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Harlot Table - Was it REALLY in D&D??

Mikaela Barree

First Post
Hey!

Apologies if this has been asked before.

I recently was linked to the Vice article about female gamers, which referenced a "random harlot encounters" table that was supposedly in the first edition of D&D, put there by Gary Gygax. My friend maintains that the table was actually from FATAL (which... wouldn't be any surprise, really).

Vice has sometimes been a bit lax in their fact-checking for online articles. I figured someone here would know the answer... was that table REALLY in D&D? I'm reserving judgement either way, but I figured that knowing the truth is better than not.
 

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It was in the AD&D DMG along with tables for every other kind of random person you might meet in a village or a city. Those random tables were some of the best things in that entire edition. To an outsider it it probably looks bizarre, but it was actually a real fantastic way to spark some interesting interactions in the game.
 


Raith5

Adventurer
Hey!

Apologies if this has been asked before.

I recently was linked to the Vice article about female gamers, which referenced a "random harlot encounters" table that was supposedly in the first edition of D&D, put there by Gary Gygax. My friend maintains that the table was actually from FATAL (which... wouldn't be any surprise, really).

Vice has sometimes been a bit lax in their fact-checking for online articles. I figured someone here would know the answer... was that table REALLY in D&D? I'm reserving judgement either way, but I figured that knowing the truth is better than not.

Yep page 192 of the First Edition DMG. There were tables for everything in first ed.
 

Mikaela Barree

First Post
The Myopic Sniper
It was in the AD&D DMG along with tables for every other kind of random person you might meet in a village or a city. Those random tables were some of the best things in that entire edition. To an outsider it it probably looks bizarre, but it was actually a real fantastic way to spark some interesting interactions in the game.​


Okay, put in a context like that, it seems a bit less outlandish! The way it's been portrayed seemed to be like it was adjoining random monster encounter tables :p.
 


The giant rats, vampires and werewolves were always a nice diversion when you ran into a city laid out this way, but as a DM giving the players a chance to run into corrupt city guards, press gangs, a band of drunks coming out of a tavern looking for a fight or a disgraced noble trying to keep her identity secret provided some of my most memorable D&D experiences.

If players run into a group of bandits harassing them outside a dungeon, that usually meant dead bandits: a group of rakes intimidating a streetwalker in the town square required a whole different level of consideration and were great spontaneous story hooks.
 


mach1.9pants

Adventurer
The oldest profession is legal here, so we aren't so prudish as other countries around. The random harlot table would be fine in 2014 NZ... apart from the fact it is awfully stereotyped. As much as I love that table for it's idiosyncratic awesomeness of the old school, it would require a lot of modification of terms to be acceptable today!
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Here you go. Proof!

random_harlot_table.jpg
 

Dungeoneer

First Post
This puts me in mind of the excellent Clickhole article, It's Time To Stop Saying 'Buxom Wench'.

And it’s also important that we remember that buxom wench isn’t the only word we should stop using. Words like hedge-born lass, trumpery harlot, and round-heeled trollop all have the same impact on women’s rights and the way women are perceived. Casual use of these words further fuel our patriarchal society that simultaneously shames women for sexual activity and groups them as mere rabble of the peasant class. We need to realize that eliminating buxom wench from our vocabularies isn’t limiting, it’s freeing and it will provide a better world for the next generation of women. Truth is, the sooner we eliminate these words, the sooner we can make sure that today’s young wenches becomes tomorrow’s flaxen-haired nobility.


Note for the humor impaired - this article is a parody.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
The giant rats, vampires and werewolves were always a nice diversion when you ran into a city laid out this way, but as a DM giving the players a chance to run into corrupt city guards, press gangs, a band of drunks coming out of a tavern looking for a fight or a disgraced noble trying to keep her identity secret provided some of my most memorable D&D experiences.

If players run into a group of bandits harassing them outside a dungeon, that usually meant dead bandits: a group of rakes intimidating a streetwalker in the town square required a whole different level of consideration and were great spontaneous story hooks.

I agree. On a related note, I can still use the random encounters for Erelhei-Cinlu from D3 Vault of the Drow today: they were inspired.
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest
It was in the AD&D DMG along with tables for every other kind of random person you might meet in a village or a city. Those random tables were some of the best things in that entire edition. To an outsider it it probably looks bizarre, but it was actually a real fantastic way to spark some interesting interactions in the game.

Indeed. In fact, I think the primary reason for the prostitute table was to illustrate how evocative a different description can really be. Saucy tart, expensive doxy, all suggest a different sort of encounter with the prostitute.
 




Celebrim

Legend
I think it's pretty much impossible to understand the random prostitute table without the context of the fact that it is a subtable of a larger table of potential encounters in a city. And we might go further and say that the unstated assumption of that table is that you are in a bad part of town.

Harlot occupies one small portion of a 3 page description of the various encounters that are possible, which include many explicitly female and implicitly female options. It includes the possibility that the harlot is male, most explicitly a 'pimp'. The subtable and accompanying description are intended to make it difficult for the players to actually recognize harlots amongst the other possible outcomes, and for that matter, to distinguish recognize the other possibilities. From the varying descriptions, the harlots in question could be: assassins, beggars, clerics, demons, dopplegangers, druids, fighters, gentlewomen, goodwives, illusionists, magic-users, merchants, monks, night hags, nobles, paladins, rakes, rangers, thieves, wererats, weretigers, werewolves, or vampires. I think it's very notable that the harlot entry explicitly calls out that a harlot might be mistaken for a female magic-user or vica versa. It's like jumping up and down and saying, "Hey! DM. That 12th level Magic User could well be a woman!" They idea I think behind the table is to try to provoke a comedy of errors, where the PC mistakes some other sort of encounter for a prostitute or conversely mistakes a prostitute for something else. Gygax was quite fond of using the baser instincts of this players to get them into trouble. Accosting a noble, gentlewoman, goodwife, illusionist, magic-user, monk or beggar on the assumption that any woman encountered had to be a prostitute would definitely be big trouble. On the other hand propositioning an evil cleric looking for sacrifices, a vampire, a weretigter, a nighthag, demon, or doppleganger would lead to a different sort of trouble. Similarly, not every dandy on the street is a pimp.

And to a certain extent, prostitute is simply reasonable simulation of the assumed setting described in the 1e Player's Handbook - a frontier boomtown near ancient ruins and dungeons in a world that is drawn in part from medieval and certainly pre-modern sources.

I think what is most jarring to me about the appearance of the table is that I know as a matter of fact that this was a book being purchased by 6th-7th graders, some of whom were baby sitting their 3rd grade younger siblings. I think it's pretty clear that Gygax never imagined that was the audience for this book. Compared to that jarring contrast, any sexism involved in having such a table - if there is any - just seems really minor. I might feel different as a woman, but its hard for me to speculate, in part because I don't think all women who play D&D are going to have some sort of simple stereotypical response to this table either.
 

Werebat

First Post
I think what is most jarring to me about the appearance of the table is that I know as a matter of fact that this was a book being purchased by 6th-7th graders, some of whom were baby sitting their 3rd grade younger siblings. I think it's pretty clear that Gygax never imagined that was the audience for this book. Compared to that jarring contrast, any sexism involved in having such a table - if there is any - just seems really minor. I might feel different as a woman, but its hard for me to speculate, in part because I don't think all women who play D&D are going to have some sort of simple stereotypical response to this table either.

The level of vocabulary in the AD&D books was clearly too high for the kids who were reading them. They were written on college level rather than a grade school level.

Which was a great thing for my and some friends who still remember answers we got right on our SATs and other standardized tests -- purely because we played D&D!
 


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