Revenge of the Feminerd: Feminist D&D

a Dungeons and Dragons game book with several different-shaped die scattered around itEarlier in the series someone commented that they were starting a Dungeons and Dragons group and were looking for suggestions on how to keep it feminist. As luck would have it, I've played a campaign or two of D&D in my time, so I loved the idea of writing about it.

RPGs have great potential to be feminist, and D&D is one of the better ones for this. When I threw the idea out on Twitter one of my followers suggested Magic is a better option, but I have no experience playing Magic so I'll let someone else take that topic on (or write about it in the comments below!).

The great thing about D&D is that almost everything is customizable. When you're creating a character, skill sets are not determined or limited by gender, and players can create their characters to look however they want. Experienced DMs (Dungeon Masters) can create their own campaigns for players, and even most pre-made campaigns can be altered so characters can break out of traditional gender roles. And so we come to tip number one:

1. Make sure you've got a supportive DM. This is the most important thing to figure out if you're going to have an inclusive and feminist D&D group. Even though players can customize their characters' appearance and personalities, the DM has a lot of power to set the game's agenda, so make sure s/he's supportive of having an open and inclusive session.

2. Let players spend enough time explaining their characters' background. One thing the DM can do to make the game more open is to allow players time to explain characters' background. The last time I played D&D I created a Swashbuckler-class, bisexual, Irish pirate called Megan O'Malley. But because I started part-way through the campaign, there wasn't time given for me to build her back story into the plot. I definitely felt like it hampered my ability to get across how kick-ass she was. If you don't give time for players to role-play their characters and you end up focusing too much on fighting as many battles as possible, you usually end up just assuming the characters are heterosexual and white or the same race as the player.

3. Avoid the following terminology: "gay" to mean an insult and "raped" as in "I totally raped that goblin hideout." If there are other words you're concerned about coming up (swear words, oppressive language), make that part of the initial meeting to get group agreement on usage.

4. Limit the use of official D&D artwork into the campaign. It's pretty much the only innately sexist thing about D&D, with all the guys (at least the human ones) looking ridiculously buff and all the girls looking ridiculously skinny and busty. It also has a serious lack of racial diversity.

5. Avoid misogynist, heterosexist, ableist, and racist comments to the people in your group. Should go without saying, but sadly it doesn't always.

6. Sexual scenarios are often part of RPGs like D&D, especially among adults. DMs and groups should be open to characters pursuing in-game same-sex relationships. Jason B. at BoardGameGeek.com has laid out some good tips to help tackle heteronormativity when playing with "gaymers" and he points out: "A common response whenever a heterosexual male encounters some guy-on-guy action (or perceived guy-on-guy action, or implied, or whatever), is, "Eww, man, gross." (See also: the phrase "no homo".) This is practically a socially conditioned response used by heteros to assert their own (non-homo) sexuality. It is also very silly."

7. That said, just because sexual scenarios happen in RPGs is no excuse to treat women characters as sexual objects. A commenter on Jason's thread brought up an example of a time when a DM made all the characters start the campaign by paying sexual favors to female characters to enter the city. The women players refused, which led to the DM and male players trying to eject them from the campaign. And so we find ourselves back at tip #1: making sure you have a supportive DM.

In-game inclusivity and equality doesn't necessarily have a real impact on equality in the "real world" but it helps re-define what's possible and create a safe space for people who like RPGs but might be otherwise marginalized. Any suggestions I've missed? Anyone have any stories about any great or terrible D&D campaigns they've played?

Before I sign off I'll leave you with this video parody of Far East Movement's "Like a G6", redone to be "Roll a D6" to inspire your next campaign (lyrics here):

Photo by Wil Wheaton

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Comments

24 comments have been made. Post a comment.

You don't have to change the universe, just how you play in it

Our DM included misogynistic jerks as characters as part of the world we played in. I mean do you really expect a chaotic evil lich to care about degrading a woman? Or anyone else for that matter? I think not.

Female characters were respected if they were RPed in a way that earned them that respect (and if you rolled well when smashing a glass to the side of the head of a drunken jerk in a tavern.... true story. Rolled critical). Were there buxom bar wenches? Yes, but there were far more warrior women.

The worst people I've been forced to play with are gamer-widows. They insisted on a re-roll if their Charisma was too low, only wanted "cute" characters like what they thought a "fairy" was, and behaved in a manner that made my lawful good warrior want break alignment in nasty ways. I've had to play with some men who assumed my female characters were up for some erotic RP. They were set straight both in-game by my characters and out of it by the DM.

So I agree that the best bit of advice above is having a sympathetic DM. Without that the rest falls apart. Cheesy fantasy art (what warrior would fight in a chain-mail bra? I mean really... what's the AC on that?) won't go away any time soon. But the DM can keep the other players in check and keep the world friendly... at least where it needs to be.

Good points

Great points - yeah you can totally make a game more feminist without taking the fantasy out. The key thing is making sure the players feel comfortable with the DM and other players.

Before you rip on the

Before you rip on the chainmail bikini's practicality, I'd suggest you look up the "Gloryborn" template for armor.

"Though they are constructed to heroic proportions and tend to bear flashy decorations, gloryborn armor and
shields frequently seem to lack some vital defensive piece. The overall look might awe viewers or even strike terror into the wearer’s enemies, but the items frequently look incomplete. For example, a suit of gloryborn leather armor might be little more than a set of elaborate leather straps constructed to show off the wearer’s bulging muscles by leaving portions of his torso entirely exposed. Likewise, a gloryborn shield cut to resemble a fearsome mask might be oddly shaped and appear ill-suited for protection. But such oddities of design do not limit the effectiveness of gloryborn armor or shields. Gloryborn armor might look as though it couldn’t stop a kitchen knife, let alone a greataxe, but something about its design seems to draw attacks toward protected areas, making it just as effective as armor crafted on other planes." (From the DMG II)

Oh yes. It exists.

The problem with the

The problem with the 'chainmail bikini' is that it is a disproportionatly hypersexualized female depiction and put many potential female customers off. My reaction to art like that is an instant "ugh...no thanks" and as a result I didn't start getting into fantasy games until I was in college (got roped in by some buddies...male of course). Where is the fantasy art with grandiose male musculature crammed into a jewel encrusted gold thong bikini? In my experience....nowhere to be found. That kind of imagery is used to lure in a hormonal male teenage fan base, unfortunately they alienate their female audience. From a buisness perspective, this is something fantasy rpg companies should be concerned about....marketing and imagery (duh).

Fully disagree

The hormonal teenage male audience interested in dnd style games including video games will always be incredibly greater than the female fan bases. Females even tho their numbers are growing in rpg's are a mere drop in an ocean of customers. To change the focus away from drawing hormonal teenage males would be an ineffective marketing strategy.

That said. I still think that more females should take up dice. Dnd is a total sausage fest.

yay!

I am really excited/stoked you addressed my D&D request and this was totally helpful! You are awesome. =)

Magic the Gathering

Regarding Magic, there was a really good article written by Titus Chalk recently about women playing the game, titled "Women and Magic: The Game's Lost Tribe" : http://www.gatheringmagic.com/women-and-magic-the-games-lost-tribe/

And a response, written by Sonja, to said article: http://www.gatheringmagic.com/females-and-magic/

I only mention them as supplemental material for if anyone wants to write a similar article to Jarrah Hodge's excellent piece here.

How timely!

I'm about to DM a campaign. Most of the members in the group are feminists, or close to it. This makes it easy. We all want a fun, inclusive space. I used to play in a group as the only woman in a group of unenlightened men, and it was annoying to say the least.

I am definitely going to include some things which exist in the real world - a sexist villain or an assimilated buxom bar maid - but I also want my escapist pastimes to be relatively free of the sort of conflicts that irk me in real life. So I'm making my campaign feminist-friendly by keeping feminist ideals - or rather, the need for them - out of the game. Players might encounter some unjust barriers, but they will be personal, not institutional. A discriminatory NPC rather than a discriminatory world.

If you're running a lighthearted campaign, feel free to include some jokes, too. For example, in an online game (Choice of the Dragon), you play as a dragon who has just kidnapped a princess. The narrator stops for a second and says "Hey, wait a minute. Isn't that kind of sexist, always capturing princesses?" to which you can reply that you are very aware of the social repercussions and make a point of alternating between princes and princesses. It just happens to be time for a princess. It shows that you get it, but also that you want play time to be fun.

Bingo!

"Players might encounter some unjust barriers, but they will be personal, not institutional. A discriminatory NPC rather than a discriminatory world."

Bingo! This is exactly what a lot of male dm's don't get and their ignorance can end up upsetting female players.

Sounds so fun! When I was in

Sounds so fun! When I was in middle school, I wanted to play, but couldn't even find unenlightened dudes to play with, let alone other girls! Maaaaaybe I can convince some of my friends to play (I'm sure they're reading this, in fact).

Also, that parody is great—it

Also, that parody is great—it just needs to be about half as long.

Agreed

Totally - it does run long - I've had the song in my head though for 3 days now :)

A MULTITUDE OF GAMES

Just wanted to mention that a role-playing game can have any setting, you don't have to play D & D if you don't like high fantasy. I've been playing a cyberpunk game called Interface Zero and a Muromachi-era-Japan-meets-steampunk game called Iron Dynasty. They use a system called Savage Worlds that can be used for any setting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savage_Worlds). I've played World of Darkness and GURPs as well. My boyfriend's been a great GM, but soon I will try my hand at GM-ing Iron Dynasty, as I have seen about 100 more samurai movies than he has.

I've been lucky with GMs/DMs--the only sexism I have encountered were a no-girls game in high school and a one-shot where the GM was clearly unhappy that I didn't pick the pre-made character whose power was being the "hot chick". Usually, in RPGs you can only excel in 2 out of 3 of the following skills: strong, smart and beautiful/charismatic, and the latter has never interested me.

Anything is possible in RPGs-except elves hacking computers, that's just silly (sorry, Shadowrun fans.)

*****************************************************************
"Oh don't the days seem lank and long
When all goes right and nothing goes wrong
And isn't your life extremely flat
When you've nothing whatever to grumble at?"

--W.S. Gilber

Mwa-ha-ha! They said it couldn't be done, it shouldn't be done!

I love that this article exists.

Back in the mid 1990s I started played RPGs with my geek friends (both male and female, but mostly males played). And things were good in some ways, but there were still many issues. And that was within our sheltered little group, let alone going out into general geekdom and the all-out sexism, homophobia, racism, ableism, etc!

And so I had this wacky idea to do my MA research about ways to make live-action RPGs more progressive (in the social justice sense). The group I had played with did D&D, White Wolf's Vampire and Mage (I highly recommend the 1990s version of Mage) and then the Amber RPG in our own improvised live-action style. I was doing my MA in Dance, so my research fit under critical dance ethnography (which I loved because we Dance MA students were reading some of the serious critiques of anthropology by activists and/or scholars of colour).

I had some very hostile reactions to my research from female grad students in other academic programs. They felt that RPGs were beyond redemption and why was I trying to argue that there could be anything good about them?! (these women were not avowed geeks like me). So it continually pleases me how so many geeks are now out there working (and playing) in various big and small ways, for better social justice in geek pursuits!

Long story short -- I did my original research, wrote a long paper that was half applying mostly feminist and anti-racist critiques and half my own theorizing on possibilities for improving RPGS (based on my readings, my own play experiences and experiences within geekdom, as well as based on the experiences of interviewees).

And then, because I was exhausted, and there was a recession on, and I had to pay the bills, I shelved it all and focussed on paid work. Finding other female geeks that thought like me was well-nigh impossible, and the internet was not yet very helpful in that regard (I completed my MA in 2000). Life is busy, and lots of things change, but now I'm back to working on how to intervene in geek cultures, spaces, and pursuits to make them less kyriarchical.

The last few years have made me very happy in seeing how serious challenges have been raised to the many interlocking prejudices in geekdom (RPGs, videogames, comics/manga, anime, toys, fantasy science fiction, etc), and excited about online spaces for interested people to support each other in doing this work!

#3 seems like it should be a

#3 seems like it should be a subset of #5. Apart from that, this is all very good advice.

I can't find the original

I can't find the original post, sadly, but not too long ago, photographer/GM JR Blackwell mentioned something she put into practice with her gaming groups: Before the game even starts, they have a group conversation at the table to discuss what can and should happen at the table and what should be moved off-screen. So, if a player is uncomfortable with gore, or certain types of monsters, or sexual situations in a game (for example), then the GM knows that when things veer that way, she needs to make a judgment call and either gloss over the details or fade to black. She can then either leave it to the imagination or pursue the scene by email.

She also gives the players the right to, at any time, say "no," and re-direct the action if the game touches a trigger the player forgot to mention.

I think this is a great idea, because it both sets boundaries ahead of time and gives the players and the GM a chance to discuss what they want and don't want from the game.

When I was 13, and the only

When I was 13, and the only girl in my D&D group at summer camp, one character "raped" my character during a campaign. When I protested, the DM's reply was "he's evil, you are the only chick, and we've been in this dungeon for 6 weeks. You totally want it." I abandoned the group immediately. I didn't play again until I was in my 30s.

When I started again, it felt completely different. Much richer, much more exploratory about morals and interactions with people, and much much more fun. And we can drink and include sexual references in the play without it being derogatory to anyone. There is even a D&D sex manual that is totally awesome - it takes the standard sex tropes and plays with them to keep it fresh and challenging.

For keeping the games feminist, I have found that it all comes down to who you play with, with the DM being the most important. Since the DM has either been my husband or one of two good friends who have grown up attitudes about women/men/RPGs, I hadn't really thought about our games being feminist or not - they just are. And if they aren't, well, I know the players (including me) would kick a little ass...

Our church (a UU church) has been using RPGs for religious education, to help kids see the repercussions of their actions. I think RPGs are fantastic as learning experiences for kids - but they need guidance from adults to make sure the games don't just reinforce the same old crap.

I feel that your back story

I feel that your back story had nothing to do with the lack of how kick-ass you felt your character was. I believe that you were playing D&D 3.5, since you described your character class as a Swashbuckler. That's why you didn't feel "kick-ass", you picked a class that is vastly under powered in that game. If you want your characters to feel kick-ass, you need to back that up with the game mechanics, otherwise it's just posturing. For a lightly armored melee fighter type, I would strongly recommend a Barbarian with the Whirling Frenzy rage variant and the Pounce substitution. Then your character will actually be very kick-ass, and no one will question how kick-ass your character (female or male or other) is. At least until the spell casters of the party get 5th level spells.

To be honest, I am not a

To be honest, I am not a person to make any comments about this given that I am but a single anonymous, so let me redirect your attentions to this saved thread that had been had about this article on the /tg/-Traditional Games board of 4chan.

Warning: unfiltered opinions of all kinds, the coarsest of coarse language, distilled internet rage'n'fury and heaping amounts of trolling ahead. Although quite a few of the posts in that thread hold interesting opinions and good explanations.

http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/17573842/

Reposting singular posts with prominent content.

======

No.17573855
>4. Limit the use of official D&D artwork into the campaign. It’s pretty much the only innately sexist thing about D&D
I agree? The article is basically saying 'don't be a dick, and specifically don't be a racist, misogynist or ableist dick'. I agree with that.
Don't be a dick.

No.17573892
>official D&D art
>innately sexist
>Forcing us men to look upon the horror that is Mialee
>Giving women the fantastic eye-candy that is Tordek
Either way, shame for linking a feminist blog.

No.17573965
>feminist magazine
>bitch magazine
>black rights magazine
>nigger magazine
This is bemusing.

No. 17574485
>How to run a feminist D&D Campaign
HOW ABOUT YOU JUST KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE AND RUN A GOOD FUCKING CAMPAIGN

YOU ARE PUTTING THE CART AROUND SIX MILES BEFORE THE HORSE WHEN YOU SAY "I AM GOING TO RUN A FEMINIST CAMPAIGN" INSTEAD OF "WE ARE GOING TO EXPLORE RACIAL STRATIFICATION WHILE DRIVING AIRSHIPS INTO THINGS IN EBERRON" OR "WE ARE PLAYING IN A HOMEBREW SWORDS N SORCERY FANTASY WORLD WITH LOTS OF CRAZY FUN HIGH ADVENTURE AND DEMONKILLING" OR "MY CAMPAIGN IS BASICALLY RIPPING OFF THE PROTOMEN, LES MISERABLES, AND DEUS EX ALL AT THE SAME TIME"

IF YOUR ONLY CONCERN IS "TODAY, I AM GOING TO RUN A CAMPAIGN WHERE THERE IS LESS RAPE THAN USUAL" THEN YOU PROBABLY NEED TO RE-ASSES YOUR ABILITY AS A DM

FUCK 10/10 I'M MAD

====

None of these posts were made by me, I am just relaying the opinions. Have a nice day and remember, sexism goes both ways.

>I created a

>I created a Swashbuckler-class, bisexual, Irish pirate called Megan O’Malley. But because I started part-way through the campaign, there wasn’t time given for me to build her back story into the plot. I definitely felt like it hampered my ability to get across how kick-ass she was

Sweetheart, your back story had nothing to do with the lack of how kick-ass she was. Actions speak louder than words. And the "Building her backstory in to plot" is hazardous for campaigning if it's not handled correctly (so that's why I'm personally refraining from doing so). Also you are strangely emphasize Bisexual orientation of your character. It's creepy and makes a feel like "Hey you silly boys did I tell you that my character is BISEXUAL?!
Hey stop adventuring and having fun!
But don't you dare flirt with me you silly boys!
Hey!
HEY!
Pay attention to ME!." LOL. Ok, not such high level.

Feminist Magic... "Don't tap female cards unless they expressly say yes. Those cards can take back that yes at any time, and it is your duty to stop immediately and leave the table." And seriously... i find difficulties with playing MtG with women. Most of them - i don't know how to express this - is uncomfortable with concept of dueling. They do not enjoy acting against other player, attacking, countering his spells etc. They prefer to cooperate than fight. Even to absurdal levels. Or I just got wrong examples.

Add to point 5 word misandrist and it's even better.

>official D&D art
>innately sexist

>Forcing us men to look upon the horror that is Mialee
>Giving women the fantastic eye-candy that is Tordek

PS: The women I play with are the ones who make the rape jokes. Everything depends on group.

Hmm.

"To feminists, all men - including the homeless bum down the street - are oppressing all women - including and up to the Queen of England." - Robert Anton Wilson.

How my marriage became successful

I am 48 years old, I am married for 20yrs now and I have suffered hell in the hands of my parents in-law, just because I am unable to bear a child, they have done all sort of everything to make sure I part with my husband. my husband has waited to the extent that he went having an affair outside our marriage due to pressure from his family. Just 4months ago here, I met with an old friend of mine and I told him about my critical life in my matrimonial home. He felt my pains and told me to meet a spell woman online who has helped so many people on issue even worse than that. I decided to meet the spell woman on the her email he gave me [email protected]., Unbelievably I told the spell lady my problems and he welcome me and asked me to leave all to her to handle, She told me that I would see result on the first night with my husband. Just as she says I got pregnant after a one night stand, It happened so easy like her powers has the key to open all doors. Am 7months pregnant now and has done a scanning to know its a boy. My family is so happy and my husband has promised me a car already all for the help of priestess Ifaa.
I owe this spell lady everything. she extremely powerful and strong with her powers and very encouraging.

A bit of a necropost, but It

A bit of a necropost, but It makes me think of something that happened in a recent game of mine. I'm male and originally my character was a male paladin, but through the course of events my character was planted into a female body. I knew I would become the butt of a few jokes, being in a group of guys, but what happened along the way surprised me. Along the way my character was basically raped by a succubus, after the succubus was defeated, one of the other players speaking in character accused my character of enjoying it. My character reacted violently to this accusation, threatening to stick a knife in his guts. My DM decided to suspend my status as a paladin because of this threat, thus severely weakening my character. Not that I'm comparing this to any sort of misogyny but it's just interesting to know who I'm playing with.

man as feminist in dnd

A bit of a necropost, but It makes me think of something that happened in a recent game of mine. I'm male and originally my character was a male paladin, but through the course of events my character was planted into a female body. I knew I would become the butt of a few jokes, being in a group of guys, but what happened along the way surprised me. Along the way my character was basically raped by a succubus, after the succubus was defeated, one of the other players speaking in character accused my character of enjoying it. My character reacted violently to this accusation, threatening to stick a knife in his guts. My DM decided to suspend my status as a paladin because of this threat, thus severely weakening my character. Not that I'm comparing this to any sort of misogyny but it's just interesting to know who I'm playing with.