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

Hammerforge

Explorer
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.]

Well, that's really taking things to extremes. In 1E, the maximum strength allowed a female human character is 18/01-50. That's considerable strength, and it's hardly "less potential for greatness" unless you first think that women must have strength equal to men in order to achieve greatness. I'm sure women have much more going for them than just how physically strong they are. :)

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.

The playability or brokenness of the game is really not the issue.

Equality in stat generation doesn't have to equate to a modern worldview for the campaign world.

Given the way the OP wrote it, it did.
 

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Kursk

Banned
Banned
You were asked to stop posting in the thread. You had to anyway, huh? Well, I guess you'll now need to try refraining form posting on the boards for three days. I'm pretty sure now you're trolling, but If you decide to come back in three days, please do so with a different attitude.

Dude, you got caught lying. Man up and take responsibility. Don't take take it out on the messenger. That's just being a spineless coward.
 


Well, that's really taking things to extremes. In 1E, the maximum strength allowed a female human character is 18/01-50. That's considerable strength, and it's hardly "less potential for greatness" unless you first think that women must have strength equal to men in order to achieve greatness. I'm sure women have much more going for them than just how physically strong they are. :)

Math doesn't lie. +1 to hit +3 damage vs +3 to hit +6 damage = less potential.

Perhaps if the game system provided paths other than STR for the fighter class to do its job then having less raw muscle wouldn't be as huge a disadvantage. Its just the nature of AD&D. A female GURPS fighter has options that the AD&D fighter doesn't. She could put fewer points in ST but have a higher DX and weapon skills. She would do less base damage with weapons but have the skill to better target chinks in armor and be as effective a fighter as someone with a higher ST.

So in AD&D a fighter's STR is the biggest thing going for them, regardless of gender.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I would not consider such a game to be immoral purely on those grounds but it would be unfair from a gamist standpoint.

I could quibble with your use of the word fair, but generously attempting to understand you, I'll simply say that this game I've imagined is clearly not gamist. So, it would be 'unfair' to judge it from a gamist perspective. I've already declared that the motivation of the designer was purist for simulation. Whether the village is an office building and the name of the game is 'Paychecks and Papers' or a medieval village and the name of the game is 'Drudgery and Toil', I think it is pretty clearly the intention of the designer to immerse the players into the setting by making them play ordinary members of the society in question. This is RPG as pure exploration of setting experience.

As far as treating the players with respect, surely you agree my rules I've just presented treat all players alike regardless of gender? The players gender has no bearing on the gender of the character they end up with. Men may play female characters and women males. If the rules are 'unfair' because one person ends up with a child with dysentery and another the manorial lord, it didn't happen on the basis of the player's gender. Those are just the breaks, like having differing stats when you roll up stats randomly. Moreover, a game that is about the interaction of a peasant child with dysentery and a manorial lord might be a pretty interesting 'Indie' sort of game IMO. It wouldn't be D&D, but it would be role playing. And maybe most importantly, for the purposes of the story it is not a given that the child with dysentery is less important than the manorial lord. Maybe the game doesn't judge and evaluate and set the worth of people solely on their upper body strength and their ability to kick butt.

So having said that, I will now go one step further in this logic. If the demographics generator isn't sexist, and it isn't sexist to construct and play a game using the rules I just presented, we can't say that it is sexist to construct, publish, and play a game in which a character burner/builder generates different results for men and women. Why, because clearly we could now introduce a third optional means of character generation - run the character burner for a single individual and play that - and it would be exactly equivalent to either of the prior options. And we could introduce a fourth option for character generation, run the character burner for a single individual but now you are allowed to make a certain number of choices in the generation non-randomly, assigning the results of the tables as you like rather than according to the results of the dice. And again, this is exactly equivalent in the results to the prior character generation options (if you don't believe me, the logical proof is use option #2 for character generation, and set the size of the village to be the infinity).

In other words, if the demographics generator isn't itself sexist, its an inescapable conclusion of logic that we cannot on the basis of whether or not a games character burner produces different results for men and women judge the game as sexist. We must have additional criteria. The asserted standard doesn't work.

And there is a very good reason we should be happy that the asserted standard doesn't work. We live in a world where the average strength of men and women and the maximum strength of men and women differs. If the demographic generator for our imaginary game is sexist, then our own world is inherently sexist and men really are superior to women. If we cannot be comfortable with the proposed demographics generator, we cannot be comfortable with who we are as people and we continually assassinate our own rationality to insist that yes men and women have the same strength and anyone who reminds us otherwise is sexist. If encoding into a game different results of body strength is enough to damn the game, how much more must we damn our own genes and damn the world for men and women being different.

Of course, out in the real world, the basis for our belief in the value of a person isn't their ability to lift weights or kick butt. So what's so wrong with a game judging the value of the person on something other than their ability to lift weights or kick butt, to say nothing of the fact that in a fantasy game lifting weights might well not be the only or most effective way to kick butt or that in a modern setting pretty much anyone who is a crack shot with a firearm is the peer in martial virtue to anyone else. What is really so terrible about a game encoding those beliefs?

And lastly, as the final step in my logic, anyone who insists that a game encode mechanical gender equality in its rules is a sexist and worthy of condemnation. It is of course acceptable to fantasize about or imagine a world were this holds true, or to dodge the issue entirely by noting that the realistic strength cap for both genders is well above what is allowed for a starting character of either gender and so such a rule serves no purpose. In point of fact, all the games I've created and rules sets I've created are pretty much games of this sort.* But to accept that all views of reality must assert the anti-rational, anti-historical, and ultimately sexist view that men and women have always been equals in war, as if the real value of a person was their upper body strength and martial virtue, and what was really empowering was to portray women in the comfortable role of men with breasts, is wholly and entirely sexist. It is a threat to the emotional and mental well-being of my female loved ones, friends and family, to assert that the real standard on whether you respect women is whether you show them as being equal butt kickers to men, to say little of what I think that says about our attitude to violence. I will not tolerate it and I will call it out.

Fundamentally, my standard of what is and isn't sexist has to be based on objective truth. It is sexist to say, "You can't be a real gamer, because you are a girl.", because that is objectively false. It is sexist to say that the only value of women is in the kitchen or making babies, because that is objectively false. It is sexist to say "A woman can't be a warrior.", because that is objectively false. But it can't be sexist to assert the objective truth that women on average are less strong than men, or that the maximum strength of men is greater than that of women. If that assertion makes you uncomfortable, your problem isn't with me but with reality. I would suggest the problem is that you are still stuck in the chauvinist mindset that what makes a person valuable is their martial virtue, an attitude which unfortunately D&D encodes indirectly because of its legacy as a war game, and you have inadvertently taken up the assumptions of the thing you deplore.

The reason I've been asking the whole time for standards, is I think ultimately this trivial standards like 'does the character burner generate the same options regardless of the gender of the character' are useless. I can imagine sexist games which allow fully muscled women and non-sexist games which don't. We shouldn't be using such standards as criteria.

However, if any gamer persists in their sexist belief that all such games are damnable, I'll endeavor to be at least as forgiving of them as they are of mine.

*My D&D house rules assumes strength caps are irrelevant, since they would be for either gender much higher not only than 18 but at least 23 - the highest strength you could normally obtain - and that in any event high level characters represent not normal people, but superheroes. Likewise, my SIPS rules set assumes that all characters are prepubescent 9-11 year olds, an age when strength differences between boys and girls are trivially lower than the granularity of the rules set. Nonetheless, if I did become fascinated with a high simulationist game or wanted to add nods to simulationist rules set that encoded some gender differences, I'd not expect to receive censure for it and am generally uncomfortable with blanket damnation of any other designer that has so done so without consideration of their motivations.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So in AD&D a fighter's STR is the biggest thing going for them, regardless of gender.

And that, and not in the gender rules, is where the sexism is inherent to the system. D&D has always privileged strength as the most important stat, and violent combat as the privileged resolution system. It wasn't I think intentional sexism. I think it was just a result of evolving the game from war gaming roots.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
And that, and not in the gender rules, is where the sexism is inherent to the system. D&D has always privileged strength as the most important stat, and violent combat as the privileged resolution system. It wasn't I think intentional sexism. I think it was just a result of evolving the game from war gaming roots.

Where, in D&D's war gaming roots, do female characters get a strength cap? Was it built into Chainmail? It didn't appear in OD&D according to other posts (I don't own a copy, myself). If its first appearance is in AD&D's 1st edition, then how could it be a result of evolving the game from its war gaming roots?

More likely, it's an example of a misguided attempt to inject some quasi-simulationist realism without thinking about the chilling effect it would have on getting female players to accept the game and getting male players to accept female players as equals.
 

Crothian

First Post
Perhaps if the game system provided paths other than STR for the fighter class to do its job then having less raw muscle wouldn't be as huge a disadvantage. Its just the nature of AD&D.

You mean options like specialization and double specialization and magic items that increase strength, and magic items that allow all characters to increase their strength beyond attribute limitations. Sine most characters don't have an 18 strength anyway strength becomes a small percentage of where the bonuses come from.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Where, in D&D's war gaming roots, do female characters get a strength cap?

Where in D&D's war gaming roots do female characters appear at all?

But I'm afraid you've entirely missed the point by even asking this question at all. Even without strength caps, the fact that the original game focuses its system as it does on your ability to kick butt means that it has an inherently male centric point of view. It is the sort of system you'd expect a male wargaming nerd from the late 1960's to create. The real distinctions in system would be to compare the tactical wargame AD&D is to the sort of more modern systems that don't privilege violence as the foremost skill or combat as the foremost means of conflict resolution or even violent conflict as the foremost sort of conflict.

the chilling effect it would have on...getting male players to accept female players as equals.

Really? You really think that strength caps were having a chilling effect on getting male players to accept female players as equals? First of all, none of the people I've ever gamed with ever had a problem accepting female players as equals. They would have been thrilled to have a girl interested in gaming. Back in junior high or high school some of them would have flirted disastrously as befitting poorly socialized guys with 3 charisma scores but there certainly wouldn't have been the assumption that girls couldn't play. Second of all, it is not my sense that the reason in 1982 or 1985 the only girls I knew that played were younger sisters of older brothers that played was because of the chilling effect of strength caps on their readiness to game. No my sense is that there were very few women (or girls, as my peers would have been back then) comfortable with being deemed nerds, hanging out with nerds, and generally threatening their status amongst 'normals' by doing something as geeky and uncool as play D&D. But we would have loved to get them in the game if they had shown interest and we would have all gladly tossed out the strength cap rules if we at all thought that was what was keeping 'girls' away from our gaming table. I don't recall ever remembering it mentioned by any woman then, however salient it might seem now.
 
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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.
Ehhh... I'm sure that everyone here would be fine with having transgendered characters.
 
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And that, and not in the gender rules, is where the sexism is inherent to the system. D&D has always privileged strength as the most important stat, and violent combat as the privileged resolution system. It wasn't I think intentional sexism. I think it was just a result of evolving the game from war gaming roots.

What? OD&D doesn't feature sexist stat mods, and Chainmail provides no differences if you want to say that a particular unit of troops are all female.

You mean options like specialization and double specialization and magic items that increase strength, and magic items that allow all characters to increase their strength beyond attribute limitations. Sine most characters don't have an 18 strength anyway strength becomes a small percentage of where the bonuses come from.

All available to every fighter character right? So why the stubborn refusal to unlock the 51-00 range for females ar chargen? It truly boggles the mind.

What if in the default setting we retained the STR limits for females but put a limit of 16 on INT for male characters. So now if want to play a male magic user your INT would be capped at 16. No 8th & 9th level spells for you. It would be ok though because there are magic items that can be used to raise your INT. It balances out. Men are better at hitting things and women are better at high level magic. You don't need power Word Kill because you have biceps.

Makes no sense.
 

Crothian

First Post
All available to every fighter character right? So why the stubborn refusal to unlock the 51-00 range for females ar chargen? It truly boggles the mind.

Who is refusing anything? The makers of the game got rid of attribute limits based on gender in 2e so not them. No one in this thread has come up in favor if them.

edit: and in answer to the other point I would have no problem if a game restricted human males to a 16 intelligence because human males in the game might be stupid does not mean human males are stupid. I don't see fantasy games as a reflection of our reality.
 
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Libertad

Adventurer
Regarding the OP: Personally, I haven't seen this issue arise in any games I've been in, and I certainly wouldn't condone any disrespectful behavior toward anyone in a game session. But I wonder: What's next--legislation to govern what can and cannot be done at the game table in a private residence?

I never said that a "one size fits all" ban was the ideal approach. When it comes to private gaming sessions, I suggested in "Confronting Problematic Behavior at the Table" that players and DMs discuss problems where players feel uncomfortable and/or unwelcome, and to speak up when players start treating other players badly. And to be careful in the handling of certain subjects; not a ban, but to treat it with more care and sensitivity than most other things in a session. For example, if one of your players is an arachnophobe, you might not want to run a spider-themed dungeon with corpses in cocoons without consulting with said player first.
 
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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
edit: and in answer to the other point I would have no problem if a game restricted human males to a 16 intelligence because human males in the game might be stupid does not mean human males are stupid. I don't see fantasy games as a reflection of our reality.

You know, it's really easy to think this when you come from the privileged position. How do you think an African-American player might feel if a game included the same intelligence cap for dark-skinned characters?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
edit: and in answer to the other point I would have no problem if a game restricted human males to a 16 intelligence because human males in the game might be stupid does not mean human males are stupid. I don't see fantasy games as a reflection of our reality.

No, you wouldn't. You'd see it as an amusing oddity. Because, hey, discrimination against men would be an amusing oddity. Women don't have that benefit.
 

I don't know how I feel about En World opening up to political discussions in the RP forums, I think those kinds of discussions can generate emnity on message boards sometimes....but since its being discussed, might as well put in my two cents. I feel like fantasy settings are just that: fantasy. They ought to be whatever people at the table are comfortable with and desire. If that means modern social sensibilities, why not? If it means having real world -isms exist in tbe setting, maybe even as dominant ways of thinking, i upthink its fine if everyone is okay with it. I would make a distinction between a setting that is sexist (Duke Vendar scoffs at the notion of a female knight) versus a system that is sexist (the designers flatly forbid female fighters or something). I think its okay to include some of these elements for background if everyone is fine with it (i have had women at the table who wanted to play in a setting where equality is the rule, but i have also had women who wanted to play a female character who breaks through the sexist assumptions of the surrounding culture). I think the key is to realize this is one of those touchy areas and requires a lot more attention from the GM than less controversial elements.

its also helpful to remember fantasy isnt the only kind of rpg. I play quite a few historical games and you run into an interesting problem with those when it comes to sexism-racism. Some people dobt want to encounter the historical prejudices and injustices in a game set in the past (and that is pefectly reasonable) but others get just as offended by the idea of glossing over those details (and that is also perfectly reasonable). A WWII game set in Germany that completely ignores the holocaust is going to be a problem for some people. A game set in colonial America that acts as if slavery never happened is going to be an insult to others.

I made a Roman game a while back and one of our historical advisers was a feminist writer. My initial instinct was to just ignore the issue of women and the limitations placed on them by romn society, but she felt this ignored historical realities that were important and ignored key aspects of Roman literature from the time. So she convinced me to address and deal with it in the game. I made a note that people should do whatever they want, and feel free to ifnore the restrictions, but included them because she convinced me it might be just as bad for me to not even address the issue. I still don't know if it was the right call or not, but I think this is sometimes more complicated and less black and white than folks make it out to be.
 

Crothian

First Post
You know, it's really easy to think this when you come from the privileged position. How do you think an African-American player might feel if a game included the same intelligence cap for dark-skinned characters?

No, it is just my opinion. Just because it doesn't bother me doesn't mean it won't bother other males and doesn't make it okay to do.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
No, it is just my opinion. Just because it doesn't bother me doesn't mean it won't bother other males and doesn't make it okay to do.

Fair enough. Often, when someone says "Well, it wouldn't bother me," it comes with the subtext "so it shouldn't bother you." Glad to hear that's not the case.
 

Hammerforge

Explorer
Math doesn't lie. +1 to hit +3 damage vs +3 to hit +6 damage = less potential.

Yes, math doesn't lie, but it's still clear that you're taking things to extremes because 1) strength is not the only path to greatness, even for fighters (consider the effects that dexterity bonuses have on combat, and there are no gender-based limits for dex in 1E), and 2) the mathematical differences you indicate do not even come close to amounting to the vast differences you're implying. The 18/01-50 bonuses are still significant, and while not "great" it would be safe to call them "less great" rather than bad or mediocre, which you seem to be implying. IOW, you are exaggerating to make your point, and your conclusion is a non sequitur.

Perhaps if the game system provided paths other than STR for the fighter class to do its job then having less raw muscle wouldn't be as huge a disadvantage.

There are other paths, namely, dexterity. Also, you're confirming here what I suspected: Being limited to 18/01-50 strength is not a "huge disadvantage." It's not as good an advantage as having 18/00 strength, but to call it a huge disadvantage is going to extremes.
 

MJS

First Post
No, you wouldn't. You'd see it as an amusing oddity. Because, hey, discrimination against men would be an amusing oddity. Women don't have that benefit.
That's right, the women are smarter (cue Grateful Dead)

hey IDK about INT, but is it not measurably true that females psychologically mature ahead of males?
Maybe from now on IMC, males have -1 to WIS. Only female clerics/druids can get to 18 naturally.... I'll send a letter to Wizards asking them to put this in 6E....
 

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