Feeling Lost

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 22 April 2013

I don't know how to write this.

This weekend, I tried to read The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth for an upcoming Tome Show episode. I had a copy of the original printing but I heard that text updates weren't really made in the recent reprint. I lost interest quickly. While reading the module, I noticed that while there were some exceptional female characters, a string of gender essentialism runs through most of the social groups.

For instance, why aren't there prominent female gnomes? Even the cleric and illusionist in the main defense group are male. Male clerics fill out group 2 and other groups. Although the women are the ones who are at home (and theoretically are in a safer place), they have less coin on them:

Each male gnome has 2d4 gp. Higher-level gnomes also have
1-4 pp, with the die roll for both gold and platinum multiplied
by level. Females will have 1-4 each electrum and sp. Young
will have 1-8 cp.

(Note: I believe 1 electrum is worth 5 silver pieces)

Besides the detail of how much money they carry, female gnomes only get mentioned in the last stand complex, the one that the PCs shouldn't really get to unless they are blood-thirsty bastards:

If the gnomes are attacked and the pass cannot be held, the gnomes
will fall back to their caves and burrows, making a stand in the cave
complex of the Laird Gwaylar. There are the following additional
forces at this place:
Illusionist (AC 4, ring, +4 bonus due to dexterity; MV 9"; 17; hp 33;
#AT 1; D 1-4) armed with dagger+2, a wand of illusion, and a
ring of protection +2. He has the following spells available:
FIRST LEVEL: change self, color spray, detect invisibility
SECOND LEVEL: blindness, hypnotic pattern
THIRD LEVEL: invisibility 10' r.
12 Guards (AC 4; MV 6"; HD 1; hp 8, 3x7, 6x6; #AT 1; D 1-8) armed
with longsword and dagger.
200 Female Gnomes: Non-combatant
120 Young Gnomes: Non-combatant

A while ago, I posted somewhere about some of the 2nd edition monster races that I felt were thinly-veiled swipes at feminism. People asked me why I cared about something that was written so long ago. This is why. Because during this playtest, people are being told to play the S-series modules if they are looking for more content. Because what is old is new again.

This doesn't even include the final scene of the dungeon, where the PCs find out lggwilv's "treasure" or the "Antechamber of the Garden of One Thousand Earthly Delights." I don't want to spoil it for others.

While this isn't the only reason I've pulled back from D&D recently, it is part of it. I can't wait until there's more meat there so I can create my own stuff, because reading this stuff just makes me sad. That said, there is some neat stuff in the module and I hope to talk about that part a bit more during the review episode, but I also wanted to explain why I haven't written much about D&D and D&D Next recently. Reading this stuff reminds me of the bullying I went through as a child because I didn't fit into neat gender stereotypes and the bullying I still get because of it.


This is a pretty classic example of micro agression. It's not outwardly sexist, it doesn't say out right "women are weaker." But passivly sets them in the background and gives them less importance in the module. If we don't see it for what it is we will never learn to create equally. Preach on sister.

I see this as an example of how things done in the past weren't sensitive towards (or even aware of the need for) gender equality. It's a good example to point to of something which would be easy to fix with some very minor adjustments. Up the GP values here and there, switch a few npcs from male to female and most, if not all of the objections can be eliminated.

This is fairly common with those old adventures, and shows a real problem with WotC's "bring back the good ol' days" marketing strategy... especially when that strategy is enacted by just grabbing the old content, re-binding it, and charging a premium price (in line with the price for new books, which presumably have writing and editing and layout people to pay, unlike PDFs form the '80s).

I ran some folks through the original Keep on the Borderlands about a year ago and kept running into that crap everywhere. Every monster lair had "non-combatant" females, except -- of course -- the Medusa, who is presented as a backstabbing seductress. I changed that myself. I think I made all the hobgoblin guards female (and put some story in my head about gendered guard shifts) in an effort to restore sanity.

Same deal in Eye of the Serpent for the encounter with the al'miraj. The males fight, while the females hang back.

Granted, the older modules were not as progressive as they could have been. However, I'm surprised that Lost Caverns is drawing the ire here, without mentioning the things that it did get right.

The mysterious archmage Iggwilv was female. She is portrayed as incredibly powerful, even binding a demon prince to her will. If this was Pathfinder or Exalted (written 25 years later...), there would be full page color artwork of her as a stripper sorceress (e.g. Seoni, Malcanthet, or any of the other bimbos that populate those RPG lines). But not in this module. The only artwork of Iggwilv is fully clothed, non-sexual, and fighting with Graz'zt himself.

The boss monster in this module is Drelnza, also female. And, amazingly, she is a female vampire who is *not* depicted as a typical busty neck-sucker. She's fully armored (and sensibly so; no midriff-baring chainmail abomination - again, see "modern" RPGs like Pathfinder with their "hot barbarian" characters such as Amiri). Drelnza is presented as a powerful and competent opponent without a hint of come-hither sexuality.

Given the age of the module, I actually thought S4 wasn't bad at all. Yes, it could have done better. But it had some strong female characters who have become major parts of the game's lore. It's just a shame that LATER writers and illustrators turned Iggwilv's look into something slinky and seductive.

The daughter is presented as an object, referred to as the "treasure." She also is presented to the players as a sleeping beauty with bright red lips, who ends up attacking them. Let's not try to go so far in defending the module that we forget those details, eh?

And you only learn that stuff if you get through the other pages. Thanks, but not thanks.

The context of the treasure reference is, I believe, "Iggwilv's treasure", or her mother's treasure. That would seem to be a different spin than "the king's treasure" or "your promised treasure", and less sexist?

Leaving the rest of the module aside for the moment, and without changing the details of Drelnza (comatose vampire-fighter, stats as written, daughter of Iggwilv), how would you change or rewrite the ending to make it less objectionable?

I understand your objections, but I don't see a clear solution, so I'm curious about what you would envision.

Answering this required a bit more explanation, so there's a new post: http://www.sarahdarkmagic.com/content/drelnza-false-disney-princess

I respect your opinion, but I think you're maybe reading a bit too much into Drelnza. Some of your complaints in your more detailed breakdown...

1) She uses a charm ability. That's bog-standard for vampires, and their leading attack (regardless of gender). It's straight Monster Manual, and established for male vampires as well (e.g. Strahd).

2) She's wearing slippers with her plate armor. They're magic items (spider climbing). How many 1st edition male fighters were running round in girdles (...of giant strength)?

3) She's described as a treasure. Yes, and it's a classic bit of misdirection. The entire backstory of the caverns is to seek Iggwilv's lost treasure. Amazingly (for the age of the module), the treasure she valued most was her child! That was a revelation to my players, way back in the day. Every other D&D module was about the treasure hoard at the end. It doesn't diminish Drelnza in any way, and her gender (and that of Iggwilv) is irrelevant. It would work for a father and his son, as well.

4) All the female combatants are bad guys. Well... yes. And so are 90% of the male combatants. Yes, I totally agree about the gnomes. They should have been more progressive than the United States, circa-20th century. They could have had a female leader, or vice-leader. They could have had female priests, and female front-line fighters. [and no, I'm not being sarcastic here... I'm just pointing out that it'd also be a little odd if *every* fantasy medieval race in D&D was a model of equality when we're still struggling to get it right in real life today]

I just... I just think there are so many other worthy candidates for this discussion. N2 The Forest Oracle, with it's hand-wringing helpless nymphs and dryads. The entire GDQ series - sure Lolth is a strong protagonist, but there is just so much wrong with the drow as an example of "women in charge" (and don't get me started on some of the more outre examples of Gygax's work, like the abundance of succubi encounters, or the description of Charinida's bedchambers).

By contrast, I've always considered Lost Caverns to be one of the better modules from a feminist perspective. For me, the only example of outright sexism in it is the description and artwork for the Garden of Earthly Delights. And, again, one could see that as a classic bit of misdirection...

It's not feminist. If you feel that way, there's no discussion to be had here. You seem way more interested in defending it than understanding the problems with it. You try to argue away the details while ignoring the larger problematic patterns with the modules. As such, I no longer consider this discussion to be one made in good faith.

Furthermore, those other candidates aren't being presented as options for the playtest. As far as I'm aware they weren't just reprinted in a premium version for everyone to see with D&D Next stat blocks available for ease of use. I'm not saying that Lost Caverns is the worst; I'm saying that if this is what's going to be brought back during the playtest, I think I'm going to sit this one out a bit longer. Because, outright or not, the whole thing is full of sexist assumptions and examples. The misdirection itself is based on sexism.

I don't disagree (because you are right) but there are other factors.

In too many early dungeons monsters just were: there was no ecology, no families. All monsters were combatives. They existed only to be killed with no children, seniors, or civilians. The addition of women and children was designed to add that extra level of detail of not having monsters be genderless.

Personally, I find genderless monsters would be better than women and children non-combatants. I think the best would be women and men being combatants with some children acting as support. In nature, women and other female animals are typically combatants especially towards defending the home. As dungeon scenarios usually involve adventurers entering the home of monsters, I want to see all the monsters as potential combatants.

Remember, this is a Fantasy world! If, in this world, Gnomes have evolved to have non-combatant females, so be it. Gnomes are a different species then Humans. They will have different societal roles. In real world Earth, look at the differences in Human female roles between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Elephants and Wolves have different roles for their sexes because they are different species with different needs and challenges.

The problem comes if all species are portrayed the same way. There should be differences. As a male, my options as a character are somewhat greater if I play a Hobbit as opposed to a Honeybee.

This is such a silly argument and adds nothing to the conversation.

Thanks for your commentary on this. I had not considered the module from this perspective and it is always good to widen one's views. I love these old modules from both a playability and a nostalgia perspective. But looking through your lens, I 100% agree that there are major issues with exclusion.

The historical context is important here from an understanding perspective, but not an excuse. As I recall the 1st edition included different ability limits by gender (for example female characters could not have as high a strength score as male characters). It was controversial then, and it is unacceptable now. In particular, as you point out, these are recently republished and/or recommended for use as playtesting material.

I would love to see these adventures brought up to modern standards of inclusion without losing their charm, and I feel that is very possible! The language changes seem like they would be simple, and have an outsized impact on broadening the audience. The question is, will WOTC recognize that there is an issue, and have the courage to address it.

I hope as well, that you re-discover what it is with D&D that you love. If voices like yours are shut out, then there will be no change.

Historical context is historical context. If one is running a game in a historical context than the limits can make sense. To me (1st edition limits which are not just gender) it makes sense that the strongest dwarf will always be stronger than a hobbit, and the humans stronger than them all. Obviously magic can change it, but without some sort of intervention, that is the order.

If your fantasy game is more super hero based, and you can have halflings as strong as barbarians and hill giants, men strong as women, than that is great, but might not be for all people.

I may find things distasteful, but I disagree with revisionism of original documents. If an updated, more equal gender friendly "New DnD Next S4" is released -great! But don't mess with the old original one. It was written as it was written with all the charm and foibles of its era. I want to see what it was like...originally.

I want to see module B1 with Greyhawk map references in it.

I want to read the real Mark Twain, not a politically corrected "sensitive" version.

Han shot first.

Jabba the Hut is a human.

Boba Fett is dead.

There are plenty of women who are stronger than plenty of men. It's not about being sensitive. It's about not being bigoted.

I have to agree with Auld Enemy esp ->the Huck Finn point. It's a part of the book, and to remove it is a form of censorship. The bigoted parts become a teaching moment. There have even been movements to remove the best book of all time: To Kill A Mockingbird, from librbaires because of strong language. Do we truncate the language to not offend people?

As a historian, I can see where someone would want to read the original forms of a document, and that includes AD&D modules. I love D+D history, as a product and subculture. There is a lot of richness in them that captures the time, place, and feelings of the period that they were written. And, because it's old, this module has some traditional tropes. This should really not be surprising.

The best thing is you have presented this as a teaching moment, from a feminist point of view. It has given some interesting discussion points.

And there are plenty of men that are stronger than every woman in the world. I don't think there's anything bigoted about physical ability. Either you can bench press X number of pounds or you can't. The weights don't care. How someone wants to bring it in to a game is the issue.

IN the game, if you don't think there physical differences between the races, and sexes,than that's fine. It seems to be a bit homogenous to me, but if that's the way the campaign is bieng run, so be it.

I go a different route. Personally I think the Frodo out armwrestling Conan is ridiculous.

The thinking is bigoted. There are greater differences within a gender than between them. It relies on focusing on the extremes instead of the average. It also excludes the possibility of transgendered individuals in the game.

I am not sure weight lifting is bigoted?

If we are talking maximums we have to talk the extreme end of the scale.

As a DM re: transgendered characters in game: open to discussion with the player's thoughts and views on the character.

But we don't have to talk about maximums, at all. The scale isn't even fine grained enough to properly deal with the variation that occurs within a gender.

Could you clarify this a bit? It does not seem like Sarah and Aulde are on the same discussion.

Is this right?
To Aulde: You like a game that plays within the parameters of a real(ish) fantasy world. There's only so high stats can go without some sort of bump. To Aulde there's a "logical" order as to these levels. The order is dictated by Aulde's real world experiences. Anything that breaks this order creates an awkward gaming experience.

You like Game of Thrones. You hated the bunny cart in the Hobbit.

To Sarah: The stats are more malleable and should fit the game rather than a perceived real world situation. The game is a fantasy, where anyone can reach different level of stats, and achievements without your game experience being affected. The statistical form of the game is secondary to the philosophical form. You would rather it be more open ended in scope than rigid.

Probably did not hate the bunny cart.

It goes deeper than this. Aulde and people like him or her are choosing what becomes unrealistic, and that choice generally consistently goes in particular direction when it comes to gender. The difficulty is, they don't see it as a choice. We choose to play in a game where magic exists, where elves and dwarves and dragons walk the lands. We choose what lines to drawn. It's a completely human created world. And for some reason, they choose to bring arbitrary limits and concepts into it, often divided along gender lines. If they want to bring those arbitrary limits in, fine, but let's call the patterns what they are.

LOl! I do love Game of Thrones and hated the bunny cart. So many things wrong withhis interpretation I could go on... I find Peter Jackson Hobbit movie more distastful then Sarah found this module she is talking about. Main reason being I dont think she wants to punch the module author in the noggin or throw poos at him.

The bunny cart test of fantasy is a really good example. In Tolkien's world it does not make sense.

My Aulde Enemy,

I understand your argument (and Sarah's.) When you said bunny test that reminded me of something. I am a historical miniature gamer. One period that I do is WWII. There is something called a "Tiger Test." Basically, the German's Tiger tank was a greatly feared monster of the battlefield. It was pretty much immune to most of the firepower the allies could put on it, from it's front armor. Because it was such an awesome machine of war, the Germans put their best crews manning them.

The Tiger Test comes in when you try out a set of rules, and see how different weapons are treated against a Tiger. If it does not feel right, like an early US Sherman able to take out a Tiger from the front, then I always get the feeling that the game designer is using bias, or has not done their research.

Is the movie Bunny Test the new Jumping the Shark? I have a new catch saying!

Bunny Test:
Harry Potter movie: there's a cart that's pulled by nunnies pulling Harry and the gang around. Does that make sense to you?

My Dear Capt,

I am not Catholic, but I would say Harry Potter's cart being pulled by diminutive nuns would be a bit offensive. :P

Now if it were Bunnies pulling the cart, that would be fun. Quite fun really. In the genre of whimsical high fantasy it would make total sense. In the Harry Potter stories, or perhaps something like the Wizard of Oz, it would be good fun, and consistent. In more serious settings, the Hobbit, or the Game of Thrones, it would make me plot to put itching powder on the writer's keyboard.

The bunny test. I like it. We have gotten a bit off topic here, but that's what the internet is for, a good natter.

I don't want the re-issues revised. I'd like to see, exactly as you say, an updated, more equal gender friendly "New DnD Next S4" released.

I love these modules, not as historical artifacts, but as something new (and old!) DM's can use to learn how to run a different kind of game, right now, today! I want everyone to have a chance to love these things I love, and not be put off by some weirdness that is mostly in the margins. I believe that the parts I love are completely compatible with more inclusive language and content and that a revision has more value than a re-issue.

I like them as both game usable and as a piece of history. I have just recently returned to D+D after a 20 year absence. Part of it is nostalgia, and the realization that this subculture is a part of history. I minored in history! It boils down to that I forgot that I loved D+D, now I am playing catch up.

There are some stories about the published materials that are coming to light. There is some really interesting stuff that we would not see if published today...the cover of Eldritch Wizardry...I'm sure any feminist would comment on that imagery. There's also the controversy about the original issue of B3 Palace of the Silver Princess having some "adult" illustrations, which caused it to be pulled, rewritten, and re-released as the green cover edition. WOTC released the original version as a freebie.

To me, you can't go into the wilderness -or the past- and expect people to be clad in fine raiments.

Such comments would not be limited to feminists. The way women were consistently portrayed was deplorable.

Have you done a Tome show about feminism and gaming? Or another podcast? Sorry if this info is posted elsewhere as I am relatively new to your blog and the Tome show.

Hi Old (school) GM,

you said:
[ As I recall the 1st edition included different ability limits by gender (for example female characters could not have as high a strength score as male characters).]

And also race.

[It was controversial then, and it is unacceptable now.]


There's a reason Gygax himself took them out. They are just pointlessly arbitrary and ignore reality.

Let's break down things:
Are we talking stat maxes/mods? If they were arbitrary at that time, then they still are. Unless there is no differnce in stats/mods for starting characters? I believe in 3e and 4e there are.

You'll have to excuse the numbers as I dont know later editions (number might be off but I am referring to the spirit) Don't half orcs get like +2 str and -2 charisma? Elves some +dex bonus? Dwarves a +str/con bonus? Racial bonuses are built into the system. Is this bigotry?

I would argue the old stats is closer to reality than the new.

In the old games there was an assumption that no one could get above a maximum mortal stat without some intervention. Magic potions, belts, spells, etc. could get you up in stats. 18 was max, 19 for elves dex. There were no level 4/8/12 etc +1 to training stat of choice (it was a good idea to add though).

There was also an assumption, arbitrary, though I would argue logical, that the strongest hobbit was weaker than the strongest dwarf, who as weaker than the strongest human. Unless they had some sort of external help, there's only so strong/dexterous/smart/healthy a mortal can get. And certain races, and sexes, had higher propensities for strength, dexterity etc.

Either that makes sense to you or it does not.

There could be a world where a 3' tall Elijah Woods could lift more than Arnold Schwarzenegger. To me that is more of a super hero world than a reality based world.

From Gygax himself:

Why I decided on realism in regards to male/female strength is beyond me. After all in a fantasy game that doesn't make a great deal of sense. I suppose I just wasn't thinking the matter through in regards the genre. I do not have such differentiations in the Lejendary Adventure game.


Applying averages to a game about individuals is just silly, regardless of its accuracy.

Thank you.

[...regardless of its accuracy.]

You are a bit of a sneak aren't you? Fav class = rogue?

Yeah, it's funny, because it turns out if we look at world records, Gygax wasn't even accurate when it comes to actual weight being lifted.

It's just a dumb argument in a fucking fantasy world. But apparently people won't even accept it when Gygax says it.

It's not a dumb argument. It, like yours, is a legitimate view of a fantasy world. It just isn't your view.

I'm starting to feel like a referee.

No, your opinion is that it's legitimate. It's my opinion that it's dumb.

Dear Sarah,

This has turned quite personal. ;)

I started out with some joking around about the illusionist (point conceded to you, and I didn't want to bring up the possible transgendered nature of that character, though I will now) and gnome guards (who could be all male, female, or mixed, it does not state so you assume), I stated some things on my game theory, you stated yours, we don't agree, you drop an f-bomb, and now my opinion is "dumb."

If I drop an f-bomb, or call your opinion dumb, does my post get deleted? I won't because I don't disagree with your game, or your campaign style. It's just not for me. I read your blog as it exposes me to a different view. Some things I like, or are interesting, some things I don't agree with.

If this is not a safe place to state an opinion different than yours, then that would be good for your readers to know that you are looking for a choir and not discourse.

The Aulde Enemy

I swear. I do. That's me.

I call things I think are dumb, dumb. Notice, I didn't call you dumb. That would make it unsafe. I also don't make this a safe space to include sexist, racist, homophobic, etc arguments.

Also, you are getting close to the line with the false dichotomy argument there. Plenty of people disagree with me and their posts are there. So presenting it the way you did is silly and demonstrably false.

I stand by it.

Fighter/ranger actually. But I know how to present a point.

I have to agree we Old (school) GM on this on. I really do hope that WoTC listens to you and others like you that are trying so hard to open people's eyes to the simple little ways we drive home society's endemic misogyny.

Hi! From the text I read Gnome Illusionist, and 12 Guards. Are you assuming they are male? It does not say that specifically in the text you included (though it does say female and young in the other noncombatants.)

The illusionist is male. The pronoun "he" is used. For the other groups of gnomes, the pronoun "he" is used consistently for single instance combatant types.

In other entries, it is pointed out when the group includes female characters/creatures. For instance:

A tribe of 18 troglodytes lairs in the five small tunnels which radiate from this cave. Their disposition and composition is as follows:
Leader (AC 5; MV 12"; HD 3; hp 21; #AT 1, at +3 with javelin; D 2d4, SA revulsion stench-save vs. Poison or lose 1-6 strength points, 1/round,10 rounds to recover; SD chameleon power), armed with 2 javelins and a morning star.
9 Males (AC 5; MV 12" HD 2; hp 15,14, 2x13, 2x12,11,10, 9; #AT 1, at +3 with javelin; D 2d4; SA stench; SD chameleon power) armed with javelin and morning star.
8 Females (AC 5; MV 12" HD 1+1; hp 8, 7, 3x6. 2x5, 4; #AT 2 claws, 1 bite; D 1-3/1-3/1d4+1.

Generally, if one or more of the members are supposed to be female but it's not put in the short description, it's called out in the accompanying text, such as with the wolfweres, wyverns, and eagles. Additionally, in the Perrenlanders' description we have: Treasure: Zero level men will have 2-5 gp each. The pictures in the adventure also tend to have men displayed unless the enemy is specifically mentioned to be female. We also get descriptions like this one of the derro lair.

A derro lair will always house 30 derro, 1d10+2 leaders, 1-3 savants, 1 d4+1 students, 5d6+10 slaves (80% female), and 1-3 gargoyles (70% chance) or a lamia (30% chance) as allies

In other words, the text seems pretty consistent to assume male unless stated otherwise. If we add up all the combatants that are unspecified, there's a bit of a disparity in numbers but I'm not sure that really points to women being among the combatant ranks.

[ He has the following spells available:]

Copy that! There's a reason I didn't go into editing...

Are you British or Scottish?

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