Tuesday, February 14, 2012

No Sex, Please. We Play D&D.

Where it comes to character generation, I've long held the belief that certain aspects of the character should not be chosen by the player.  These would be things like the height and weight, eye and hair color, the profession of one's father, the total amount of coin available to the character at the start of the campaign, or the character's place of birth.  I feel this way because these things are NOT a part of our choice as beings.  No person gets to pick where they're born, or whether they're born poor or wealthy, or if one's father is a git or not.  These are the breaks ... and a player should be pushed to play characters who are less than convenient.  It builds, if the gentle reader will pardon the expression, "character."

If it happens that some players get lucky, and their character is a small lord in charge of a fiefdom at the start of the game, rather than a bum with no wealth whatsoever, then tough tookies.  Life isn't fair.  Overcome, adapt, win.  That's the game.

There are two elements of character creation, however, that I do let the players pick, though it breaks the above logic.  I would rather not make the concession, but until I get players who ask for it, the concession stands:

You get to pick your race, and you get to pick your sex.

I might put up another post about the race issue after this one.  Race is one of those things that most players are flexible about.  My place of birth tables, however, and the size of my world, and the relative rarity of demi-humans therein, would tend to favor humans for the most part.  I could easily roll ten random characters by place of birth and have them all come out as human, particularly if the starting point were somewhere in central Germany, or India say.  For the sake of players being able to play other races with more frequency, I make the concession.

But that is not the reason the concession is made regarding women characters in D&D.  I think we all know the reason.  Men are not for the most part comfortable playing women.

I have mentioned before, I have several women playing characters in my world, and they quite comfortably mix up the genders of their characters.  They play men or women with equal interest, and don't seem to mind if I have NPC's hit on either, or if in my 17th century campaign I have male assholes make innuendos or generally insult them.

Men, on the other hand, seem to get their back up about that sort of thing.  They seem to get quite uncomfortable over a whole range of potential sexual juxtapositions and circumstances.

This is not to say that male players rush to have their male characters rush into erotic circumstances, either.  D&D is surprisingly conservative in the "love" motif.  It's nice when eyes meet between a female and a male in the midst of a quiet moment while at the bar, listening to the local bard spin some tale.  A few bits of chivalry and gentle friendliness are welcome interludes between slaughtering orcs.  Nobody minds if Eowyn's eyes water a little when she finds Aragorn is alive.

But having Eowyn and Aragorn fuck hard and messy behind the king's throne in a few choice moments would spoil everything.   We can be really sure that a typical male player isn't going to describe in detail how his female mage has a prediliction for cocksucking.

Straight up, I've played D&D with the same sort of people Zak boasts about, because I too have a long and questionable sexual history, nicely stored in the fuzziness of privacy now that I'm an old man not wanting to come across as an old lech.  I've had players whose favorite moment for "backstabbing" was doing it doggy-style, and players who approached the game as an opportunity for quenching their cross-gendering sexual appetites.  But this is NOT the norm.  I think we all know this.

I think it can also be argued that many a face is going to fall uncomfortably when male players are told that, sorry, you've been a woman, and not a particularly attractive one at that.  I don't have numbers, but I'd be willing to bet a study done on the subject would demonstrably prove an increase in female characters for male players when the charisma climbed above 15.

I'd like to live in a world where a male player could be handed a woman and see it as an opportunity, and not as an inconvenience.  Granted, my world is remarkably sexist.  I don't run a Gloria Steinum version of the 17th century.  I do have women fighters and pirates and clerics and such, but they DO get pushed around a bit by sexist pigs in my world and they DO have to push back if they want to succeed.  It isn't that I'm sexist, you understand.  If a woman wants to play a man, and not get all that shit, they're free to do so.  But my experience has been that women players who play women LIKE being able to bury their mace nastily into the skulls of their former male oppressors, and I'm not going to take that away from them.  It is a vicarously satisfying victory, and I've had quite a few women who simply got off on it.  Putting up a straw male chauvanist for a woman to cut down is just as satisfying for her as putting up the sort of straw asshole that he likes cutting down - namely, smug, self-satisfied villains.

The experience isn't as satisfying for a male player, however.  He tends to wonder what the hell is wrong with me as a DM, and why is he stuck playing this obviously inconvenient stereotype (men, I am sorry to say, still view women as a stereotype).  A woman has had a lifetime learning ways to circumvent morons.  Men, not so much.

Do I sound like a chauvanist?  Funny, I don't think so.  I'm saying up front, women are more adaptable to this game where it comes to sex.  They don't get uncomfortable if things get sexual.  No matter what the NPC is like, women just cope with it, using the tools available, and move on.  They don't get uncomfortable or embarrassed.  That may have something to do with the sort of women who play D&D.  I can think of conventions where there were 3,000 boys and about a 150 girls.  If you're in this subculture, and you're a woman, you've already learned emotional tae kwan do.

Guys, on the other hand, have a huge flippin' blind spot where it comes to this stuff.  No doubt, they'll deny it in the comments.  A woman will run a male like a male, but a guy - if he runs a female character - will run a female like a male.

It's a bit disappointing.  Yet so long as it exists, I will make the concession, and continue to allow players to choose the gender of their characters.

Sometimes, illogic is easier.


  1. I've got no problem playing female characters myself (heck, I do it often as DM) but there are players in my regular group who should never be allowed to do any sort of thing as they either play them out like a comic book Red Sonja, a 16 year olds impression of a pornstar with a sword or a monty pyhton fishwife.

    I've always thought it was funny many males pretending to play aliens and in-humans are unwilling or incapable of playing human females.

  2. Well, to generalise, women are better at men when it comes to understanding the thoughts, feelings, emotions and personalities of others. So it makes sense they would be better at "being men" than men would be at "being women".

    I rarely play, because I'm the type who is always the GM, but when I do I never play a woman. I know men, and I know why most men would want to play a woman in a game of D&D (because they want to either play up the "sexy" or they want to prove a point of some kind) - and I don't want to be percieved as being that sort of man.

  3. I don't understand most people. Therefore I try and play segments of my own personality.

    I cling to portions of my personality I can identify with and relate to. Greed, loyalty, complacency, logic, anger.

    I understand these things, I understand because I feel them and know them. I may not act on them, but I know how I would act or want to act if I did.

    A good portion of society and culture says that women are different from men. And perhaps that makes it so I do not feel I understand a woman's motivations, or actions. Or how they react to their greed, complacency and anger.

    I think this is perhaps why I don't play women. It may not be a good reason, but it is probably the one.

  4. Lukas: A good portion of society and culture says that women are different from men.

    I think there's something to that observation. Society has it that women are hard for men to understand, whereas men are easy for women to understand.

    I actually agree with that preposition, but I recognise that the reason I agree with it may be due to societal conditioning.

  5. Heh- what does it say that for most players, it's easier to imagine themselves as a male elf or dwarf (or, say, a lizardman or a dragonborn in 4E- not even a mammal!) than a human female?

    A woman has had a lifetime learning ways to circumvent morons.

    I'd add "without making a fuss" there- which explains why you've see so many women players enjoy resolving those situations violently, I expect...

  6. It's nice when eyes meet between a female and a male in the midst of a quiet moment while at the bar, listening to the local bard spin some tale.

    Or female and female. Or male and male. Are all the characters in your games straight?

    I think it can also be argued that many a face is going to fall uncomfortably when male players are told that, sorry, you've been a woman, and not a particularly attractive one at that.

    Many people play D&D (at least partially) as wish fulfillment. More often than not, people want to play characters that match their idea of attractive, whether it is what they want to look like personally or what they find attractive in a potential partner. This is also why creating a character has become more and more about choice rather than random determination in more recent editions. Point-buy systems, feat selection, and all that are just as much about crafting the perfect avatar as they are about optimizing the character's game mechanics. Have you played any of these recent computer RPGs like Skyrim or Mass Effect? You can spend hours customizing the appearance of your character, getting the eye spacing, muscle definition, bust size, and hair style just right. I don't have any philosophical problem with this myself, but it can start to be a problem if you want there to be a real danger of character death in the game.

    Where it comes to character generation, I've long held the belief that certain aspects of the character should not be chosen by the player.

    I don't know about should not, but I certainly think that it can be really fun to randomly generate as much as possible and let the player run with it. I really enjoy it when players are willing to do this, but it does conflict with the observations in my previous paragraph. Players, especially now, like to be in control.

    Jeff Rients recently put together a fantastic way to randomly determine many of these characteristics:


    It's a bit gonzo (as it's for Carcosa), but it could easily be tweaked for a more sober setting.

    Following up on some of the comments:


    I don't see anything wrong with comic book Red Sonja. Plenty of people play comic book Conan too. Or even a 16 year old's impression of a porn star, as long as the ref is comfortable with it in the specific setting and everyone at the table is having fun.


    Yes, but lizard people and elves don't exist in the real world, so there is no danger of caricaturing a real group of people. Or, more commonly, elves are just "humans with funny ears" and the problem reduces to that of playing humans.

    (Wow, this ended up being a long comment.)

  7. I was actually speaking of characters, not players, but that was still a fun read. Thanks for the link.

  8. It was a ridiculous challenge over an ordinary thrown-out example that certainly didn't imply what you suggested, Brendan. And you know it.

  9. Yeah, you're right. Rereading my comment, that sentence does come off as snarky, and that was not my intent. These sorts of examples (always using he/she pairings, etc) stick out like a sore thumb to us gay folk. I try to take into consideration the spirit of the context and not just the exact wording, but in this case I didn't live up to that ideal (to be clear, I don't think your post was exclusionary in any way). So, sorry about that.

    (This is really the same phenomenon as a feminist objecting to the use of the male pronoun even though that is proper English and is usually not intended as sexism.)

    All that being said, if there is any place where one should be precise about such usage, perhaps it is in a post about sexuality in the game, no? I probably would not have called attention to that example if the subject at hand had been, for example, encumbrance.

  10. You may take my word for it, Brendan ... I am probably about a billion times more comfortable with having someone run a gay or otherwise non-provincial character in my world. My daughter has as a character a male elven mage-thief who is a transvestite ... and I am fine with that.


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