D&D is for Boys: Or, Why I’m Always the DM

It was 1984 when I received my first Dungeons & Dragons boxed set for my birthday.  Veteran gamers will remember this red-book set with its dice that had to be coloured in with a crayon to see the numbers.  I was so excited!  I had heard about this game and as a fantasy/sci-fi reader, there was nothing I wanted to play more.  I convinced my little brother to do some of the pre-made adventures with me.  It was fun, but he wasn’t really into it.

When I learned that other kids in my neighbourhood had a D&D gaming group, I was even more excited.  I asked them if I could play with them as soon as I had the chance.

“D&D is for boys,” said Kevin, Tony and J.J.

So I was sixteen before I had a chance to try again.  This time, my boyfriend had gotten involved in an AD&D group.  He was just telling me what he was doing on Sunday afternoon.  He was surprised as hell when I badgered and cajoled him into taking me with him.

The DM, a large man, made everyone roll for random body size.  I get that he wanted some fat representation, but I was frustrated.  This was my first real character; why couldn’t I play whatever I wanted?

The kicker was that he made us roll randomly for breast and penis size too.  Naturally my character ended up with thunder tits.

I learned from the experience.  As soon as that character was killed off, I rolled up a male rogue who had all the same abilities as the female character I’d been playing.  Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, I thought.

But then they argued about whether or not a female player should be allowed to play a male character, because it was “confusing.”  But I stuck to my guns.  “Deal with it,” I said.

When the DM went away for work, I joined another game with a different friend of my boyfriend.  This one was a Rifts game.  Not knowing the new system, I made up a Palladium mage as a point of familiarity.  I ended up in a party with a Glitterboy Pilot, a Robotech Pilot, and the DM’s girlfriend.

Yeah.  Did my character ever get to do anything except get slaughtered?  No.

When my boyfriend moved away that game ended, so I found another game with some kids I chummed around with in high school.  I was the tomboy type, so many of my friends were boys: it wasn’t hard.  It was another Rifts game.  Knowing the system better now, I excitedly made up a Blind Atlantean Warrior Woman, one of the biggest badasses I could think of . . .

. . . who was introduced to the party by the DM having her locked in a closet, tied and gagged (with mere rope, no less!) having to be rescued by the rest of the party.

Yeah; fuck that noise.  I never went back.

In the meantime, I was now still going to high school but living on my own, and I moved in with a friend named Donnie, who was also running a game.  This game was largely forgettable.  I remember being talked over a lot.  I got into a screaming argument over the rules with the man who would become my future husband.

When I graduated high school, my boyfriend moved back to the area and stayed with his friends and another friend of ours named Kevin (not my childhood neighbour).  They started up a game.  To Kevin’s credit, I actually felt listened to and taken seriously, and I wasn’t the only girl there; there were two others who were part of our social circle.  My character was the male rogue I’d originally written up for that ill-fated game at sixteen, and he ended up the party leader.

There was a lot of sex in that game.  I don’t object.  I trusted everyone there, we were good friends, and we were all new adults, exploring our sexuality in a safe, theoretical setting.  We’d have done well with The Book of Erotic Fantasy, if it had existed at that time.

When that game ended, and my boyfriend and I got our own place, he started up a game.  My future husband joined this game too, and was considerably less aggressive than he had been in the first game we’d played together.  For a while we had a great time.

Then this one friend of a friend joined the group, and he was one of those people who has to be as contradictory as possible in every way.  He played mean-spirited jokes, and created as much discord as possible.  Many of those jokes were horribly sexist.  Finally I got extremely angry.  I said that either he would have to go, or I was quitting.

I am gratified that they chose me; at least I wasn’t trying to disturb shit all the time.  But I kept getting into arguments with my boyfriend about the rules, who was nasty about it.

Fine, I thought.  I’ll make my own game, and I’ll be the DM.

I had discovered Spelljammer, which is a love I maintain to this day.  It had the added benefit of an in-system strategy game element with ship figures and a hex board, and this was something I was good at.  Naturally I tried to give the benefit of the doubt to the characters though.  Some DMs set out to murder their characters, but I think that’s all too easy when you control the conditions of the world.  I would rather they would wish they were dead.

I created my own campaign world.  Now that male rogue from my first game was a significant NPC.  They loved it.  We still play in it from time to time.  I may write books about it someday.

When the Storyteller system crossed our path I started a Werewolf: the Apocalypse game that eventually ran for fifteen years, and remains a legend among my friends.  I also started a Vampire: the Masquerade game not long after; that one ran for twelve years.

I love it.  I love being a DM and a Storyteller.  But eventually, I wanted to play too.

I would try different games from time to time.  Twilight 2000, for example.  That was a bad choice; apparently men innately disrespect women in all matters military.  Robotech.  Also a bad choice; they wanted me to be Minmei, while I wanted to be a Robotech Pilot.

Once I made the mistake of joining my now-boyfriend’s (and future husband’s) old gaming group.  He assured me his cousin Ted was an awesome DM, this was an epic level gaming group, and they were even playing in the Storyteller world.  I now had a 7th rank werewolf (male) character and a Methuselah (female) vampire character who hunted other vampires (out of ethical opposition, not for food) so he figured my characters were perfect for the campaign.

Ha.  The female vampire was immediately marginalized.  They told me that in-character, their party had dealt with a lot of idiot women (generally, I understand, played by girlfriends of the all-male core gaming group) and so any woman had to prove she wasn’t an idiot.  Not that they ever gave her the chance.  I finally had her challenge one of the characters, who was continually insulting her knightly honour, to a duel.  She won.  The player stopped playing.

The male werewolf was taking offense at the rest of the party, but as a Philodox he tried to negotiate.  They were all, apparently, members of some intergalactic policing group, and they figured they were just going to come to Earth and police his people.  I told them that his group did not acknowledge their authority, and if they wanted the help of the werewolves against the agents of the Wyrm, they were going to have to stop trying to boss them around like they were a bunch of savages.  They claimed their high technology gave them the right to command, and I reminded them werewolves had all sorts of spiritual powers that would fuck their technology royally and blow their fancy spaceships right out of the sky.

Another player decided he was going on a killing spree in response to this, and assassinated a bunch of my character’s friends.  Yeah, I gave up after that.  Fuck it; let them have their stupid little boys club.  They were all rude to me out of game as well as in game anyway, except my future husband and the DM, and he (the DM) was the one who’d explained to me that all previous women characters had been idiots.

Ultimately I learned that if I or my husband were not the DM, I was going to get the bullshit sexist treatment.  So I stopped playing games unless I was running them.

My point, folks, is that this has been going on for a very long time.  I’m fucking tired of it.  You would think that in this day and age this wouldn’t be a problem, especially when gaming companies have been working to make those of us who feel marginalized less so, rightfully assuming they won’t grow their market unless they get their shit together on this.  But no.  We still get this shit at cons and in our local gaming groups, as the two articles I’ve posted over the past couple of days prove.

I won’t say it’s always been like this.  There have been exceptions, and they’re worth mentioning.  For instance, I never felt marginalized when I was part of the Fantaseum website staff, which was the official AD&D Core Rules website.  Most of the staff were Gulf War veterans, and it was run by a (heterosexual) couple who were highly respected in the community.  Maybe being soldiers gave them more respect for women, as much as the stereotype suggests otherwise.

I also never felt marginalized as part of the Spelljammer fan community, although I have been mansplained to a few times, and I’ve also had to correct some masculine-oriented language from a guy whom I know was otherwise well-intentioned.  I genuinely believe he just didn’t know any better.

But why are these the exceptions?

You want to talk about “real gamers?”  Bitches, I have played Basic D&D, 1st edition D&D, AD&D, D&D 3rd edition, D&D 5th edition, Rifts, Palladium, a plethora of related games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Twilight 2000, Call of Cthulu, every Storyteller game they ever invented, Star Wars d6 and Star Wars d20, Battletech, Heavy Gear, DC Heroes, Marvel, Shadowrun, Gamma World, and Pathfinder.  I have played sci-fi settings, fantasy settings, modern contemporary settings.  I have DMed or GMed or Storytold just about every single one of those systems too.  I’ve been here for longer than most of you have lived.

And I’m tired of your shit.  I’m tired of you ruining my favourite hobby.  So if you can’t adapt to the fact that women, and non-binary people, and PoC, are here and always have been, GTFO.  I’m done being the Philodox and trying to negotiate.  It’s Ahroun lay-a-beatin’ time.


8 thoughts on “D&D is for Boys: Or, Why I’m Always the DM

  1. Great post. Sorry that happened to you. Speaking as a DM, I’d never let that happen at my table. That kind of treatment would never originate from me and anyone else who kicked it off would be out of the door so quickly that their feet wouldn’t touch the ground.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry this happened to you.

    I haven’t played D&D in 20ish years and miss it dearly. Luckily my fiance wants to try it after seeing the kids play it on “Stranger Things”, I’ll have to be mindful of how she’s treated by myself and others.

    The only time I played D&D with women was 25 years ago in university, and out of 7 players 2 were women. I don’t remember treating the ladies any different than any of the other players, though that might just be wishful thinking. I do know that the campaign ran the whole school year, and the only one to quit was one of the guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you were doing fine then. Yes, please look out for your fiance. Other men in the hobby speaking out and looking for these issues will much improve the experience of women in the hobby. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Still miss gaming with you all, Sable. Have however managed to find a nice discord voice with roll20 site desktop dice rolling and maps exctra. Happily gender is not a issue for them and we even have a older former actress who this is her first dnd foray who plays a male dwarf. With a Erin level evil dm. I even based my characters loosely on the characters of the ongoing house game I was in with you guys. Not a big fan of the fate roll deal becouse I think the dice roller algorithm hates me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This, this, this!

    I got into gaming via a bf and we gamed with his friends. One particularly memorable time, the DM (who hadn’t played much with me) told me I could only play if I could create a play-ready character in 5 min. The look on his face a three questions and 4 min later, when I slapped down a rogue with all the necessities, was priceless.
    Oh, look, chick can roll up a character like a boss.

    I played Rifts until the GM tried to pressure me into swinging with him and his wife. I laughed it off until he pulled a gun on me. Done.

    The university gaming group was great, talking me through the changes for the then-new 3rd Ed. I still shocked them when I had the savvy to make my archer a sharpshooter.

    Mostly, like you, I found it was best if I was the one running game. Now, hubby is the DM for me, our 11 yo son, 1-2 of his friends, and our 7 yo daughter (she’s a barbarian – rage smash!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barbarian is a good class for a 7-year-old I think. Makes it nice and simple, lets them vent some frustration from real life in feeling powerless; it’s all good. 😉

      Yeah, family games are good fun and I suspect we’re not the only women gamers out there who do most of our gaming in-house – for exactly these kinds of reasons. My boys all joined in at one point or another, usually not until they were teenagers though. Kinda miss playing with them, actually.

      Scary, that asshole with a gun! Holy crap!


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