Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sex please; We're playing D&D, after all.

So I stumbled upon this on Google+ (as is my way) after Zak S came across it. Because apparently I've got a huge man crush on him and agree with most of his general arguments and ideas about games, I decided to check it out to see what's what.

*NOTE: I'm not familiar with this specific blogger or blog. Apparently he's been called out on 'trolling' and inciting people in the past. If that is the case, I might not be the best to judge. If you're familiar with him and more of his posts, please post in comments.

So the gist of the article seems to be that sex (read: gender) should be left out of D&D, or, at the very least, left up to the decision of the dungeon master. The reasoning for this seems to be that while women seem perfectly capable of playing characters of either gender, men are apparently uncomfortable playing female characters (especially when confronted with sexism/chauvinism in game).

That's kinda interesting, I guess, but I feel like it's misguided and maybe a little under-informed.

With anything, I think it really depends on the people you play with. Almost all of the men I play with have little to no problem with playing a female character. They play them as if they would any of their male characters. If they're treated differently by NPCs because of their character's sex, they're usually pretty thoughtful about it.

When they're not thoughtful about it, I like to prod them as DM to maybe think about it. Seems like the right thing to do.

Also this: (quotes from the article)

"I have mentioned before, I have several women playing characters in my world, and they quite comfortably mix up the genders of their characters. They play men or women with equal interest, and don't seem to mind if I have NPC's hit on either, or if in my 17th century campaign I have male assholes make innuendos or generally insult them."

Yeah, that makes sense. Most of the women I've played with are pretty capable of handling both genders with ease. Women are generally kind of awesome like that. However, I've noticed that many of my female players (when playing 'male' PCs) do tend to exaggerate themselves and turn their characters into caricatures of broad masculine stereotypes. Nothing wrong with this, however.

"Men, on the other hand, seem to get their back up about that sort of thing. They seem to get quite uncomfortable over a whole range of potential sexual juxtapositions and circumstances."

What kind of "men" are you playing with? I run a public D&D game where often men play female PCs, and the only ones who ever get "uncomfortable" around sexual situations or ideas are the ones who're diagnosed with clinical social disorders or anxieties. Seriously...

"Nobody minds if Eowyn's eyes water a little when she finds Aragorn is alive. But having Eowyn and Aragorn fuck hard and messy behind the king's throne in a few choice moments would spoil everything"

Actually, nothing would make me want to reread The Two Towers more.

Sometimes sex happens. It's rarely graceful or clean or appropriate, but its almost always passionate and enjoyable (provided it's consensual). It's something that people and characters do.

Here's a little example from one of my home games way back when:

Female dwarf rogue (played by my wife) and male half-elf druid (played by my wife's female best friend) were making a trek through Hell to recover the body/soul of their fallen comrade Ink.

Tensions were high between the two of them after all that had happened. They'd stealthed into a devil's watchtower and viciously slain a who gaggle of pit fiends. Bloodied, adrenaline fueled, and panting, the two of them decided that the easiest way to ease their tension was to just fuck each other. Right on top of the pile of dead devils.

Two characters who're mutually attracted to one another having quick sex before a big battle. Seems about right.

Out of game there was some laughing, some innuendo, and a bit of discussion about whether things would be awkward later on (Answer: yes).

To me that seems pretty real. Sex was something that happened organically between two characters with a bit of chemistry in a moment of heightened tension. It was handled with a bit of laughter, and a little bit of discussion. No awkwardness outside of the game.

"Straight up, I've played D&D with the same sort of people Zak boasts about, because I too have a long and questionable sexual history, nicely stored in the fuzziness of privacy now that I'm an old man not wanting to come across as an old lech."

What the fuck does that even mean?

You've played with hairdressers? Artists? Directors? Adult performers? Photographers? Seriously, what?

That whole bit seems kind of sexist, or am I missing something? I get the impression Zak plays with "the girls" because they're generally creative and awesome people who are a blast to play with. The fact that they're also all attractive women whose jobs involve an aspect of sexuality seems more like a...I added benefit?

"I've had players whose favorite moment for "backstabbing" was doing it doggy-style, and players who approached the game as an opportunity for quenching their cross-gendering sexual appetites. But this is NOT the norm. I think we all know this."

Is it not the norm? I'm starting to wonder.

Almost every game I've been a dungeon master for has had a player who actively seeks to play a character opposite their gender. While I'm sure all of their reasons for doing so vary, I always kind of got the impression that it was tied into a kind of escapist fantasy on the part of the players.

The men liked to play women either to be James Cameron-esque "strong empowered women", or a pastiche of cheesecake fantasy (usually played for comedy).

The women liked to play men to play out power-fantasies of being a brooding tough-guy, or to experience the sexual freedom of being a caricature of a womanizing stud out on the prowl.

I think it might have something to do with the idea of "the grass is always greener on the other side". I'm not a professional or anything, but it might be worth thinking about.

"I'd like to live in a world where a male player could be handed a woman and see it as an opportunity, and not as an inconvenience."

That's your fault, Tao of D&D, not your player's.

If you're unable to sell your players on the merits of playing a woman, or that said character would be just as capable and able as a male character, then that's a failing on you as a dungeon master.

That said, if the game system you're running provides statistical differences between men and women, that system is kind of sexist. There's a reason more modern game systems have abandoned those stat differences. It was because they sucked and continued to reinforce the idea that one's potential should be based around sex rather than force of personality or training.

Okay, so that was pretty much a rant.

Bottom Line:

I think that players playing characters opposite their own real life genders is more common and handled far more easily than Tao of D&D is suggesting, both by men and women.

I will concede that a great deal of men are immature and sexist (often without even realizing that they are), and that cross-gender D&D play might be a point of contention. However, I haven't found that to be the case (If you have, please post in comments, or leave a link to a blog).

Also, provided that you are playing with consenting adults, sex is something that'll happen eventually in D&D. Unless all of your player's characters are sexless homunculi, sex appeal and sexual desire are bound to come up sooner or later.

Whether it's handled maturely (or immaturely) is up to you.

Also, neither of those is wrong.


  1. Tao is an asshat but I'm with him on this one. Did you see Gamers 2?

  2. I think our gaming table has too many couples to play out any sexual fantasies without it being awkward in a... oh I dunno... "invitation to a 'key party'" sort of way. The closest we've come to really awkward sexual content is when the Dragonborn Cleric, who thinks he's a human with a magical skin condition that may gradually be turning him into an actual dragon, made an intimidate check on a female drake concubine and inadvertently spawned a mating ritual skill challenge. He (played by a she) technically succeed, though the female was unsatisfied and left. The guys at the table all had a big laugh when she (the player) was exasperated at how confusing women are, and how difficult they can be to please.

    Love the pic.

  3. Nuance is a little lost on you, isn't it?

    I don't play according to what I described in the post. I am completely happy with the free-for-all you suggest. However, because I don't shove my comfort-level down my player's throats, I don't insist they get sexual.

    There was a movie once. Title: No Sex Please, We're British. The movie is about British people having sex. This irony was retained in my blog post also. But you missed it. Completely.

  4. My experience is like yours. I play female and male characters about equally frequently. I also sometimes play gay characters, and genderless ones and machines and so on, all based on my character concept and how I think it can be made most interesting. Only once has anyone made any reference to 'cross-playing' as though that were a remarkable behaviour, and although I find roleplaying can often lead to uncomfortable in-game situations (part of its charm) this in particular has never sparked discomfort, IME. That said, I never consciously play gender stereotypes so my female characters may not be very "feminine" - again, as in your experience. That's partly a choice and partly because The games I've played have tended to be more procedural than dramatic: more like Law & Order than Romeo & Juliet or Almodovar movies, and the policewomen in Law & Order don't spend a lot of screen tome "being feminine" because the point of the show is the plot. The observation that women tend to be better at playing men than vice versa might fit neatly into arguments regarding privilege and the male gaze or might just be anecdotal noise or bias in reporting. But following up the Law & Order point, male characters are probably easier to play by virtue of being the unmarked category in adventure fiction - you don't have to do anything special at all to play a man except engage with the game.

    Where I personally have a problem is with people telling me what sort of character I can't play or shouldn't play or wouldn't be able to play, which happens surprisingly often on the blogs (not at the table though, IME). Why should it be more remarkable to play a different sex or gender than to play an inhabitant of a different world or time period? Why must an elf be more alien to me than a religious zealot or a magic user or even someone who makes their living by theft (note: here I take it as read that we all know that elves are literary constructs created to fulfil some sort of human concerns, rather than actual alien beings)?