run like a lemming into tombs, ruins, and caverns. No, the player characters are the stuff of legends or someday will be. We have weight classes in every sport as well as leagues for both sexes because there are very real differences between the sexes in the real world. However, the games are not the real world!

The games are the stuff of legends, myths, and folklore. Hyppolyta was an Amazon queen that was too much man for anyone but Hercules. The Valkyries were shield maidens as much as they were choosers of the slain. Valeria of the Red Brotherhood feared no man. BĂȘlit was Queen of the Black Coast. The fiction and legends were replete with women who outmatched, outfought, and faced down any man or monster as long as she had breath in her chest and strength in her arm.

So there was never reason to restrict abilities to those we find in the real world. We're discussing games where people fly with magic potions, fight ghosts and dragons, and commune with beings from other planes. The idea that some characters should be limited is just not fitting for the setting.

If you want to restrict non-player characters based on what humans on Earth can do now, that is a different discussion. Despite Valeria and BĂȘlit being deadly with a sword, most women are going to fit within the averages that have been with the human race since the paleolithic and that's just that. Again, we are dealing with fiction though so if you want to change that you can. Be aware that your world will change (if you're into world building if you just want a pseudo-medieval world with a modern PC gloss then do what you like without consequences).

I will before moving on briefly touch on how women were depicted pictorially in these games and on their covers. Very, very respectfully for the most part. The little partial nudity (succubus I am looking at you) mainly concerned monsters that were by their natures unclothed. Female warriors, thieves, and magic users were usually as well covered as their male counterparts. How were they posed? Usually in front of the males. Just as you would for a portrait today, you put the shortest guys in front so behind the hobbits but in front of the humans and half orcs. They were posed with sword, wand, or dirk not waiting to be rescued or clutched in the arms of their rescuers. So pretty darn good.  It was later that the chainmail bikini became a thing and you can blame that on later editors and artists. By then the hobby was fully integrated so if you didn't like gaps in women's armor talk to those guys and gals.

That brings us to the second part, how were girls and women players treated in the early days. Now I never once sat at a table where any female player was limited in any of her choices regardless of what the rules said. One, most young boys think of themselves as rebels as well as white knights and two, as I mentioned before these were the first girls who were actually nice to them.

Now I have heard of the mythical table where the boys were so stupid and short sighted they scorned or rebuffed female players. If they existed (and given human mule-headedness I can only assume they did somewhere) I can only say one thing. Suckers! You had girls willing to put up with your pimply teenage self to play a cool game and you blew it. I am laughing at your feeble intellects and feckless social skills. You guys 'rolled a one'.

We did have one player that made a crude joke at a table where we had a few young women just getting their feet wet roleplaying. So many guys verbally bounced him so hard his fragile ego is probably still crawling out of his hole. The joke was forgotten and the young women became regulars. Happy ending all around.

The stories we tell together at these tables should be equal to Tolkien, Howard, Leiber, and Brackett at their best. If you are a space ranger hunting down pirates you should be one of Norton's or Piper's rangers. If you are a brawling warrior bestriding your world like a giant you should be one of Howard's or Kuttner's or Brackett's heroes. If you are a thief slipping through the shadows and whispered about from the Maul to the Suk of the Goldsmiths in Kwarizim, you should be fit for Leiber's or C.L. Moore or Carter's stories.

You don't play great games and tell great stories by limiting your players. You tell great collaborative stories and have great gaming by embracing the fiction and the narrative, being a fan of the characters and a friend to the players.

I forgot to add if you have ever played a game with sex based pc differences let me know in the comments. I'd like to see how your experience went. 

Sorry, no actual sex took place at any time during this blog post. If you are willing to hang around just wait until I get to romance in D&D, it will melt your mail loincloth.


  1. Personally I keep my games very PG and play from time to time with younger players. Cowardice, maybe, but I want to be inclusive.

  2. Oh yes, the content of my games is PG or G when I am running the. The title is just a nod to the old running gag in the Dragon magazine. And Romance has more than one meaning as well...

    I meant sex purely in the correct English language term to differentiate between women and men.