Saturday, February 18, 2012

My Take on Gender Differences in D&D, Part 2

Except for the last two sentences in the passage I quoted from Paul Jaquays' article in my last post, I would argue that he puts forward a principle that is much fairer than what I understand AD&D to propose. In AD&D, women have a limit on their Strength score, plain and simple (at least, that's what I understand from reading multiple blog posts and comments about this; if I'm wrong, please correct me). In contrast, Jaquays' proposal puts forward the idea of a trade-off: basically, decrease the maximum of one attribute score, but receive a bonus to two other attribute scores.

Jeff Rients, whose opinion I respect immensely when it comes to treating players right, has this to say (brought to my attention by Brendan's post here) regarding this issue:
The gender limit rules as written send a message. And that message is "You are all equal in the eyes of the Great God 3d6, except for you icky girls." If you want to send that message, that's fine. I don't and I stand by that position.
I take that very seriously; I also think that giving bonuses along with lower minimum attribute scores is a way to keep this message from being sent while also including different attribute score ranges for different genders.

The author of the second article in The Dungeoneer that addresses this issue is Judith Preissle Goetz. I don't recognize her name, nor does it appear that she wrote anything else for The Dungeoneer. Her article consists of a single paragraph reaction to Jaquays' attribute score suggestions quoted in my previous post and is quoted in its entirety here:
Criticisms of the character attributes assigned to fighting women: I would accept the assumption that women have a higher charisma as far as men are concerned, however, you have ignored the complementary phenomenon that men have higher charisma as far as most women are concerned. Second, I vehemently protest the deletion of charisma points for women whose strength scores are 17 and 18. Most outstanding female athletes are often more sought after than other women. Finally, some suggestions of a more positive nature. Comparative studies of males and females on both strength and dexterity show that: 1) women perform less well than men, on the average and 2) there is a smaller percentage of outstanding female performers. To represent this, female characters should take a -1 on dexterity and strength unless a score of 1-4 is made on a D6. This disadvantage can be balanced by the +1 on charisma and a +1 on constitution in general (not just against adverse weather conditions). The latter phenomenon-a female's greater resistance to environmental stresses of all types-has, also, been well established.
I really wish that Goetz had written a longer article, expounding on her reasoning. I'm interested in the studies she's talking about. For one thing, I would have given female characters a bonus, not a penalty, for Dexterity. For another, I'm curious as to why, after arguing against Jaquays' suggestions for Charisma, she proposed a bonus to Charisma with no explanation.

More broadly, though, it's interesting to see what Goetz is suggesting here: all female characters get bonuses to two attribute scores while only 1/3 of them lose two points from other attribute scores (or, if you roll once for both Strength and Dexterity, 1/9 of them lose two points and 4/9ths of them lose one point). Over-all, then, this actually gives a mechanical advantage to female characters; what's more, except for the Charisma, I think she's made a pretty good case for it!

Even if we left the Charisma bonus off, Goetz's system would create a system where female characters would, on average, have 1/3 of an attribute point more than male characters. Turn-about, my friends, is fair play!

As I mentioned in my last post, I take the comfort and emotional safety of my players very seriously; call me chauvinistic or chivalrous, patriarchal or feminist, but that goes double for my female players. My female players have, over the years, included my sister, my blood-brother's wife and several very close friends; the last thing I want them thinking at my table is, "I'm not welcome here," or, "I'm only welcome as a second-class citizen," so I take Jeff's position about sending messages very seriously. I also think that it's possible to use gender differences in attribute scores to send messages other than, "women are looked down on here;" I'd argue that Goetz presents a very good example of that in her response to Jaquays. I would consider using her system at my table (though I'd probably take off the Charisma bonus, especially since Old School dogma is that Charisma isn't about good looks but is about being able to lead and inspire loyalty, something that I'd argue men and women do differently but strike me as doing just about as well as each other), and I don't feel guilty about that.

There's a few more loose ends, though, before I finish this series. Next time I'll point out two problems with gender-differentiated attribute score ranges and explain why sometimes it will still be wrong to use gender-differentiated attribute score ranges at your table.


  1. I like your approach and your priorities. It's a question that I've pondered for years and you've helped me come to an answer for my own group (not that it's really an issue with my system, but still). Much as I like realism and plausibility in my games, this is one of those issues that I would waive. No modifiers, no restrictions. Up to the player. I think it was your "second class citizen" comment that helped me come to my conclusion, despite the fact that men and women clearly have different abilities in sports (otherwise there wouldn't be men's and women's sports). Thanks

  2. I would suggest ignoring any gender based limits and just let the dice fall where they may.

  3. Another minor point: why is the male the baseline and the female the case requiring a modifier?

  4. Brendan: That's actually one of the two problems I'm planning on addressing.

  5. The gender issues here are super interesting as a window into the history of the hobby past (Judith Preissle Goetz, you go girl) and present. On Facebook, Jennelle Jaquays has been doing some courageous re-examination of the things she wrote as Paul (you go girl!) - so far I've seen her talk about the "dark side" traits in Central Casting, but if she's gone back to this article I've missed it. I bet a respectful suggestion that you'd eagerly welcome her sharing her current views would not be amiss, and friending her is worth it for many reasons including seeing the support & eager welcome from so many of her peers in gaming during this recent public phase of her gender transition.

  6. I've been considering your suggestion for a while, but, after looking through her profile and reading her notes, I don't think it's my place to, out of the blue, invite her to take a second look at two sentences she wrote twenty-some years ago that she clearly doesn't agree with today. She seems to be going through enough stress as it is. It's quite possible that what you suggested is actually OK, but I don't feel comfortable doing that.

    I am comfortable with friending her as a fan, however, especially since I've been trying to Jaquay my dungeons. Thanks for letting me know that she's on Facebook.