Reason #42 Why I Love The Dungeon Bastard

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 01 May 2013

Today the Dungeon Bastard released an awesome video about gender and gaming.

The person was seeking advice on how to break some of the men in the group of the habit of playing women. It starts of with a general question of why someone would want to play a character of another gender and then goes on to how he wouldn't mind but the other players are playing women poorly.

Bill Cavalier's answer starts off simple, "Who cares?"

In my experience, gender often gets handled in a strange way in our community. As Dungeon Bastard posted with his Facebook share of the video, "Playing a 3-foot tall gnome-like creature with an insatiable appetite and hairy feet? -Not weird at all. Playing the opposite gender? WHAT'S UP WITH THAT!" I see similar things like this quite often. We play in a world with magical fireballs, dragons, floating land masses, swords with their own ego and motivations, but women still need to be physically weaker than men or things are off and our suspension of disbelief ruined. We can roleplay a dwarf poorly, but when it gets to be a man playing female character, it's something that must be stopped?

The reason I love the Dungeon Bastard is because it's important to point out that it doesn't really matter. When we frame it like it's a weird thing for a man to want to play a female character, it can send an unwelcoming message to others. When we are willing to suspend our disbelief and the physics of the world for things like magic or dragons, but not for a person who wants to play a stronger than real life female character, it sends a poor message about what we think is important.

And that is why gender-based attribute caps, penalties, and bonuses can be harmful. It's not about whether or not there are real life physical differences in strength. It's because by including them in a game we create, we're saying that that thing is really important about a real life thing, in this case gender. So important that we can't possibly play the game without having the mechanics enforce one particular vision of a fantasy world. It breaks my suspension of disbelief and fun to say, "I can imagine a world in which I can cast a fireball but I can't imagine a world where a woman can be just as strong as any man."

So, thanks, Dungeon Bastard, for pointing out the arbitrary nature of these things. Now let's kick some ass and have fun!

By the way, if you love Dungeon Bastard's advice as much as I do, you might want to check out his Kickstarter, The World's Worst Dungeon Crawl!


My only concern are those who play the other gender to intentionally make fun of that gender. Otherwise play what you want, otherwise you are doing it wrong. ;-p

I loved that piece too. It was a fantastic way to handle a lot of what can be behind the question.

At the same time, in my experience most people are really saying that they don't get why someone would be something significantly different from themselves. I've played with a lot of groups where role-playing itself is subjected to the same questions: "Why would you ever speak in first person and fake an accent?" Forums and magazines have seen variations on the question, presented in a very similar manner to the one on Dungeon Bastard. It is basically: I'm not ready for this, what do I do? (Take it slowly and you'll probably end up loving it) (Also, Shakespeare and Monty Python did it, has to be okay)

Tons of us have role-played the other gender in organized play. And to speak to what DaddyDM commented, at times it does end up in stereotypes. Then again, "beefy Conan fighter" is a stereotype too! That's okay, so long as we make it clear where we are coming from. My favorite stereotype-driven PCs were ones were the other PCs could be involved in the joke. Exploring a stereotype can be healthy when it is done right - with respect for everyone at the table rather than as a form of mockery.

In my experience, all the anti-[playing-opposite-gender] arguments that I've encountered have come from hetero cisgendered males and were leveled at males playing females. This indicates to me, my hypothesis, that fundamentally the anti player has an expectation that female characters must be/should be/are expected to be sexualized and having a male (usually a friend) play a female character plays upon their own homophobia.

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