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Admiral Squish
2014-12-31, 09:31 AM
So, a spambot posted a thread of this very title, and before I moused over to preview, my first thought was 'huh, a thread about gender and leadership in fantasy, could be interesting'. Then I was sad. And then I realized, hey, I could make that thread.

So, let's rap. The topic: Gender and leadership in fantasy settings.
Some conversation starters:

Male/Female gender politics: How do you like to portray gender relationships in fantasy settings, and how do you like to see them portrayed? Do you go with the real-world historical relations, where males have all the social and political power, and women are strictly limited in their acceptable roles? Do you lighten it up a bit and allow women to take any position they desire, though it may not be a common practice (female knights, rulers, etc)? Do you go for a fully-equal arrangement, where men and women are just as likely to hold any given position? Or do you pull a reversal, with women being in positions of authority and men being strictly limited? And do these roles pervade the entire setting, or can they be different in different regions/cultures? Do other races have different concepts of gender, or do they even HAVE genders that humans are familiar with? Can these changes be made without playing into stereotypes?

Gender and love: Has anyone experimented with changing the gender roles associated with love, romance, and beauty? Perhaps making males be considered the more attractive gender, or having romance be seen as a traditionally male pursuit? Or perhaps had a male deity of love in a setting?

Gender-swapping: Has anyone experimented with variants of traditional settings or stories where characters therein have been gender-swapped? Romea and Julio? Hamlette? Robin Hood (that one actually works both ways)? Have you ever played a character who's changed gender at some point, and what was it like/what challenges did you face, both in-character and out-of-character?

AstralFire
2014-12-31, 09:45 AM
Oh jeez, I was like "I just reported this, what, are the bots getting psychic now?"

In general, I like to change gender roles within a campaign world's various cultures. I'll usually have the players start out in something of a moderately patriarchal society that feels familiar to them as a modern-day Westerners, but all bets are off for every other culture. My last campaign world had a nation where men were expected to cover up at all times if they were in public and didn't do manual labor or soldier's work -- and the physical traits associated with being big and strong were generally viewed as undesirable.

It was interesting to watch the player reactions, particularly as the self-appointed party leader was bristling with muscles but was also a high-Charisma supermodel (figuratively, not literally). While a handful of the NPCs were secretly attracted, this only heightened their disgust with him, and the rest were socialized to not find it attractive at all. He had to really earn their respect. The player seemed to find it an interesting perspective for his character to pick up.

Feddlefew
2014-12-31, 10:05 AM
Dwarves have been mono-gendered in my games, much like Dwarf Fortress dwarves. They also all have beards, although female dwarves don't get mustaches.

Gnoll society is exactly like Hyena society in Digger (the webcomic), meaning gender roles are reversed .

I've run elves as having a strict cast system in one game, so most jobs were only available to one or the other sex, but I can't remember the specifics off the top of my head.

I've solved the changeling problem in the past by having them be sequential hermaphrodites. In layman's terms, their true form changes sex every now and then as part of their normal life cycles, like Argonians from the elder scrolls series.

For humans I've generally run with "be whatever you want to be", although I've changed it up once or twice. For example, in one game I had planned a succession crisis based around the newly-crowned and orphaned King having no sisters. In short, to prevent the inbreeding that plagued surrounding kingdoms, the royal line was matrilineal, passing from oldest daughter to oldest daughter, while the monarch was always the oldest son in that family. The crown prince (age 15) had six younger brothers when his parents were assassinated. Unfortunately the game fell apart before the assassination happened, so....

Mr.Moron
2014-12-31, 10:16 AM
It's not an area I find compelling to mess around in very much. I generally default to something roughly in line, with our current real world expectations though more egalitarian with regards to the distribution of leadership positions.

I don't generally put up any gender-based barriers or limitations. It's usually assumed that some form of birth control is readily available, everyone has the same legal rights and there aren't any broad cultural rules that look down on someone of a particular gender taking on any particular role. Though individuals NPCs may be sexist if I'm looking to cast them in a negative light.

I don't split everything down the middle 50/50. I'm willing to bet the split winds up something like 60/40-ish for roles that are traditionally dominated by one gender in the real world. It isn't really conscious decision, I don't keep count.

Aka-chan
2014-12-31, 11:09 AM
In my settings, there generally isn't a big difference in gender roles, with two notable exceptions. One is the drow, because I went with "canon" for them. (Do we have a term for the fluff equivalent to RAW? FAW?)

The other was a nomadic tribe/clan-based civilization they ran into at one point. In that society, men were "supposed to" be the physical warriors (fighters, barbs, etc). Arcane casters were generally female, and divine casters could be either gender (because who are mere mortals to argue with the gods' choice of mouthpiece?).

AstralFire
2014-12-31, 11:13 AM
In my settings, there generally isn't a big difference in gender roles, with two notable exceptions. One is the drow, because I went with "canon" for them. (Do we have a term for the fluff equivalent to RAW? FAW?)

Canon or stock, I'd say.

Freelance GM
2014-12-31, 11:24 AM
Male/Female gender politics: How do you like to portray gender relationships in fantasy settings, and how do you like to see them portrayed? Do you go with the real-world historical relations, where males have all the social and political power, and women are strictly limited in their acceptable roles? Do you lighten it up a bit and allow women to take any position they desire, though it may not be a common practice (female knights, rulers, etc)? Do you go for a fully-equal arrangement, where men and women are just as likely to hold any given position? Or do you pull a reversal, with women being in positions of authority and men being strictly limited? And do these roles pervade the entire setting, or can they be different in different regions/cultures? Do other races have different concepts of gender, or do they even HAVE genders that humans are familiar with? Can these changes be made without playing into stereotypes?

Gender-swapping: Has anyone experimented with variants of traditional settings or stories where characters therein have been gender-swapped? Romea and Julio? Hamlette? Robin Hood (that one actually works both ways)? Have you ever played a character who's changed gender at some point, and what was it like/what challenges did you face, both in-character and out-of-character?

The first PC I ever played in a prolonged campaign was a most unfortunate thief named Jack the Rogue (to distinguish him from Jack the Mage, who had been in the party longer.) This was the Dungeon Crawl Classics beta, not D&D, and the Luck stat was practically the only thing keeping Jack alive- he couldn't go a single session without a getting a new scar or mental trauma.

The last session I played (before too much schoolwork forced me to leave the game) involved a magical basin. Two party members thoroughly examined it and couldn't figure out what it did- just that it was magical. So, my character took a look at it (despite being a Rogue, Jack had very high INT.) One failed saving throw and a few random rolls later, he wound up in a new female body that actually had higher DEX and CHA than his original.
So, the dilemma faced was whether to stay in his inexplicably superior new female form, or try to find a way to reverse the process, maintaining his gender identity but losing the improved appearance and reflexes. The convenient thing was that in-character, Jack was an opportunist who would be willing to tolerate the gender swap because of the benefits of his new form, even if the other Jack now insisted on calling him "Jacqueline." Out-of-character, I was fine with the transformation- the stat boosts were incredibly useful, and it was another funny thing that happened to the character. I just wish I could have kept playing until the game ended.

As far as gender politics in my games, I'm more comfortable RP'ing male characters, so there tend to me more male NPC's, but I make sure that female characters are at least referred to. Many historical figures and half of the major deities are either female, or identify as female, and occasionally I'll switch up the pronouns on some monsters the party encounters. In my setting, various cultures among the different races have different views, but even they aren't fully consistent. Mountain Dwarves take gender roles very seriously- Hill Dwarves are still fairly strict, but more relaxed. Most Elves and Halflings have a fully equal society, and Humans can fall anywhere on the spectrum depending on what part of the world you're in. (Kind of like IRL?)

What I've found is that the players notice- and tend to appreciate the diversity. Even when it's not working in their favor, it brings the cultures to life a bit.

Solaris
2014-12-31, 12:23 PM
Humans, I generally run them as being patriarchal to varying degrees, at least for the Western-based cultures. There are some exceptions (with the Valharim being a notable one; think "Valkyrie Amazons"), but by and large they're male-dominated cultures with varying degrees of egalitarianism; Queen Elizabeth would be unusual, but not unheard-of. In most of them, women are considered people and have full rights on account of my not being interested in revisiting medieval notions.
You could thus have a lady knight in most of the knightly orders, for example, but she might run into trouble from her detractors or from the older, more conservative members of the order (read: bad guys and rivals, not NPCs to be admired). I don't look to play it up more than I do the problems the male characters run into, though (see again about not interested in revisiting medieval notions).

Dwarves, orcs, and goblinoids tend to be very strictly Patriarchal (with a capital P, even). Humans think there aren't any dwarven women largely because the dwarf ladies stay home while the dwarf lads go out and do stuff. Think '1950s housewife' and you're on the right track. Orcs regard females as property, not people. Goblinoids (moreso hobgoblins than regular goblins) are more like the dwarves than they'd care to admit.

Elves are the most egalitarian race in most of my settings; both genders can hold pretty much any role and often do. They simply don't have gender roles the way humans do (arguably, because non-elves aren't the only ones who have trouble telling boy elves from girl elves).
Drow, of course, are still the dominatrix-fetish subterranean culture (subculture?), because heaven forfend we come up with something new. There's some unfortunate implications there, though, about the matriarchal society being one of the very few canonically evil ones...

Honest Tiefling
2014-12-31, 12:39 PM
I tend to make sexist settings, but not to the extent of history. However, if the society is so traditional as to be patriarchal, then the men also get limitations put on them. Don't want to be a solider or have your father marry you to the ugly but rich girl next door? Well too bad! Sure, it is not as bad as what the ladies get, but you can't always do whatever you want as a male either.

I do try to mix it up and give cultures different values, so for instance, one culture that is still patriarchal is perfectly fine with lady warriors who then gain the right to decide who they will marry (And are often considered good catches). And their members make fun of other cultures for never listening to their wives' advice. A lot of the societies have plenty of priestesses, and one does not tell a goddess that she cannot train her followers to kick butt.

GorinichSerpant
2014-12-31, 01:06 PM
One of the Races in the World that I'm currently building is a race of Bird people who live on Clouds and isolated islands where no one will find them. Sense they are birds, the men dress up in very colorful clothing and use flamboyant mannerisms while the women dress and act more reserved. There for the somber dwarves look like they dress femininely to them and the elf in a dress that looks like a rainbow is like a manly. Hilarity insured. They could still have a somewhat patriarchal society, just the kind of fancy clothes is swapped.

Vitruviansquid
2014-12-31, 01:42 PM
I don't mess around with gender in politics in my settings unless the question actually comes up, or I'm trying to portray an exotic culture. Both men and women are capable of and end up doing the daily humdrum tasks of any profession, including farming, the trades, soldiering, and dragonslaying, though.

I assume most of my players aren't showing up for me to gush on about my fantasy cultures, and they're much more interested in seeing what happens to their characters. If the question comes up of "can men in the setting do X or can women in the setting do Y," I usually just modify the setting on the fly to fit their desires.

Themrys
2014-12-31, 02:06 PM
One of the Races in the World that I'm currently building is a race of Bird people who live on Clouds and isolated islands where no one will find them. Sense they are birds, the men dress up in very colorful clothing and use flamboyant mannerisms while the women dress and act more reserved. There for the somber dwarves look like they dress femininely to them and the elf in a dress that looks like a rainbow is like a manly. Hilarity insured. They could still have a somewhat patriarchal society, just the kind of fancy clothes is swapped.

You mean, somewhat patriarchal in that women do the work of childrearing unpaid, while the males strut around in their beautiful clothes? Makes sense, after all, it is the same with the birds you can base this on, like peafowl.


I consider a setting where the sexes are equal the most sensible one for a mainstream fantasy game. One size fits all. And I don't mean "everyone behaves like a stereotypical man" equal, I mean "everyone does stuff" equal. So, beautiful male dancers, yay!

Should I ever be able to get an all-female group together, I'll try and experiment with some role reversal. (This is what I'd like to see, but I am realistic enough to not expect a male GM to be able to pull it off, and don't feel like trying to get males to give it a try.)

Honest Tiefling
2014-12-31, 02:09 PM
Should I ever be able to get an all-female group together, I'll try and experiment with some role reversal. (This is what I'd like to see, but I am realistic enough to not expect a male GM to be able to pull it off, and don't feel like trying to get males to give it a try.)

Err...Why not? A good DM should be able to put themselves into the shoes of a woman, especially one in charge. I've heard that they make up a great deal of the population and can be quite good at decision making, but I don't leave my basement and brave the glare of the sun enough to find out.

Solaris
2014-12-31, 02:15 PM
Err...Why not? A good DM should be able to put themselves into the shoes of a woman, especially one in charge. I've heard that they make up a great deal of the population and can be quite good at decision making, but I don't leave my basement and brave the glare of the sun enough to find out.

Evidently females can put themselves in traditionally masculine roles, but males lack the ability to put themselves in feminine roles.

I wouldn't despair of it, Themrys. Drag queens are a thing, as are cross-dressers, cross-dreamers, and a whole spectrum of transgenderism even without the assumption that a 'normal' male can assume a feminine role for a role-playing game.

AstralFire
2014-12-31, 02:16 PM
You mean, somewhat patriarchal in that women do the work of childrearing unpaid, while the males strut around in their beautiful clothes? Makes sense, after all, it is the same with the birds you can base this on, like peafowl.


I consider a setting where the sexes are equal the most sensible one for a mainstream fantasy game. One size fits all. And I don't mean "everyone behaves like a stereotypical man" equal, I mean "everyone does stuff" equal. So, beautiful male dancers, yay!

Should I ever be able to get an all-female group together, I'll try and experiment with some role reversal. (This is what I'd like to see, but I am realistic enough to not expect a male GM to be able to pull it off, and don't feel like trying to get males to give it a try.)

Most of the guys I know online are cool with it, and I can name a few IRL gamers who are handle this sort of thing really well, including my IRL DM. It really does depend on your social circles.

Jay R
2014-12-31, 04:50 PM
Most of my players are comfortable in a mostly medieval society. The exceptions like Joan of Arc and Sir Britomart are more numerous, and include all PCs, of course. The introduction to my current game included the following:


Men and women are different in this period. All women will have at least one Non-Weapon Proficiency of sewing, cooking or embroidery, or some such, and all men will have leatherwork, woodwork, smith, or some equivalent. You donít have to care about it, but thatís life in a small village. I urge the party as a whole to have sewing, leatherwork, and blacksmithing, just to repair clothes and armor. Otherwise, Iíll have to track any damage done. Similarly, if you donít have a fletcher, I will count arrows.

Exactly half the players are women, and nobody's complained. They've met three male rulers in their travels, and while they don't know it, they will soon meet a female ruler.

There's no discrimination in the areas that matter -- the gnolls who've attacked them are equally willing to eat men and women.

Themrys
2014-12-31, 07:28 PM
Err...Why not? A good DM should be able to put themselves into the shoes of a woman, especially one in charge.

Maybe. I am through two regular DMs now, though, and one even admitted that he didn't want to play female characters as DM if he could avoid it, and thought the female PC played by a man was badly played because she "acted too much like a man" ... I, being an actual woman, was not of that opinion, but there is that.

The one I'm still playing with is okay so far, but he is a bit socially inept and I don't feel like he's up to the task, neither as DM nor as player. (He always plays the same type of character, and is hopeless at lying in-character. I feel like pretending to be different from his usual self is not his strong side)

One I met with, but decided not to play with, argued that Daenarys Targyaren was a happy young bride on her wedding night. We were discussing the ASOIAF books. Now, I am not allowed to talk about politics here, but you can guess my opinion on his ability to empathize with women.

Maybe I just have bad luck, or live in the wrong place. Still ...

BWR
2015-01-01, 03:35 AM
I tend to be pretty conservative in my games, mostly because the settings I run were made in a slightly less enlightened time. In Mystara there are more male rulers than female, males don't wear skirts or dresses, most warriors are men, women are the primary caretaker of offspring, etc. However, there are female rulers and no one thinks this odd, there are women who do any job a guy may do and no one thinks anything of it, there are men who do the job of primary parent while the woman is out doing stuff and there isn't any sort of social stigma concerning this. Any other strictly defined gender roles a society may have are observed because I generally like sticking to canon. Some cultures have a less strict concept of gender than others, but alternate genders haven't been a thing.

Gender and love...I like to think I'm pretty equal there but I'm more likely a bit conservative in that regard. Again, since I run mostly published campaign settings, gods of love will be female. And there are definitely pretty boys as well as pretty girls in my games, in about equal amounts. I did play a knight once, so courtly romance was the order of the day, even if I didn't have much opportunity to explore it.

No gender-swapping situations that I can think of, but I won't rule it out in the future. I suppose you might count female adventurers saving the prince as a gender-swap story but I'm not sure that really counts. Haven't had any sex/gender change events yet.

Dayaz
2015-01-01, 03:56 AM
I'm not exactly sure how it usually falls in our games... Our two DMs are brothers who occasionally trade places and both are perfectly capable of playing female characters. One of them has, in fact, only made a single male character in over 7 years of playing, and it was a theory build, not an actual character.

In thinking on it more deeply, I find that the world we're usually given has a fairly patriarchal tone, but roughly 80% of the people in charge that we meet/work for tend to be women (with a free vow of Chastity, apparently -grins- there's a bit of a funny story there, actually...)

It also happens, that in the typical set up the face is a female, the BSF (me) is a male, and the rest of the part varies but the party is almost always 75% or more female (although my character being the only male has actually led to shenanigans, both good and really, really bad)

Arcane_Snowman
2015-01-01, 09:45 AM
I've played in games and with people who have handle it both well and poorly. Though, when I DM myself I do try to keep it as even as possible. In setting that are inherently very sexist (I've run some proto-historical games), I've a tendency to keep it as egalitarian as I can, except when it would actually impact the story meaningfully. That being said, I haven't really run a game with such themes being particularly central to that arc.

I don't shy away from portraying female characters as a DM, although more males are probably encountered by my players, simply by sheer virtue the fact that I'm male, and so it's the first thing I reach for when I have to come up with something fast.

As to portraying female characters as a player, I have played a few here and there and they stand out all the more because of it.

As to transgender people or same sex relationships, I've had those things in my games as well, although they don't come up particularly often: with the former, primarily because most of the people in my group haven't thought too heavily about it, and latter rarely comes up as we don't really focus too much on that kind of interpersonal relationships in the games I've played in.


Maybe I just have bad luck, or live in the wrong place. Still ... Sounds like a bit of both to be honest, there are people who are entirely capable of handling it, but it does sound like your DMs have a bit to go before they get there.

The Insanity
2015-01-01, 11:49 PM
Depends on the setting. And when I'm not running anything published (like FR, which I very much like to play/run in), depends on the area the PCs are currently adventuring in. For example in my "original" setting there's a tribal orc society that pretty much has its roles reversed, kinda, in the sense that women are the warriors, workers, crafters, etc. of the tribe and although males still can hold such positions, due to being rare (for an uknown reason the tribe has very low male birth ratios) are generally delegated towards safer professions.
But in general my games tend to be quite gender neutral. To be honest, I find roleplaying women to be more interesting and... "estetically pleasing" to me (I'd rather imagine pretty ladies than men, lol). Sometimes I even have to remind myself to put some male NPCs in the game, haha.

Dunno if I should make a new thread for it, but it's kinda related to this topic, so I'll try here. It's about that tribe I was describing above. I'm wondering how much political power could caretakers of the tribe's children acquire from the sheer fact that they're raising the next (and in case of orcs sometimes even the next next) genaration, which gives them ample opportunities to meld the minds of future rulers or generals however they like?

Lord Torath
2015-01-02, 01:04 AM
My group started out with two male and two female PCs(M2, F2). They acquired a male follower, and rescued two others (M5, F2). One of the rescued males died, the first left, and the group encountered three ladies who wanted their help escaping a haunted castle (M3, F5). My niece started playing, and took over the remaining male follower, but we swapped him to a girl - same stats, abilities, etc. (M2, F6). So far the only king they're aware of is male (Duke Stephan Karameikos - guess where I'm playing :smallwink:), but the island they're heading to has an aboriginal society with each tribe jointly ruled by a headman and headwoman.

The civilized races (ie. PC races) are all pretty much gender equal. Granted, most of the soldiers are men, and most of the women stay at home, but no one sticks their nose up at a female warrior or blacksmith, and bards are equally likely to be male or female. Nobles are likely to be of either gender, and about half the guards at the keep they started at were women.

YossarianLives
2015-01-02, 01:12 AM
I generally tend to have slightly more male leaders. That's just because I want to make it feel more like actual medievaly-ages while not offending anyone or putting restrictions on female players.

Solaris
2015-01-02, 01:20 AM
Here's an interesting consideration: How much does appearance play a role in female character design as compared to male character design? How often does an adjective based around appearance (such as beautiful or ugly) come up with males as compared to females?

For myself, I know I put a lot more thought and consideration into female appearance than I do males (at least for humans and demihumans). I describe them enough that I can at least draw them, but a female's description is generally going to be several words to a couple of sentences longer than a male's. That's not due to objectification or anything silly like that, it's due to the fact that masculine styles are pretty monotonous when compared to feminine styles.
(The reason I draw more females, on the other hand, is 'cause they have the boobies.)

The Glyphstone
2015-01-02, 01:23 AM
In my GMing history, I've been pretty egalitarian as far as I can remember. I mostly run published modules, and Paizo is pretty good about mixing up gender roles for authority NPCs. My groups have been both male- and female-heavy, their main trait in common being a strong tendency to murderhoboism.


As far as my own setting goes (a WIP in World-Building), I've got:

-A matriarchal theocracy that puts women in positions of leadership and authority, with men culturally subservient as laborers, craftsmen, and infantry.
-A more traditional patriarchal monarchy that is dealing with its first-ever queen as the sole surviving child of the royal family, crowned as an expedient to end a civil war.
-A necrocracy where cultural standing is elevated by your (lack of) heartbeat, not your gender.
-An Inuit-esque barbarian society where gender roles are strictly delineated, but in a fashion that makes both vital to the community's survival.
-A nonhuman race that reproduces via communal budding and has no concept of gender differentiation.
-A literal bubble kingdom in the middle of a magical wasteland, where duties and responsibilities are allocated without apparent regard to gender by an intelligent artifact.

And a few others I haven't culturally nailed down yet, but that is an interesting selection now that I look at it.