November 16, 2009

Question of the Week #9

I am sorry that the question is late: I am recovering from a very busy weekend from my job and sometimes you need to clear your head of thinking for a while so you can restart it. It's a bit like defragging a computer.

The inspiration for this week's Question of the Week comes from the first part of this article, written in 1998 by Brandon Blackmoor. Blackmoor's article essentially dismisses some of the excuses he has heard for not having female characters in a medieval fantasy setting. If for some reason you find yourself having to argue some of these points, Blackmoor does a great job using history to create strong counter-arguments.

But then you have to decide: even if women fight, is that a rarity in your campaign? And how would one deal with it?

So here's my Question of the Week:

Do you prefer a campaign where one gender adventuring is more "special" or rare to find than the other? Does this enhance the depth or culture of the campaign? Or is the notion of one gender being rare in adventure parties useless?

I would like to see reference to not just medieval fantasy settings, but any other settings you readers have had experience with.


  1. We are a sexually dimorphic species, which means that men and women are physically different. Men are generally larger and stronger, and have a desire to mate with women.

    In a medieval world women would run the risk of rape at the hands of their male counterparts if they adventured by themselves, which means if you are running it as historically accurate women are generally going to fill a much different role and seeing one go adventuring is going to be unusual.

    Magic changes everything. If you look at Robert Jordan's the Wheel of Time men with magic (the one power) go insane. This means the only mages (Aes Sedai) are female, and completely flips this dynamic on its head. They are the dominant sex, and men are the second class citizens.

    I don't have a preference as to which sex is dominant, as long as it matches the game world in question. Some will be one way, some another depending on the feel of the world.

    However, if you are basing it off of -our- world you're not going to see many female adventures. History has shown time and again that might makes right, and with men generally being stronger that means them enforcing their will on women in an ugly and violent way if necessary.

  2. I tend to think of myself as keeping things pretty gender neutral, but I find myself generally creating more male NPCs for my players. In one game I ran, a player noticed this and decided that since men outnumbered women, his character was gay.

  3. I think limiting gender roles in most games is pointless, because very few are supposed to be historically accurate. In my own games, women tend to make up about 50% of the NPCs, both combative and otherwise, and regardless of setting. The ratio of female NPCs and villains tends to be slightly less when men are running the games, but i have only played in a few where women were either conveniently not present, or where they played *ahem* only very specific roles (slutty ones). I haven't played with a GM yet that openly stated "girls don't fight/lead/whatever here" but i do occasionally get that impression through omission.

    The games in which gender roles are more "traditional", at worst, can make for even better RP opportunities in my experience, if done right. How did the character get into the non-traditional role? It tends to make the player think a lot more about their backstory. Example: i once wanted to make a female soldier in a historical WWII game--after a bit of research, i discovered that would take some serious thinking, what with physical examinations and the fact that women were not placed in combat positions at that time.

    So i suppose my answer is yes, it's pointless, but it doesn't necessarily break the game or make the nontraditional roles unplayable--in fact, it can be more fun, but you have to be careful not to fall into too many cliches, ie: too many Xenas and pirate princesses.

  4. I think it is worth considering not just "adventuring", as a catch-all, but the different kind of roles that characters play, both in the game group and in the world at large.

    Homogeneity is dull. And persons of a particular build or turn of mind might be more likely to seek out one field or another. That being the case, it is more likely that strong, burly types will be drawn toward roles that take adavantage of those traits, while soft, compassionate people might be drawn to other vocations, no less "adventuresome", but quite different.

    With that being the case, I like to have the odd duck from time to time, who violates the norms and contradicts the common wisdom about who or what can perform what tasks. Maybe a gruff, burly man has always dreamed of being a healer, or a musician. Maybe a petite girl has grown up idolizing brigands and highwaymen, and yearns to join the ranks of these rough and tumble pirates of the King's Highway.

    Gender is an element of these social norms, and how we react to those who do not seem to fit our expectations, but it is not the only factor.

    So: does it enrich the story or the campaign to have such expectations, and to have characters who march to their own drum? Of course it does. But it isn't just about gender. Age, social status, wealth or lack thereof, ancestry... the more we know about how these traits influence the decisions the people in a culture make, the better we can appreciate the challenge of those who deviate from the well-worn path.

    (P.S. What the hell is with this editing window? No copy & paste? No editing? It's like going back in time twenty years.)