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Sexism in Table-Top Gaming: My Thoughts On It, and What We Can Do About It

Hammerforge

Explorer
Also, the suggested strength cap in 1E, mentioned in the OP, is really an imposition of a modern situation and worldview on a fantasy medieval setting. D&D, as we all know, is patterned after medieval Europe. In such a society, women were not weightlifters, and although they did plenty of physical work, it's not safe to say that they were as strong as men. There may have been rare exceptions, but making an exception the norm is wrong.
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Also, the suggested strength cap in 1E, mentioned in the OP, is really an imposition of a modern situation and worldview on a fantasy medieval setting. D&D, as we all know, is patterned after medieval Europe. In such a society, women were not weightlifters, and although they did plenty of physical work, it's not safe to say that they were as strong as men. There may have been rare exceptions, but making an exception the norm is wrong.

D&D is a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves. It's not a simulation of medieval Europe. If you want a medieval Europe simulator, you'll need a different game.

If someone were to pick and choose bits of medieval Europe to adopt in their game, and of all the things they could choose - like "no elves" or "civilizations not shaped by magic" or "general drudgery" - the thing they picked was "strength caps for women" I'd definitely be curious as to why.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
D&D is a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves.

Usually.

It's not a simulation of medieval Europe. If you want a medieval Europe simulator, you'll need a different game.

No, you don't. This quickly approaches claims that the person is having 'badwrongfun' if he wants to use D&D to run a game set in the Roman Republic, bronze age Judea, or a game set in Tekumel, or a game set in the Ice Ages were only stone tools are available, or D&D as a steampunk game inspired by the Firefly TV show, or D&D in Shoganate Japan, or D&D as a horror game in a qausi-Victorian era. Could other game systems do a better job? Maybe. That's a matter of opinion. D&D however, and particular D&D stripped to its D20 core, can do the job and we I think have little right to tell the DM, "Your game must have elves and dragons" or "Your game must be set in a particular fantasy world or its not D&D."

Some of the campaigns that EnWorld posters most fondly remember weren't trope fantasy worlds.

But more to the point, the problem of sexism isn't something we need to address merely in dungeons and dragons, but in any game it could turn up in. If it is invariably true that mechanical differences between men and women is sexist, then our justification for saying that can't be, "Well dragons exist, so why are you insisting on 'realism' in portraying the sexes?"

If someone were to pick and choose bits of medieval Europe to adopt in their game, and of all the things they could choose - like "no elves" or "civilizations not shaped by magic" or "general drudgery" - the thing they picked was "strength caps for women" I'd definitely be curious as to why.

If that was the only thing they choose, it might seem pretty salient to me as well. But this dodges the point I raised earlier. What if the DM in question was not chose just one bit or another, but had clearly spent great effort to make a particular setting evocative and simulationist - be it 16th century Europe or 16th century Japan. Is what we are ultimately saying is that it is badwrongfun to have a setting which lacks the egalitarianism, cosmopolitanism, and progressive politics of modern America? I have a campaign that is entirely set within goblin society. The goblins as I have portrayed them are highly sexist beings that do see females only as having value as baby making machines. Roles for independent females within that society are limited, and female characters face great discrimination. Rape is considered a normal aspect of society and not really frowned upon. Without going into the campaign secrets, I believe that ultimately the issues I'm addressing in this 'anti-campaign' (with the players starting out in the role of traditional D&D villains) are worthy of exploration. Are we suggesting that my goblin campaign must be censured for fear that it might make women uncomfortable and that it is not only badwrongfun but entirely immoral and worthy of scorn?
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
No, you don't. This quickly approaches claims that the person is having 'badwrongfun' if he wants to use D&D to run a game set in the Roman Republic,

You're adding that yourself. I never said that. I said default D&D wasn't - as claimed - medieval Europe.

n. D&D however, and particular D&D stripped to its D20 core, can do the job

Nobody said it couldn't. Again, you're adding stuff from your own mind; that didn't come from me. I was just responding to someone who told us D&D was medieval Europe.

and we I think have little right to tell the DM, "Your game must have elves and dragons" or "Your game must be set in a particular fantasy world or its not D&D."

And I didn't say that, either. I said that D&D wasn't medieval Europe.

What your campaign has in it is your business, but pronouncing that D&D is medieval Europe just flat-out isn't true. You'd have to make it medieval Europe.

But more to the point, the problem of sexism isn't something we need to address merely in dungeons and dragons, but in any game it could turn up in.

Obviously. That, and many other things, are true. As it happens, though, I was replying to a post about D&D being medieval Europe.

Is what we are ultimately saying is that it is badwrongfun to have a setting which lacks the egalitarianism, cosmopolitanism, and progressive politics of modern America? I have a campaign that is entirely set within goblin society. The goblins as I have portrayed them are highly sexist beings that do see females only as having value as baby making machines. Roles for independent females within that society are limited, and female characters face great discrimination. Rape is considered a normal aspect of society and not really frowned upon. Without going into the campaign secrets, I believe that ultimately the issues I'm addressing in this 'anti-campaign' (with the players starting out in the role of traditional D&D villains) are worthy of exploration. Are we suggesting that my goblin campaign must be censured for fear that it might make women uncomfortable and that it is not only badwrongfun but entirely immoral and worthy of scorn?

Who's the "we" you're addressing there? Me? You were replying to my post. No, when I say "D&D is not medieval Europe" I am not suggesting any of those things.

I think you've conjured quite an epic narrative out of my opining that D&D isn't medieval Europe. For the record, the only conclusion to extrapolate from that post is that D&D isn't medieval Europe.

Just to be clear - my post said that D&D isn't medieval Europe.

What your campaign setting is is your business. But equally, you can't pronounce "D&D is playing evil goblins in a vast multicultural space empire spanning all of space and time". The very best you can say is that your campaign is.
 

Mallus

Legend
D&D, as we all know, is patterned after medieval Europe.
Yes, a medieval Europe awash in hobbits, remarkable plentiful gold coins, wizards, and carnivorous Jello cubes. Tres accurate!

There may have been rare exceptions, but making an exception the norm is wrong.
The norm for PC adventurers. It's an important distinction.

PCs start out as exceptions, especially in older version of D&D which don't have NPC class/leveling mechanics. There the 'norm' is "you're a 0 level human forever, deal with it". Acquisition of HPs is pretty clearly "exceptional" and also the norm for PCs.

This invites the question: why is 'realism' important when dealing with men's strength relative to women, but no so important elsewhere in the system?

I mean, put whatever you want in your campaigns, but don't pretend it's realistic or logical when it's obviously not.
 
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Geekdom in general is currently a very nebulous subculture, in part because a lot of its common elements (Sci-Fi and Fantasy) are now part of the mainstream.
I hated fantasy for the longest of times and sci-fi wasn't something that I was really ecstatic with. And yet my geeky activities make anything that you guys could ever come up with pale in comparison. Its really one of the annoying things about that term because the only examples that ever seem to arise are watching television and reading books which isn't the be all end all of geekiness.
Also, the suggested strength cap in 1E, mentioned in the OP, is really an imposition of a modern situation and worldview on a fantasy medieval setting. D&D, as we all know, is patterned after medieval Europe. In such a society, women were not weightlifters, and although they did plenty of physical work, it's not safe to say that they were as strong as men. There may have been rare exceptions, but making an exception the norm is wrong.
You do realize that the exception is what you are trying to pass off as the norm. Women combatants were incredibly common throughout history.
EDIT:
Hell even gender conventions weren't even exactly set in stone either.
 
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Hammerforge

Explorer
D&D is a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves. It's not a simulation of medieval Europe. If you want a medieval Europe simulator, you'll need a different game.

I didn't say it was a simulation of medieval Europe in terms of being exactly like it. I said it was patterned after it. It is markedly similar to medieval Europe in many respects and was not meant to mirror contemporary worldviews. Sorry, I disagree.
 

Hammerforge

Explorer
Yes, a medieval Europe awash in hobbits, remarkable plentiful gold coins, wizards, and carnivorous Jello cubes. Tres accurate!

Of course there are fantasy elements, but that does not lessen what I said. It was intended to have elements of medieval Europe with fantasy elements mixed in. That says nothing about modern worldviews imposed on it.


The norm for PC adventurers. It's an important distinction.

Yes, adventurers who are products of their society and culture, so that brings us back to the original question rather than getting us anywhere: What are the attitudes of that society? That, of course, is up to each DM/GM, but my point was that it's silly to expect a ruleset (1E) to reflect a 21st-century mind-set when it was not meant to do so.

And yes, PCs are exceptional, but they still had many weaknesses and limitations, at least in 1E. They were a cut above the rest, but that is far from justifying the imposition of a modern worldview. Sorry, my point still stands.
 
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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
This invites the question: why is 'realism' important when dealing with men's strength relative to women, but no so important elsewhere in the system?

I mean, put whatever you want in your campaigns, but don't pretend it's realistic or logical when it's obviously not.

I'd characterize questions about strength penalties/caps on female characters a bit differently. Attacking the realism when there are unrealistic elements of the game just opens the door to a lot complaints. "Why should crossbows suck so much compared to longbows because of their reload times?" "Why shouldn't my unarmored guy have a worse AC than the guy in full plate?" and so on. Certain sops to realism make the game better and more immersive.

The question I have is "Is the 'realism' when dealing with men's strength relative women's so important when it negatively affects a sizable segment of the gaming population?" To its credit, D&D answered this question back in 1989 by getting rid of the strength cap.
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
D&D, as we all know, is patterned after medieval Europe. In such a society, women were not weightlifters, and although they did plenty of physical work, it's not safe to say that they were as strong as men.
I'm pretty sure a medieval laundress would kick my ass in an arm wrestling competition.

(Edit: and no, I don't lift weights or work out. I'm self-employed in construction. Another carpenter and I were discussing this last week. The sheer amount of physical labor that was necessary before electricity is staggering. I can't imagine cutting boards, beams, and posts all day with a handsaw - or rather, I can, and it hurts.)
 
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Celebrim

Legend
You're adding that yourself. I never said that. I said default D&D wasn't - as claimed - medieval Europe.

Well, as long as we are going to be semantic about it, the person you were responding to did not, as you claim, say D&D was medieval Europe. He in fact said, "D&D is patterned after medieval Europe", which is arguably quite as true or untrue as the claim that "D&D is a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves." depending on how generous we are going to be in our understanding (which is apparently not much). Certainly the default setting of D&D is a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves that is patterned after medieval Europe. Elves and dragons are after all features of fantasy medieval Europe, things that the medieval may have believed weren't fantasy but a real if rare and usually unseen part of their world. The hobbits and the elves are patterned after Tolkien's grand fantasy conception of middle earth, which is inarguably inspired and patterned after Medieval Europe and medieval epic romances. Neither of you however qualified your statement with 'default' or 'most usual'.

Yes, you do have to make D&D medieval Europe, but whatever setting you choose you have to make that too. You have to either homebrew or buy a setting book. Either way, you are making the world. There are published guides for playing D&D as a Viking campaign, or as a Roman campaign, or in bronze age Judea, or in Victorian Europe, and many many other besides. Is 'Masque of the Red Death' not D&D? And if it is D&D, then it is inarguably true that D&D is not "a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves."

D&D is far more than that.

Again, you're adding stuff from your own mind; that didn't come from me. I was just responding to someone who told us D&D was medieval Europe.

Ok fine. So tell me what you think anyway. Is it inarguably sexist for a character burner/builder to generate different results for men and women?

What your campaign setting is is your business. But equally, you can't pronounce "D&D is playing evil goblins in a vast multicultural space empire spanning all of space and time". The very best you can say is that your campaign is.

And equally the very best you can say is "my campaign is a fantasy setting with dragons and elves". That's not even true of every published setting for D&D, much less homebrews. So if the originally poster was taking too much of short cut by saying D&D is patterned after medieval Europe, your focusing on that particular phrasing I think very much misses the point. Let's have a frank and open discussion about sexism in gaming, so long as you are allowing this thread to be open, and not a frank discussion about semantics and the meaning of the word 'is' and 'we'.

By 'we' I mean those of us participating in the thread. Do we stand by the conclusion that it is inarguably true that a published setting or rules set with a character burner or builder that generates different results for men and women is sexist? Is that something we all could endorse as obvious, and can we all agree that anyone who disagrees is self-evidently sexist? Because ultimately by raising the cry of 'sexist' we are passing moral judgment. You've closed threads before because the cry of 'sexist' was raised over issues like this. This is your house, and you are participating in the thread. I'd like to know what you think.
 

And yes, PCs are exceptional, but they still had many weaknesses and limitations, at least in 1E. They were a cut above the rest, but that is far from justifying the imposition of a modern worldview. Sorry, my point still stands.
How much you want to bet that even in campaign settings where it would be completely appropriate like Maztica it is completely absent?
Ok fine. So tell me what you think anyway. Is it inarguably sexist for a character burner/builder to generate different results for men and women?

From a historical standpoint and not just cherry picking a subset yes it is entirely sexist.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Well, as long as we are going to be semantic about it, the person you were responding to did not, as you claim, say D&D was medieval Europe. He in fact said, "D&D is patterned after medieval Europe", which is arguably quite as true or untrue as the claim that "D&D is a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves." depending on how generous we are going to be in our understanding (which is apparently not much). Certainly the default setting of D&D is a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves that is patterned after medieval Europe. Elves and dragons are after all features of fantasy medieval Europe, things that the medieval may have believed weren't fantasy but a real if rare and usually unseen part of their world. The hobbits and the elves are patterned after Tolkien's grand fantasy conception of middle earth, which is inarguably inspired and patterned after Medieval Europe and medieval epic romances. Neither of you however qualified your statement with 'default' or 'most usual'.

Yes, you do have to make D&D medieval Europe, but whatever setting you choose you have to make that too. You have to either homebrew or buy a setting book. Either way, you are making the world. There are published guides for playing D&D as a Viking campaign, or as a Roman campaign, or in bronze age Judea, or in Victorian Europe, and many many other besides. Is 'Masque of the Red Death' not D&D? And if it is D&D, then it is inarguably true that D&D is not "a fantasy world of magic and dragons and elves."

D&D is far more than that.



Ok fine. So tell me what you think anyway. Is it inarguably sexist for a character burner/builder to generate different results for men and women?



And equally the very best you can say is "my campaign is a fantasy setting with dragons and elves". That's not even true of every published setting for D&D, much less homebrews. So if the originally poster was taking too much of short cut by saying D&D is patterned after medieval Europe, your focusing on that particular phrasing I think very much misses the point. Let's have a frank and open discussion about sexism in gaming, so long as you are allowing this thread to be open, and not a frank discussion about semantics and the meaning of the word 'is' and 'we'.

By 'we' I mean those of us participating in the thread. Do we stand by the conclusion that it is inarguably true that a published setting or rules set with a character burner or builder that generates different results for men and women is sexist? Is that something we all could endorse as obvious, and can we all agree that anyone who disagrees is self-evidently sexist? Because ultimately by raising the cry of 'sexist' we are passing moral judgment. You've closed threads before because the cry of 'sexist' was raised over issues like this. This is your house, and you are participating in the thread. I'd like to know what you think.

I've never made it a secret that I consider inbuilt mechanical ability caps for women to be sexist. I've opined on that many times. I'm pretty sure I've also done so in this very thread, but I'm not going to scour it to check. I've even produced videos about it. It's no secret.
 

Of course there are fantasy elements, but that does not lessen what I said. It was intended to have elements of medieval Europe with fantasy elements mixed in. That says nothing about modern worldviews imposed on it.




Yes, adventurers who are products of their society and culture, so that brings us back to the original question rather than getting us anywhere: What are the attitudes of that society? That, of course, is up to each DM/GM, but my point was that it's silly to expect a ruleset (1E) to reflect a 21st-century mind-set when it was not meant to do so.

And yes, PCs are exceptional, but they still had many weaknesses and limitations, at least in 1E. They were a cut above the rest, but that is far from justifying the imposition of a modern worldview. Sorry, my point still stands.

And that point would be that female characters are stuck with less potential for greatness in certain classes in a fantasy game just because a rule says so. Its so funny because OD&D and B/X play just fine without these stat modifiers. If you happen to roll an 18 STR for your female halfling its all good and won't break the game. Personally I find the whole exceptional strength range more game breaking than removing the caps for females would be. The limitations imposed are arbitrary and ridiculous. Why can't a half-orc male be as strong as a human male? Same arbitrary reasoning.

Equality in stat generation doesn't have to equate to a modern worldview for the campaign world. In the population at large, on average, men will be stronger than women. The population average is what is going to drive tradition and culture, not a few outlier adventurers. There can be a handful of 18/00 female fighters running around in the world without a universal opinion that women are stronger than men. Not using the stat caps will have little effect on the campaign game world but a huge effect (for the better) on how others perceive your attitudes towards players in your game.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Equality in stat generation doesn't have to equate to a modern worldview for the campaign world. In the population at large, on average, men will be stronger than women.

Suppose instead of a character burner/builder, the source book has a demographics generator (handily included also as a program on an accompanying CD) that lets a DM quickly generate villages, towns, and provinces in rich detail. And this particular generator is trying to model exactly what you've here asserted - that men are on average stronger than women - such that for a village or town the average strength of the men is a point or two higher than the average strength of the women. And further, the maximum strength possible for an NPC in the demographic generator is a point or two higher for male characters than female characters, so that the strongest NPC's in a 'world' will be overwhelmingly male.

Is this game also sexist?
 

Suppose instead of a character burner/builder, the source book has a demographics generator (handily included also as a program on an accompanying CD) that lets a DM quickly generate villages, towns, and provinces in rich detail. And this particular generator is trying to model exactly what you've here asserted - that men are on average stronger than women - such that for a village or town the average strength of the men is a point or two higher than the average strength of the women. And further, the maximum strength possible for an NPC in the demographic generator is a point or two higher for male characters than female characters, so that the strongest NPC's in a 'world' will be overwhelmingly male.

Is this game also sexist?

Not really IMO. Demographics, npc ability score distribution, etc. are all background data. Background data doesn't directly affect the enjoyment of actual people playing the game like PC stat caps do.
I'm all about making sure the real people who gathered to play are treated with respect and afforded equal opportunies. I don't care about making sure that fantasy worlds are all politically correct. Anyone who gets overly butthurt over fictional places not involving actual people should work on getting a life instead of playing an rpg.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Not really IMO. Demographics, npc ability score distribution, etc. are all background data. Background data doesn't directly affect the enjoyment of actual people playing the game like PC stat caps do.
I'm all about making sure the real people who gathered to play are treated with respect and afforded equal opportunies. I don't care about making sure that fantasy worlds are all politically correct. Anyone who gets overly butthurt over fictional places not involving actual people should work on getting a life instead of playing an rpg.

Ok, now suppose that in a fit of purist for sim, the same game has the following character builder options:

a) Construct a village. Each player is randomly assigned an inhabitant of the village as their character.

OR the more generous optional rule

b) Construct a village. Each player may select the character in the village that they wish to play.

Is this game system now sexist? Note, I'm not asking if this is a particularly well designed game. I'm not asking you if this is a game you'd like to play. I'm not asking if the game would be enjoyable for every body. I'm asking is this game actually immoral and worthy of condemnation on those grounds. Would such a design actually motivated by hatred and fear of women, and ought we when encountering the design be uncomfortable by the implications of the design for women?
 

Ok, now suppose that in a fit of purist for sim, the same game has the following character builder options:

a) Construct a village. Each player is randomly assigned an inhabitant of the village as their character.

OR the more generous optional rule

b) Construct a village. Each player may select the character in the village that they wish to play.

Is this game system now sexist? Note, I'm not asking if this is a particularly well designed game. I'm not asking you if this is a game you'd like to play. I'm not asking if the game would be enjoyable for every body. I'm asking is this game actually immoral and worthy of condemnation on those grounds. Would such a design actually motivated by hatred and fear of women, and ought we when encountering the design be uncomfortable by the implications of the design for women?

Now we are back to forcing the background demographic assumptions upon active players. I would not consider such a game to be immoral purely on those grounds but it would be unfair from a gamist standpoint. As to the motivation of the designers, I wouldn't really care. There might be as many women who would love the game as hate it and they shouldn't be denied the right to play it if they want.
 

Hammerforge

Explorer
I'm pretty sure a medieval laundress would kick my ass in an arm wrestling competition.

Maybe, but you're from a different society altogether, one that medieval Europe/D&D is not patterned after. The relevant question is: Would she beat a typical medieval male adult in an arm-wrestling contest?
 

Hammerforge

Explorer
How much you want to bet that even in campaign settings where it would be completely appropriate like Maztica it is completely absent?

What would that prove? It might just mean that the creators of that setting were doing the very thing I am arguing against: imposing a contemporary worldview onto an ancient setting.
 

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