Friday, February 17, 2012

My Take on Gender Differences in D&D, Part 1

*This post mentions rape (and condemns both rape and making light of rape). If you don't want to read that, please don't read this post; to summarize this series of posts for you, I take a middle-position on gender-differentiating attribute score maximums, with the idea that for every attribute maximum that is lower for female characters there should be a different attribute maximum that is higher for female characters, and that attribute maximums shouldn't be gender-differentiated if anyone at the table has a problem with it.*

I have yet to read the passages and tables in question in AD&D, seeing as how the reprints haven't been released yet, but, from what I understand, the issue goes thusly:

In 1e AD&D, as written, there are maximum Strength score limits for different races and genders, and, in every race, females get a lower Strength maximum than males. Some people think that's wrong and unfair and others think that's OK because it's realistic; in real life, the strongest men are stronger than the strongest women.

I recently, on Tavis Allison's recommendation, bought a compendium of Judges Guild's The Dungeoneer, which has issues 1-6 in it. I don't know a lot about The Dungeoneer's history, so I'm not going to expound on it; suffice it to say that I'm generally quite pleased with it and that it has two articles that touch on the issue of gender-differentiated attribute scores.

The first article is by Paul Jaquays; it's a four-page article, all but one half-page of which is devoted to multiple female-exclusive classes and sub-classes. One quarter-page deals with attributes for female characters, however:
STRENGTH-as a rule of thumb, women are not built on a similar size scale as their male counterparts. A woman may have up to 18 strength, but never naturally, beyond the first category [I'm understanding this to mean that an 18 is possible, but no 18%.] Women of 17 strength suffer the loss of one of their charisma bonus points. Women of 18 strength will lose both of their charisma bonus points. There are no charisma penalties for points of strength gained through magic or by a gift of the DM (see Charisma).
INTELLIGENCE-no modification
WISDOM-no modification
DEXTERITY-no modification
CONSTITUTION-+1 against adverse weather
CHARISMA-There are no two ways about it, most women have a slightly higher charisma as far as men are concerned. To adjust for this, +2 is added to the charisma score of female characters. This bonus gives them a range of 5-20 on their charisma scores. This bonus is in effect ONLY when they are dealing with male creatures. Females will use the unmodified score against other females. Elven women receive an additional +1. Charisma penalties for strength have been dealt with under strength. *A warning to female characters should be made, though: a lot of those monsters in the dungeon have been down there a loonnng time, so be wary if you still want your unicorn to continue to associate with you! The more charisma you have, the better the target you become.* [Asterisks mine.]
The first thing I want to address in this series is the last two sentences, which I put between asterisks. To paraphrase what's being said, "If you send a female character into a dungeon, there's a chance that she'll be raped by monsters; the prettier she is, the higher her chances of being raped."

I generally don't try to tell people what they should or shouldn't get offended by, especially when I'm not the one being offended. For example, should female gamers be offended by different attribute maximums for female characters? I'll let female gamers, as individuals, decide that for themselves, and I won't tell them they're wrong either way. I figure that they're competent to make that decision for themselves and I think they should, like other human beings, generally be listened to instead of told how to feel. I figure this is a difficult issue that reasonable people can disagree on, and whether someone else should be offended about this or not is none of my business.

On the other hand, there are issues that aren't difficult to suss out morally and which are everybody's business, like rape. Rape is bad and doesn't belong at most gaming tables because most gaming tables don't take themselves seriously enough to treat rape in a serious and responsible manner; most gaming tables don't take themselves seriously because they are about fun, good times with friends, creating an enjoyable story and, usually, escape from the mundanity of life, and that's the way things should be. The sentences I put it asterisks are bad, though, because they treat rape - which should only be treated in a serious way - in the spirit of most gaming tables, that is, lightly. Rape has no place in games that are primarily about fun; rape, could, conceivably, have a place in some kind of somber, serious game that explores the effects of trauma on people or something like that, but I find it incredibly hard to envision that game being even distantly related to D&D. I realize that that's taking a stand against the way it could be argued that D&D was originally played, and I'm OK with that. I'm an Old School gamer because it's the way I like to play, not because it's how things were done before I was born.

I say this because it's important, I think, that we look this kind of thing in the face and say that it's wrong, instead of sweeping it under the rug. As a referee, my top goal is to make my players feel safe and comfortable, able to enjoy themselves while playing in my games, and I couldn't look my female players in the face if I didn't confront jokes about female characters being raped by monsters in my gaming material. Joking about rape is wrong, and including threats of rape in jokes is even more wrong.

This isn't a philosophy or ethics blog; it's a blog about gaming, so I won't be allowing comments on this post. I'll continue this series tomorrow with reflections on the mechanical aspects of Jaquays' article and the second article in the Compendium.