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Saturday 28 February 2015

The OSR and Women

Over on G+, Stacy Dellorfano (founder of the excellent Contessa convention), asked the slightly loaded question "Why does the OSR have a bad reputation among women"?  Loaded it may have been, but it came out of her own experiences, no doubt.  Even so,  the premise is wrong: the OSR does NOT have a bad reputation among women. I can understand why she thinks it does, but the problem is not to do with anything about OSR games themselves.

Evidence: there are TONS of women gamers who play OSR games, which are becoming increasingly popular.  In Uruguay.
Here, in Uruguay, I've had lots of women eager to play old-school games.  My current gaming roll call has four women who all play in old-school games of mine (right now, as of last month, all I'm presently running are old-school games) and they all love them.

Now, MY old-school games are very heavy on setting, rich details, lots and lots of NPCs to interact with, plots (not in the "story-making" sense but in the sense that lots of characters and groups have agendas and figuring out what's happening and who is doing what is part of the fun), humor, and probably a bit more focus on relationships than a lot of dungeon-crawl OSR games might.  But I know other old-school groups here have women players and might look like more orthodox dungeon-crawl games.  Its no problem.

For the record, the games I'm running right now with women players are my "Dark Albion" campaign (a fantasy-england version of the War of the Roses) and my "Last Sun" DCC campaign (a totally crazy gonzo post-apocalyptic sci-fantasy setting that takes a lot of inspiration from stuff like Moorcock, Vance, and Adventure Time). I didn't get any women to play the recently-finished ICONS or the recently-started Traveller; so you could even argue that OSR games are more popular and of interest to Uruguayan women gamers than superheroes or hard-sci-fi.

So my conclusion is this: the premise is wrong because the real question should be "Why does the OSR have a Bad Reputation among Anglophone North American Women Gamers Who Go On The Internet?"
I think that the game-component has NOTHING to do with the answer to that.

The 'bad reputation' that does exist has little to nothing to do with the GAMES themselves, it has to do with a number of other factors:
a) The internet RPG culture, which sees the OSR being routinely denigrated by the post-forge pseudo-activist would-be gatekeepers.  This is the big one: to a large extent, women online end up being not pushed but shoved away from even considering the OSR by a massive anti-OSR propaganda campaign.  Which explains why in Uruguay, where most of the large gaming community don't spend their time reading english-language gaming discussions and where Storygaming is largely unpopular while Old-school is well promoted (both thanks in no small part to yours truly), women actually end up trying and liking OSR games in roughly the same proportions as men do.

b) more generally than that, the RPG culture in North America, which is very different from what I've found in South America.  I think a lot of it has to do with stigmas created in the early days of the hobby (outside the hobby: that D&D is something only gross nerdy boys do; inside the hobby: that all kinds of fucked up shit regarding social-misfits, identity-politics, fake-sophistication, nerds being intimidated by women, etc. etc.), that didn't end up 'travelling' to other parts with the hobby.

c) Most generally of all, North American Anglophone culture and some of its ideas, and conflicts, on gender.

So the answer is really that if you want to ask that question to achieve an honest result (and not just crap on the OSR), you need to be exploring those factors, and not just be tempted to either raise up your hands and blame "patriarchy" or claim that "women just don't like D&D" (either as an excuse to exclude them or as an excuse to try to push out D&D in favor of promoting your latest storygame).


Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja bent apple + Gawith's Squadron Leader


  1. I would say, based on my observations, that the OSR has a bad reputation among female gamers, because it is largely made up of self entitled, self appointed guardians of all things geeky, who feel that anyone other then members of their close knit cabal are "fake geeks", or are "playing the game wrong".

  2. That hasn't been my experience of it. The OSR are very welcoming of anyone who wants to play old-school games. Unlike the Storygames movement which has litmus tests of jargon and pretentiousness that one has to embrace/overcome to participate.

  3. I can second Pundit's comment. My experiences here in Germany with Labyrinth Lord and Newt Newport's Crypts & Things* are just the same.

    1. Yeah. An immense amount of this has to do with The (English-Speaking) Internet Hobby; and most of the rest with U.S. High School Culture.

  4. "among women" is kinda b.s. 99.9% of women have never heard of OSR and could not be bothered with it even if they had.

    And I don't know anyone who thinks the OSR has a "bad reputation" vis-a-vis women so much as it has an image of a bunch of fat bearded losers living in their mothers' basements obsessing about elves and dwarves and funny-looking dice.

    1. I think you are dead on Matt. I think it would just be exposure to older games and what their friends play. If everyone does Pathfinder and thats what you are introduced to , then thats where your loyalties will lie. I was the little girl hovering on the edge of my brother's game. When they let me in that's the game I grew to love.

      To get an original edition old game it's a bit harder than running down to your local store. Most stores really only carry Pathfinder or 4e and 5e. So I would say most women (and men) really have to search out old style games like Dungeon Crawl and Castles and Crusades. Unless you have a group that is already playing OSR, you're not just going to stumble into it.

      And I have always kind of wondered what's the point of playing a retro OSR game when you can actually do a real one. There are some quirks to the rules, but that is true with all games.