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D&D 3E
Gender Roles in D&D 
28th-Mar-2005 08:19 pm
This is something I've been noticing for a while, in D&D game after D&D game, in fantasy whatever in general. I'll take Final Fantasy X as an example, 'cuz I'm about halfway through it right now and I don't think it's at all a-typical. The party is:

Tidus - brash, arrogant, male fighter/rogue type.
Wakka - devout, passionate, fighter/paladin type.
Kimahri - fierce, no-talking, fighter/ranger type.
Auron - grim, deadly, male fighter/fighter/fighter type.
Rikku - chirpy, cheerful, cute female rogue/thief type.
Yuna - serene, suffering, beautiful female cleric/martyr type.
Lulu - sarcastic, unsmiling, sexy female wizard type.

Look at the WotC iconic characters from the PHB:
Krusk, male half-orc barbarian.
Gimble, male gnome bard.
Jozan, male human cleric.
Vadania, female elven druid.
Tordek, male dwarf fighter.
Regdar, male human fighter. (Two fighters!)
Ember, female human monk.
Alhandra, female half-elven paladin.
Soveliss, male elven ranger.
Lidda, female halfling rogue.
Hennet, male human sorceror.
Mialee, female elven wizard.
Nebin, male gnome wizard.
Now, I will give WotC credit for giving us a convincing 8-charisma female elf in Mialee, but ... two fighters, both male?

Seeing the pattern? Think about your D&D games. Think about PCs and NPCs both. So far as I can see, females are relegated to low-strength, high-charisma/dexterity roles. Women can be warriors, but only if they're paladins (gorgeous paladins, of course). Time and again you come across female sorcerors, bards, clerics - supporting the menfolk with buff spells, being desireable and glamorous and needing protecting, natch. Women can be rogues (preferably hard-knock upbeat street orphans not yet our of their teen years), and again the high charisma rears its pretty head. Women can occasionally be monks (high-dexterity monks with mediocre strength and of course they're incredibly sexy). It's even conceivable that you'd come across a female ranger ... but the vast majority, I think, are going to be caster-types.
Now, it's no secret that D&D in particular and fantasy gaming in general is a male-dominated hobby. This is changing, of course, but it's still true. I think that the worst perpretrators of this of males and probably in particular male GMs (they have so many more opportunities for abuse, of course). I know I've done it myself - female paladins, female clerics, female rogue/assassin villains, a vampire rogue - women are not only underrepresented in my game, they're largely relegated to the same roles I'm discussing above. Spellcasters and nimble types.

Basically, our society has certain expectations for women - they must be beautiful, small, and either sweet & kind (the girl you marry) or alluring & dangerous (the girl you cheat on her with). These same expectations are translated into D&D. Beauty is generally interpreted as high charisma, and when the dice or point-buy system don't give her a high enough charisma, it's "Oh, she'd be very beautiful but she has a scar on her face" (I had a player who used this explanation for his 8-charisma monk) or "She's stunningly gorgeous but never speaks," or something similar. Women are given low Strength and Constitution scores - they must be protected and defended, of course - and wind up in rogue/cleric/bard/mage/sorceror roles in I'd guess 9 out of 10 cases. I've seen exceptions (a female half-elven fighter who was still high-dex and of course gorgeous and an 8-Int half-orc fighter with her mighty war pottery), and you know what? They've all been played by women.

There's not really a question here, per se, but I do invite discussion. Have you seen this in your game? How can we address it without just throwing a token Brienne of Tarth character in?
29th-Mar-2005 02:41 am (UTC)
It's not a pattern I've observed in my games. I've seen quite a few tough, even burly female fighter types. My wife's played several, my sister's played a few, and I'm in a campaign right now where a female friend of mine is playing a female goliath (see Races of Stone) fighter.

Whether that means the pattern doesn't hold true, or I just have an unusual group, I couldn't say. :-)
29th-Mar-2005 07:26 pm (UTC)
How about male-created characters and NPCs?
29th-Mar-2005 07:33 pm (UTC)
Same applies there. I've seen (and created) a lot of the lithe and attractive female warrior NPCs, but I've also seen (and created)a great many larger, tougher fighter types.

So again, at least in my experience, the pattern doesn't hold.
29th-Mar-2005 02:54 am (UTC)
Seems like you're reading a bit too much into it, and I've never seen it in any of the games I've been involved in, outside of all the chars being idealized in some way.
29th-Mar-2005 03:49 am (UTC)
I guess I can't really comment because in the games I'm in, I am the female fighter (most often ranger type) and I don't fall into either sweet/kind or alluring/dangerous types. :/ But then again, I've always been kind of an oddball. ^.^;
29th-Mar-2005 04:51 am (UTC)
Um, the stereotype you've pointed out (the virgin/whore dichotomy) is well documented in western literature and culture, so I'm not surprised you see it in places like D&D.

While anecdotal evidence is of course pointless, in my games the female character are never gorgeous (well except for the one player who built her character as a seductress and isn't so much gorgeous as just slutty). I've actually had the most problems with males playing these stereotypical female characters.

If anything I'd be worried about this stereotype in the rest of society, not in a fantasy roleplaying game.
29th-Mar-2005 05:00 am (UTC)
It's not so much that I play the Fighting girls, I play the helpless men.

My two githyanki (double points for using a typical warrior race) are both ex-military medics. They have only one real weapon, the Baby Seal Bat (just a wooden bat).

29th-Mar-2005 07:43 am (UTC)
Umm...well, first off let's start by looking at what a stereotype is: a generalization. I've had the conversation with multiple gaming groups, many of them with female players. Females, on a general basis, aren't as strong as males. There are plenty of exceptions.

Now, let's look at some other books. Specifically, Complete Warrior.

The Thayan Knight is a chick. I rest my case.
29th-Mar-2005 07:57 am (UTC)
Well, so far I've mostly played in all-male groups, with all-male PCs, so gender stereotyping within the party is not an issue. That being said...

We tend to play in pseudo-medieval settings, and most medieval societies were incredibly sexist by our standards. In general, most of the powerful NPCs the party interacts with will be male, simply because males will have more opportunity to get powerful.

And the PCs find nothing remarkable about this, since they were raised in the setting and thus are likely to find this state of affairs normal.
29th-Mar-2005 10:01 am (UTC)
These days I mostly see mostly high dex characters, overall.

The high charisma thing seems to be done equally by both sexes, and probably makes sense; charisma isn't just physical attractiveness it's how effective you are in conversation or even in command-how many heroes in literature would have a low charisma then...some certainly, but not a majority.

Ryukiri has a point too, stereotypes come about, usually for some reason; women do, in general, tend to be less physically able than men(with equal training etc) this is why sports are still broken into sex categories. Logically there should only be a 100m sprint competition in the olympics etc, but there are still a mens and womens event, as with almost any other competition. I've not been interested enough to check, but I have the impression that the fastest time, the largest weight lifted etc are likely to be by men(It could be argued that this is due to those competitions not taking place too).
Another point of view could be that sexism does exist, so you may as well take advantage of that, ie the town guard(probably a man-for no really adequate reason) is more likely to let off the female with a warning, because men tend to be stupid enough to think women aren't as dangerous.

I think you've got an interesting thought going here, but perhaps reading too much into it/over-analysing. Should we try to get rid of stereotypes in gaming when they exist elsewhere?
29th-Mar-2005 02:15 pm (UTC)
You've got a point there, actually - sexism is a fact of life and it should also be a fact of game. There will be sexist NPCs (they might even be sexist PCs). And to refer back to jhubert, most of the settings we commonly play in (pseudo-medeival fantasy) are inherently sexist as well.

I guess I don't have a problem with a believably sexist setting - there are no (or very few) female warriors because women are not permitted, by that society, to be warriors.

I'm almost certainly over-analyzing, but it didn't come out of the blue. The female players in my friend's game last week called him on it when he introduced the "incredibly attractive elven white mage." I believe Sarah's exact words were "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with your use of gender roles here." I think the all-male-PC party subtly shifted its view of women in protest - we've got an ascetic (monk), a bi or maybe gay fighter, and a guy who's way too busy studying to have any time to even notice women. Which might, in its own way, be part of the problem.
29th-Mar-2005 02:36 pm (UTC)
It is also seen in fatasy art, thinking about it, 90%(pulled totally from guess work, not a real statistic) of the pictures of women are scantily clad, overly endowed etc. One of my freinds has a real objection to all that, but then how many of the pictures of males show the hugely muscled, scantily clad, incredibly handsome types..I think it is, again, most; although the armour tend to be, at least slightly, more practical:)

I've wondered about the use of charisma in games anyway, it is somewhat neccessary, but it's difficult to imagine some plate-armored, hugely muscled chap being easy to ignore, regardless of the fact that the person playing him considered charisma a "dump" stat: or the village wisewomen who would certainly be someone people should take notice of also having to be attractive.

I also think people forget that the average person IS attractive, this is how things are "designed". Peoples ideas of beauty vary so much too that it is difficult to assign it a value. Strength is measurable, but appearence...what one person thinks is the best looking another may find "pig ugly".

I think I've wandered off the point, so I'll stop now.

29th-Mar-2005 04:12 pm (UTC)
well, a lot of really good points have been made here, so i've added it to memories and i don't re-hash a lot of points which have already been discussed... however, there's been a few really good articles on this; the best being "saving throw for half-cooties," which you should be able to google. also, if this is something you're interested in discussing, i'm doing my senior thesis in this same sort of vein so i'd be totally into discussing it sometime when i haven't been writing about it all night already... haha... but yeah, this journal is specifically dedicated to that so feel free to check it out...
29th-Mar-2005 05:57 pm (UTC)
When I've seen men play female characters they've generally been slim and gorgeous. In some cases fighters, but impossibly slim and gorgeous fighters.

When I've seen women play female characters it's tended to be different. The female characters I've personally played (in order) are:
Average looking almost-barbarian elven fighter (this was AD&D, if it were 3E I would have probably made her a barbarian)
Gorgeous, naive fighter (okay, so even I like to play gorgeous characters at some point)
Rather ugly elven fighter
Good-looking but plump bard/mage

See - lots of female fighters!

Most of my male characters have been rather weedy with the exception of one who was strength 18 (again AD&D).

I think my point is trying to be that it depends on who's playing the character. From observation men tend to play the more stereotypical females, while women tend to have the more unusual characters all round. But then I'm generalising from only seven or eight players in total.
29th-Mar-2005 07:23 pm (UTC)
I don't know about that last point, but I have noticed that the female characters who break the rule are played by female players - generally.

I do think that those who are more interested in roleplaying than murdering monsters are more likely to make interesting, non-stereotypical characters. That these players are more likely women than men is a whole other problem (and maybe not true, I dunno).
30th-Mar-2005 04:46 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you said 'generally' there. I'm a guy, but because I see so many females playing males lately, I tend to play females a lot more. In no particular order, here's a list of the girls I've played over the past year or so:

Caeli (2e): 4 Charisma, 18/95 Strength human Ranger .... I think she breaks your mold. She was very homely, mean, brutish, and disliked by the other 100 or so players on that game with few exceptions. It was some of the best RP I've ever had. And the one man who tried to protect her .... died trying. She laughed, took his sword, then killed what killed him.

Kaira (3e): 15 Charisma, 18 Intelligence, 12 Strength White human Wizardess. She was actually a challenge character. We needed more White Mages (Krynn game), and more women at the same time. Yea, I played her as naieve and all that other stuff. Sometimes the stereotypes are fun, too.

Elizian (3e): 15 Intelligence, 14 Charisma, 12 Strength, 18 Dexterity elven Ranger: I didn't make this character, but I had a hell of a fun time playing her. Another of the 'don't protect me' types, Elizian was the second in command of an entire legion of elven warriors. She rocked much with the rocking. Again, breaks your stereotype. High dex? Yes. Kinda pretty? Yes. Stereotype? Not even a little.

Saerisathal (3e): Song dragon. I don't think I need to say any more. Yes, they're the stereotype /when in female form/ most of the time. But ..... she's a friggin dragon. ;)

Maeris (3e): 15 Charisma, 14 Strength, 16 Wisdom NPC Expert (Cook). Maeris was a busty, plump, 'beautiful' (in the 'You'd better think I'm beautiful or you can kiss my hot frying pan') innkeep. She was soft and kind when you're on her good side, and a fiery tempest when you piss her off. I don't advise pissing her off.

So in three out of my five really fit your stereotype, but one of those is a dragon. I think ........ you're seeing something that simply isn't there. :) I know I'm not the only one who has this perspective. By the way? Kaira? Even as a stereotypical girl-next-door, she still was a deeply developed character, and her character was based off people I know in real life. Why is it bad to have a character based on real life people? Yes, they're stereotypical. God forbid the stereotypes should--once in a while--depict reality. :)

(Sorry. This one's a sore subject for me. I'll get off my soapbox now.)
29th-Mar-2005 06:18 pm (UTC)
I've seen a few patterns in my games but it's not gender specific. Well...I guess it is. A player that doens't play with us anymore used to always ALWAYS play a knock off Raislin character. (Raistlin from Dragonlance just in case no one knew who I was talking about) when we called him on that, he started another pattern of ONLY playing Elf Wizards. My brother nearly always plays a human fighter who is quiet and standoffish. I have tried many different. I've played a Elf Druid, Human Paladin, Half orc cleric (LOL!) and now I play a halfling rogue (very steriotypical actually.) I think the thing is to PLAY the character differently. At first, I thought my halfling would just be a female Tasslehoff (again from Dragonlance) because that's how I knew halflings/kender to act. Truth be told, she's more of a zen character. Calm, collected, resourcefull and not hyper. Because of that part of her persona, I'm really considering dual classing with monk. :) Oh...I got off track
29th-Mar-2005 06:21 pm (UTC)
OH yeah...my halfling rogue is more muscled that skinny. I despise skinny girls.
30th-Mar-2005 12:05 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I know what you mean. I hate fat chicks.
31st-Mar-2005 11:53 am (UTC)

If you look again, your notice no evil characters... they're all good and neutral... thats alignmentist.

Ok, really, the iconic characters are what the creators decided to use, that doesn't pigeonhole you into playa charismatic cleric or a incredibly dexterious rogue...

If your going by pictures, look at the male versions and the female versions of the player races. What it comes down to however is natural evalution, females are the beautiful sideof our species, and the male is typically the hairy misshapen looking on the side of a woman...

I think generally you shouldn't pay much attention...
31st-Mar-2005 04:50 pm (UTC)
While I totally agree with the idea behind this post, I know a lot of women (and maybe some men) who would disagree with your statement that the 'females are the beautiful side of our species, and the male is typically the hairy misshapen looking on the sid eof a woman ...' My fiancee's one of them (thank God).

The rest is all good, but I figure since this is a PC debate to begin with, let's keep it PC.
2nd-Apr-2005 02:56 am (UTC)
In the game I currently have, there is a female fighter/wilder NPC who is in love with a psion PC, and she is always saving his ass and playing the strength of the two of them--carrying things and whatnot.

On the other hand, I have the female paladin syndrome going in my NPCs--the only other female warrior is, in fact, a paladin.

I try to play on the weak male opposite more than the brute female opposite. There's plenty of male wizards and psions and weak clerics that rely on robes and agility more than strength and armor. You make a valid point, though--women aren't supposed to have that str of 18.
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