Revenge of the Feminerd: Feminist D&D

This article was written by Jarrah Hodge and originally posted at Bitch Magazine. Please go and read the full thing there.

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Earlier in the series someone commented that they were starting a Dungeons and Dragons group and were looking for suggestions on how to keep it feminist. As luck would have it, I’ve played a campaign or two of D&D in my time, so I loved the idea of writing about it.

RPGs have great potential to be feminist, and D&D is one of the better ones for this. When I threw the idea out on Twitter one of my followers suggested Magic is a better option, but I have no experience playing Magic so I’ll let someone else take that topic on (or write about it in the comments below!).

The great thing about D&D is that almost everything is customizable. When you’re creating a character, skill sets are not determined or limited by gender, and players can create their characters to look however they want. Experienced DMs (Dungeon Masters) can create their own campaigns for players, and even most pre-made campaigns can be altered so characters can break out of traditional gender roles. And so we come to tip number one:

1. Make sure you’ve got a supportive DM. This is the most important thing to figure out if you’re going to have an inclusive and feminist D&D group. Even though players can customize their characters’ appearance and personalities, the DM has a lot of power to set the game’s agenda, so make sure s/he’s supportive of having an open and inclusive session.

2. Let players spend enough time explaining their characters’ background. One thing the DM can do to make the game more open is to allow players time to explain characters’ background. The last time I played D&D I created a Swashbuckler-class, bisexual, Irish pirate called Megan O’Malley. But because I started part-way through the campaign, there wasn’t time given for me to build her back story into the plot. I definitely felt like it hampered my ability to get across how kick-ass she was. If you don’t give time for players to role-play their characters and you end up focusing too much on fighting as many battles as possible, you usually end up just assuming the characters are heterosexual and white or the same race as the player.

3. Avoid the following terminology: “gay” to mean an insult and “raped” as in “I totally raped that goblin hideout.” If there are other words you’re concerned about coming up (swear words, oppressive language), make that part of the initial meeting to get group agreement on usage.

4. Limit the use of official D&D artwork into the campaign. It’s pretty much the only innately sexist thing about D&D, with all the guys (at least the human ones) looking ridiculously buff and all the girls looking ridiculously skinny and busty. It also has a serious lack of racial diversity.

5. Avoid misogynist, heterosexist, ableist, and racist comments to the people in your group. Should go without saying, but sadly it doesn’t always.

6. Sexual scenarios are often part of RPGs like D&D, especially among adults. DMs and groups should be open to characters pursuing in-game same-sex relationships. Jason B. at BoardGameGeek.com has laid out some good tips to help tackle heteronormativity when playing with “gaymers” and he points out: “A common response whenever a heterosexual male encounters some guy-on-guy action (or perceived guy-on-guy action, or implied, or whatever), is, “Eww, man, gross.” (See also: the phrase “no homo”.) This is practically a socially conditioned response used by heteros to assert their own (non-homo) sexuality. It is also very silly.”

7. That said, just because sexual scenarios happen in RPGs is no excuse to treat women characters as sexual objects. A commenter on Jason’s thread brought up an example of a time when a DM made all the characters start the campaign by paying sexual favors to female characters to enter the city. The women players refused, which led to the DM and male players trying to eject them from the campaign. And so we find ourselves back at tip #1: making sure you have a supportive DM.