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If there's one game where stat differences are justified, what game would that be?

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(Feel free to answer "none")

In my case, however, it would be rpgs about Conan.

I can't help it - I know Howard's Conan is sexist (and racist), and yet, that's (part of) what draws me to that universe and those stories. Does that make me a sexist or racist in real-life? No, not more than killing monsters makes me a murderer in real-life, but whatever - that's not the point, so if it makes you feel better let's say my answer is "yep; now moving on".

Yes, I consider Frazetta-like imagery (in text as well as actual images) an important value-adder to the prospect of playing in the Hyborian Age.

Note: in many games (including 5E D&D) you can play a straight-up Fighter with no Strength at all. In other words, this isn't about restricting access to particular classes.

For a significant period in the eighties and nineties, it was not uncommon for a game to present stat modifiers based on the gender of the character. More often then not, men would have a bonus to Strength and women would have a bonus to Dexterity or Charisma or something. Some particularly egregious examples would just give women penalties across the board.

And then one day, someone realized that it was a bad idea. They realized that most of it was based on out-dated stereotypes, it didn't have a place in modern gaming, and it was better to let female characters be on an equal footing with their male counterparts. Eventually, the rest of the community got on board with that, and now the only games that include gender-based stat modifiers are those old games which we critique for being so ridiculous.

Now imagine that you're excited for this new Conan game that's coming out, and the first thing you notice when you crack open the .pdf is that women are -2 to Thews and +2 to Seduce. How would that make you feel about the game as a whole? Would you just accept it as something common in a lot of other games? Or would you find it distasteful, and be disappointed in the game for including it? Would you house rule it away? Would you be comfortable joining a group that was playing the game, without knowing how they handled the issue? Or would you cringe, every time it came up?
(I took this quote out of context. Visit the original thread for that context. It is not important here)

My answer is: if I get to choose one game where stereotypes doesn't just exist, but are put front and center, I'd choose a Conan game. (Note how Barsoom, normally considered a close relative, doesn't qualify. There you can have incredible Strength with a medium build just as long as you come from another planet.)

If we're using 5E D&D as our example game (not because it does Conan particularly well, but because it's the game most people are familiar with), I'd probably go with -4 to Strength (minimum 8).

No compensation. (That doesn't mean I'm dismissing findings of other gender-related biological differences, just that I don't consider them significant enough in this context).

Remember, the goal is very simple, very direct: if your hero is a hulking brute in this universe, he's male. Every other archetype is left unregulated.

Also remember: if you think my goal is "to piss off gamers", you're free to not join the game (and this thread too). I'm not intentionally trying to piss you off. I'm trying to discuss if the "no gendered stats, ever" rule can have exceptions.

PS. You might wonder: but if we're going with this (warped for sure) "Hyborian logic", isn't every other female a beautiful seductress? Well, since I expect players to put their high scores elsewhere (than Strength) this kind of happens automatically. That is, the character is more likely to end up with a high Charisma. But if the player wants Dexterity or Intelligence, that's fine too. (If anything, adding +4 Charisma (max 20) to Barsoom/John Carter females makes more sense. After all, it's imagery is even more cheesecakery than Conan, which is saying something.)

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If there aren’t magic shoppes printed in the game what will we do if they players want them? Will there be a detailed and itemized list of available items?

If not, it’s lazy design. Gendered stats or not.


Final Form
Oh boy.

So, I don't expect this thread to have much of a shelf life, but while it lasts let's address the two main issues with this.

First: stereotypes are bad. Like, objectively terrible. Yes, even positive stereotypes. Yes, even if they're grounded in some element of truth. There are many reasons for this, an important one of which relates to the second main issue, but this really should be accepted on its face. The stereotypes presented in the speculative fiction you've mentioned are especially egregious, both in terms of gender and race. Being attracted to that kind of fiction, and especially wanting to recreate fiction that reinforces those stereotypes, is incredibly troubling. Especially when you mention that those stereotypes are part of the appeal, rather than something we critically dismiss or even just try to flat out ignore because we happen to like the other, non-horrible aspects of it (see also: the enduring legacy of Lovecraft).

In any case, the second main issue is that of the "baseline". The best example of this is D&D's treatment of humans. Humans are the baseline, the "average", and every other race is presented in how they differ from that base. Now, D&D has even moved away from this in 4e and beyond, but this still makes a bit of sense. After all, until we have the technology to teach our pets how to talk and roll dice, anyone who is going to play D&D is going to be a human.

So you can imagine the problems that can come when an entirely uncritical white male decides to take the same approach to gender or ethnicity. We tend to associate the "baseline" as the norm, and thus any indicators that differ from it are definitionally abnormal. Now, there's not much issue with declaring elves or hobbits abnormal when 100% of your audience is human. But when the "norm" is male and it's only females who have penalties/bonuses, that says something about the game and who it thinks is the "normal" player.

Now, that doesn't mean that there aren't going to be female Conan fans who aren't going to want to play a dark seductress; there almost certainly are. But it does mean that any female Conan fan who doesn't want to play that type of character is going to feel pigeon-holed and singled out; even if the penalties/bonuses "balance out", they're still going to feel like they don't have the same degree of freedom to create their character than a male PC. That's a problem no matter what property you're trying to adapt.

And that's just gender... I'm not going touch the way this could possibly interact with ethnicity with a ten-foot pole. Needless to say, no serious product is going to hit the market with any kind of mechanic like that; certainly not modeled off real-world ethnicity the way Conan was (and, to a lesser extent and more allegorically but still very much present, Barsoom).


Meh. I'd never do it in a fantasy setting of any sort.

The only setting I can imagine doing it in was a hard realism historical setting where you used some sort of character burner to establish life histories, and out of either slavish or respectful (your pick) adherence to the reality of the setting your characters life path and available choices prior to the start of play depended on their gender.

As for Conan, there were powerful warrior women in the setting, and I don't think the source material is good enough to justify either slavish or respectful treatment of it to a high degree. It's enough to be inspired by the material, at least for me. In general, I think it would be enough for me to be inspired by the material even if it is a real world historical setting, but if I was doing an RPG in say Heian Japan I think I'd be inclined to be so respectful of the setting, that the sexism of the setting (with respect to both genders!) would be baked into the game and part of what is being explored.


The stereotypes presented in the speculative fiction you've mentioned are especially egregious, both in terms of gender and race.
Just chiming in to thank you for your reply.

And make it clear I'm aware of this. (This thread is not me defending any of Howard's sexism or racism)


Final Form
Or male fans who want to play a dark seducer!

Hey. How YOU doin'?

.... that's how it works, right? ;)
I'd really stop and take stock of what it says about you that you went looking a "dark seducer" and your first stop was Joey from Friends. :p


First Post
My cat was so pretty, my neighbour found it inconceivable that he was male.

(His breath was most definitely not pretty. Yes . . . my cat's breath smelled like catfood)


Probably a game based in a culture with strong restrictions/expectation for gendered roles AND where the genre emulated reinforces this societal position. Something like a game based on Pride and Prejudice (but not the infinitely improved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).


Mod Squad
Staff member
If we're using 5E D&D as our example game (not because it does Conan particularly well, but because it's the game most people are familiar with), I'd probably go with -4 to Strength (minimum 8).

No compensation. (That doesn't mean I'm dismissing findings of other gender-related biological differences, just that I don't consider them significant enough in this context).

Remember, the goal is very simple, very direct: if your hero is a hulking brute in this universe, he's male. Every other archetype is left unregulated.
Red Sonja thinks this is a bad idea, which probably isn't as consistent with Howard's writing as you present here.


I'm not against making some character concepts gender-specific.

But I'm definitely against making some character concepts legal, but painfully suboptimal. It wastes time for players who need to filter out such options and is a trap for these who start with a concept and don't notice in time that it doesn't work.

The alternative is making restrictions hard and explicit. In a PbtA setup, you may have most playbooks with different gender options, but "Muscled barbarian" is always male and "Seductive sorceress" is always female. The barbarian has moves spotlighting how strong and tough he is. The sorceress has movs spotlighting how she plays with passions of men. Other characters may be strong or manipulative, but these two have direct tools for showing it in play.

This way you can avoid creating player traps and causing unnecessary frustration. You also openly communicate things about your game's setting and style instead of forcing players to guess it from the numbers.


You have a point.

If your players can't tell from the stat penalty, you should definitely make it more explicit that they should build a dex Fighter (again talking 5E just as an example).

acpitz 1

First Post
In my case, however, it would be rpgs about Conan.
Of course you can have differences what ever game you are playing. That should be obvious. It IS a game after all, it's fiction. It has nothing to do with anything but having fun with friends.

Or that's what games was ~30 years ago when I, for example, started playing.

But reading these replies I get the feeling this has changed a bit. Still every came has stereotypes. They always have and always will have. Dwarfs are short and chubby with big beards, Elfs are lean and tall and beautiful, Orcs are stupid and ugly and smell ... and so on.

I see nothing bad about having differences since it's part of the world that particular game is set. It doesn't matter what game it is it's still a game.

Conan would always slap Red Sonja around no matter how stupid sword she is wielding. Just like that spoiled brat prince in that movie is very annoying and stereotypical spoiled brat prince. Using these as example since those were mentioned. No need to mix Kalidor and Conan if that wasn't clear to someone ... they same even they are set in same universe and look exactly alike. Also one need to remember that Red Sonya is the original character that Red Sonja is based on. Red Sonya wasn't any part of Conan universe.

It's quite ok to have stereotypical characters in your games. It's just a game after all, right?


Immortal Sun

I would definitely NOT do any of this in a system that has explicitly evolved away from this. 5E, for example, has specifically evolved away from this, diversifying both its sex and racial imagery throughout its books, it explicitly lays down a system that is intended to be equal in nature. It is worsened by the fact that D&D has typically made the characters exceptions to the norm rather than traditional examples of members of their race/class/culture/society.

As mentioned above if you want to do this you need a game for it. Men can only be barbarians, warriors, raiders, women can be sorceresses, seducers and priestesses, the fact that each side gets stat penalties or bonuses is sexist yes, but plays into the fact that it's a very highly role-oriented system. Men can't be sorcerers. Women can't be warriors. You can't have a game that on one hand says "anyone can be whatever they want!" then turns around and says "yeah but we're going to punish you for coloring outside the lines!" You want a game that explicitly tells people that they are not exceptions, if they're men they're strong, if they're women they're seductive.

If everyone comes to the table willing to buy into this world that's great.

But I mean, you're not going to be producing high art here. Your game naturally wont have the same appeal as another game without those things. People are going to recognize that this is something of a cheeseball game that promotes cheeseball steretoypes that aren't healthy for gaming as a whole.

And I'm not even going to touch what this would look like if you included non-white races as playable.

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