For guys who want their girlfriends/wives/significant others to join their D&D adventures, here are a few specific rules to follow, as suggested by my D&D Adventuring (and DMing) wife.
First, some background. I’ve often referred to my wife as a “Geek Goddess” in passing. Most of the times, the people I’m talking with understand the reason I say it. No, it has NOTHING to do with Religion. It has to do with the fact that in a world full of male stereotypical Geeks, Rebecca is a lady who joins right in. She’s really into computers, and computer games (Xbox, too). She reads a lot of SF. She loves to play and DM D&D; she’s even authored a few official modules. She’s into gadgets. She programs. She plays Battletech, sometimes. And she enjoys things like Futurama, Family Guy, The Simpsons, and a whole host of other “Geeky” shows. How did I find her? Well, to be honest, we met online before the Internet entered into most people’s conscious thought, in 1995. And she’d been online for a long while, like me (1983ish for me, 1990ish for her). And yes, we were both playing an online game at the time. No, results aren’t typical.
Ok, so that tells you why I’m lucky… I’ve got a wife who likes to game. I’m a “Share the Wealth” kind of guy, though, so I thought to give you a prize to make up for my luck: I picked her very female gamer brain to come up with some guidelines on how to convince your female SO or friend to give D&D a try – well, maybe not, you’ve still got to do that part, but maybe to get them to KEEP PLAYING, and to enjoy it. Other than rules #1 and #2 (and MAYBE #5), all of these recommendations can be thrown away once your SO is hooked, but at least for the first four or five sessions (maybe the first few MONTHS) these are important. So, without anymore fanfare, some simple rules for keeping a lady interested in playing:
1 – DON’T PATRONIZE.
All too often, male players tend to think that any female player at the table is a joke, or worse, as someone to drive off. Here’s a clue: if you want your SO to play, then treat her with respect, and don’t allow the other players to treat her poorly. It doesn’t matter if the DM does give you a special crystal. BTW, in a game at GenCon back in 1999, my wife, a veteran Battletech player who preferred lighter mechs, was picked on as the only girl playing in a tournament game. While three guys were picking on her (“She obviously can’t play if she chose a light mech!”) tried to remove “the girl” from the “man’s game”, she quietly fumed… and when the time came, she self destructed her mech, taking them with her (she might have beaten any of them in a 1-on-1 battle; she’s good, AND lucky). They were, to use her phrase, “Losers in every sense of the word.” After reading this, she wanted it known that she ejected safely and saved her pilot. The other players, not so much….
2 – BE INCLUSIVE
Again, this is one that applies to ALL players, but is especially true when you have new female players. All players need to part of the game, not just watching as the “WunderGeeks” do all the gaming. This is and #1 are probably the biggest reasons that a female player will not return to the game.
3 – START WITH A NEW PARTY
This one is going to be hard to do; if you have a female first time player (or even a non-female first timer) start with a new party; don’t generate it at the table, however. The reason is that this encourages ALL players to play and doesn’t push newer players out of the game. Nothing’s worse than having the new player told “Here, stand here while we kill this so we don’t have to resurrect you.” This applies to #3 as well. Don’t generate the characters at the table, though; while it’s Geeky fun, it’s a drag on starting a game. A new player is going to want to start up right away, so build your character with her before the game. That’s also going to lead to…
4 – CHOOSE THE CHARACTER WISELY
This is going to come up multiple times, because there are multiple “Choose Wisely” points to make. The first is to help your SO come up with a character before the game, but choose wisely what type of character. Fighters and Thieves are traditionally the easiest characters for a new player, but most females will tend to gravitate to Rangers, Sorcerers, Druids, or maybe a Paladin or Bard (heaven help me for the stereotype, but this is Rebecca’s thoughts, too). In addition, write (with her help) the back-story for the character… fleshed out characters with a decent background will help the game be more interesting and relatable. Remember, you’re creating the FIRST character for your SO…. you want to get her interested enough to play more. BTW, combing this with #3 gives a romantic guy some quality time with your SO discussing her (and your) characters in the new game, and build that rich background character story. You may get her hooked at this phase all by itself, if you help her engage her imagination.
5 – CHOOSE YOUR PLAYERS WISELY
Let’s face facts… most D&D players aren’t what many would consider totally mature. But, to paraphrase Animal Farm, “All players are immature; some are just more immature than others”. Age isn’t the issue; it’s (from her perspective) “Do I really want to sit by this smelly jerk all evening?” In most of the groups I’ve ever played in over the last nearly thirty years, there’s always the one guy who insists on being a goof, who is either too intense, or not intense enough, and/or whose hygiene is questionable. This is ESPECIALLY true at Cons, of course, but even at your average “Bunch of guys get together” game, this can happen. Choose the players carefully, for a long while. In Rebecca’s case, her first actual game of D&D (9th grade, in High School) she went with another female to an acquaintance of her friend (who had attended only once herself before that). Both loved the game, but that was their last session with that group, due to the types of players they encountered. Most women would be turned off of the game completely, but Rebecca’s friend offered to DM if they didn’t have to play with those goofs again. A few short weeks later, six female players and six male players were listening to their female DM (A then-Future Honest to God Rocket Scientist) while playing (and one of the males STILL somehow managed to fill the stereotype before they all graduated). So repeat this like a mantra: PLAYERS COUNT (and remember #1 and #2). It doesn’t hurt, by the way, to have another female player playing at the same time, as long as she isn’t too intense. As an aside, try to tone down the rule munchers in the group while you’re at it… at least ask them to not min-max or powergame for a while.
6 – CHOOSE THE DM WISELY
There is the one spot, and only one spot, where a female player MUST have an experienced person to get “Turned onto” the game: the DM. An experienced, articulate, thoughtful, and flexible DM is an absolute requirement. Nothing will ruin the experience faster than a dull as molasses DM, with dull and repetitive descriptions and narrative. Remember, the DM tells a story. If the story is engaging and fun, then people (FEMALE people to be plain) will want to play more. If it’s not, she won’t. Oh, and one word of advice… don’t DM yourself. Favoritism, or reverse favoritism, will make you regret that decision quickly. Nothing will kill her mood (or your chances to get her to play with you in the future) faster than “You sent that Orc to attack me! ME!” And nothing will grouse the others faster than fawning over your SO in the game.
7 – CHOOSE THE MODULE/ADVENTURE WISELY
Unfortunately, this is going to be the hardest recommendation to follow, because it’s not up to you, it’s up to the DM (and see that word of advice on DMs… I mean it!). Certain modules are better than others, though. Try to use modules with something new to the players (something “Nonstandard”, or new standard) to cut down on players inclinations to not follow rule #2. Try to use modules with a vibrant setting. A dull, non-descript setting leads to a dull, non-descript story, and boredom. Eliminate Rule Munching. From Rebecca’s perspective (and the perspective of some other female players I’ve played with), eliminate Dungeon Crawls as early modules UNLESS you know they somehow “stand out”. Keep on the Borderlands, unfortunately, is a no-no, for example, for a new female player (though obviously not for a new character), while (strangely) The Sunless Citadel was highly approved (the Twigblights (see #11 below) and memorable NPCs (#10) helped strongly). Even better, work on Team Work modules or Puzzle modules; the various Challenge of Champions modules put out yearly in Dungeon Magazine are probably THE quickest way to get a lock, if you can get everyone problem solving together, but you’ll probably want to mix in a few of the low level “Murder Mystery” style modules, too. Don’t go overboard, though, as Tomb of Horrors is NOT going to get a repeat from your SO. Don’t JUST use a premade module, however (although you can, if you are careful with #6 and to a lesser extent #5). Rather, use these modules to help describe the TYPE and BALANCE of the module(s) to use. Yes, I’ll give a half dozen modules to think about using, but if you Chose Wisely for number #6, you can do even better with a well written “Home Brewed” module that keeps these thoughts together.
Ok, I did promise a few modules that MAY get your SO to give a repeat performance. They aren’t guaranteed, but they could be helpful in getting over the initial hump. Be warned, though, that these would probably work better torn apart and used to build a custom module with major elements of all of them. Also, some of the reasons for these modules are in the rules below, so it might not be apparent WHY they are good reference points. So, in no particular order:
* Challenge of Champions #3, #4, #5 – Good, puzzle based Team Modules. I can’t speak on #1 or #2, #6 is a little more advanced, and #7 seems to be too easy.
* The Sunless Citadel – This is a GREAT first Dungeon Crawl module… but it IS a Dungeon Crawl, with all the issues that brings. Probably better to use as Module #2, to bring Combat into focus, if you start with Challenge of Champions.
* Ravenloft – Atmosphere, Atmosphere, Romance, and Atmosphere. However, it’s not exactly a module for first levels. Let it give you lots of good ideas for settings, campaign, and story.
* The Ghost Tower of Inverness – A low-mid level module that provides a little of everything.
* Against the Giants/Drows/Demonweb – The Old G1-2-3, D1-2, D3, Q1 series. This is a great module series with the overarching arc, and even introduced some new races (Kua-Toa, Drow, etc.) Use this for a campaign ARC idea, but the modules may be too hack ‘n’ slash for early use and are probably too high level (plus, their 1st Ed). In addition, some of the “new ideas” in these modules are now old hat to veteran players.
* The Village of Hommlet – It always comes back to the Temple of Elemental Evil it seems, doesn’t it? Well, in this case, NO. Use Hommlet, for example, as a base of operations, the background town for the party, and run your characters from there. There is built in mystery, interesting people, quirks, and detail. It gives you the bedrock to start a campaign setting on.
(Oh, and just to be complete, Wikipedia has a nice listing of 3/3.5 Ed D&D Modules you can also use to help… just remember that not all modules were created equal for a first time female player. Also, many of the old 1st and 2nd Ed modules can still be purchased as downloads from a few specific places online)
8 – CHOOSE THE CAMPAIGN SETTING WISELY
This is the hump; if you get your SO into the campaign, and it’s good, you’re home free. Why? Because the campaign ties the story together and gives it purpose. And purpose, in the end, is what will bring your SO back. Oh, sure, everyone can occasionally pickup the “Disposable Party” and have fun… but that’s for players who just want something different. It’s ALL different for a new player still learning the game. So, it’s best to get a “Magic Neutral Game” (it’s easy to add more magic in if it’s not enough, but it’s tough to remove it, but starting TOO low causes frustration, too. And frustration is bad). Choose a distinctive setting with atmosphere… it makes the DM’s job easier, and makes the scenario more mentally stimulating that “Generic Town”. In fact, one of the greatest D&D modules of all time was 50% atmosphere, Ravenloft. No, you don’t need to revisit Transylvania, but think hard about the background setting, and make it memorable and rich. This leads directly to….
9 – HAVE AN OVERARCHING STORY
This goes back to #8, to an extent, but insure that you have an overarching story behind the campaign to go with the memorable setting. What is your character/group doing? “To restore the infamous Scimitar Weal to the druid of the Eastern Oaks before the Barbarian Ragnoz claims it and destroys the town of El Lamirine” is fine as it provides a purpose, but make sure that somehow at least most of the modules advance the storyline at least a little. Make sure your SO knows the overarching story, and why HER character is one of the predestined chosen ones who will help accomplish it. However, not everyone in the game needs to be part of that overarching story which means…
10 – HAVE QUIRKY AND MEMORABLE RECURRING NPCs
Not everything in a campaign needs to be resolved; if the world is “Living”, probably a lot of stuff has nothing to do with the PCs. So throw in recurring memorable NPCs with agendas of their own; perhaps the PCs will be able to discover what the NPC’s purpose is, perhaps not, but it doesn’t matter. As Rebecca put it “The wandering mute Cleric of Yondalla may be there and aid us; maybe she won’t. Why we meet her is a mystery. What her purpose is, even more. But she exists in our world, and is memorable because of it.” It’s okay to have NPCs on a parallel path, as well, that occasionally intersects with the PCs, or NPCs who move from Friend to Foe, or Foe to Friend. Just make them realistic people with their own purposes, and make them interesting.
11 – LIMIT PLAYER KNOWLEDGE
Here’s a guilty secret… if all the players have experience, they can’t help but use player knowledge a little. “That’s only a Kobold!” “Ack, that’s a Beholder! Keep away from the eye stalks!” Remember, a new player may not know much about Kobolds or Beholders yet (though they can probably figure out that a Dragon is going to be tough!) That’s one of the reasons that The Sunless Citadel rates high, in that there are a number of good twists and new ideas in the module to “break” a player using too much player knowledge, while Keep on the Borderlands rates low. Limit the number of veteran players down to a core who won’t munch, and are following Rule #2, if possible. Or find ways to break the player preconcepts. Strangely, one module that might have worked with this, if not for the difficulty level and the fact it’s First Ed, is Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, which has specific WOTC rules to help “move it” to 3rd Ed. New and novel will also help keep the veterans enthused as well, and an enthusiastic group will help keep your SO involved and interested.
12 – LIMIT CROSSTABLE CHATTER
This one is counter intuitive to me as a male thinking about females, but Rebecca insists that it was important to the females in her old group. While, as men, we would assume that this is an opportunity for the females to socialize, remember this: the stereotype of the Simpson’s “Comic Book Guy” is not exactly who a female is interested in talking with socially. Stay (mostly) in the game, and game focused! However, don’t go overboard, either. When it comes time for a munchy run, enjoy, but leave the “In Character” out… “Fetch me a Mead from yon Icebox, Serving Wench” is just wrong on so many levels; perhaps, instead, you should be fetching HER a Mt. Dew? Oh, don’t get too intense, either. Relax and enjoy; your characters should be having fun, and you should, too. Just remember to play at the table, and not on the break.
13 – DON’T ASSUME REAL ROMANCE EXTENDS IN GAME
Oh, sure, sometimes a couple will have characters that are romantically linked… but there is no reason to make it a precondition, or even expectation, in game play. I might want to sit with Rebecca while playing, and she with I, but that doesn’t mean our characters are wedded at the hip, either. Allow the characters to develop on their own; maybe they’ll hook up, maybe not, but it removes some of the fantasy escapism if you force real world relationships on make-believe characters. One thing you might want to consider is to take the exact opposite track… make them (close) blood relations, a brother and sister or such. That would still define a “special” relationship between the pair, while not allowing make believe relationship issues into the real world, or vice versa.
14 – HAVE HER USE HER OWN EQUIPMENT
The old cliché is “Possession is 9/10ths of the law”. Possession means a commitment. If you have four hundred dice in three different dice bags and two tins, perhaps you should give her one as her own, maybe? After all, having her own set so she doesn’t have to constantly use yours gives her a commitment, and a “reward” for playing. Help her choose her miniature. Help her with a (nice) set of dice. Give her her own papers. If possible, even give her her own set of books to use. And keep them separate from yours, so she has them every time she plays. If she stops playing, you can have them back. If she keeps playing, she’ll need them anyway, but this gives her a COMMITMENT. Who knows, maybe you’ll soon need His ‘n’ Hers Matching Dice Bags!
15 – SHOW (AND KNOW!) YOUR CHARACTER DESTINATIONS EARLY
One of the things that we, as players, understand is that the characters evolve and expand in skills as they are played. However, new players may not Grok to that concept; show your SO some of the prestige classes down the road that may be available to her to help her understand where she’s going, and to give her a goal. “Hey, look, you could eventually become one of these ShadowDancers! They can hide in plain sight, move in the shadows, and command Shadow creatures to aid them!” would be something to get her interested. Or “You could eventually turn into one of these Shifters; she’s still a Druid, but can become almost any animal, kind of like Merlin could become various animals.” While you’re at it, watch a few of the better “Fantasy” movies with her to get her interested. Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, the two Dungeons & Dragons movies, Lord of the Rings, one of the Arthurian movies, Legend, Willow, Dragonheart, even Krull might help to get her interested and enthused on the idea, when you show her that she could evolve her character in some of the same ways those characters evolved in the movie. Plus a movie like this might remind her that you are trying to include her more in your life which is normally pretty good for a healthy relationship.
Use these points as suggestions, of course, but you will greatly increase your chances of KEEPING your SO playing after that first initial game if you use them. Getting her to play that first time is still going to be at least partially up to you, but these will help there, a little, too. Be supportive, be kind, don’t patronize, and before long, your lady may be a regular player.
So, any ladies have any other good points to add? Feel free to comment!