Friday, February 18, 2011

Fem Gamer Roundtable Round 2: The Girdle

I have turned the discussion over to Dungeonmum for today, since she seemed to be really into it. She has a question for all the ladies out there....

Zak has very kindly asked me to guest post following the first Female Roundtable questions. I'm not sure what I can bring to the table but I'll do my best here.

Reading back through the comments (they're still coming in, there's 25 thought provoking questions so a lot of material), what jumped out at me were the answers to the question:

What would the ideal treasure look like?

Take a look at these responses:

The ideal treasure, for me, is specific. I hate winning generic loot. I want to find character treasure, not game treasure. (Alicia)

The ideal treasure would not be tons of gold or gems. I much prefer artifacts, something I can use that not everybody has (me)

Sparkly...jk. Something that has special relevance to a character or a party member that shows that the DM isn't just throwing treasure around because they should but because they are actually concerned with how loot effects character development and plot. (XO~Sarah)

I want the treasure to be kind of cool now, but to suggest how it could be very awesome later on. For example, several months ago, the PCs acquired three soul-berries. You eat it, and you get a soul. They have been debating for months about how to use the berries. Could they defeat the demon leader by giving him a soul? How could they get him to eat the berry? That's way more interesting than a magic sword. (Though one of our players just sacrificed his awesome magic sword to close up the hellmouth that, er, the PCs created.) (replayable)

The ideal treasure is unique and adds something new to the game. Treasure with souls of past owners is always fun. (Lis)

Something unexpected but useful/awesome. (Pixiedragon)

Weird shit my GM has made up, things that don't exist in the books, and have some kind of personality to them. (not insofar as they've got to be intelligent- they just have to have flavor.) (Amsel via Inktea)

I like power and influence and knowledge more than physical items. Books, I guess. (Mandy)

Seeing as you cannot 'win' D&D (or any other RPG) treasure is the short-term gain (not counting XP and stat improvements). What seems common amongst these answers is the desire for something unique. The reward for an adventure, looking at replayable's answer, would be yet more adventure, or at least something that takes the adventure in a certain direction. Gems and gold are very pretty and you can buy lots of stuff, but ultimately if your bunch of PCs are to be off adventuring every weekend are they really going to be able to appreciate those mansions piled with loot and masterpieces? If adventuring is what it's all about then gold and diamonds are pretty much worthless. And nobody has said anything along the lines of 'A plus 2 sword' or a 'wand of magic missiles' – they want something that's never gone before. Perhaps you don't even know what it does, but one day you'll find out.

Now I don't think rolling on treasure tables is necessarily the answer (unless the GM is going to make them up himself) – in our group the ten year old pine gnome statue and bracket mushroom headband will go down as the most memorable treasure of all time for the wrong reasons. Likewise I don't think that what we're after is something to make adventuring more easy, that kills the bad guys quicker – what's the point in taking away the challenges? Wandering into a room knowing you'll live and the baddies will die is utterly yawn inducing and enough to make you want to stop playing, in my book. I guess the DM needs to tailor-make the treasure based on the campaign and the individual PCs, but above all, the PCs have to earn it.

As an aside, I don't think 'women do this and men do that' (despite my answers to the previous questions, that was more 'I do this and my fellow players do that'), there is enough division of opinion in the (largely male) general RPG community to draw me to the conclusion that all people have different ideas regardless of gender. I have no doubt that if these questions were aimed at men (or just people in general) there would be similar responses about non-generic and unusual treasure. But I'm glad to see a little pocket of the blogosphere of discussion aimed at female gamers, only because I don't come across them all that often and it's nice to see what other women get up to when they're playing.

So, for the next round of discussion, I will use a standard piece of equipment from the DM's bag for my next question:

If your character put on an ordinary belt which they found in a haul of goodies that turned out out to be a girdle of femininity/masculinity (changes the gender of the wearer, can only be restored on a wish 50% chance, there is also a 10% chance that all gender will be removed from the wearer), would you play on, in the knowledge that your stats would be unaffected, or would you do everything in your power to remove the curse and revert the PC back to their original state? How would you feel about playing a sexless or hermaphrodite PC? Would a hulking brute of a man continue with the same personality in a sylph-like damsel, and vice versa?

Zak's addendum:

I'd be interested to know if you'd feel different about different characters you'd run. Think of all the characters you've had lately (in any game) and imagine them switched or de-gendered. Does that suck for certain ones more than for others? Why or why not?

And, as always, guys: quiet for now.


  1. On the girdle: I would definitely continue to play Eile, turned male. I think it would present a unique and fascinating challenge to effectively play this lust bound creature, who eats up desires and feeds them back to her victims in unusual and twisted ways- as a male. Would she become a Lothario? A gigolo? Or would s/He find some other way to feed and continue to be fed?

    Other characters- Jak would absolutely do everything in his power to remove the "curse". He was so male it HURT me at times- and his identity was completely bound in his perceived status as a man.

    My character Diamond might enjoy being a man- as a gay woman, it might make her life easier, but the addition of a penis might just make her cringe. It'd be fun to find out.

    Older characters- most of them weren't set enough in their sexuality or identity for it to matter. I personally hadn't become comfortable enough in my own sexuality to play a strongly sexual/sexually identifiable character. I also hadn't found the right group to play such characters and not squick them out yet.

    I now have a pretty mature group that doesn't mind what I'm doing. In fact, some of them have riffed right on it- one of Eile's closest companions is a eunuch, his masculinity stolen by the evils of the Hedge.

    thanks for the question, Dungeonmum!

  2. I just had a post eaten by Blogger. Argh.

    My answer varies strongly by character, like Loquacious's. In general my approach would be to figure out what the character would want, and also to think about to what extent their gendered behavior is shaped and/or rewarded by the culture they're in. The insight I got from my previous post was that the more gender-differentiated the society in which the character is embedded, the more extreme the character's reaction to a gender change. Not a shocker, I know, but nice to realize.

    Here are the characters who helped me figure this out!

    1. Elena, ensign on the generation ship Santa Maria. Heavily Catholic ship culture, quite socially conservative, and as a matter of fact they deliberately left a lot of technology behind in Earth (including the ability to easily switch genders). She would have been horrified and done everything she could to switch back. I don't think she could have lived as a man, or that the ship's culture would have had any place for her.

    2. Danya, Dornish resistance leader from a Midnight game. We rewrote Dornish culture to make it less pseudo-medieval-sexist so it wasn't a huge deal that she was a woman. However, it WAS a huge deal that she have children. She would not have switched back until she'd fathered multiple kids. She probably would not have been happy as a man, though, because her long-term relationships were with (multiple) straight men. I suppose she'd have found out just how straight they were, as these were lifetime partnership kind of things.

    3. B'Lea, eladrin rogue from a 4.0 game. We rewrote the eladrin to be essentially genderless; they are largely asexual, reproduce using magical birthing chambers, and it's hard for non-eladrin to tell males and females apart. She would have been perfectly happy to adventure for a few hundred years as a man, but I'm not convinced she'd even go as far as to ask people to use a different pronoun. She just doesn't care much what people's genitalia are, as they're about as relevant to the eladrin as one's little toe.

    Great question!!!

  3. @ Loq and Replayable:

    Great answers! It's really interesting to see all the different characters you have both created, mine look like cardboard cutouts in comparison.

    It's almost a shame guys can't comment on this because I was speculating that a woman wouldn't care what gender her PC ended up as and that a bloke would want to switch them back, even if it was a female. What I didn't ask for consideration was how the PC would cope with life as a transgendered person, it's all very well living with a new set of genitals but when all your family, friends, foes and your party know your past that's got to be quite a cross to bear.

  4. @dungeonmum:

    Right! There's a big difference between "the character as a man" and "the character being turned into a man." For example, could I play Elena as a male character? Sure - there'd have been a couple of significant social changes in her background, but the character's personality would have been largely the same. In fact, I may take that as a challenge for the next game I'm in, and build a male character with the same personality traits to see how he plays. Elena is curious, ruthless, devout, and practical. Some people aspire to be ship's captain; she dreams of being XO someday. I'd be curious to see how that same personality and goals come across in a man's body and a man's social role.

  5. Dungeonmum: Wow, what a consideration!

    With Eile, yet again, I think the transition would be easiest. As a Changeling, the issue of being transformed and 'other' is pretty standard fare. Cruelties of fate and Fae are things dealt with often, and it would not be any big thing for her to 'change' and it be accepted as something that simply happened.

    With Jak, it would have been a major struggle emotionally and socially for something like this to have happened to him. As a werewolf, he lived in a pack, with something like a shared mentality- the transformation would not simply be happening to HIM, it would happen to his pack as well. I think that could very well driven him mad, if he were to experience such a thing.

    Diamond self identifies as a girl pretty seriously, and loves another gay woman. While being transformed PHYSICALLY might not be so tough (especially considering she's a strong, tough superhero; a type most often filled by men), the emotional fallout would probably be pretty severe. Her most recent story line came close to touching that line- her powers were taken away; and she had to deal with the repercussions of deciding her identity and how much she found them as a part of herself. It was really interesting.

    I don't know that the men I know would automatically want to switch- some of them are better, more convincing women than I am... =)

  6. @dungeonmum:

    Oh, also - I as a PLAYER actually do care what gender my character ends up as, or rather what that does to the gender balance in the group. Everyone I play with knows that I am an activist for female representation in RPGs. If a character of mine became male, I'd be pretty cranky about it unless there would still be more than 50% female characters represented in the group.

  7. @Loquacious -

    I love your character stories! You sound like someone I'd really enjoy gaming with, just for the record. :)

  8. replayable: 1- thanks so much for the compliment!

    2- I'm all for representation, balance etc. BUT I'm MUCH more oriented to 'story'- and if it makes a good story to have an all male (or all female) group, to remove a character, to change one's identity in some obvious way, or otherwise muck with the balance of WHO the group IS, then so be it. I'll follow a well told story darn near anywhere.

    A much older character of mine was killed (at my request)- but then revived; as a DEMON. It was a complete and utter shock to find myself being forced to play this character, who I'd seen as an avenger for good- as a straight from hell evil incarnate. I went with it, though- because it made a good story.

    Anyone else, please pipe up! I'd love to hear your thoughts just as well.

  9. Girdles have come up in games I've run and games I've played in, and to be honest when it comes to the games I've played I've generally not cared. No, I wouldn't flail about in a panic if my PC got hit with the effects. Of course I would keep playing; why wouldn't I? It's certainly not a debilitating curse. And I assuredly wouldn't force a personality change on a character on account of a physical change. Beyond that I don't have any particular thoughts --

    Hermaphroditic? Sexless? I've played both with no need for a Girdle to spark the situation; many in the latter case and especially in a current scenario.

    There's not much to be said about recent characters, at least not for the question as written -- but the issue of whether any of the sexless characters would willingly/be interested in a sexed existence has come up, with responses ranging from "virulently against" (Windam) to "faintly curious" (Rasiel).

    Really, though, I don't have much to contribute to this question -- though I've tried to give some kind of answer -- because the situation really would be a nonissue for me personally.

  10. @taichara

    You seem like you're the kind of person who'd say the words "I'm a girl, so what? Fuck it." a lot. Am I right?

  11. @Zak: You're half right, I suppose you could say; but the details of the subject aren't something I'm willing to elaborate further here.

  12. Who cares about gender? My originally hermaphrodite mongrelman wild mage got changed into a male blue-furried wemic, that's what I'd call a severe transformation.
    Of course I play on! Chaos rules. :-)

  13. @Loquacious - Fair enough! However, I don't think there's an opposition between "representation" and "story." There are more stories in the world than I will ever get a chance to tell or participate in. How do you choose what stories to tell? Everybody uses some kind of decision-making process, whether that's genre-based or social or logistical. Personally, I feel like 90% of the world is interested in telling men's stories, with women as prizes or accessories or plot points or you name it. (Though I bet games are better than movies at passing the Bechdel Test!!) If someone asks me to play in their game, and asks me to spend my valuable free time making stories with them, those stories had better be MY stories too. That means stories where women are present and get to matter.

    @Zak - I periodically give a lecture that I informally call "Discrimination sucks. Do cool shit anyways." It sounds like you would enjoy it. :)

  14. Oh! And I meant to add: craziest character transition I ever went through was having a character spend five hundred years in magically-induced stasis, then wake up to find she'd been deified, along with the rest of her adventuring party. Severely fun and highly recommended, if a little brain-breaking. :)

  15. This is a fun question.
    I think it would depend on the character. But in most of the cases, the characters (and me) would absolutely try and get their old gender back. Which is male.
    I would have a hard time playing a sexless character, but if it so happened, I think it would be fun, not to mention a challenge. Both sex change and de-sexing (is that even a word?) would absolutely change the character, over time at least, and if I can explore that, it would be interesting. I guess what I'm saying is, if my GM does something like that to me, I want to play it out and not just be used for laughs (although there will be plenty of those, I'm sure).

    Switching gender would suck mightily for all my characters, but if I had to pick the one who would be most comfortable with it, it's my Shadowrun decker, who is bisexual and rather feminine (not camp!) in any case.
    My Cthulhu professional Poker player would go nuts. He lives in a very male-dominated world and he relies on his strength and charisma to get out of sticky situations. He would have a lot to learn.
    It would be crippling for my Deadlands cowboy because he doesn't know what else to do for a living and let's face it, cowgirls are not very common or tolerated to say the least. I think he's the one who would fight hardest to switch back.
    My 7th Sea merchant would do the same, if only for the reason that he has just married and even if his wife agreed to a lesbian relationship, it just wouldn't be the same for them ;)

  16. I just asked my SO which of my characters would have the most problems with being turned into a female and he answered "Liam!" (the Cthulhu character) without a moment's thought. "He's such a ... man."

  17. @Jedidiah - I just read your blog post on why you play male characters, which I found very interesting. I really identify with your description of yourself as not traditionally feminine, but at the same time I feel very differently about female characters than you do. The one big difference I noticed is that you say few women like the things you do. I'm lucky to be surrounded by brilliant women who have many, many interesting things to talk about beyond romantic comedies and shoes. I wonder if that's a piece of what makes me want to play strong, brilliant, unconventional women - and to create settings in which strong and brilliant women aren't unconventional at all.

    (Admittedly I hate bugs. But one of the girls in my group is an amateur entomologist!)

    On a related topic: I also have very strong feelings on how women are represented in historical media versus how women actually lived in various time periods. I think it's very easy just to reproduce cliches about gender, especially because they pervade a lot of popular historical media. Unfortunately we just lost our medieval historian which means we're back to doing our own research for Ars Magica. We miss her for more than just her knowledge, of course, but her knowledge sure was convenient! We don't do a perfect job on the historical stuff, of course, and we also make deliberate changes to make the game fun for all our characters, but if you want to find historically authentic ways to create powerful women characters, they are totally there. It just takes a little more work - and admittedly it's a LOT easier if you're the GM.

  18. I do know that women had more chances at equality (in varying degrees) than most people think throughout history. I have made a bit of study out of it evr since I was given a book about Hypatia as a kid (she rocks!).
    But for some reason I'm not really interested in exploring that in roleplaying. I leave that to the guys I play with - I have seen some brilliant female characters created by them.

  19. Oh, that's awesome. I wish someone had told me about Hypatia when I was young - she's one of my big heroes. I wanted someone to play a character inspired by her in the ancient Rome game I ran, but since no one bit, I ran a version of her as an NPC. (Which is not to say that the characters my players created - both male and female - were not awesome. They just weren't Hypatiesque!)