Monday, October 8, 2012

Too Few Women in Your D&D Group?

I play Dungeons and Dragons. Not as often now as I did in college, but every now and then, I join a group of friends around the table for a delicious meal, pull the dicebag out of my purse, a character sheet out of my bag, and indulge in a four to six hour hangout session with a bunch of friends who know how to tell a good story. Some of these friends are women.

Despite the stereotypes, 1/3-1/2 women is the norm I play with. I've never been the only girl in a group, at least not for the entire campaign, and I don't go specifically looking for co-ed groups: I just hang out with my friends. Lady geeks tend to enjoy a good cooperative game that involves lots of roleplaying; there are few better games for social cooperative gaming than Dungeons & Dragons.

Sometimes I hear the question of "how do we get more women to join our group?" It's simple: 1) Know women who are geeks and 2) Play the game in a manner that appeals to the women you know.

There are ladies who prefer meat-grinding dungeon crawls over any other kind of dungeon. But on the whole, there are aspects of the game that women in general (at least the ones I know) tend to enjoy more. If you've got a gender imbalance and want more women in your group, here are some things to try, based on what I and the other lady geeks I've met enjoy:

  • Make sure your campaign has an overarching plot. Consider how popular RPG games are with video-game playing women. Plot's important, so embrace it.
  • Avoid railroading. Nobody likes being steered in a certain direction without choice. Out-of-the-box scenarios are especially prone to this bad habit, so if your DM enjoys this kind of creativity, ask if he or she is willing to make a campaign from scratch that responds to the characters' backstories, choices, and personal goals. It's a big time commitment, but everyone in the group will probably enjoy the games more. If it's not possible, try adding house rules to customize the game, or give the players pieces of backstory to work around so that they can come into the scenario already tied to it. This will make it seem more personalized.
  • Include roleplaying XP. Meat-grinding isn't appealing to everyone. Give players equal credit for figuring a way to avoid a fight as for killing all the monsters in gratuitous slaughter. Sometimes a battle is the best way to deal with a problem, but if it's always the best way? Not as much fun. The games in which my female friends and I generally have the most fun tend to involve a more or less equal ration of problem-solving to meat-grinding--especially when the problems are responsive to the party's attributes.
  • Let the ladies take a few sidequests of their own making. There's nothing wrong with armor-decorating or in-game recipe sharing, and if they decide to organize a town-wide celebration for the mayor's birthday as a distraction for the party to avoid getting caught sneaking into the mayor's mansion--let them go all out! Being nerdy doesn't mean girls don't still enjoy being girly on occasion (unless the DM throws "fashion unicorn sparkly party" at them; that's just lame. You're best off letting each group of women spark their own ideas until you have a genuine feeling for sidequests they might enjoy). It's not a bad idea to suggest the party delegate tasks so that party members who aren't into selecting gauntlets and matching boots can be, say, out on a hunting mission, or off buying a ship from the docks. Each sub-group can make a plan and then approve the highlights with the DM. This is a great place to award roleplaying XP, and if that impromptu birthday celebration later helps the party when dealing with the townsfolk, so much the better.
Don't make the mistake of assigning the girls to 'girly' tasks. Not every woman likes cooking; some men are excellent at event planning. Allow your players to choose for themselves who does what.
  • Include a social aspect of the game. If charisma is an across-the-board dump stat, consider giving your characters more town-time. Also, don't emphasize charisma disproportionately for female characters when it doesn't matter: a fighter still values strength over flirting ability. Incorporate tasks where diplomacy matters. If you're playing 3.5 or older, remember that "bard" is only a useless class if the DM makes it such. Encourage your DM to build a campaign that makes use of every character's strongest skills.
  • Don't force the girls to play clerics or sorceresses. Yes, those are the classes women frequently play. Often that's because the guys have already called dibs on the fighter-classes. Every now and then, encourage a female player to try a barbarian or a fighter--but don't force her if she declines.
  • Avoid rules-lawyering. Sitting around for half an hour arguing over a rule wastes everyone's time. If your DM is purposely trying to kill your characters, try switching to Paranoia or let someone else DM for a while. Otherwise, try adopting a "DM says, challenge later" rule, where you accept the DM's take for the game session and e-mail challenges or notes afterwards, to be applied in the future (but never retroactively).
  • Let the group goof off every now and then. In-character joking around is just plain fun. And build in time for out-of-character chat, too. You should be playing with friends, anyway, so if you're all-focus, all-the-time, you're probably stressing your friendships.
  • Be welcoming of new players. D&D is less popular among teen girls as it is among teen guys, so it's statistically likely that if you have a gender-balanced group, more females than males in your group have been playing for a shorter time than the group average. Being inviting to new players of either gender is a big part of growing your group; seeing another new player being mocked for being slow to figure out the math or for having less-than-fantastic battle plans typically makes a woman just as uncomfortable as being mocked herself. Yes, even if she gets treated well herself.
  •  After each session, ask every player what they enjoyed the most about that session's gameplay. Do those sorts of things more often. It might sound dorky, but all the best DMs I've played with have done this.
If you do these things already (because, let's face it, most of these are just as popular with men), and still have few to no women in your group, ask yourself if you've made a point of inviting women to join your group. Girl geeks won't appear out of nowhere; make the effort to meet a few, and invite them to bring friends (of either gender). This is called growing your social circle, also known as "making new friends." One of the best ways to bring new people in is by word-of-mouth: lady geeks will often know a couple of other lady geeks in the area, so recruiting one is the first step to gaining a balanced group. Just don't assume that every female geek has a coterie of fellow female geeks.

Do keep an eye out for jerks. Although they're just as rare as actual male jerks, female jerks just as certainly exist. Since lady geeks, like male geeks, can be loners or just plain socially awkward, it can be tough to tell the difference between a normal player and a jerk. Lady jerks are typically harder for a male player to spot than for a female player, especially at first. One test is to invite another female geek you know who isn't cliquish, have her play a few sessions (3-6), and then ask her opinion.

Every woman has different tastes and interests, so these are guidelines, not do-or-die rules. Even if you don't follow any of these suggestions, you may still find women joining your group. Keep in touch with your players' interests, and you'll make your own sessions more fun regardless of who plays.

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