I recently introduced a girlfriend of mine to Pathfinder for the very first time. Not only was it her first time with Pathfinder, but also her very first pen-and-paper RPG. So far, she’s enjoying it, but the question of how to get more ladies involved in the gaming world is one that is frequently bubbling beneath the frothy surface of our subculture.
I have DM’ed in the past, but I decided to approach this more from the perspective of a female player who wants to get her friends involved in the madness. Guys have frequently asked “how can I get my girlfriend/wife involved in role-playing?” and gamer girls frequently discuss this between ourselves, so I polled a few of my crew and came up with the following points.
So a girl has expressed an interest in joining your group, or one of your crew has said that his ladyfriend/sister/roommate/platonic life partner has asked what precisely the hell it IS you do around a table at a friend’s place for ten hours on a Saturday night. Here’s what you can do to increase the chances that everyone involved will have a good time.
0- Point Zero:
Make sure we know we are welcome and not just tolerated. We understand that with Gamergate and all the negativity that swirls around the Internet between the various gender factions, it can be a bit intimidating for a guy to invite a girl to a game, especially if he knows she’s likely to be the only one present at the table. When in doubt, let us know that a seat has our name on it, and let us take it from there.
1- Point One:
Curate (in a non-hipster way) your gaming crew. A handy definition of curate: to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation.
Take a good hard look at your players and think if they would be good for a new player or a new-to-the-group player. Do you have a bunch of hardcore lore-junkie grognards that are roughly as crunchy as a bowl of aquarium gravel and take great joy in nitpicking the rules to death and second-guessing the DM? Probably not the best group for a new player - and honestly, why do YOU play with people like that? Carrying on...
Do you play with a group of stereotypes? Be honest here. Are they the basement-dwelling, Doritos-dusted neckbearded types who have the social awareness of a potato? Again, probably not the best group for a new player. That being said, our friends are our friends. It might be a good solid gaming group, but not the best fit for someone just getting into this facet of the hobby.
Let’s say that you have some relatively well adjusted* gamers around your table, the type who indulge in hygiene and jobs and don’t break out in stammers and sweats when girls are around. Ideally, one or more of them will be in a relationship of some kind that involves a romantic component, so they are used to communication and compromise. This is a good place for a completely new player to come in - and even better if the one who invited the new player is actually excited about having her join.
*Well adjusted = medium-to-high-functioning in the mundane aspects of day to day life. Can likely be trusted not to do to the wink wink nudge nudge type of inappropriate behavior until they understand where the lines are with the new player. Also not likely to see a new female face at the table and immediately assume that she is interested in an out-of-character entanglement - or an in-character one for that matter.
Explain to your crew that you are going to be having a new player join the table, and give them the chance to possibly bow out for that session if they like. It goes without saying that it is rarely a good idea to introduce a complete neophyte to a well-oiled and functioning party past the first few games of a campaign, so perhaps you can add the new player at a natural break point or offer to invite her when you begin a new campaign. (Author’s note: You can also take the road traveled by my husband, which is: New player? Let me cram another game into my weekly schedule! I do not endorse this path, but perhaps you have learned how to practice chronomancy OR are in possession of a Time-Turner. If so, please contact me privately.)
You, as a DM, and your players, as members of the community of gamers, owe it to new players and to the continuation of our shared hobby to give them a fair and welcoming chance to dip their toes in the ocean of tabletop gaming. New gamers are the lifeblood of the industry.
2- Point Two:
Pick your setting carefully. For a first-time gamer, Pathfinder or D&D, with its hoary tomes trailing back into the Gygaxian caverns of yore, might be a touch intimidating. When in doubt, offer something with a good, well-known canon to draw from. My very first RPG was Star Wars - I didn’t even know that polyhedral dice existed, but I, like most kids of the late 70s/early 80s, knew about Darth Vader and the farmboy from Tattooine.
When I introduced my friend to Pathfinder, she looked a little lost until she was able to identify and work among the classic literary high-fantasy tropes that are inherent to the system. After she found her reference point, she jumped in with both feet. This leads me into point three.
3- Point Three:
Ask your new (and old!) players a TON of questions. What experience does she have? She may have never played Pathfinder, but she might have LARPed before, or played World of Warcraft or EVE or Skyrim, or she might write Harry Potter fanfic. Don’t make it seem like a job interview (because THOSE are fun) but explain that you are trying to figure out what her experience is, because you don’t want to waste her time with stuff she’s already familiar with. That shows respect for her time and her opinion, which will score you good-person points.
Disclaimer: Most of my female friends are also my writer friends, which means we can spot tropes from a mile away. Sometimes this is irritating, but it also allows our DMs to use that knowledge both to our benefit and to his own nefarious ends. Your mileage will, of course, vary.
Ask your players if there are any types of content they want to avoid. I’m not a huge fan of militaristic campaigns; some people don’t like Lovecraftian horror in their high fantasy, others might be perfectly fine with blood on the ceilings and torture by the hour, but can’t handle settings involving slavery or overtly sexual themes (think succubi/incubi or interrogation via seduction or the Book of Erotic Fantasy for D&D 3.5.)
4- Point Four:
Don’t make assumptions. Some of my girlfriends are just as crunchy as the grognards, and that’s okay. I remember a friend of mine recently posting on Facebook that her half-elf barbarian just did 109 damage in one turn, to which one of her friends replied that her tiefling just gored a dwarf’s eyes out with her horns when he tried to put her in a headlock. One of the more experienced lady gamers I know loves to tell the story of back in the Dark Ages when she started to play, she would shock guys by sitting down at the table, opening her dice bag, and asking them what their THAC0 was.
We might not have played the game, or might not have played that particular edition, but don’t assume we are completely uninformed unless we tell you we are. Ladies, it’s not a sign of weakness to admit you don’t know something, or to ask players to explain an unfamiliar acronym. It’s how you learn, after all. Guys: Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons is not a good role model. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Protip: Let the DM do the explaining, and only contribute as necessary. Otherwise, button your yaps.
Oh, and because it needs saying: We don’t all want to play healers or druids. There, I said it. This is 2017, for the love of spice. We are all well beyond the stage of “hey we need a healer, get your girlfriend to play one”. If you need a healer, go get yourself right with your god(s), Father Cleric.
5- Point Five:
Create a welcoming environment to play in. I’m not saying you need to go out and invest in doilies and tea cozies, but at least make the room presentable enough that you wouldn’t mind your sister or daughter seeing it. Alternatively, have your meet-and-greet/initial session at your local game store - everyone should be okay there. Bonus tip: if you ARE playing at your home, take ten minutes before the group arrives and tidy up a little bit. Nothing Martha Stewart, but rinsing stray hairs out of the sink and putting away your dirty socks will do wonders in making a good impression.
The comfortable environment extends to the table as well. Asking a player (of any gender) what their character looks like is perfectly okay; extended discussion about what bra size the female characters wear is not. In all fairness, I have busted my female players about this as well when they get a little too...enthusiastic...about what the barbarian has under his kilt.
5.5- Point Five and a Half:
Do NOT fall into the trap of female player = female character = oh look romantic/sexual plot point. Don't shoehorn that plot in just because you think we want it. Chances are, we don’t, especially with complete or near-complete strangers. It may evolve over time, but it might not. Let it happen organically or after discussion out-of-character.
6- Point Six:
Be an adult. Treat people decently, regardless of gender. Remember, we are all representatives of our shared hobby and one bad experience will travel the winds much further than a fantastic one. We ladies don’t need to be treated with kid gloves - we need to be treated like valued members of the community. Call out bad behavior wherever you see it. Ask if there are misunderstandings, and strive to fix them. Do a post-mortem with each player and a separate one with the group - see if there are any areas of concern or room for improvement or anything that was really amazing that people want to see more. Understand that it will likely take several sessions for a group to really gel and learn to trust each other, and ask your players to give each other a chance.
Ladies, gentlemen, and smizmars, the people you play with are human (presumably) and they WILL make mistakes, misspeak, or occasionally say inappropriate things out of ignorance. Don't ascribe malice to something that can be written off as ignorance or human error. If something bothers you, say something - but keep in mind that the best resolution should, as a rule, allow all parties to keep playing. If you as a lady gamer don't want to be treated like a fine crystal vial full of nitroglycerin, show your tolerance and willingness to make friends to the guys inviting you to the table. Guys, treat us like people, because we are people. Normal people...or as normal as gamers get.
In the end, it's all just a game. Let us hope the Lady*
is on our side.
In loving memory of Sir Terry Pratchett, taken from us two years ago and twenty years too soon,
* "The Lady", also known as; "She-who-shall-not-be-named, The 'Million-to-One' Chance (and all of the other chances as well) The One who will desert you when you need Her the most - and sometimes She might not..." is none other than the Anthropomorphic personification of Luck, as well as the single most powerful goddess on the Discworld, all for the simple reason that (although She has no worshippers and the only temple ever erected to Her was destroyed purely by chance) everybody hopes and prays that She exists and that She'll smile on them. Her suitors can be distinguished by their distinctive repetitive prayer; "please-oh-please-oh-please-oh-please."
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.