Thursday, March 31, 2016

When Others Tell You What You're Doing, and they haven't got a clue

I was awarded a Masters Degree in Education by Xavier University in 2005. I state this not as a boast, but to establish the basis for what I am going to discuss at length: teaching and learning.
 I use terms that apparently offend differing parts of slightly more than half of our society for various reasons unbeknownst to me. Those terms are: lady and female (in my world, those of our species not born with a penis). I always assume one to be the former until proven otherwise. I have a wife, a daughter, grand- daughters and a great grand-daughter and expect them to be viewed by others similarly. I am a product of the Boomer generation and make no apology for that.

Recently, my efforts to bring more ladies into RPG’s have been misunderstood, impugned and insulted. What follows is how this all came to be. If I repeat something here I said elsewhere, I’m either sorry or it is important. In general, I use the term “wargaming” as the tent that holds us all, boardgamers, minis players and RPG’ers.

Several months ago my wife stunned me with a request to put together a D&D adventure for her and a bunch of her lady friends from Zumba class, none of whom had any RPG experience. I put together a very linear adventure (not so much “railroading” as limiting potentially distracting factors) with the intent of analyzing early actions for the lessons to be learned; sort of learning-on-the-fly. I gave them pre-generated Player Characters with minimal info; all they had was their six stats, their THAC0 and their HP. I explained each in about 30 words or less on a handout and we were playing in 15 minutes from sitting down to the table.

Four hours after beginning they had chased down the wicked bugbears who had stolen their patron saint’s finger to put in their soup, retrieved said phalange and rendered the bugbears hors de combat, and they all had a working knowledge of RPG’ing. We played with a single sheet of paper, a writing utensil of some sort and a handful of dice. Oh, yes, we also freely exercised our imaginations, had numerous laughs and wondered where four hours had gone so quickly.

I realized that I had touched upon something dormant in our hobby—rules overload and how this affects someone wishing to participate in the hobby we love. That stack of books we all lug around is really intimidating; newbies (of either sex) often feel that they will be at some sort of disadvantage if they don’t know everything in those books when they first sit down at a table.

How shocked would you be to know that I had the only set of rules for at least three quarters on the whole campus, and possible in all of southern Illinois in ’74-’75? The only reason someone in the group (well over a dozen avid RPG’ers ) finally broke down and bought a set was because I was graduating and taking mine with me to my new job at TSR.

I have taught in co-ed schools and I have taught in same-sex schools. The two types of schools have radically different dynamics. I have worked with every age of student, from pre-K to HS. More studies than I can count or care to list here have had some very interesting research results when studying classroom dynamics and environments. To sum up, very briefly: learning occurs differently in same-sex classrooms than in co-ed settings. I am not a shrink, nor have I read much in that field except as it might pertain to education and class rooms, so I claim no special expertise in this subject. Percentage-wise, more girls excel in the STEM fields in all-girls schools than do in co-ed settings. There are all sorts of social and societal forces at play here, as well as which students’ families can afford private schools which virtually all same-sex schools are today. In the end. what it ultimately boils down to is comfort; how embracing, inclusive and comfortable is the learning environment?
Girls learn differently when not in the presence of boys; the same is true for boys when not around girls. All sorts of factors are at work here: less fear of embarrassment in front of the other sex, no showing off for the other sex, no being thought of oddly for showing interest in something not associated with your sex, the list goes on and ends with just less distraction.

From the beginning in Prussia, scores of years ago, wargaming was a male, military pursuit. It was serious business, used to train men to more efficiently kill, maim or capture more of the other sides’ men in war. As the wargaming hobby evolved, from serious killing-efficiency exercise to parlour entertainment for the wealthy, it remained a male pursuit, by and large.

It is too easy for us in the 21st century to declaim how horrid things were in the past in terms of today’s values and standards, but that is what they were then. If a woman was interested in something such as pushing brightly colored blocks of wood representing units of troops about on a large table, she was the one thought to be “odd”. (Gaming has always had a close relationship with Irony.)
I started The Dragon magazine (the original name I gave it) in 1976. It was not until 1978 that we got our second female subscriber (out of about 2700). I am sure there were ladies buying copies in stores, but I had no way of knowing where or how many or who, or what, etc. I got very few submissions from female writers, and almost always used ones I did get, no matter how badly they needed editing. I sought out lady artists; they were damned few and far between. I continued that trend with Adventure Gaming, my later magazine. This was in the early’80’s and still less than 5% of my subscribers were female.

I am going on about this to show how I have been wargaming for over 50 years now, almost exclusively in the company of males, until relatively recently.

After the success of the little thing I put together for my wife and her friends,  I thought to do something like it for conventions, and maybe turn it into a teaching tool of sorts. I have spoken to lady gamers who do not role-play; fear of the seeming immensity of the rules is a factor. I have seen females of all ages sitting on the edges listening but not playing; I want to change that. I want to do it in a non-threatening setting that has so far worked very well; I have two more tests scheduled at NTRPGCon and GameHole. For GH, I intend to run a ladies-only game for experienced players.

My intro-game is in no way wussed down; the danger is there or it would be no fun. It is a hell of a lot simpler because I play D&D the way it was played at The Dawn of Role-Playing. It is enough to tell the player to “roll a d20 and get a 12 or higher”; looking up the various charts and tables is a buzzkill; that’s what the DM does.

I am beginning to understand J.D. Salinger a little better lately.

If I had started a game club at a school, I would have introduced them to RPG’s in the same way: boys-only and girls only introductions; they will both learn it faster that way. Only after that would we start a “mixed” campaign. Given that beginning, I would expect the co-ed groups to be much more equally balanced as to leadership and problem solving roles being filled more equitably.
The issue has arisen that my game is mis-advertised as “For Ladies Only” if a male is the DM. Supposedly, my games place any lady players in it “in my power”. The idea that a DM somehow “has power over” the players I find abhorrent and counter to everything I have ever published, edited or written.

The Dungeon Master/ Game Master/ Ship Master/Person behind the Screen has control of the game, not the players. We try to exercise that control sparingly; a good example might be not letting the party find a level that is not yet done by not letting them see a hidden door or secret passage. Another example might be subtly trying to get the party to rethink a scheme they are set upon embarking on that you know, deep in your bones, is not a very good idea as it entertains very little chance of success and likely to end in a very gory and unsatisfying conclusion.

No DM can control what the players do. Where do you think TPK’s (Total Party Killed) come from? Wandering Volcanic Eruptions? I have not had a single party spontaneously combust.

I am genuinely sorry for any player that has suffered under a DM with a “me v. them” mindset. Those are the people that work at summer camp so they can lord it over and terrorize the younger campers, instead of showing them how to catch a fish or shoot a bow or whatever campers do today.

I am asked repeatedly “How can I know if I’m a good DM?”. My answer is still the same’ “Do your players come back every session? If the answer is ‘Yes’, you’re doing fine.”

I intend to run my “Ladies Only game” again at North Texas RPG Con and at GameHole Con. I offer a comfortable, non-judgmental environment in which persons with different plumbing than mine can come and learn through doing. No control, no lording. Just fun.

To my naysayers and haters I say this; I know what I am doing and I have been doing RPG’s longer than 98% of those doing them today. That you would ascribe to me your fears, prejudices and past bad experiences without asking my intent or studying my efforts is a sad commentary on yourself, all alone in your tiny echo chamber.


  1. Bravo! Thank you for all you've done and for all you will continue to do.

  2. What is happening is people within our hobby who see what you are doing as a threat to their own perceived notions on how things should be. They in turn begin to rant and rave on a soapbox to anyone who will listen or feign to listen. If, say, a woman chooses to disagree with that person, then that person disregards and belittles the woman for daring to disagree when in truth, it should be the women making the decisions relating to this. This is in itself misogynistic behavior hidden behind the mask of pro feminism. A male who is a true "feminist" and supporter of the rights of women in this hobby, just hand her the bag of dice, point out the game table and let her tear into the "Bugbears".

    I need to stop now before I start going into various anthropological reasons...

    Tim... you are doing good by this and please sir, do not stop this exercise in excellence.

  3. I think what you are doing is wonderful! I would have loved the opportunity to learn in an all girl group. I learned in groups where I was the only girl and I was treated differently because I am a girl. Keep going!

  4. Tim, my wife Rachel had an amazing time in Merles all ladies TS game at NTRPG last year. I strongly suspect she'll be signing up for your game this year.

    Those with an agenda usually have trouble seeing passed their preconceived notions. It's sad. No one is forced to play anything with anyone - it's all free choice. Telling someone their choice is wrong is just - well, wrong.

  5. Hi Tim:
    Thank you for striving to include the "ladies" in the amazing world that you have designed and built. Do you think the complainers are doing so out of some unfounded fear and insecurity. I sure wish I could be there to play around the table with Cheryl.

  6. Hi Tim: The ladies who played in our groups in the 70's and 80's seemed to have plenty of fun. They were few, but that didn't matter when we were playing.

  7. Tim,

    Once again, well said. Thank you for not giving up.

  8. Tim,

    Just a thought, have you considered posting your original adventure that you ran for the ladies group for all to see? Surely that'd confound the nay sayers.

  9. I made a comment to Stacy Dellorfano on Zak S.'s Dnd pornblog about how men and women approach gaming differently, once and she nearly tore my head off.(The comment was "studies show that men care about content,and not whether it was made by men or women. Women care about who makes it and less about the content.")This was despite her many comments saying exactly the same thing.("" all credit to Tenkar) Imagine being of the mindset that everything the opposite sex does is bad. Then you get where they come from. I think learning from a DM who has a wealth of experience can't be a bad thing. I would be glad to play with a female DM (I'm male) who was a old pro at it. It's a shame that the opposite is not true for others.

  10. By the way I read several posts related to my non rpger wife(who I would love to see game) and she immediately said that the women in question were Borderline Personality Disorder. She is a mental health nurse who works in a pysch hospital. She has seen hundreds come through her doors, and they all say the same thing. That they aren't listened to, and the problem is men. She also says that if you want attention, don't take up a game most often played on your dining room table.

  11. She makes her name by running all ladies games with a female GM (note, not DM)
    Any variation of men running ladies games is cutting into her niche that she seems to want to take credit for.... Personally, after having played in several female DM games and guiding ta few through their first few games, only 2 of 5 ran a great game.... The 3 were good, but not taking it to the next level

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