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July 21, 2011

Armed and engined for the same
Posted by Avram Grumer at 08:58 PM *

There’s been a bit of a dustup on (a major online community for role-playing games). Kynn Bartlett, writing as Caoimhe Ora Snow, started a Kickstarter project (see the update below) to attract funding for an RPG she wishes to write and publish, called Heartbreak & Heroines. Y’know how most RPGs focus on men, and primarily depict male characters as agents of action (as opposed to sex objects), while grudgingly allowing you to play a woman if you want? Heartbreak & Heroines will focus on women, though you’ll be able to play a man if you want.

There’s a 60-page flamewar thread, but you can probably reconstruct most of it in your heads, sight unseen, based just on what I’ve told you, except maybe for the part where a guy claimed that the existence of “black clerics” in official D&D settings indicates that “D&D has gone to silly lengths to ignore racial and gender inequality”, and continued to defend that claim as people brought up North-African Islam and Ethiopian Coptic Christians. I didn’t see whether anyone mentioned Pope Miltiades.

Anyway, that argument makes this the perfect time for someone to have discovered that maybe half of the Vikings who invaded England around 900 AD were women. Turns out archaeologists had just been assuming that anyone buried with weapons and armor was a man. Osteological analysis showed otherwise. Six of 14 skeletons analyzed turned out to be female, and one more was indeterminate; the remaining seven were male.

All of which is eloquently summed up by David J Prokopetz’s observation that: “Your average tabletop fantasy setting isn’t particularly medieval; the default setting of D&D itself […] culturally resembles your average early 80s Renfaire much more closely than it does any real-world society.” Real history is often far more surprising, complicated, and interesting then the simplified Ye Olden Tymes cartoon we’re fed in movies and TV shows. I don’t see any reason to constrain our imaginations to invented limits of our less egalitarian cultural forebears.

(USA Today link via The Mary Sue, via Ray Radlein, via Cat Rambo. I think I want a blogging app that can automatically track and construct a “via path” and wrap it up in a microdata block.)

Update: I’m leaving the Kickstarter link there for information purposes, but I can no longer recommend contributing due to the issues Jim Henley discusses on his group RPG blog, which I wish I’d found some happier occasion to link to.

Comments on Armed and engined for the same:
#1 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 09:30 PM:

The flamewars on RPGnet over that game were enough to convince me to leave that forum for the indefinite future. Too much tolerance of vicious, absurd sexism and racism and homophobia so long as it falls within the "no calling names" rules. But I'm willing to call it a net win for me, since I was introduced to Heartbreak & Heroines, which looks like exactly the RPG that I've been wanting for a while.

And the viking thing is just plain cool. I don't think pointy bits of metal really care who's wielding them, so long as they're being swung in the right places.

#2 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 09:48 PM:

The last time I looked, the one time that osteological data was analyzed with known skeletons, the ability of analysts to tell which were male and which were female was about an even-money bet.

Which means the osteological analysis you're talking about falls into the category of noise. We don't know whether the group was half female, all female, or all male. Though we have some historical evidence of some males, I think.

Scotch verdict ("Not proven"), so far.

#3 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 09:53 PM:

wasn't there a white supremacist group which complained when the Thor movie had a black Norse god?

#4 ::: Becca Stareyes ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 10:08 PM:

I guess I'm a bit confused as to when your character's sex had anything to do with your game stats in any RPG I've played. I guess I always considered it more a part of a setting than a part of the game mechanics.

But game-setting misogyny and racism (and homophobia, transphobia, etc.) are not fun. I play RPGs for fun, and dealing with hurtful real-world bullshit is not fun. 'Cept possibly if I can have my fighter stab it in the head with a sword, rather than dealing with an endemic problem that takes lots of hard work from everyone and years of effort to stamp out.

(Plus, yeah, real-world misogynists and racists seem to like to conveniently forget anything that doesn't fit their arguments.)

#5 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 10:15 PM:

Years ago the folks in the local Friends of the English Regency played a simple DOS-based computer RPG set in a cod-Austen/Heyer-inspired universe. You created a female character who attended balls, hunts, and hunt balls in her quest for a male mate, and the winner was the character who got hitched first.

It was obviously D&D-inspired from the types of characteristics the character-generator rolled for, and the giveaway fact that rankings in these characteristics ran from 3 to 18.

I'm male, but I played it often. Your character was named "Miss" with a surname of your choice; I was fond of being Miss Anthrope or Miss Inglink.

#6 ::: Steve B ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 10:17 PM:

#3 Erik, yes there was. Here's an article I found on on the subject of Idris Elba.

#7 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 10:20 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 2

Can I have a link, or more detail, or something? It was my understanding that male vs female was a really easy and reliable determination for any skeleton including a pelvis, and I'd be very interested (and confused) to learn otherwise.

#8 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 10:27 PM:

Sam @#6: I don't have a link, but I do have a degree in archaeology. It isn't "really easy and reliable;" it relies on statistical probabilities (e.g. "if a particular angle in the pelvis is wider than X degrees, the skeleton is most likely female"). But of course there are narrow-hipped women and wide-hipped men, and it works best on ID'ing women who have had children, which isn't all of them. If the pelvis hasn't been well-preserved, then you're down to things that are even less reliable, like skull morphology. I think it comes out to better than "an even bet" -- IANA osteological specialist, though I worked for one for a while -- but it isn't open-and-shut.

The vagaries of skeletal preservation and the less-than-perfect reliability of morphological sexing methods also mean that, especially in Ye Olden Days of archaeology, people basically just said "there's a sword in the grave; must be a man" or "there's a weaving comb in the grave; must be a woman." (Or local equivalent.) And graves without gender-specific goods, or without goods at all, were assumed to be male. And those assumptions shaped the way analysis was written, which shaped the assumptions of later archaeologists who weren't so sloppy, and even now, you can't always spring for the more expensive kinds of analysis that would answer it for sure. So it isn't nearly as clear-cut as we would like.

#9 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 10:55 PM:

I've also seen an RPG titled "Soap" -- as in Soap Opera. As I recall, each player takes turns at advancing the plot, with game sessions ending in cliffhangers. Each character has hidden goals, you get Plot Points for meeting the goals, playing your character in suitably dramatic fashion and for outmaneuvering other players. Killing off other characters is possible but not easy, as they can use Plot Points to recover from the usual hazards (as well as manipulating the story as a whole).

I found a review with a link to the original site, but said site isn't loading just now. Apparently they're now charging $3 for the new version, but there's still an old, free, version available.

#10 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 11:03 PM:

Becca Stareyes #4: Oh, there's an "old tradition" of stat mods for female characters, often amazingly sexist. In D&D it was usually a point less of strength and an extra point of charisma. (Really ought to be an extra point of constitution... but sexists don't think that way, and in most D&D games, charisma was the least useful stat.)

And never mind the frothing mass of insanity known as FATAL....

#11 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 11:07 PM:

DBratman @5: Several of my crowd played that game too, and rather enjoyed it.

Occasionally we would employ a house rule where the actual winner was the person who remained unmarried at the end of play.

#12 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 11:21 PM:

David @ 9

Yeah, I was going to mention D&D 1st Ed.

Charisma was only a dump stat if you weren't playing a slut. As soon as you vamped up your female character, every single obstacle could be solved through the sufficiently overt and indiscriminate application of sex.

It got extraordinarily boring.

#13 ::: W. Ian Blanton ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 11:45 PM:

Ok the Viking thing is pretty cool.

I'll avoid the flamewar, but I will wonder: why would you need a whole new RPG to orient it around females? I mean, that's really (as others have pointed out); a setting based issue. I mean, if I set my game in say Pericles Athens, and you want to play an Athenian woman, then yes, there is "supposed" to be sexism. But unless people actually want to role-play that, why would I bother with it?

But again, why a new RPG? GURPS does a nice job of handling things, but then, that's why I play it. :)

#14 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2011, 11:59 PM:

KeyTei @11, I think Charisma was originally supposed to be used for attracting henchmen and raising armies. Nobody I played with ever bothered with that, so we never used it that way, but if that was a big part of one's game, I could see Charisma not being a dump stat.

#15 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:04 AM:

W Ian Blanton @12, is there some reason not to have a female-centric RPG?

OK, GURPS. I just dug up my copy of the GURPS Basic Set (3rd edition, paperback, falling apart). The cover's not bad -- three figures, one female, not cheesecake. But looking through the interior, the illustrations of people -- adventurer-style people, the folks players are supposed to imagine themselves being -- are overwhelmingly male. The prose style uses male pronouns as the default. This is what you're suggesting as a female-centric game?

#16 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:06 AM:

Avram @14:
I think it's more that GURPS is flexible enough that you can make it work sans gender roles, notwithstanding the provided examples.

#17 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:22 AM:

Geekosaur @15, thing is, in a male-dominated environment, if you want to appeal to women, you need to actively appeal to women. It's not enough to just provide setting-agnostic rules.

#18 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:30 AM:

Avram @16:
I didn't see W. Ian Blanton @12 saying GURPS was ideal; just that it could be used as a starting place.

#19 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:31 AM:

SamChevre @6: Here's a link which points out the difficulties with skulls, still used primarily as a distinguisher. Read the section marked "Sex Determination" particularly carefully. See also here for the difference across populations. I can't put my hand on the study I'd heard about with graves of known male/female populations (separated) where anthropologists found that they were right 50% of the time on guessing who was male and who was female. The two cited studies (which show up in the first few pages of googling "remains gender identification") indicate that gender identification of skeletons is problematic, at best.

#20 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:34 AM:

I want an RPG that focuses on women because I like the small, lonely suggestion that male doesn't have to be the default for every "generic" system. I love GURPS to pieces, but it's generic in the sense that so many things are in the culture I live in: assuming male characters, and occasionally stopping to note "women too!" The male assumption is so amazingly common and basic to most RPGs that it actually takes people by surprise when a book is written with women as the default. How many people would describe this game as a male-focused RPG if it was "Heartbreak & Heroes" with a picture of a man in its sample art, while talking about men running around adventuring?

I also like the system for H&H, as the designer described it. I have an entire bookshelf full of RPGs; if I wanted to play GURPS for every single game, I wouldn't need that.

But mostly I just love having one game--one single game, out of everything on that shelf--that will actually have women as a default, and still let me run around sticking swords in things.

#21 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:35 AM:

And I see that Marie Brennan said many similar things, without links, @7. YGG!

#22 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:38 AM:

KayTei, Avram: Isn't charisma something you can also use to get away with stuff that would get someone else in trouble? Or am I confusing the D&D usage with the Rihannsu nuhurrien?

#23 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:49 AM:

Avram @ 13

That would have been far more interesting. For that matter, the more recent versions of D&D have done some interesting things for charisma-based characters, making them a bit more versatile and specifically relevant. So I can definitely see that potential. (My own tendencies run to confidence tricksters, so I tend to view things through that lense first.)

#24 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:57 AM:

Lee @ 21

Well, personally, I use charisma as a social manipulation omnitool, so in my experience, yes, you could certainly use it to weasel your way out of blame. At least, I've never yet had a GM tell me no. I'm never sure how much of that is consistent with the rules, however, and how much of it is sheer bemusement. I've dabbled a fair bit of D&D, but it's not one of the systems I've studied in any depth.

#25 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 01:00 AM:

... dabbled a fair bit "with" D&D.

Yeah. I'm pretty sure the sleep thing might help with the coherency thing right now...

#26 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 01:26 AM:

me @18, 20: note that I'm not saying that the studies that show that "half the Vikings were female" is correct -- I'm saying "The established criteria for determining who is male and who is female from skeletal data are very questionable."

#27 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 01:50 AM:

Geekosaur @17, I saw Mr Blanton wondering "why would you need a whole new RPG to orient it around females?" Which I suppose, now that I think of it, could have meant "Why do you need to come up with a whole new set of mechanics, rather than just publishing a GURPS or d20 game?", but which I read as "Why do we need a female-centric game; why can't women be satisfied being afterthoughts in male-centric games?". Maybe I was being uncharitable.

Anyway, to the "Why a new set of mechanics?" question, the same answer -- Why not? Me, personally, I don't much like either GURPS or d20. I'm happy to see the world of RPG mechanics expanded, and I'm happy to see Kynn scratch her system-design itch along with her female-centric-game itch. If you scroll down a bit on the Kickstarter page you'll see some description of the mechanics, which look interesting.

#28 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 01:59 AM:

Avram @26:
The missing context might be that it's not a very far stretch from the kinds of things that are already done with (or to...) GURPS; it's designed to be mucked with and twisted into new shapes, and I'm fairly certain I've encountered things done to it that are even further from the origin on several axes. Relaxing or even inverting the gender on it while leaving the basic D&D structure unchanged would be tame by comparison (I do vaguely recall some GURPS-based stuff which didn't do gender roles, but it also didn't stay very close to D&D).

#29 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 02:08 AM:

When you're in any marginalized group, it's nice to hear "oh, sure, you too". But it's even nicer to sometimes hear "Yup, this starts with us, and if others want to come too, well, they can."

In gaming, that includes the opportunity to, for instance, pick up a book and know that not one piece of art is there because someone involved in its production thought teenaged boys would find it hot. To pick up a book and read text which at no point suggests that girl gamers probably got it from their boyfriends or husbands, and should be approached as recruits in this spirit. To, perhaps, read rules and settings that treat violence as part of the web of social dynamics rather than a great tool to slice through all that boring talky stuff. To read of a world in which women's grief is taken seriously, and doesn't exist primary as fodder for tragedies that strike deep into the hearts of the great guys who really matter.

And so forth and so on.

#30 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 02:26 AM:

Bruce @20, and also, bears.

#31 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 04:13 AM:

One little bit that caught my eye about the Viking skeletons: the grave-goods that suggested the burials were male are described as "sword or knife".

OK, so we're still likely to be talking about something more like a Bowie knife than what you use at table. It would be interesting to see if there was a pattern of sword and knife distribution which had some match to the skeletal evidence.

And I'm inclined to think that this research would have been done on skeletons which were of good quality. That is, they would have a pelvis to examine.

Contrasting with the second-hand reports, there is a summary of the Repton Viking burials here. [PDF file] which shows that there were a great many more male burials which were not classified by grave-goods. "the disarticulated remains of at least 249 people", apparently 80% male, the males apparently Scandinavian, the females Anglo-Saxon. Yeah, spot the assumptions there. But it sounds likely that this new research is covering higher-status burials, the bosses and the bosses' wives.

On the other hand, the dismissal of the evidence of female power and authority seems to have solidified in the early Twentieth Century, maybe even a bit later. It would be a little difficult to do that while Queen Victoria was still alive, even if the myth of the weak and feeble woman was being promulgated by men who didn't notice the hard-working female household servants.

#32 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 04:25 AM: once I started mentally referring to it as The Citadel of Unchallenged Privilege, it helped.

Not to mention the Dungeons of Eternal Entitlement, wherein anyone who has actually produced anything for the community is surrounded by gremlins chanting "Me me me me me..."

But that being said... at least it isn't as bad as most video game forums.

#33 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 05:44 AM:

One thing I love about my friends and our game (which has been running for years) is that there isn't the kind of pressure I've seen in the past. The male cleric uses his CHA to convince the masses and apply diplomacy. He often uses it to flirt when it will advance the party's aims. My female sorceress uses her CHA to bully and frighten. No one has ever tried to make her sexy or make him more manly.

This is not the norm. That's why I've been playing in a single environment for so long. And really, I shouldn't have to feel so lucky that I don't have to be girly in order to take part.

#34 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 05:48 AM:

Avram... Real history is often far more surprising, complicated, and interesting then the simplified Ye Olden Tymes cartoon we’re fed in movies and TV shows

They will pry my episodes of "Wizards & Warriors" from my cold dead fingers!

#35 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 05:49 AM:

Erik Nelson @ 3... I thought he was the best character in the movie.

#36 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 05:57 AM:

Marie Brennan @ 7... First, I wanted to say I enjoy your stories. Second... I remember someone complaining that, in Clive Owen's "King Arthur", there was no way Keira Knightley would have been able to use a bow and shoot an arrow that could have actually penetrated her target, which was quite far away. I don't know if that was a fair criticism. I notice though that, in close combat against a particularly big male opponent, she didn't go one-on-one swinging a big sword. Instead she and a bunch of other women jumped the guy and brought him down like wolves after a big buck.

#37 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 06:00 AM:

The claim above about people 'buried with weapons and armor' seems to be an exaggeration, even on a cursory reading of the original piece, which mentions 'burial with a sword or knife' and only one case of 'a sword and shield'. The actual conclusion of the piece is that 'the Vikings arrived as marriage-minded colonists'. Which you can take or leave, but is what it says, rather than something else more exciting.

I know this post is really about RPGs and sexism, but it really isn't very surprising to find Vikings burying high-status women with the tokens of a martial culture; it certainly doesn't suggest that such women were leaping over the prows of longboats and doing things to monks. Not that that wouldn't be totally cool if we had evidence for it. Unless you're a monk, of course.

#38 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 06:07 AM:

A slightly more detailed summary of the Viking research in this blog post by an archaeology grad student.

(The original article is behind a paywall, unfortunately; I'll see whether I can access it at work.)

#39 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 06:24 AM:

And in that longer piece some textual evidence for 'women in Denmark who dressed themselves to look like men and spent almost every minute cultivating soldiers’ skills'.

Cool. bad luck for the monks, though.

#40 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 06:47 AM:

Fade Manley @ #19:

If you have the spare time to have a brief look at a little thing I wrote a while ago, I'd be interested in how my (admittedly conscious) choice of example characters and pronouns change (or not) the game.

#41 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 07:17 AM:

I guess I'm a bit confused as to when your character's sex had anything to do with your game stats in any RPG I've played.

Height, definitely, in my experience. ISTR things like "male human characters are 5'4" plus D12 inches, females are 5' plus D12 inches". If there was a weight stat, there'd probably be a good argument for doing the same thing just to keep it consistent...

#42 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 07:29 AM:

Avram #13: Well, back when I was playing (a bit of Basic, but mostly Advanced), the issues ran much like this:

  • The henchmen/army thing only applied to high level characters, and then only once they'd set up a fortress or equivalent.
  • 2) If you were actually into roleplaying, the DM would judge encounter success based on player roleplaying and/or plot, rather than dice rolls; if you weren't, you'd be spending most of your play time in dungeons where the monsters Weren't Interested In Talking.
  • The age of the participants in my crowds worked heavily against maturity and social negotiations in general. The rulebooks offered little advice there beyond "the DM's word is law".
  • AD&D itself had mechanical problems: IIRC, the idea of rolling directly against a stat was almost unheard of⚀ -- everything went though the infamous mass-o-tables to produce bonuses for D20s or D100s. This especially included "reaction" and "morale" rolls, which flatly required at least one table lookup per roll to get the results. (More often two or three, and IIRC, those tables were not bundled with the combat tables -- you had to page through the "optional" sections of the rulebooks.) Who wants to break out of roleplaying a scene to crack the books and look up the response to the player's latest comment?

⚀ Complicated by rapid stat inflation in successive versions, and the special extension scheme for ultra-high strength.

While I haven't done roleplaying in a long time, I find the RISUS lightweight RPG to be very appealing.

#43 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 07:36 AM:

ajay #39: Oh, that! As was noted by critics at the time, the (bolted-on) height and weight rules had insane sex differentials -- IIRC human males averaged 6 feet tall, while females averaged something like 5'6" if that. Never mind stuff like dwarves whose weight suggested bones of stone, or elven ages and lifespans....

#44 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 08:37 AM:

Isn't charisma something you can also use to get away with stuff that would get someone else in trouble?

I don't know what it was like back in the day, but I'm currently playing a character in a 3rd Edition D&D game who is All About Charisma--she's based on Miles Vorkosigan, and she can talk anyone into anything.

there was no way Keira Knightley would have been able to use a bow and shoot an arrow that could have actually penetrated her target

I do find it funny that bows have somehow become a "girly" weapon, as if you didn't need serious upper-body strength to use one. Keira's athletic-looking in that movie, but no way she's got the muscle mass in her shoulders to be good with a longbow.

#46 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 09:32 AM:

Marie Brennan/Tom Whitmore

Thank you!

It makes much more sense that "sex determination from skulls" is not very accurate; the links indicate that in post-pubescents, sex determination from a complete skeleton is fairly reliable (but is focused on the pelvis and femur).

#47 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 09:34 AM:

Traditional tabletop RPGs set up challenges and conflicts as largely being things which can only be solved by direct application of violence. This is a very stereotypically adolescent male thing to do (I've often heard 4E DnD described as "shounen manga without the taunting"). And while there are plenty of women who enjoy "killing monsters and taking their stuff", there are even more (and many men, including myself) who are looking for a roleplaying experience that involves a deeper narrative, complex social conflict, etc.

Fortunately, within the past few years there has been a huge wave of "indie" games which try to break the traditional RPG mold.

Some try to straddle the line between action/adventure and storytelling (Burning Wheel, Dresden Files, Spirit of the Century). Some go for a very specific aesthetic (Dread, Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard, Misspent Youth). All are wonderful and (in my opinion) much more satisfying than older RPGs if you're looking for a story-oriented, social RP experience.

A few common traits of all of these games:
* gameplay tends to be much more democratic with players being able to contribute directly to the narrative
* violence isn't the only way to solve problems - or when it is, it is presented as morally questionable or having serious consequences
* conflict resolution mechanics (i.e. rolling dice) tend to be simpler and more cinematic, and apply to both physical and social conflicts

I still play D&D, but I've started getting into these games too, and my experience is that they are much more "female-friendly" than their predecessors. You should give them a try if you have the opportunity!

#48 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 09:40 AM:

I should add that I fully support the efforts of Bartlett to create an RPG focusing on more traditionally female themes - it sounds like it would be really fun and interesting to play.

It's a bit of a shame she presented her idea on rather than, say the Forge, where I think it would have gotten a much better reception.

#49 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 09:56 AM:

SamChevre @44: there's a great deal invested in sex determination being considered accurate on skeletons. Note the comment that skulls were considered important, and should still be used for confirmation even though they've been shown to be unreliable; note the comment that knowing the height-weight distribution in the population is critical to accuracy; and note that none of the reports give actual error bars on the accuracy of sexual determination. Because, usually, it's really hard to do double-blind studies on the genders of skeletons. So real error bars are not easy to generate.

I take any gender-determination of unidentified long-dead people with a large grain of salt; DNA analysis should be pretty accurate, but how frequently is that done? And how possible is it on older remains? I really don't know what the limits are on that.

#50 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:09 AM:

Carrie S. #42: I do find it funny that bows have somehow become a "girly" weapon,

I suspect you can blame C.S. Lewis for that one, or at least the recent Narnia movie. (IIRC, both boys got swords; one of the girls got a bow, the other got a healing potion.)

#51 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:14 AM:

Carrie S @ 42... David Harmon @ 48... It never occurred to me that they were suggesting that Knightley's use of a bow made it a 'girly' thing. My perception was that someone that tiny would sensibly choose a bow as the way to make a guy very sorry he ran into her.

#52 ::: Network Geek ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:26 AM:

I haven't gamed in years, but, in the olden days, we would have been so happy to have a girl join our gaming group that any DM would have bent over backwards to make her feel welcome, equal and so on, just to get her coming back! It's sad that with greater numbers of women actually unabashedly into RPGs that this is still happening. I know it's naive of me, but I'm still continually surprised that we as a culture haven't learned to treat people better than that.

I hope her game does really, really well.

Also? Thank you for the information about the Vikings! I had no idea that's how it was and, I have to admit, it sparks ideas for much more interesting fiction. Also, more arguments for female combat troops, if they want that. After all, there's historical *proof* that it works!

#53 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:28 AM:

Oh, I think bows as "girly" weapons go back farther than C.S. Lewis's Lucy -- think Diana, Amazons, etc. It's a way to inflict damage without having to be in arm's reach of a possibly much larger opponent. And archery has long been one of those sports a "respectable" woman could play at. But a longbow -- yes, that takes a LOT of upper body strength.

#54 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:35 AM:

David Harmon @48: the other got a healing potion

And a dagger.

Of course I assume that the trend (such as it is) toward archery as women's work is meant to have to do with the fact that women would be seriously overmatched in hand-to-hand combat, or so the filmmakers assume. As has been pointed out, though, even in that wiry condition, Keira Knightley would have had a job to pull a bow strung heavily enough to send that arrow as far as the movie said she did. (Full disclosure: I did spend a little time with the archery club at university, but I would nevertheless be overmatched in any sort of combat except possibly a battle of wits.)

#55 ::: Harry Payne ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:40 AM:

"maybe half of the Vikings who invaded England around 900 AD were women."

Any evidence of sea serpents?

#56 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:46 AM:

I don't remember what Susan's bow is stated to look like in the Narnia books; seems to me the filmmakers decided to give her something with a bit of a recurve to it, which makes sense.

I'm not at all strong in the arms; I can pull about 30 pounds without undue strain in a straight bow, and a recurve gives me more like 35. This is fine for hunting, but for war it's laughably underpowered.

I suppose the idea is that women use bows because it keeps them out of arms' reach of people who are bigger than they are.

archery has long been one of those sports a "respectable" woman could play at.

It's about the only martial art I can think of where one doesn't have to get sweaty or touch another person.

#57 ::: PJ ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:51 AM:

'sfunny, I always thought of the bow as the weapon for the more intelligent party member: "Why would I let you get to even swing at me when I can kill you from across the field of battle?"

#58 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:53 AM:

Harry Payne @ 53... I remember that one. :-)

#59 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 11:07 AM:

My favorite character in the TV adaptation of "Game of Thrones" is Arya. When Dad finds that she now owns a sword and that she's not going to give it up, he does the smart thing and hires a fencing master who, if I remember correctly, strongly recommends speed and skill over hacking and slashing.

#60 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 11:09 AM:

Janet Brennan Croft #51: Indeed, it's just that Narnia is a fairly recent and lately prominent example.

Also currently in mind, as I'm reading a book of Lewis's unfinished stories (The Dark Tower, etc) rescued from the fire and edited by one Walter Hooper. His brothers were burning the papers he'd left behind... q.v. our thread on wills.

#61 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 11:23 AM:

geekosaur @ 27

It's also a matter of style; I infinitely prefer rules-light to crunchy mechanics.

Network Geek @ 50

I'd rather they bend over backwards to give me the same treatment they give the other guys at the table. I like my challenges to be challenging, and I expect to work for my awesome results. (Also, certain types of gender-based favoritism can be really creepy when you're a young, single, attractive woman who is surrounded by guys.)

#62 ::: Network Geek ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 11:39 AM:

KayTei @ 59

A point well taken! But, in our defense, we were young and stupid. Well meaning, but stupid, especially about interpersonal relationships.
Also? I work more with machines than people, as you might have guessed from the handle, so I still make plenty of missteps. Thanks for reminding me what "equality" really means. Seriously.

#63 ::: Lee sees likely SPAM probe ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 11:54 AM:

@43 -- one-shot author, text irrelevant to the conversation and typical of spammers. Might want to check for that text string in other posts as well.

#64 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:08 PM:

Dave Fried #45, et al: One other note: The reason I actually gave up on AD&D was because its mechanics themselves were so broken! Most infamous was the "save or die" handling of poison (I did work up an alternate poison system), but there were plenty of subtler problems. They may well have fixed those in later incarnations, but by then I'd gone over to GURPS, and later the Amber diceless system. If I started up again now, I would use either Amber or Risus.

#65 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:12 PM:

KayTei, #22: I would think that enhanced charisma would be very useful for a confidence and/or trickster character! Especially the former, since the con game depends on people believing you.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:43 PM:

David Harmon @62:

I spent most of my adult gaming years doing Amber DRPG, both as a player and as a GM. I liked the mechanics: apart from straight attribute vs. attribute fights, it's all judgmental. And the GMs I played with always left a lot of space for alternative approaches (talk your way out of the fight or go in swinging).

I just went back to the rulebook to see if the discussion of Strength (for instance) was gender-biased. It isn't. It goes from discussing the index character for strength (Gerard) to describing a strength auction with a mixed-sex gamer group (even numbers, too).

I miss Amber, sometimes, though the plots were getting stale in my circle when I left.

#67 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:47 PM:

Bruce Baugh @ 28: When you're in any marginalized group, it's nice to hear "oh, sure, you too". But it's even nicer to sometimes hear "Yup, this starts with us, and if others want to come too, well, they can."

This. So very very this.

#68 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 12:51 PM:

Dave Fried @ 45:
Traditional tabletop RPGs set up challenges and conflicts as largely being things which can only be solved by direct application of violence....

Since D&D itself started off as modifications to a set of miniatures wargaming rules, this aspect isn't all that surprising.

Fortunately, within the past few years there has been a huge wave of "indie" games which try to break the traditional RPG mold.

True, though I'd point out that the trend of "games which try to break the traditional RPG mold" is a bit older, going back in some cases to the late 1980s and early 1990s (Pendragon, Ars Magica, Amber, Over the Edge) -- heck, Call of Cthulhu goes back to 1981(!).

#69 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 01:08 PM:

I find this very remarkable (the general RPG discussion, not the gender-aspect) since here in Germany, there is one big German-made game (Das Schwarze Auge, translated as The Dark Eye, IIRC) - which is sometimes accused as far too dialogue- or story-based, far too immersive, far too simulationist, with poor fighting rules and magic rules that rather reward memorizing setting details than tactical options. Here, it is often the Indie gamer set who proudly presents their fighting-heavy, "traditional dungeon crawl" homebrews. And there is at least one blogger who routinely accuses the mainstream product of combat-shy "girlyness".

#70 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 01:46 PM:

Bruce Baugh @28: When you're in any marginalized group, it's nice to hear "oh, sure, you too". But it's even nicer to sometimes hear "Yup, this starts with us, and if others want to come too, well, they can."

That's a much more succinct way of putting what I was trying to say, and I may steal that phrasing of it (with attribution) for use in the future, if you don't mind.

Ingvar M @38: I did a bit of skimming (though I'm too full of academics at the moment to look in depth), and did rather admire the approach you took to default gender assumptions in there. Other approaches I've seen that I rather liked are "swap the gender of the theoretical player/character for each subsequent example", which tends to be a bit clumsy but earnest, and "refer to players with one gender, and the GM with the other, for convenient clarity."

On the matter of bows, there are many games (such as most iterations of D&D) where melee weapons will have a default strength requirement to use them and/or a damage bonus based on strength, while ranged weapons will instead be based on dexterity/agility/other non-strength stats. There are many exceptions to this, but D&D so vastly overshadows all other RPGs, it tends to be itself the default thought of in many circumstances. So there's a vague perception, supported often by game stats, that if you want to hit someone with a sword, you'd better have strength, but if you have lousy strength and great coordination, a bow will be awesome.

Having lousy strength myself, and having tried both sword and bow, I'd take the sword over the bow any day. But this is closely related to my terrible depth perception, which matters much less when in spitting distance of an opponent than when across the yard from them.

#71 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 02:51 PM:

I'd just like to point out here that I'm not arguing against a game based around women; while I do feel a certain amount of "two wrongs don't make a right", I also realize there's about zero chance of existing RPGs becoming more inclusive in the near future. So I kinda like the GURPS solution from the standpoint of "stuff that can be made sane now", and file the other under "regretfully acknowledged as a good idea".

#72 ::: Lachlan ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 02:55 PM:

@61 that might have been mine. I did post earlier, but I dont see it now, and that looks like my ISP. I apologize for the earlier brevity - I was in a hurry to chip in the Kickstarter (I'm in for 15, under the name 'Lachlan'). Expanded: the woman-first rpg is something I'd been dabbling with on another site for some time, and encountered resistance to, so I'm VERY glad to see this one. On a related note, take a look at Wen Spencer's 'A Brothers Price'.

Also, yet another reason to avoid RPGnet...

Lachlan, posting for the second time.

#73 ::: VictorS ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 03:21 PM:

I can speak a bit to the DNA question from a couple of angles, Tom.

Social angle: I am not an archaeologist, but I have spent some time observing archaeologists close up. There is a significant subset of archaeologists who would simply not think of using DNA analysis, actually. That set will overlap strongly with the ones who control what little money is available, and who own the samples(*).
There is also the constant lack of sufficient funding. DNA analysis isn't as expensive as it used to be, but you may be choosing between that and toilet paper.

On the technical front: Getting clean DNA from old bones is also an issue. It's surmountable, but your best bet is probably samples from the interior of intact large bones, if you have them. This does mean deliberately damaging your irreplaceable artifacts. The good ones. If you do it wrong, you'll contaminate your sample, too -- so you don't have a lot of chances to get it right. This may mean involving some annoying character from another department who isn't even an archaeologist. And trusting that relative stranger with *your* finds. You get the idea.

It's certainly been done, though -- I saw a presentation at the ASOR annual conference a few years back where they'd done an extensive (DNA) kinship analysis of remains from a multi-chamber burial site. Nice work from difficult samples; it's a shame nobody with any seniority attended that talk.

* Possession and exclusive control of any analysis or interpretation equating to ownership here. The 'you dug it up, you control all research on it' mentality appalls me, but that's a side-issue to this discussion.

#74 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 03:43 PM:

geekosaur @69: I'm a bit confused as to what makes a feminist RPG "regretful" in any way. Or even an RPG focused on women as PCs, with or without explicit feminist commentary. Not every RPG needs to be universal, nor should they all be. I rather like Pendragon, which assumes male knights quite explicitly, complete with a system for wooing ladies, having children to inherit one's position, and so forth. Why should there be any reason to "regret" that there's interest in and market for an RPG that's focused on women?

#75 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 03:56 PM:

VictorS @71 -- thanks for a view from the front lines on that question. Information that's one or two levels closer to the actual data collection is priceless.

#76 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 04:16 PM:

Lachlan, #70: Ah -- hello, then, and sorry I thought you were a spam probe. But it was a very "this could apply to anything" sort of text, and that's common with such things. Apparently the mods thought so too, so I'm only mildly embarrassed rather than mortified. :-)

If I were more of a gamer, I'd probably be interested in this too. As it is, I'll post the Kickstarter link in a couple of places where I know female gamers are likely to see it.

#77 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 04:51 PM:

I have a terrible shameful secret, which is that while I haven't actually roleplayed a whole lot, I love to read RPG manuals. Mostly what I've read is various flavors of D&D and World of Darkness stuff (White Wolf). D&D as a system became considerably less sexist with 3rd edition (published in 2000)--2nd edition had the old "we'll use 'he', but of course ladies too" dodge, but 3rd edition went with something a bit better: each class has an iconic example character who is reused throughout the rules, and all the text regarding the class is written with that character's appropriate pronoun. There are eleven classes, and a six/five male/female split. The art tends towards more men than women, but the women aren't usually cheesecake. (There's a bit, though.)

White Wolf has enjoyed an earned reputation (I think) as being more female-friendly: every book I've read alternates pronouns by section* and, unlike D&D, is actually a fullish-fledged role-playing system rather than a combat system with role-playing bits tacked on. Attributes, skills, and challenges are divvied up among physical, mental, and social aspects, and it's quite possible to create a playable character who couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag.

That's WoD and D&D, which are pretty much the mainstream of the mainstream of RPGs. It seems to me that these days the sexism is less in the systems and more in the players.

* That's always seemed like the best strategy to me, Fade Manley; what do you prefer?

#78 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 04:59 PM:

I don't know how I missed this thread! This is a great idea, and I hope it succeeds.

I ran a pretty godsdam egalitarian game using GURPS as a rule system. Yeah, the system assumes male too often, but in the Celtic-fantasy-but-with-geopolitics campaign I ran for 18 years, the PCs were: a hemophiliac MtF-transgendered mage (played by a cisgendered heterosexual man), a gigantic female BDF (played by a woman with a doctorate), and a gay male mage-geek (played by a gay male with much better social skills than his character).

Of course they encountered sexism, and all manner of prejudice. But none of it was from the GM or the system. So it can be done, and it's a lot easier with GURPS than with some other systems I've played.

None of which is at all to take away from the great idea of a default-female RPG. I love this idea!

(These days I run a campaign with a simple home-grown system. It wouldn't work if there weren't tremendous trust between the GM and players; two of the latter are the people who played the first two characters mentioned above.)

#79 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 05:03 PM:

Fade Manley @72:
I guess I'm still not being very clear, despite the explanation in the first part of that message; I'm more or less echoing Network Geek @60 about equality. While I see where you're coming from, it feels like so-called "separate but equal" — which is the regrettable part.

But I think I'm just going to shut up now because I appear to be shoving my foot further into my mouth.

#80 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 05:18 PM:

I don't think I like the use of "Heroine" as a default referent for all PCs--it doesn't seem very feminist to me. Feminist, in my humble, is using gendered referents as little as possible--actor rather than actress, police officer rather than policeman, and so on. Using "Heroine" even for male characters seems more "how do YOU like having your experience erased" inversion than genuinely feminist.

(It doesn't bother me as part of the title, only as the referent. Huh.)

That said, her proposed dice mechanic seems super neat.

#81 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 05:19 PM:

heresiarch @ 75: I have a terrible shameful secret, which is that while I haven't actually roleplayed a whole lot, I love to read RPG manuals.

Paranoia is a masterpiece.

And for those who, like me, used to play RuneQuest back when, Glorantha is getting to be like Tlön these days.

#82 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 07:36 PM:

Most of my points have been covered.

All I have left is a little bit of stabbing at White Wolf (Female-friendly, maybe; but really bad at math, frequently resulting in having to write your own rule system or see stupid shit happen ALL THE TIME.) And maybe a few shots at my 16-year-old self, his male friends, and our charisma stats.

#83 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 08:03 PM:

Fade Manley: By all means. I'm polishing my articulation of stuff like this, and like to hear when it works for others.

#84 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 09:09 PM:

Network Geek @ 60

No harm, no foul. I've played with plenty of well-intentioned guys, and I infinitely prefer it to dealing with boys club politics.

Lee @ 63

Yeah, the general broadening of D&D's scope in later versions, to allow variation beyond simple dungeon crawling, has really helped reduce what had been a really strong bias against the system on my part.

#85 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:24 PM:

(Delurking briefly.)

heresiarch @78, the issue is that "actor" and "hero" ARE "gendered referents". The reason they SEEM "gender-neutral" is that men are assumed to be the default. But the image that is likely to appear in people's heads, when you say those words, is unambiguously male.

Consider (the * is a linguistic convention meaning, more or less, "this utterance is likely to strike a native speaker as fucked up in some way"):

The actor put on his suit and tie.
*The actor put on her skirt and makeup.
The hero's mighty thews glistened as he fought.
*The hero's breasts shone as she swung her flashing sword.

Like it or not, the same "mental masculine default" issue is true of most (though not all) of the words that are regularly turned feminine with an -ess, -ix, or -ine suffix. There ISN'T a way to "ungender" the words entirely; using "heroine" as a default at least makes people THINK about the way they construct their pictures of "default people".

Which is perhaps the best we can hope for at the moment -- you deal with the language you have, not the language you want.

#86 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:49 PM:

Adrienne, not to contradict your main point, but many women who make a living acting refer to themselves as "actors" (my daughter, for example). Thus, that word may indeed be losing its default-male status. "Best female actor" might be an odd category for an Academy Award, but then I think it's kind of odd to have separate categories for different genders anyway.

#87 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 10:52 PM:

Lila, 84: I don't. Look at the kinds of roles women get in Hollywood; do you honestly think women would have a fair shot at awards?

#88 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 11:01 PM:

Adrienne @83, I don't know. Maybe making a point of having female heroes and actors is how we un-gender those words.

One of the things I admire about the movie Kung-Fu Panda is that all of the "Furious Five" kung-fu heroes, two of whom are female, are addressed with the honorific "Master". (I'm told the the equivalent Chinese word is gender-neutral.) Also, those two female characters don't have the typical Hollywood giant-boobed hourglass character designs.

#89 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2011, 11:21 PM:

Serge: "I remember someone complaining that, in Clive Owen's "King Arthur", there was no way Keira Knightley would have been able to use a bow and shoot an arrow that could have actually penetrated her target, which was quite far away."

Was that Keira Knightley specifically (in which case, well, actors) or "a woman" generality? From personal experience, I can speak to women having significant upper body strength without showing it. Tons of surprisingly strong friends as well as the realization that what I consider to be wimpy upper body strength (with attendant lack of tone) is actually swinging around between 35 and 60 pounds on a regular, daily basis. Squirming weight, no less.

Adrienne: My female friends have been referring to themselves as "actors" for so long that actress actually gets a double-take from me. Exposure changes the meaning.

I don't game. This is probably because the only GM I had access to was my older brother and while he was trying to be nice about it, he really didn't want me intruding on his friends time and the experience became less than pleasant. But I like being in the room when a game is played because I can get some really good stories that way. Like the time I was there for a competition group where two of the characters were directly based on Absolutely Fabulous—the spellcaster of the group had removed all of the labels on his potions and the GM got to roll the dice to find out what somebody had taken, for example. They got to the end of the task—successfully—and looked around in wonder, because that was the first time they'd survived...

#90 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 12:26 AM:

Lila @84, BDurbin @87: fair enough. 'actor' may be one that's changed a lot. 'Hero', though, i think still has a fundamentally masculine mental image for folks.

Avram @85: Gendered-language and women-and-folks-of-other-genders-feeling-excluded are part of a big interconnected set of problems; I don't think there IS a single "the way" to solve them. I think one useful part of the solution is to start reorienting people on "actor" and "hero", et al.; I think ANOTHER useful part of the solution is to use "heroine" sometimes as the default, gender-neutral term for adventurers, and "her" as the default pronoun. Because it absolutely IS important to change the larger culture. But it's also important to give people who are feeling excluded ways to *not feel excluded*.

#91 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 01:11 AM:

Adrienne @ 88

Building on your response to Avram, I'd go a step further and say that I actively prefer switching between the two gendered terms, or deliberately choosing terms that are already gender-neutral ("Pilot," instead of "aviatrix;" "performer" or "thespian" or "film star" or "cast member" or even the statement "is in acting," instead of "actor").

Defaulting to the masculine terms and then trying to justify it by making them "less gender specific" feels like expecting women to become more masculine, as if once we're all equal, there will be no difference between the sexes, because we'll all be like the (implicitly ideal) men. If it weren't biased in that direction, we could start referring to men as actresses or heroines, just as effectively -- we wouldn't have to default to the male version every time. And that's before we even get to the problem that, sometimes, use of the non-gendered title seems to be used as a way to reward women who are particularly successful, which I think unfortunately reinforces the idea that success is a masculine trait, while lack of success is somehow inherently feminine.

From that perspective, "Hero" and "Actor" feel like trying to stuff myself into ragged, ill-fitting hand-me-downs, when I already own a lovely, well-fitted outfit that suits me.

#92 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 01:15 AM:

Ship has sailed on 'actor', KayTei. It began to sound less gendered in the 80s, and by now the younger generation hears 'actress' as slightly archaic, if I understand correctly. I've heard lots of women talk about themselves and "being an actor."

#93 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 01:34 AM:

Xopher @ 90

I agree that many women do so. It's my perception that they do so because actress is so negatively gendered.

I'm far from judging them on that. I think everyone is entitled to self-define in whatever way they find most appropriate.

But I would suggest that if actress is still considered (mildly) pejorative, actor also remains problematic, regardless of increasing public use. It may be that the problem resolves, eventually, with the abandonment of "actress." But it hasn't really fully happened yet, as evidenced by the fact that even you acknowledge a generational divide on the issue. And language is tricky, and takes unexpected detours; I'm not giving up hope of a different alternative. (Also, I'd like to know how much younger your "younger generation" is, because the college students I interact with on a regular basis don't consistently avoid the distinction. YMMV.)

(Also, seriously, the younger generation?! Man, I am not that old! I could care less about kids these days trampling my lawn, I swear it!)

#94 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 01:41 AM:

KayTei @89, I couldn't agree more.

#95 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 02:04 AM:

KayTei, #89: Note that the process Lila's actor friends are trying to implement has already been successfully accomplished with other words. Nobody says "authoress" or "poetess" any more, and it doesn't feel odd to hear feminine pronouns used to describe authors and poets. And I don't think "Best Actor (Male)" and "Best Actor (Female)" would be out of place even now -- at least in my circle of acquaintances, the word "actor" is already pretty gender-neutral.

#96 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 02:29 AM:

Lee @ 93

Yes, I do recognize that; I had to look up pilot because I couldn't remember if I'd run across some mention that it had started out gendered. Then I couldn't find any references in either direction.

I've no objection to anyone who tries to make the language more egalitarian. I just think there's a broader discussion to be had, about the ... oh, the assumption of women into a masculine framework. It's the same reason I prefer "LGBT" to "gay." It has something to do with recognizing that equality isn't the same as assimilation.

#97 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 02:34 AM:

I've mentioned here before that I'm in one of the very few professions where the default word for a practitioner is the feminine form. If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked if I was a masseuse, I'd be able to afford a few lattes -- the masculine form is "masseur". Generally, I comment that I'm not about to have an operation to keep working.

It's mildly annoying, a small thing -- and it gives me just a hint of how bad things might be for women who get that every single day of their lives. So -- yeah, I support gender-neutral names, and just deleting the feminine isn't quite the best way to do that. Finding another locution is better, as it emphasizes the fact that things are changing. For what I do: "massage therapist" or "bodyworker" are excellent terms.

#98 ::: Patrick ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 08:22 AM:

You get away with ANYTHING on if you follow a few simple rules, like not using bad words, and not insulting specific people by name. Its run on a polar opposite moderating theory than your blog. I think there's an interesting thesis to be written on geek's instinctive distrust for human judgment in forum moderation, and their strong preference for neutral and objective rules even if those rules have demonstrable loopholes. But as it stands, if you learn the rules and work around them, you can troll like a madman on that site, and on related sites.

#99 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 08:47 AM:

The Thomas Covenant books had both male and female Lords. It made me jump a little, but I could accommodate it.

It didn't seem as odd as the folks in the Land having rather avant garde taste in music.

#100 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 08:47 AM:

The Thomas Covenant books had both male and female Lords. It made me jump a little, but I could accommodate it.

It didn't seem as odd as the folks in the Land having rather avant garde taste in music.

#101 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 08:56 AM:

Peter Erwin @ 66:

You are absolutely correct - there are a number of games which were very much not D&D going back even 20 years. Paranoia (as Tim Walters @ 79 mentioned), is another good example of an older game that was very much not a "traditional" RPG.

I think what has changed in the past 5-10 years is the notion that games can be primarily narrative rather than simulationist plus a vast improvement in the theory of RPGs. A lot of good GMs may have understood the principles of "say yes or roll the dice" and "make failure interesting", but those things weren't actually written down until fairly recently.

Likewise, the principle of "the rules should support what the game is about" seems obvious, and may always have been to some game designers, but there are lots of examples of even fairly recent, obvious failures in this regard (many incarnations of Vampire: the Masquerade; d20 Cthulhu).

I think to an extent they even got it right with D&D 4E. By removing the "save or die" effects David Harmon @ 62 was complaining about, and generally making characters more powerful and harder to kill, I think they've finally achieved the over-the-top, ultra heroic feel that a lot of players were trying to achieve with earlier versions.

#102 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 10:53 AM:

Tom, #95: That's interesting, because it supports the contention that masculine is the default. I can see "masseuse" becoming the accepted gender-neutral form, but obviously a lot of people would consider that weird and unacceptable.

I remember the beginning of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and how right it felt when I realized that ALL Starfleet cadets, male or female, were addressed as "Mister". It was a little thing, but a huge indicator of equality -- at least, that's how it felt to me at the time.

#103 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 12:20 PM:

Lee @100 -- I can see that happening as well. It's clearly happened in a lot of people's heads (but then, look at the odd back-formations that were out there for a while like "male stewardess").

#104 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 01:05 PM:

Adrienne @ 83: "the issue is that "actor" and "hero" ARE "gendered referents". The reason they SEEM "gender-neutral" is that men are assumed to be the default. But the image that is likely to appear in people's heads, when you say those words, is unambiguously male."

Well, not to my mind. Neither of your *ed sentences strike me as odd, except that the breasts/sword one is just an odd sentence. Would you object to "Dorothy is the hero of the Wizard of Oz" or "After her act of bravery, she was lauded as a hero"? They don't seem mention-worthy to me. Wondering if I was the odd one, I checked some definitions, and shockingly many definitions for hero do include "man", so I am a bit of an outlier there. Actor, however, is just "a person who acts." I feel there's a space there make those words gender neutral, even if they aren't already so.

(I don't think that "people's images of this role are male" is evidence that the word itself is sexist--there's a lot of sexism around roles that isn't embedded in the language. Take the words 'carpenter' and 'businessman': both of those probably conjure a masculine image in most people's minds, but that doesn't mean both words are equally sexist. Businessman is gendered in a much more explicit way than carpenter.)

KayTei @ 94: "I've no objection to anyone who tries to make the language more egalitarian. I just think there's a broader discussion to be had, about the ... oh, the assumption of women into a masculine framework. It's the same reason I prefer "LGBT" to "gay." It has something to do with recognizing that equality isn't the same as assimilation."

I think I understand the paradigm you're operating under here: given the existence of both marked and unmarked states, and given the injustice of that, what is more egalitarian: making all states marked or all states unmarked? You're advocating for an "all states marked" position, and I agree with that. However, marked states must, for both practical and ethical reasons, be limited to the relevant sphere.

As an example, it is absolutely true that heterosexuality ought to be just as marked a state as homosexuality or polyamory or asexuality, with none of them any more "normal" than another. But that doesn't imply that that markedness ought to extend past the realm of sexuality into the realm of, say, employment: a gay banker isn't a different sort of banker than a polyamorous banker, and it would therefore be weird and inappropriate to have two different terms for them. Same with gender identity: a female actor isn't doing a different job than a hermaphrodite actor, and so there shouldn't be a different word. I'm not saying that gender and sexuality ought not be marked--only that they shouldn't be marked in contexts where they aren't relevant. Does that make any sense at all?

(Just to be clear, I'm not trying to impose my understanding of feminism as the One True Feminism in this conversation: I'm totally open to there being different and equally valid points of view on this. I'm just trying to explain my thinking, and I'm appreciating other people explaining theirs.)

#105 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Via Sebastian Hanlon on G+:

A FPS LAN party site named Powers Gaming is throwing a Battlefield 3 launch party. Among the rules on the invitation post:

Are there other restrictions? Yes. Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts. Though we've done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we've certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event.
#106 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 01:40 PM:

abi @ 103: *headdesks. Desk shatters under sheer weight of WTF-ness.*

#107 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 01:48 PM:

heresiarch @75: I actually prefer the "one pronoun for players, one for the GM" or the "refer to different archetypes with their appropriate pronoun", as they feel somewhat less awkward to me. (Since when I'm skimming, it does make me blink if the same theoretical character suddenly swaps gender between paragraphs.) That said, the White Wolf approach is still one I like better than "Of course 'he' is a gender-neutral pronoun!" one.

geekosaur @77: Looking back at what I wrote, and what you'd said, I think I was too harsh there, and I apologize for that. After reading a multi-hundred-post thread in which "It's sexism to use a female default, and it'd be egalitarian if we all pretended 'neutral' is inherently egalitarian!" was repeatedly thumped on, I have gotten all snarly about what read to me as more of that. But that isn't what you were actually saying, and I'm sorry for responding as if you were.


The matter of gendered words has already been addressed by other people more elegantly than I can. But it still trips me up when I try to figure out how to refer to my sister, who's an actor: if I actually say "actor" in a sentence to refer to her, even knowing that it's what she prefers, it still sounds wrong to me, and I know it often does to other listeners. And I'm not sure how to fight that.

Similarly, in various of my fantasy stories, I had people complain that using "priest" to refer to a woman was disconcerting, and ended up jumping through hoops to not refer to various aristocrats as lords & ladies because I didn't want to use a gendered word, but it felt like erasure to just call men and women alike "lord". I don't particularly like that "gender-neutral" always seems to mean "Women can be just like men, too! And have their superior titles instead of the inferior female ones!"

I just don't particularly like the embedded cultural assumption that the true sign of my having reached equality is that people are willing to use previously male-specific terms for me. So, much as I usually find "heroine" a jarring and unpleasant word, in this case I am all for it. It makes me think about why I find it jarring and uncomfortable to have someone admirable referred to by a female-marked word.

#108 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 02:48 PM:

The Powers Gaming announcement keeps changing. They've now taken the picture of the woman with nipples visible through her T-shirt (there to advertise their air conditioning) down.

And the earlier version of the defensive introductory text (about participants recharging their "man batteries" before going home to their wives and girlfriends) has been replaced with something a little less oinky.

#109 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:01 PM:

Refreshed again. Now it's a "gentlemen's retreat" that does not allow women to attend. Those interested in more information are directed to "", which appears to be some kind of men's movement weekend retreat site.

I am bemused by what they appear to be calling a gentleman in this context.

#110 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:17 PM:

Abi @109: I can only assume that it's along the same etymological lines as the "gentlemen's clubs" I see advertised on billboards when I drive through West Virginia.

[Not to single WV out in particular; except that it's the only region of that particular cultural flavor I've driven through in recent years.]

#111 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:19 PM:

heresiarch @104, I'm not saying that a word being *gendered* is the same as that word being *sexist*. What i'm saying is that it may make the word *exclusionary*. We live in a world where women very often have to either (a) hear themselves referred to as "-ess" or "-ix" or "-ine", or (b) get subsumed under a word which creates more-or-less exclusively masculine imagery in people's heads. And it is *tiresome*.

♪ That's true of even some non-specifically-gendered words, by the way: someone did a study on little kids, recently, and when asked to draw a picture of a "scientist" or a "doctor" all the pictures were of men. "Teacher" and "nurse"? All women.

#112 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:24 PM:

I'd also like to point out that the game is NOT for female PCs only. I quote from the Kickstarter project's FAQ:

Guys, you're welcome to play, and play a character of any gender. Even male characters. The game uses "Heroine" as a reserved word to mean "Player Character," and while that's a deliberate choice, there is nothing wrong with playing as manly of a manly man as you like.

Additionally, elsewhere in one of the awful comment threads, Ms. ora Snow makes explicit reference to being able to play bigendered, fluid-gendered, agendered, two-spirit, etc. characters.

#113 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:33 PM:

heresiarch @ 102

That's very close, yes. With the added fillip that I think the masculine form is equally as marked as the feminine form -- which means that the masculine form is inherently not gender-neutral, even as we try to force-fit it into that role to accommodate more modern sensibilities.

I agree with you about constraining gender distinction to situations in which it's relevant. It's part of why my preferred solution is to use a different term which is not gendered. But failing that, yes, I would prefer to maintain separate female and male terms, so that women can establish equal strength for those terms by demonstrating exactly how competent they can become.

I feel like we're abandoning the feminine terms, because they're historically and culturally loaded, at exactly the point at which women are positioned to really change perceptions and reclaim those terms in a stronger, more empowering context. We don't have to go there, as a society -- but I think it's an interesting alternative that has tended not to get much attention.

Tom @ 95

That's a really interesting example I hadn't thought of. I'm trying to think of a way to express how interesting I find the consistent draw toward the masculine by both men and women, without somehow implying that it's strange for you to want to use the term that is appropriate to your gender!

#114 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:38 PM:

... That should be heresiarch @ 104. What a moving post!

#115 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:44 PM:

abi 105: Good gods. Seriously? Every time I think I know what assholes some people can be, something drops my jaw again.

Unless that's a satire. I mean...they've got to be kidding, right.



Fade 107: Similarly, in various of my fantasy stories, I had people complain that using "priest" to refer to a woman was disconcerting

Real world example: when an Episcopal woman is ordained to the priesthood, she's called a priest, never a priestess. (By contrast, in my own religion a priest is sort of a male priestess.)

#116 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:49 PM:

My commuter train goes past several of them, some with fairly obvious (if not explicit) signage; I also see billboards for 'gentlemen's clubs'. I think it's safe to say that there will be very few actual gentlemen inside them.

#117 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:50 PM:

Xopher @115: Yeah, I was sort of surprised by the reactions, because I considered it less disconcerting than the actor/actress version, given RL precedent. And then in another story, I got a lot of feedback of the "This was highly distracting" because I used the term "god" for a female deity.

It's a minor annoyance, compared to many others here, but it does frustrate me at times on the writer side of things when I need to pick one of "I think it's important that this word not be gender-marked" and "I don't want readers so distracted by this word choice that they can't enjoy the story."

#118 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 04:22 PM:

Fade Manley #117: Heh. The game "Dungeon Crawl" has as canon that gods are ungendered, and the Wiki tries to mix up the pronouns, with mixed success. But the one time I tried to use "hir", it got corrected as a spelling error. :-~

#119 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 05:32 PM:

KayTei @ 113: "With the added fillip that I think the masculine form is equally as marked as the feminine form -- which means that the masculine form is inherently not gender-neutral, even as we try to force-fit it into that role to accommodate more modern sensibilities."

I think we're getting hung up on different definitions for what constitutes a masculine form. To me, the -er/-or ending isn't masculine--it's neutral.* (see also) It's just the agent noun form of a verb. Dancer, creator, walker, these are genderless nouns. It's only when an alternate -ess ending form is introduced that the preexisting neutral from becomes masculine by process of elimination. Getting rid of the -ess form isn't force-fitting anything--it's getting rid of a previous, sexist force-fitting. (The feminine forms of a lot of these words were imported from French, often for the explicit purpose of maintaining gender segregation.)

"It's part of why my preferred solution is to use a different term which is not gendered. But failing that, yes, I would prefer to maintain separate female and male terms, so that women can establish equal strength for those terms by demonstrating exactly how competent they can become."

And my critique of H&H is that the author is not doing either of those things. She's picking an explicitly gendered term and then applying it to all genders.

* "Hero" I concede on; it isn't masculine to me but apparently I'm alone on that one.

#120 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 06:45 PM:

heresiarch, #119: FWIW, one of my LibraryThing tags is "female hero" -- and I'm using that instead of "protagonist" specifically because I'd like to see "hero" lose its gendered implications*. And yes, I know that marking the female instance partially defeats the purpose, but the ability to see at a glance how many books I have with a female central character is useful to me.

* Also because "protagonist" is a technical term that's not included in the vocabularies of even all the people who read, whereas everyone knows who the hero is.

#121 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 07:54 PM:

Hey, RPG fans, wanna feel old? Browse through this Encyclopedia of Role-Playing Games! Just a few highlights:

  • 1975: Empire of the Petal Throne, En Garde, Tunnels and Trolls
  • 1976: Bunnies and Burrows, Metamorphosis Alpha
  • 1977: Chivalry and Sorcery, The Fantasy Trip, Traveller
  • 1978: Advanced D&D, RuneQuest, Gamma World, Star Trek RPG (Heritage)
  • 1979: Villians and Vigilantes
  • 1980: Bushido, Rolemaster, Top Secret
  • 1981: Champions, Call of Cthulhu
  • 1982: Alma Mater, Star Trek RPG (FASA), Worlds of Wonder
  • 1983: James Bond 007, Ringworld
  • 1984: Elfquest RPG, Marvel Superheroes (TSR), Middle Earth Role Playing (Iron Crown), Paranoia, Thieves Guild, Toon, Twilight 2000
  • 1985: DC Heroes (Mayfair), Doctor Who RPG (FASA), Fantasy Hero, Mekton, Pendragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG
  • 1986: Ghostbusters RPG, GURPS, HârnMaster, Traveller 2300, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
  • 1987: Ars Magica, Star Wars RPG (West End), Talislanta, Teenagers from Outer Space, Warhammer 40,000
  • 1988: Cyberpunk, Space:1889
  • 1989: Prince Valiant RPG, In Nomine (French edition)
  • 1990: Rifts, Torg
  • 1991: Amber Diceless Role-playing, Vampire: The Masquerade
  • 1992: Dream Park RPG, Over the Edge
  • 1993: Amazing Engine, Theatrix
  • 1994: Castle Falkenstein, HOL: Human Occupied Landfill
  • 1995: Everway, FUDGE
  • 1996: The d6 System, Deadlands, Feng Shui
...and that brings us up to 15 years ago. RPGers entering college now probably have no memory of any of those games first hitting the shelves.

#122 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 08:13 PM:

heresiarch @ 119

"I think we're getting hung up on different definitions for what constitutes a masculine form. To me, the -er/-or ending isn't masculine--it's neutral."

Rather than hung up on, I'd suggest that that's a pretty concise description of the fundamental difference in our two approaches.

#123 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 08:23 PM:

I always thought there should be a fantasy role playing game full of imaginary food called Luncheons and Flagons.

#124 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 08:31 PM:

Avram Of that list I've played...

RuneQuest Bushido, AD&D, Villians and Vigilantes, Champions, Call of chthulu, and Taveller. I think I started in a game of Paranoia, but we failed to make it work.

#125 ::: storiteller ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 09:31 PM:

From personal experience, I can speak to women having significant upper body strength without showing it.

I rock-climb, and many of the best climbers at the gym are female. For that matter, so are many of the top climbers in the world. And they usually look cut, but not super-muscular - much like the male climbers, in fact. Part of it is that climbing, like many things involving upper body strength, is much more about the shoulders and back than the arms, but most people just look at the arms. So I completely agree on the upper body strength isn't always translated visually.

#126 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 09:36 PM:

I couldn't initially figure out why I was so certain that "Actor" was not only ungendered, but un...specied? Actor, as opposed to the thing acted on. Then I remembered. I worked with the Unreal Engine for a while at one point.

(On the Avram list: Wow, I feel old. I've played 21 and read a couple others. I have at least two groups of friends, maybe three, who've gotten stuck on games on that list. The Ars Magica friends are the "maybe.")

#127 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 09:37 PM:

Erik Nelson #123: Dragon magazine did have a centerfold game called "Food Fight"... is that close enough? ;-)

#128 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 10:20 PM:

Terry @124, out of that list? Let's see, I've played (including GMing)... AD&D, Amber, Champions, Cyberpunk, Everyway, FUDGE, Feng Shui, GURPS, Over the Edge, Paranoia, RuneQuest, Teenagers from Outer Space, The Fantasy Trip, Toon, Traveller 2300, Traveller, Tunnels and Trolls, Villans and Vigilantes, Warhammer FRP, FASA Star Trek, and West End Star Wars. Maybe Castle Falkenstein, too; I'm not sure.

Feng Shui was as a playtester, before it was released. The first time I played Amber was also pre-release, at Noreascon 3 in 1989, with Erick Wujcik GMing.

Outside of that list: non-Advanced D&D, Space Opera, Heroes Unlimited, Mekton II, Dogs in the Vineyard, My Life with Master, The Dresden Files RPG (also pre-release), With Great Power..., Changeling, a homebrew League of Extraordinary Gentlemen game using a simplified version of White Wolf's Storyteller system, Dread, Two-Fisted Tales (also pre-release, GMed by the designer, Matt Stevens).

Maybe one or two more over the years that I've forgotten about.

#129 ::: m.k. ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 11:09 PM:

Haven't played an RPG for years and years and I'm unlikely to do so anytime soon, but I popped over to Kickstarter and pledged.

#130 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 11:36 PM:

The -tor and -trix endings, from Latin, are quite explicitly gendered. (I would say "everything is", because of Latin nouns always necessarily having gender, but there are third declension nouns that look the same regardless of their gender, so that wouldn't be precisely true.) The nearest one could come to calling either ungendered is in the sense that Latin uses masculine nouns and adjectives when referring to a mixed group of men and women, but...that's not really unmarked gender, that's going to marked male gender if there are any men involved, because it overrides the female-ness of any nouns or people in that group.

English is, of course, not Latin. But it does look like our "gender-neutral" terms of that type are only slightly more so than the convention of using "he" to refer to persons of an unspecified or unknown gender.

#131 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 01:23 AM:

I've played some others, the only one which comes to mind is D&D (the original). Since I stopped gaming, in any serious way (apart from the odd event, or two; and some LARPing) in about 1987, some of those are completely opaque to me.

And somehow that (that I stopped doing something I can still tell stories about) makes me feel old.

I think the steady diet of interactive improv made gaming feel as if the role was a little flat in RPG.

#132 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 03:11 AM:

KayTei @ 122: Yes, I think so. I'm more on heresiarch's side of the divide, though I suspect there are syntheses possible once the distinction of approaches is clear. Absent such a synthesis, simply having people hammering away at the problem from both sides at once might still be more productive than snapping to a general consensus either way.

For me, most historically/etymologically male forms, in things which aren't intrinsically sex-linked - carpentry, acting, and so forth - are good defaults which should be extended and de-gendered by usage. 'Sculptor' has been there for some time; 'actor' is getting there quickly; others can and should follow.

The most obvious exception is that termination in 'man' - a word whose gender-neutral status in one dead language is as beyond reclamation at this point, as the sex-specific nature of '-tor/-trix' in another is needless to conserve. For myself I should quite like to be a wereman among weremen and women, striving manfully against the wights and wolfmen of the mind's night in the cause of Man's ascent to her starry heritage; but that door is shut, and the lock is rusted solid, and I lack a sufficient crowbar.

But sometimes one does need to shock and disrupt the easy slide of the formally ungendered word into its conventionally gendered default. That's more important than pedantic consistency, and even from my side of the fence it's a good use of words like 'heroine', 'actress', and their more antiquated cousins.

Heroines and Heartbreak does not convey the same information in the actually existing language as Heroes and Heartbreak - it's much stronger and more specific about the tone of the game, at once more disruptive and more intuitive than the 'neutral' form. I think it's a brilliant idea; albeit, were I to play a male character within it, I might have a hard time refraining from describing him as a 'heroin'...

#133 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 10:55 AM:

Was it ibn Fadlan or Ibn Battuta, the first third of Eaters of the Dead/The Thirteenth Warrior being essentially based on the writing of one of them, who disapprovingly reported that there were female Vikings who brawled and fought and swived in the streets of Kiev, was it? (Kiev was full of Rus, who were Swedish Vikings originally...)

#134 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 11:13 AM:

If it was a first-hand report, then I'd go with Ibn Fadlan. Ibn Battuta didn't go to Kiev (but he did go around the Black Sea).

#135 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 11:20 AM:

#31 Dave
Scythian and Sauromartian tombs with central figures buried with armor, weaponry, embedded arrowheads in the human remain, healed or unhealed war-type fractures, AND women's toiletries and gear, were incontrovertible evidence of female warriors....

As for female disempowering, that is nothing new. The Bible has it (Moses and Aaron's sister Merriam, for example), the redacting/editing out apparently of the full roles of women in early Christianity, including chiseling out of figures on early churches to remove female authorities from murals and such, and massive redacting in more recent centuries, particularly but Victorian redactors.... As I first ran into in Warlock of the Witch World by Andre Norton, those who do the copying/recopying and decide what to copy and what to revise, get to determine what "posterity" gets. Archaeological digs by people who keep their minds open and aren't digging with the primary idea and value of reinforcing closed minded beliefs, have changed a lot of what was "known" about the past.... and then there is that parchment which a religious sort reused to put probably his? writing on, which turned out to have the proof that Archimedes developed integral caculus two millennia ahead of the rest of the world being ready for it, answering the question, "Why didn't Archimedes go from infinitesmals to integrals?" The answer was, "He did, but it got lost in the intervening centuries. The records that didn;t get destroyed outright by warfare, fires, flooding, etc., got scraped over by people more interested in reusing the parchment for what was meaningful to them...."

#136 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 12:48 PM:

Originally "man" was gender-independent, male human was wereman and female human was wifman. Social changes dumped the wereman and elided {I think elided is the word I want...] wereman into man, while keeping the differentiation of "wifman" evolved into the term woman"

Stories with plots involved partnering -use- the gender differentiation of heroine and hero as important descriptive and categorization and promotional information. Explicitly the hero or heroes are male leads and especially male leads in any sex/romance/love/erotica plots, and the heroine or heroines are the female leads for such plots. (and the combinations include m/m, m/f, f/f, m/m/f, f/m/f, m/f/m, m/m/m/f/m/f, etc. )

Then there is the blasted commercial radio "news" with "spokeswoman".... what is that that is something to specify, why not "representative" or "speaker" but they go and FOCUS on what most of the time is a totally gratuitous consideration, of gendering the unspecified except by gender person who made some announcement that the network or station is reporting on the contents of... E.g., "A spokeswoman for [organization] said..."

#137 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 12:48 PM:

Paula Lieberman @132:
It's definitely Ibn Fadlan who was the inspiration for Eaters of the Dead. On the other hand, the Persian traveler Ibn Rustah also wrote about the Rus; I've no idea which of them might have mentioned brawling female Vikings. (Though "swiving in the streets" sounds more than a little unlikely...)

#138 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 01:00 PM:

KayTei @ 91:
Defaulting to the masculine terms and then trying to justify it by making them "less gender specific" feels like expecting women to become more masculine, as if once we're all equal, there will be no difference between the sexes, because we'll all be like the (implicitly ideal) men.

One could also argue that the "intrinsic masculinity" of terms such as "actor" (or "doctor" or "scientist") is more provisional and ephemeral than it might first appear; as more and more women become (for example) "actors" and are perceived as such, the term is likely to gradually lose its default masculinity. Words are at least as plastic and changeable as people. The fact that "teacher" is (at least in the US) seen as a stereotypically female profession shows that this can happen; prior to the 19th Century, almost all teachers were male, and the profession was undoubtedly seen as a male one.

The other problem in your approach, I think, is that it only works for a very, very small set of roles or professions where distinct and recognized gendered alternatives exist: actor/actress, priest/priestess, waiter/waitress, hero/heroine, and ...? Why those professions/roles, and not others?

(A third problem is that traditional gendered terms don't necessarily allow for people who are transgendered or otherwise, for whatever reason, fall outside the tranditional male/female dichotomy, as heresiarch suggested @ 104.)

#139 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 01:26 PM:

@128: I'm not even going to TRY to list the games I've played that aren't on the Avram list. I'm on the fringes of indie gaming, but a friend of mine started Indie Press Revolution. I tend to like things a little more "game" and a little less "roleplaying" than most of my friends.

... having said that, I love Primetime Adventures.

@125: Blacksmiths in my experience don't look nearly as much like bodybuilders as people think, either. Of course, blacksmiths are the classic inventors of labor-saving devices, and once you have 70 lb. treadle hammers you can avoid a lot of gaudy sledgehammer tricks. (After some internet research, it looks like the "Oliver" hammer is the standard name, and it dates from the Renaissance to about 1900 when trip hammers became trendy.)

#141 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 03:50 PM:

Paula Lieberman @ 135
Originally "man" was gender-independent, male human was wereman and female human was wifman. Social changes dumped the wereman and elided {I think elided is the word I want...] wereman into man, while keeping the differentiation of "wifman" evolved into the term woman"

I think the usual Anglo-Saxon for male human was just "wer"[1]; another was "waepmann", apparently from "waepen" [weapon] + "mann". The words for female human were "wif"[2] and "wifmann". (I don't think there was such a word as "werman".)

[1] Cognate with, e.g., Latin vir, hence "virile"; survives in the words "weregild" and "werewolf".

[2] Surviving in its original sense in words like "fishwife" and "midwife".

#142 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 04:39 PM:

Avram @ 121

Kids entering college now aren't the full subset of gamers who weren't paying attention 15 years ago. I've played a decent handful of those games, but fifteen years is further back than I go (and some of those games were released before I was born).

Fifteen years ago, most incoming college students were two or three years old. My husband started gaming at seven, so I'm not saying it's entirely out of possibility's reach that some of them had earlier exposure, I'm just suggesting that perhaps your description of the full impact of the passage of time is a bit... generous.

(Look, look, I'm helping!)

#143 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 05:39 PM:

P J Evans@116: I also see billboards for 'gentlemen's clubs'. I think it's safe to say that there will be very few actual gentlemen inside them.

I think of a "club for gentlemen" as the kind of place George Smiley would stop for dinner and a whiskey after a hard day at the Circus.

But (connecting back to the original topics), Munchkin has a weapon called a "Gentlemen's Club", which can only be used if your character is currently male. It's been a while since I played, but I think there are also artifacts that can only be used by female characters, and there's a curse card which can forcibly change the gender of its target, which can make them unable to use their currently-gendered weapons. Somebody needs to send that curse card to the game organizers Abi mentioned, along with a "Chicken On Your Head" curse to prevent them from successfully running away.

#144 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2011, 11:25 PM:

On the matter of women and bows:

In fact, nearly all females playing for the first time, both young and old, created characters that specialized in ranged attacks [...].

Having DMed for quite a few new players in my time, this observation is corroborated by my own personal experience. At least for games in which combat mattered. Won't pronounce on what it really means though.

Jörg Raddatz@69:

Amusingly enough, it seems to me the first things European games - thanks to theirneed to grow into something different to justify their existence ? - tried to do rule-wise was tone down and generally try to get get rid of the focus on combat inherited from board games. Games like the Dark Eye or Réve de Dragon, or Légendes are exemplary in that matter.

heresiarch @77: I have a terrible shameful secret, which is that while I haven't actually roleplayed a whole lot, I love to read RPG manuals.

Same. Nothing shameful about that. There's a whole (untaped ?) literary genre here. I love reading these collections of vignettes and bits of stories - and rules - which by themselves mean very little but together are about a certain mood, a certain angle of looking at and presenting things.There's something definitive in the specialized, narrow, truth a RPG manual presents that appeals to the twelve years old bookworm in me also, to be honest. It's like having stumbled upon a tiny block of truth lying around.

I think White Wolf's Storyteller System was successful not really on its merits (the whole thing is broken and only works, in my opinion, with Mage - because there its mathematical short-comings are a perfect thematical fit) but because its character sheets were, by themselves, a statement of purpose. Those three big "Physical, Social, Mental" columns, with their equal size (even if they had to shoehorn skills to make it so), were shouting that each were of equal be of importance and would be used in game as such. Which addressed the needs and aspirations of many players - or would-not-have-been players otherwise - of its time.


I've run almost all those games (yes, even Höl - be merciful, don't ask)... and apart from Theatrix, Teenagers from Outer Space, and Dream Park RPG I think I've read them all. Or at least one book from each. I don't know why, but this suddenly makes me feel older.

While on the subject of games focusing on women as agent of action, this one's been on my radar since release. You might want to give it a check:

As always, if I don't make sense, just disregard.

#145 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 01:38 AM:

Avram @ 0.update: I’m leaving the Kickstarter link there for information purposes, but I can no longer recommend contributing

Update to the update: Caoimhe Ora Snow has cancelled the Kickstarter project; supporters have received a message explaining that "Due to situations of which some of you may be aware, I believe it is unfair to continue asking you to fund Heartbreak & Heroines."

#146 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 07:49 AM:

Alas, Jim Henley's explanatory links are borked, not just the livejournal ones ( is not responding to pings, either) but the Google links too.

#147 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 07:55 AM:

PS: Even with currently-borked links, someone (who contributed) might want to leave a comment here (their Kickstarter project site) pointing to Henley's article. I can't, because it seems only "backers" can comment there....

#148 ::: David Hodson ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 08:36 AM:

Adrienne @ 122:
being able to play bigendered,

And little-endered as well, I hope!

#149 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 08:56 AM:

David Hobson @ 148... Or doubleentendered?

#150 ::: David Hodson ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 09:27 AM:

Serge Broon @ 149: Like Elvis on skipping vinyl - "Love me tender / Love me tender"?

#151 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 12:45 PM:

Paul A. @ 145: Oh no! I hope that means "circumstances wherein a donor offered to fund the whole thing alone" or "I was hired by a game company to develop it", but I'm afraid it's something more along the lines of "all the harassment has made the whole thing not fun."

#152 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 01:13 PM:

heresiarch #151: Alas, no. The links have come back up, and it seems that the author has been accused of rape (and prior abuse) by an ex-partner. There is also a witness account. This is an exceedingly nasty situation, further complicated by the fact that both BDSM and transgender issues are in play.

#153 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 01:41 PM:

Eh, the previous version of this comment got put in the moderation queue, so here's one with one less link:

I'd like to say a few words in defence of, since the site seems to be getting knocked a bit in this thread. Disclosure first: I'm a white, middle-aged, middle-class, cis-gendered, straight male, so I may exhibit some unconscious privilege here, for which I apologise in advance. 

This might be a somewhat arbitrary distinction, but separating into the site (its rules, its staff, and so on) and its users, I feel that is one of the best moderated sites in existence; its posters... well, we're people. The folk who own the site wanted a popular forum about tabletop RPGs. Since its inception, it's spawned a few more-or-less related subfora, including Tangency, which is the less-related, miscellaneous forum.

In the early, wild west days of the early 00's — which I'm glad I missed — anything went; my impression is of a somewhat less scatological version of 4chan. It's apparently calmed down a lot since then, and I think I've seen it calm down since I joined in the middle of the decade. This is, I think, down to the moderation and administration staff, who have worked hard to make it a site where the average user can contribute to the forums without prejudice, and where conversation is encouraged. Within limits.

Now, the rules are somewhat fuzzy and open to a little mod interpretation, but they're published, transparent, easy to understand, and equivalent to popular meatspace rules of etiquette. And like any ruleset, they don't cover everything, but the mods and admins have tried to follow the principle of fewer rules meaning fewer gaps for rules-lawyer to mess about in. 

If Making Light is a tea party where everyone is sat around a (large) table, is like a house party where there are many rooms to circulate around in and there are many more conversations than you can comfortably listen to at once. Some conversations are dull, some laboured, some witty, some earnest, some flirty, some spirited; and some of the spirited ones can get carried away and develop into hurt feelings and even busted noses. The mods hope to step in and moderate things before the busted noses stage, but they aren't omnipresent or omniscient, and sometimes they have to eject someone. If, in their limited, mortal way, they foresee an intense altercation going awry, they step in and try to calm things down. Sometimes they make questionable calls, but the site remains popular without most of the threads turning into snake pits, or it becoming a place where people can be afraid to be the tall poppy.

That said, Tangency has developed into a place with a distinct personality. It, or rather the majority of its posters, is biased towards liberalism, politically. It is tolerant of members of the GLBT spectrum (I've met more openly trans people there than I'm aware of in real life, or indeed in any other web forum, for example). It likes people who can spell reasonably well, and present an argument, as opposed to an opinion. Those who declare a wild, unsupported opinion are regarded as fair game, or 'zebras' in Tangency-speak, making those who engage with them 'hyenas'; Tangency is not a tea party, and watching the users take advantage of the sparse buffet is not for the faint-hearted. And Tangency does tend to reflect the demographic of the average tabletop RPG gamer, so there's a fair amount of privilege seen there. But it's not totally unexamined privilege; the recent Guy in the Elevator internet kerfuffle helped overturn a rock, as it did elsewhere, and some of the critters exposed are still wriggling in the  Kickstarter thread.

There are cliques, and there are bad actors, and short-lived, blatant trolls, and people who don't mix with each other, and long-running personal feuds, and snipers, and occasional breakdowns, individually or en masse, — but still, I feel is one of the most civilised sites on the Internet, and I'm always sorry to hear from people who can't stand the place.

PS I post as Lenin at

#154 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 04:08 PM:

NelC @153: I also feel that RPGnet is one of the most civilized places on the internet, at least on the RPG side of things. That's why it's so upsetting to me when I realize I can't post there anymore, or even lurk, because of knowing how vicious things will get on certain topics, and how much that viciousness will be allowed to continue so long as it doesn't cross the Personal Attacks Line.

If I didn't like the place, I wouldn't care nearly so much.

#155 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 06:32 PM:

MD² @144: There's a whole (untapped ?) literary genre here.

A couple of my favorite actors have voiced video games, and this frustrates me tremendoulsy, because I Do Not Game,* but I'm intensely curious about the characters they play. Some bright soul ought to come up with a "Classics Illustrated"-oid edition of these games for people like me.

* I just don't enjoy any game-like activity, whether it involves balls, bats, cards, wee metal shoes, or dice.

#156 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 06:49 PM:

Jacque @155: Depending on the game, you may be able to find YouTube videos or the like of people playing it through, complete with commentary. (There's a whole subgenre involving people playing through a game and posting screencaps with commentary--purportedly hilarious or otherwise--but I don't think that'd interest you much if you're specifically interested in the voice-acting.)

Or, if you have amenable friends, you could do what I do, which is to stay at a friend's house for a few days on a vacation, and watch them play the game through entirely. All the story, none of the work!

#157 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 09:04 PM:

Lee @120:

FWIW, one of my LibraryThing tags is "female hero" -- and I'm using that instead of "protagonist" specifically because I'd like to see "hero" lose its gendered implications*. And yes, I know that marking the female instance partially defeats the purpose, but the ability to see at a glance how many books I have with a female central character is useful to me.

I've seen a number of people at LT using complementary "male author" and "female author" tags, presumably to combat the notion of the male as unmarked default; apparently a number of people are doing something similar with "male protagonist". This might be an approach that would suit you with "male hero".

#158 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2011, 10:27 PM:

Jacque #155: Additionally to #156, I note that the genre of videos (or other records) of playing a video game, with commentary and more or less editing, is these days known as “Let's Play”, as in “Let's Play <name of game>”, often abbreviated “LP”. Another keyword is “walkthrough”. “Speedrun” will tend to skip as much of the voice acting as it can.

#159 ::: Liz Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 12:53 AM:

"Fr wht d: "mssg thrpst" r "bdywrkr" r xcllnt trms. "

#97 Tm: Srsly? hv sm dffrnt nms fr yr "msssg" prctcs. Sdly "bdywrkr" sn't n f thm. h wll.

#160 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 08:20 AM:

Liz Henry @#159: As you're brand new at Making Light, perhaps you might like to know that your comment reads as if you think Tom Whitmore is a prostitute.

#161 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 08:33 AM:

Carrie S @160, Did a massage therapist once rub her the wrong way? (Yes, that is kind of a wtf? rude comment.)

#162 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 08:41 AM:

I think Liz known Tom and is making a bit of an in-joke. (Or maybe an in-and-out joke.)

#163 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 08:49 AM:

If so, I hope she never gets to know me well enough to make "jokes". That comment was just mean.

#164 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 10:43 AM:

A little OT, but related . . . .

There's a 7-11 commercial airing in the NYC area that includes LARPing. By name, and in action.

DD (15), recently back from camp, saw it for the first time last night and literally quivered with joy.

I personally find it very amusing that this is yet another aspect of sfnal/geek culture that has enough mainstream penetration to go into a commercial without an explanation. It's played for laughs but not meanly.

#165 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 01:30 PM:

John, #162: I surely hope so, because that's the only assumption under which that comment could be even remotely justifiable. I'm with Carrie and Janet on this one.

#166 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 09:06 PM:

Lee #165: I beg to differ... that it would be justifiable, even then. If a friend of mine slagged any chosen profession of mine like that, in a public forum which I frequent, they wouldn't be my friend anymore.

#167 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2011, 10:30 PM:

Liz Henry: I don't know if anyone has said "Welcome to Making Light" yet. Welcome. We have our ways of doing things and we defend them aggressively; I'm sure there's an FAQ somewhere, I just can't point to it right now. [Combination of "not being an admin", "having been here a long time" and "not looking very hard."]

You might want to reread your post, imagining that this is the first thing you've read by either person involved, to see why people are reacting poorly.

In the meantime, I did run into a Fragano poem that I don't remember, so it wasn't a total loss! (What IS that form? It's not any sonnet form I know...)

#168 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2011, 04:12 AM:

I'm so sorry I didn't get to this earlier.

Liz Henry: Greetings, first-time commenter. If the tone of your comment was unintentional, I've just rescued you from having posted it. If it was intentional, repentance is an excellent path to forgiveness.

I've known Tom Whitmore for over thirty years. He's a mensch. He's also extraordinarily good at massage: anecdotes available on request via email.

#169 ::: Liz Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2011, 11:29 AM:

Since Tom knows what I'm talking about, he should have fielded this himself rather that letting Teresa and others speak up for him. Since he hasn't, I'll say that while in quite a lot of pain and having difficulty with basic mobility, I trusted Tom, because he was good friends with my trusted friends, to come to my house and massage me, a setup I appreciated very much because it was hard for me to get anywhere for physical therapy.

About the third time he came over he showed up drunk and while massaging me kept trying to turn the conversation to BDSM and trust issues. I asked him to change the subject but he could not stop talking about that and then kept trying to persuade me that he should massage my breasts and groin and that I should trust him. I had to ask him multiple times to move his hands away from my breasts and groin and finally I ended the massage early, paid him in full, and asked him to leave.

So, to see people I respect vouching for him and to see him blithely commenting about his bodyworker career on a thread about serious boundary violation bothered me. When I bring this incident up, as I have in the past, people are very concerned to protect Tom, his livelihood, his privacy, and his feelings, all of which mean he can do what he did again with impunity. I would not recommend him as a bodyworker, especially to women. Despite the bad behavior I experienced from him, which was quite upsetting, I am sure he is a lovely and complicated person, especially to his friends. But, I don't think that because someone has a long history of being wonderful, complicated, smart, interesting, and so on, means that I have to hush my mouth about his creepy behavior to me.

I did not do anything to indicate to him that I was sexually approachable and in fact I was in considerable pain throughout the incident and tried to maintain good boundaries.

Cheers. Sorry if this violates your comments policy. I hope not.

#170 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2011, 01:24 PM:

We have different memories of that event, Liz. I apologize for making you uncomfortable; I have taken to heart the feedback that you gave me after the event. I didn't respond because I did not wish to escalate the situation here. And I still don't. I will completely cop to, and apologize for, the alcohol I'd consumed before working with you on that occasion. I've done a great deal to remedy that particular problem in my life. I was definitely in the wrong there.

#171 ::: Liz Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2011, 02:06 PM:

Thanks for responding Tom, I respect that.

#172 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2011, 02:59 PM:

Liz, #169: Thank you for explaining. If you had said some of that in your first comment, I think you would have received quite a different reaction; context is important.

#173 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 05:23 PM:

One of the things I enjoyed about Chivalry and Sorcery was its emphasis on actually role-playing the characters, compared to D&D: that is, characters had a culture they came from, and a role in that culture, which affected gameplay.

Your mage might be a tribal shaman -- but that implies tribal obligations to be met, taboos to be forbidden (or on occasion mandatory), time spent on worship or appeasement of the spirits, etc.; going on treasure raids couldn't be the sole activity or goal of the character.

There was also a surrounding society to be aware of -- even if it wasn't the same society the characters came from -- which had to be taken into account. The standard D&D marauding party would likely wind up in the local king's dungeon (for banditry) in no time.

Although the first rulebook, with all the mechanics, described a generic medieval-feudal society, the supplement/expansion books (e.g. Vikings and Mongols, or Reptilians) went into depth on other cultures. Name lists; social roles and customs; the "known world" of your character and finding your place in that world; how your gameplay will differ from the first book as a result.

Applying that C&S approach to feminist RPG would suggest another expansion book on feminist cultures. I suppose the title might be Amazons. If copyright permission could be negotiated, the worlds of Sheri Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country (which on the surface isn't feminist at all!) and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Amazons would make great sections, along with the classical Amazons mentioned (and fought) by the Greeks.

This is what came to my mind when I read that question on, "Why create a whole new game...?"

A book for feminist RPG (not limited to C&S) could cover cultures and characters much the same way, but move discussion of mechanics to a back section, where effects on the varying games' mechanics would be covered for each separate game. It needn't have its own new mechanics, nor be limited to play within just one set of pre-existing mechanics. I think this would be more widely useful than just another game.


Re titles and power: The U.S. Congress has numerous committees, some of which are chaired by female members of Congress. I'm aware of one presently using the title "Chairwoman" (her choice of title); others use the title "Chairman". I think the latter set help break the "glass ceiling" presumption that "chairmen" are necessarily male. "Chairperson" (though itself neutral) does nothing toward that end.

#174 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 06:21 PM:

Liz, #169: Thank you for being strong enough to explain what your problem is with Tom. I do have two questions about the incident: 1) How long ago was this, and 2) how old was he then?

There is a third question, but it's one you'll need to find within yourself.

#175 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 07:11 PM:

Late to the thread, as usual. Given the discussion of indie RPGs breaking away from the "combat simulation" style of joint storytelling, perhaps it would not be 100% shameless plug to link to my husband's and friends' game-design group, Transneptune Games?

The game they're flogging at Gen Con this year, Becoming Heroes, uses the word as a non-gender term. And its cover art features a female sword fighter (in reasonable journeying clothes with boobs not even visible). Throughout the book they try to make it clear that all roles are open to all genders, and, as they wrote it, were open to feedback about unexamined privilege and inadvertent sexism. In the end, the product's not perfect, but I think they've done a good job in their attempt to make the game gender-neutral.

(This would be the approach of "'hero' shouldn't be a gendered term; do away with 'heroine' and make gender an unmarked state at all times", which, admittedly, and as attested to in the conversation above, is no panacea.)

As a system that differs from D&D-style combat-sim, the mechanics might be described as "You're a hero. What are your heroic traits? Describe how you use them to make the story go your way when conflicts arise."

They'll also be releasing a free PDF download of a very simple game, Lucid, which is meant to mimic a dream state. It has very few rules, and no single game-master/dungeon-master. People take turns narrating chunks of story which each culminate in a binary-state question. The player to the current narrator's left answers the question. The person on their right to explains why that's the answer. Pretty much pure interactive storytelling.

In any case, they do a lot of thinking (and blogging) about what RPGs are, along with how the mechanics and the terminology they use serves, or fails to serve, the core concepts and desired flavor of the game. Mentioning them here seemed downright apropos.

Also, I'm really proud of them! So thanks for letting me brag on 'em here.

#176 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 07:31 PM:

David Harmon @174

Really homie? I hope I'm misreading your intent. (Or maybe you and Liz know each other well enough that she knows what you mean?)

Liz doesn't owe you an explanation, and something about the tone of your comment gives me an itch like you're asking those questions in order to make some personal judgement on her experience.

If that's not the way you meant to ask (as I hope it's not), might I suggest that you explain why you want to know? Context does wonders for misinterpretations.

#177 ::: Dave DuPlantis ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 07:47 PM:

PJ @ 57, that was my impression as well, in both tabletop and console/PC RPGs. I've got nothing against cracking some skulls with a mace or cutting of limbs with a good sword, but there's something a little more satisfying about dropping mobs from long range, whether it's with a bow, a rifle, or a plasma pistol. Anything that keeps them from attacking me up close ...

To the larger point, I know it's a problem in video games in general as well as in tabletop RPGs (and most definitely within the intersection as well). In some games, there are either no female characters at all (Crackdown), or the women that are available are typecast (Diablo II). In other games where there is a choice, the storyline is simply edited with something like a search-and-replace, leaving the female character in situations where she's treated a lot like a male character would be (not in a gender-neutral way) (Fallout 3), or where the roles are flipped when the gender is, keeping the spotlight in the scene on the male PC or NPC (Fable III).

These aren't fringe games, either. They're games that are very popular, not just in their genre but as a whole (although not necessarily among all gamers, which can be a thread all its own) ... anyway, my point is that it's not like there's a small niche of publishers who just don't get it. It's the industry as a whole. There are probably a few who do get it, but honestly, I've played few games like that, and I'm speaking as a guy who doesn't have a vested interest in playing a female character. I don't think I can appreciate how it must feel to open Newly Purchased Game A, start it up, get to the Create Character screen, and stare in disappointment when you see the lack of choices.

So if someone wants to make an RPG centered on women, or a different type of game, or whatever, that's cool, and I definitely support that. Everybody ought to have a number of choices when they decide what they want to play. It's a shame that people like me can pull just about any game off the shelf and create a character that fits the game perfectly while a lot of other people don't get that opportunity.

#178 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 08:16 PM:

Pyre, #173: I personally prefer the title "Chair" as a gender-neutral form, but some people don't like that because it sounds like a piece of furniture. Mileage varies. (OTOH, I have heard the phrase "chairing the committee", and it works well with that.)

You probably know this, but for the benefit of those who haven't read any of the Darkover books: "Free Amazons" is the external name for that group, the one they are commonly called by others. They refer to themselves as "Renunciates" because they view themselves as having renounced the privileges traditionally accorded to women in that society in exchange for the freedom which is denied.

Devin, #176: I was also wondering the first thing that David asked. People do learn and change from experience, and I would be much less concerned about the incident (insofar as it affects my personal opinion of Tom) if it happened 20 years ago than if it happened last year. Having met Tom, I have a decent estimation of his current age from which to extrapolate. I would also be willing to bet that David was thinking much the same thing that I was.

(Aside: This is one of the values of an online review system for products and services. Anyone can have a bad experience; a pattern of bad experiences is much more telling.)

#179 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 09:17 PM:

Lee @178

And your comment, coming with context and acknowledging that what's happening here is not "Liz owes us answers" but simply "Lee wants to know," does not inspire the same itch. Even so, you're trying there to form an opinion of Tom. Ask him, then.

#180 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 09:44 PM:

Ahem. Tom Whitmore is an old friend of ours. Liz Henry, as it turns out, is a good friend of good friends of ours. We would actually like to remain on decent terms with both of them. There is no path to that outcome that includes an extended Making Light comment-thread discussion of their dispute. (A dispute we didn't even know existed before today.)

The issues raised here are important and obviously need to be discussed--but with all due respect to the insightfulness of Making Light's commentariat, this particular conflict between individuals is not going to be further discussed here. Partly because it has little to do with the gender of buried Vikings, and partly because this is not what Making Light is for. But ultimately because continuing to prod at the subject in this forum will not result in a satisfactory outcome for anyone concerned.

We don't want to trivialize anybody's experience, and we certainly don't dispute that people are entitled to speak up about bad experiences at the hands of others. But while we've seen many online forums grapple with incidents of this sort, we've rarely seen those discussions lead to enhanced insights or a useful resolution. It's not what open forums like this are good at.

I say all this not to reprove any of the participants, but to indicate to everyone else that this thread will be moving along now.

#181 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 10:18 PM:

Devin #176, #179: Lee #178 has pegged my thinking exactly. Good point that the question would have been better addressed to Tom, but in any case:

Patrick #180: Roger Wilco. I'm sorry for poking at this.

#182 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 10:19 PM:

Lee @178, on the other hand it's quite usual to speak of 'the throne' as though its occupant was less important than the piece of furniture it is. Which, in a way, she or he is.

#183 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2011, 10:48 PM:

Really moving along now.

#184 ::: John LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2011, 02:17 AM:

Hey all. Sorry to post so late in this thread, and I'm not exactly phototropic; you probably know my wife Niki however. Thanks for the props, hon!

I heard about H&H a while back, and given the circumstances, don't know if I can comment on it intelligently. Also, bones. I get all my forensics from TV shows, so I'd be no good at it.

What I would love to find out more about is what people here would identify as a feminist / woman-friendly RPG. It's been on my mind a lot since I've heard of H&H. It seems there are a few common strategies for this.

1. Understate issues while striving for equality in text and art. (Ex. most RPGs, including our own.)
2. Address issues directly, usually by counter-framing them. (Ex. "H&H", possibly "Hellcats & Hockysticks", and "Kagematsu".)
3. Address issues indirectly, usually by selecting themes which are classically "woman-oriented". (Games such as "It's Complicated" and "It Was A Mutual Decision")

There may be other strategies - and that's in part what I've been trying to find - but it seems that the vast majority of RPGs fall into these three groupings.

Of those, a majority probably fall into the first category. In fact, the RPG I've personally worked on is like this. We use the word hero as non-gendered, there are sample characters who are woman, plenty of women feature in flavor text, and we've revised our text several times to beat back the inevitable, unconscious sexism that I try (and too often fail) to guard against. But we don't bring it up directly, and there are things about the text I would change in the next edition.

While I believe the second strategy is fine, it's not to my taste. For instance, Kagematsu (a game where players are women in a Japanese village who woo a Ronin to aid them from an external thread) sets off all sorts of warning bells in my head - played with the right people, it would be intensely rewarding, but with the wrong ones, potentially disastrous.

The third strategy is also good, and not to be understated. These games tend to be higher-quality than many. Still, you can only play so many games where the sole focus is relationships. Most of the women I know who game enjoy epic fantasy, science fiction, mutants and horror as well as relationships and socialization. (I also know men who enjoy relationships and socialization, and there's an equal argument about hack-n-slash RPGs being dull.)

So yeah, that's essentially where I'm at with the whole feminist RPG idea. Lost, but unwilling to give up.

#185 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2011, 02:50 AM:

I'm reminded of a detail about job titles.

The British military had "women's services" in WW2, which were continued until the distinctions were dropped in the recent past.

In WW2 the names were different, and the officer ranks were differently named.

So the Army had the A.T.S. ("Auxiliary Territorial Service") which was, by the end of the war, even manning AA guns. But the equivalent of an Army Captain was titled a "Junior Commander".

The W.R.A.C. wasn't formed until after the war, and adopted normal Army rank titles in 1950. It was abolished in 1992, after which all women served on equal terms with the men.

(As always, there were some exceptions. Medical Officers, men and women, were always RAMC officers.)

I've known a few American writers who have put out WW2 novels involving women serving in the WRAC, which rather weakens my suspension of disbelief.

#186 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2011, 07:17 AM:

Dave, do you have a crystal ball, or something? I'm writing something with a protagonist who's in the ATS. In Berlin in 1945. Good grief.

#187 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2011, 10:34 AM:

Dave Bell @ 185: So the Army had the A.T.S. ("Auxiliary Territorial Service") which was, by the end of the war, even manning AA guns. But the equivalent of an Army Captain was titled a "Junior Commander".

Were they started up, or influenced by, naval rankings in equivalent earlier home defence organizations?

#188 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2011, 05:07 PM:

Lee, #178: And in procedural texts like Robert's Rules of Order, the word "chair" is used -- address the chair, wait to be recognized by the chair -- but it refers to the office rather than the officer (the person in the chair, so to speak) -- who may be "Mr. Chairman" or "Madam Chairman", Moderator, President, etc.

#189 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2011, 04:47 AM:

187: Not as far as I know. There were analogous corps for the other services - the Wrens for the Navy and the WAAFs for the RAF, and the Fannies (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) who are actually still around. Odette Sansom and Violette Szabo were (officially) Fannies seconded to SOE.

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