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Sunday 3 September 2017

Classic Rant: 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).


(Originally posted February 28, 2016)


  1. Stacy Dellorfano has made a business of inclusiveness in gaming. Consider:

    This is the woman who put together an all female team of artists for the latest Swords and Wizardry book. When asked by the public why talent (regardless of sex) was not the overriding decision in hiring Frog God games stated in the kickstarter, 'There's so many ways a project can go it really doesn't matter who you hire.'

    Contessa. [Stacy is the founder of ConTessa, the ENnie Award winning organization that seeks to change the face of gaming through an innovative convention-within-a-convention program run entirely by women and minorities]

    Personally, I'm a fan of women. I married one and play all my tabletop games with her. I never felt intimidated by them or turned them away. The result of my inclusiveness is that I now have many kids. I would tell you that my lovely wife enjoys participating in RPG games even if it is predominately a male past time. I just asked my wife how she feels about chainmail bikinis. She said, 'I expect that in a fantasy game. It's supposed to make women look sexy and strong.' My wife has no problem with this. She IS sexy and strong.

    Oddly enough I enjoy cochet even though it is predominately a female hobby. I have, as of yet, to create an organization that will change the face of crochet through the inclusion of white men. I simply have not felt the need.

    But if I did make this a business would I not require divisiveness to keep said business model? I imagine that I would need to ask questions in social media like, 'What is crochet's problem with men? Why do those in the adjacent macrame communities hate men so much?'

  2. I don't think she ever believed it, it was just a way to gain power.
    Most female gamers are unaware or barely aware of the OSR - most male gamers too. Those that are, will happily play OSR games. The Old School message boards certainly skew male more than do ENW & RPGnet, but I've never had trouble persuading female players to play OSRIC or Moldvay BX (I'm in an OSRIC campaign with a female GM right now) or C&C etc, no different from male players. No real-life female player or GM has ever said anything negative to me about the OSR. My BECMI campaign was often majority female players.

    The whole premise is garbage, no better than Sarkeesian videogame stuff.

  3. My main d&d group in the 80s was me, a male DM and five women players. Women have always been welcomed and encouraged. If any barrier existed, it was the disbelief that women would want anything to do with filthy gamer losers like us, which is kind of the opposite problem of a patriarchal boys club.

  4. Its the possible scent of identity politics that gets you rankled.