Now that you’ve got the gear, let’s talk about the “role” of women in Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s fair to say that most people who identify as geeky are of the open-minded/progressive variety. By definition, we love what we love so dang much we spend as much of our time and money on t-shirts, cosplay, action figures, whatever we can get our hands on. We love it all so much, when someone wants to enjoy it too we welcome them with open arms. D&D is no different. Over the years, I’ve sat at tables with people younger, older, richer, poorer than me. Gay, straight, bi, trans. I am fully aware of the “losers who can’t get laid in mom’s basement” stereotype. It’s total BS.
As I was thinking of exactly what I wanted to say about women in Dungeons and Dragons specifically, I found myself at a loss. I am a boy after all and although I’ve played with plenty of women over the years I was worried it would come across as “mansplaining”. So instead, I compiled a list of questions and asked some of the women in Dungeons and Dragons in my life to answer them. My intention is that any woman out there who might be interested in trying this game out will hear these voices, stroll on over to their local game store and find a group to join. Or start your own!
I was lucky enough to speak to and correspond with almost a dozen women from all walks of life, and a few different age groups. These women in Dungeons and Dragons also had different levels of experience. Their stories provided me with a mountain of information, even some inspiration. Their stories were fun, like Eileen’s tale of joining her boyfriend’s group after hearing all of his ridiculous stories. Their stories were moving, like Moira transitioning from male to female. I found Katheryn’s tale of her sexual assault, ignored by her gaming friends causing her to give up the game for a while a real eye opener. Gaming has always seemed to me to be a “safe place”, where everyone is welcome and respected. It was tough hearing that even in our little nerd bubble, women have to be constantly vigilant. She still games, but I’m not so sure I’d have the courage to even go outside after such a violation. Deep stuff for sure, but I was glad she shared it with me.
After learning all their stories I asked them a series of questions about their gaming experiences, and some of the differences between their play style and their male counterparts. Their insight was informative and got me thinking about my gaming life and how the women at my table effect the game itself.
When it came to women in Dungeons and Dragons and giving advise for any woman looking to try this game out, everyone pretty much agreed the best way is to just dive in.
First, I inquired about what kind of experience these women in Dungeons and Dragons had under their respective belts. It was a range, as I suspected. A common thread between a lot of them was they played when they were younger for a while, stopped but have recently gotten back into the game. D&D, as a game and as a community have been making great strides in bringing people back into the game. The recent popularity of live streaming or recording games and putting them on the internet has helped as well. Thanks Twitch and Youtube! A few of the ladies I spoke with had experience DMing as well. As I learned these things I got more and more excited about hearing their stories, how they were different than mine and how SIMILAR they were to mine as well.
Next, I asked about their favorite character they are, or have ever played. From Isis the Shadow Elf Ninja to Oswin the Halfling Bard to Crowley the Dwarf on a path of redemption I enjoyed the variety and creativity in their stories. Crowley’s backstory in particular struck a chord with me as it is similar to how I like to start my characters off: suffer horrible tragedy, then focus your violent tendencies on the forces of evil as you slowly grow as a person and realize the only person who you need to redeem yourself to is yourself. I liked Isis as well, mainly because she’s basically Batman. Batman rules.
As far as HOW all these women in Dungeons and Dragons got started, a lot of their stories were similar. From Eileen joining her boyfriend’s group to Stephanie trying it out because a very brave nerd asked some girls to try it out in their high school cafeteria to Kathryn playing with some college friends, every lady I spoke with got introduced basically the same way I did. Someone that someone knew said “want to try this?” and the rest is gaming history. D&D has always been about community, about spreading the word. If your school has a gaming club, like Moira’s, check it out. Look on Meetup, like Sarah. You’ll find friendly, welcoming gamers (male and female) to introduce you to this great game!
Now, when I asked our women in Dungeons and Dragons survey group about the make-up of their first group, how many ladies were in it and how the guys treated them Moira’s story took center stage. When she first started, she was in the beginning to transition from male to female. Once her transition really began to take shape, the guys in her group (there were no women besides her) were 100% supportive. They needed an occasional gender pronoun correction, but otherwise it was a positive space for Moira to occupy, during what all of us reading this can agree, a major event in someone’s life. I think that kind of inclusiveness is encouraged by the basic concept of the game itself: a dwarf, an elf, that goddamn gnome and even a robot all banding together to find their place in the world. Just like all of us in the “real world”. Each has their own language, culture and religious beliefs. They find common ground, compromise when possible and find a way to make it work. Wouldn’t it be nice if our leaders in the real world sat down and stormed an evil warlock’s castle together? Things might not look so bleak out there……
To be fair, the other side of the coin needs to be addressed. Kathryn’s story was as profound as Moira’s, but for all the wrong reasons. The guys in her group were very crass when speaking to female NPC’s. They used offensive language toward this NPC, and Kathryn had no other ladies in the group so it was difficult to get them to understand why that wasn’t cool. Their reaction to a friend of theirs sexually assaulting her IN REAL LIFE wasn’t supportive towards her at all, so she immediately severed ties with them, understandably. Clearly these guys, based on how they spoke to “imaginary” women, didn’t understand what interacting with women is really all about. The situation would have been an opportunity for them to learn these things thru their friendship with her, but if they couldn’t grasp why remaining friends with the man who did something so terrible to her wasn’t cool , they were probably too far gone to make the most of that opportunity in the first place. Kathryn’s story does start out as a sad one, but she found her way back to this game, has met some great people and has channeled her World of Warcraft skills to turn herself into a D&D combat specialist.
In my years with this game, I have occasionally played as a female character. I really like to roleplay different things, different perspectives and explore fantasy tropes “with a twist”. I asked the women in Dungeons and Dragons I surveyed if the ALWAYS play as a female, if they don’t how it affects their play style. Also, I asked the women if they have ever experienced a man playing a female character in a disrespectful manner. For the most part, everyone said that guys who play female characters tend to do so respectfully. There are turds everywhere, so it does happen but luckily they are the exception to the rule. Most of them don’t play as male but wouldn’t rule it out. Stephanie prefered to play as a female based mostly on her higher pitched voice, but has played a warrior woman hell bent on proving she’s just as good as any man. I was fortunate enough to get to DM a session with that character, and she played on that femininity in battle concept excellently. It was the first time I awarded inspiration during character introductions! I do encourage female players to, just for a short session or one-shot, to play as a male character. If the experience is anything like I have had playing a deadly female assassin with no dark secrets, just a touch of bloodlust, I think you’d enjoy it. Plus you get to ham it up a bit and show the guys in your group how they look and act sometimes!
The next topic we covered was the differences in play style between male and female players. I was very happy to hear from our group of women in Dungeons and Dragons that while there are differences, they vary depending on the person. Eileen commented that some female players she’s shared a table with were raunchier that the guys. Stephanie felt that alot of the guys she’s played with focused so much on the numbers, on making the “strongest” character that they would end up with a pretty generic backstory/personality. I myself really enjoy playing/DMing with women at the table, it really makes the game better to have both the “Mars” and “Venus” points of view. Also, gender roles tend to fall by the wayside pretty quick when the female goliath saves the male wizard. Or the male bard gets tossed thru the pub’s front window because he got mouthy with the wrong lady dwarf. One of my favorite moments in D&D was when a female player, playing a male fighter, literally stood up from the table and started “bro flexing” (her expression, it is now cannon in every game I DM) when she killed a pretty nasty boss monster with only 1 hitpoint left. The party was beaten up really bad and wanted to retreat, she convinced them to stand and fight. She rolled a crit on a bluff check in real life cuz we all bought it!
I then asked how they felt the game itself could become friendlier for women in Dungeons and Dragons. I was very happy to hear that they have seen a lot of changes have already been made, to the point where it’s basically up to the people playing the game determining how inclusive it is. Gone are the days of every princess being a helpless prop to be rescued. Gone are the chainmail bikinis that offer zero protection but plenty of pre-teen erections. These days, there are female heroes out there to be looked up to and DMs that know that the legendary warrior they need to find is just as likely to be a woman as a man. Despite these steps, even I know that there is still some work to be done. I’d like some of the campaign books, like Out of the Abyss or Storm King’s Thunder, to include more female NPCs that are important to the story in as many ways as possible. With the rise of live streaming games, the number of female players will continue to rise and with it their inclusion into lore will rise as well. Until then, don’t be afraid to make some changes to your game to give the women at your table heroes to inspire them, patrons to employ them and handsome princes to save!
As far as how inclusive and welcoming the gaming community has been, all of the people surveyed had the same answer: with the exception of a select few, everyone has been positive and open. This crazy game attracts way more understanding people than turds. That, and I think every player and DM out there has felt the frustration of trying to put a group together that when some fun people sit down and start to gel, we all just want to hold it all together that bonds form quickly. It’s a lot easier to find common ground with someone when you trust them to be as equally compromising. On the opposite side of that equation, I think most of us know that it only takes one turd-y apple to spoil a good group. Intolerance, bigotry and misogyny are quickly rooted out of any gaming group to make room for positivity, understanding and harmony. I’m no social scientist, but I’d bet money that the game being so much more inclusive to women has a lot to do with the community at large maturing and being more friendly to new players of any walk of life.
When it came to giving advise for any woman looking to try this game out, these women in Dungeons and Dragons pretty much agreed the best way is to just dive in. Comb your local gaming store, Meetup and that nerdy co-worker to find groups playing in your area. If these groups aren’t able to add you in, they will probably know other groups that are. If enough players are all looking at the same time, start your own group! Heck, these articles I’ve been writing were meant to get people to start new groups. There are always more people trying to get into games than there are games to get into, so I also asked if there was any advice they’d direct towards a female DM looking to jump into the job for the first time. The general thought there is to simply be as selective as possible when putting your team of players together, jump in with both feet and don’t be afraid to remove problem people from the group. There will be no shortage of people willing to fill their spot. There are a lot more ways for people to connect and play online, RollD20 being the most commonly known. I personally prefer playing with everyone around the same table but not everyone is as lucky to have a large local gaming community. The most important thing they all had to add was if you’re thinking of getting involved in D&D DOOOO IIIIT!!!!
When I asked about which aspect of D&D they enjoy the most, role playing or combat I wasn’t surprised when some said RP, some said combat and some preferred a healthy mix. It was further confirmation at the diversity in the community, and that men and women don’t really play that differently. The latest version of D&D, 5th Edition, has a lot of detailed combat rules but allows for plenty of role playing freedom. There’s something in the game for everyone.
Finally, I asked how everyone would handle a situation where a guy at the table said something sexist or insensitive unintentionally. If by chance that actually had happened, I was also curious how the guy reacted to what you had to say. For the most part, these kinds of things were few and far between, and the guys were apologetic. The women in Dungeons and Dragons had the same opinion in that these kinds of things can be handled at the table if the guy is basically well socialized and will understand they made a mistake. For someone a bit less socially confident, speaking with them privately might be the best course of action. Moira had a great quote on this topic: “Being an ally means admitting when you get it wrong””. That’s way better than anything I could have come up with! This is exactly why I wanted to get the opinions of the women in Dungeons & Dragons instead of commenting on it.
As an extra credit question, I asked for advice on what to do to end the horrid curse my D20s seem to be inflicted with. It must be a curse, that’s the only explanation! All the answers I got helped me to feel better, because they were all so tongue in cheek that i could tell they felt my pain. Everybody has off nights where the good numbers just don’t come your way. Or, the good rolls come for relatively unimportant checks but when swords start swinging forget about getting higher than a 5!
It doesn’t take much digging to find plenty of female representation in D&D. Shows like Critical Role and Acquisitions Inc have strong women playing strong women. I enjoy a podcast called Adventure Incorporated and the group has a great player named Stephanie Crugnola. Her character Jennuvera is my favorite part of the show. So don’t let anything stand in your way if D&D is something you want to try. You’re always welcome as one of the women in Dungeons and Dragons. I think you’ll find a lot more open arms than furrowed brows when you introduce yourself you any potential new tablemates. Just remember to be nice to those D20s. They are a fickle beast……..
Thank you for reading our Women in Dungeons and Dragons article. We’d love to hear your experiences with the game. How’d you get into it? What’s your most memorable experience? Let us know in the comments!