Feminism, intersectionality and tabletop RPGs


I’m running Storm King’s Thunder right now, and I’m going to have to rewrite the plot soon. One of the big plot points is that the queen is killed and the king goes out looking for the killers for revenge, probably. I absolutely do not want to fridge her, and will probably make her a cool spellcaster who faked her death and is in hiding, or something altogether different. (Suggestions from anyone who’s run the campaign are welcome)


I have been DMing for about a decade now and while I can’t say that the community isn’t toxic I am really happy to see posts like this.

I personally have had a really wonderful experience with Roll20, which is a virtual service for tabletop rpgs. I have seen groups of female players who specifically were keeping their campaign a safe space for interested women to learn away from the usual crowd. I also haven’t had any issues with toxic players and have met a lot of new friends in countries outside the U.S.

My best friend got an entirely female group together through his wife because they are theater people and loved the role playing aspect(also all drama people are huge geeks). So that is a great place to look for interested people.

I think one of the most critical things to talk about with players before starting a game is the comfort level and triggers. Personally I won’t touch stories about rape simply because I think I don’t feel comfortable enough as a story teller to pull it off well. That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen in the world, but you can leave blanks for player imaginations to fill in. I ran an evil campaign where one character was a serial killer and we always faded to black, he never said what he did with the people he captured, they simply disappeared and it scared the shit out of everyone so much more than him going on in gory detail.
Don’t feel like you need to be adult or mature by holding the camera on terrible things. Don’t be afraid to fade to black or pan away. If a player is uncomfortable with extreme violence, it shouldn’t ruin anyone’s fun to not have the rogue describe in detail how they saw through the kobold’s throat.

Ask your players, adjust your content, keep the game fun for everyone at the table.


I’m running an adventure called The Five Temples of the Earthmother right now, and (spoilers because my players are in this thread) the campaign as written has a minor plot detail that the King’s son has been kidnapped and the Queen has locked herself in her chambers to weep about it. I’ve decided that instead, she’s actually going to be in disguise on a secret mission and will pop up at some point doing cool-ass shit. I’m just having trouble deciding what she should be doing of the available actions in the kingdom – trying to rescue her son (probably not, because people would be more likely to recognize her) or maybe undertaking diplomatic relations with the fey.

I haven’t run the campaign, but you could maybe consider having it be something where the king actually knows what’s up the whole time and he and the queen are in it together in order create the political smokescreen to eliminate their enemies..


As a black tabletop player, I have had some pretty disheartening experiences. Now that I’m older, I’ve found a great and mixed group of people to play with,but younger me was not so lucky. I didn’t have the tools to tell someone that they were being racist, by saying that elves couldn’t have dark skin, or that not all half-orcs have to be blood thirsty assholes. Still, I’m surprised and happy that I stuck with the community, in the end I found a great group, but it it took a while.


I’m so, so glad you did. I hate the “elves can’t have dark skin” trope; it’s absolutely ridiculous. Argh. I’m so glad you found cooler people to play with.


Me too! I really lucked out.


I try really really hard in my fantasy and sci-fi games to never create a situation where players feel comfortable assuming “well they’re orcs so they must be evil.”

If usually my preferred way to accomplish this is just to introduce any fantasy races first as friendly NPCs before they ever show up as enemies or more hostile NPCs.

I also try really hard to never make enemy motivation just “they’re evil” unless they’re like. A literal demon. But like. Bandits, space pirates, whatever, they need reasons to do what they’re doing. Food, money, survival, revenge. Whatever.


They can, they just are the expressly evil underdwelling elves. Probably nothing to read into there.


Right, yes. Of course.

I mean, this is a thing I’m guilty of doing; as I’ve said above, I tend to assume everyone is white and I often forget to make NPCs who are not white. But this discussion is reminding me how bad I am at that, and that I need to actually think about it.


It can be useful to take your players on a field trip. Get them on a boat and in a new country or underground. Force them to be the outsider in a different culture and having to learn to navigate it. There is nothing inherently terrible about having a game take place in a predominantly white area. It does allow you to really shake things up though by throwing your characters somewhere new and also making them aware that the world is larger than their own culture.


If you aren’t overtly specifying a skin color for an NPC, but you mentally default them to white, is this an issue? Or is this an issue because the only time a skin color is mentioned in game is when you are stating that they are not white? Does leaving out skin tone from the description leave the NPC open to each individual PC’s interpretation, and is this better? If the game is in a fantasy world, I would think that skin color, while still possibly creating hang ups because humans are drawn to create Otherness wherever possible, would have different implications.


Those are all good questions. Because my campaign is online, we have an obsidian portal where I upload images that are meant to represent the characters. When selecting these images, I admit I tend towards white faces – in part because that’s what’s available when you google “D&D portraits,” and in part I’m sure because of internal biases.

One part of my campaign that I’ve been actively trying to complicate is the depiction of Amnians/Calishites, who in most Forgotten Realms materials are Middle Eastern in appearance and villainous in character. In the materials as written, the Amnians are occupy one of these islands and are basically total assholes, out cutting down trees, decimating the environment, enslaving its people and being basically awful. So in order to not do that, I’ve consciously created NPCs who aren’t doing those things, and in fact are opposing them. I probably won’t tell players, “This lady is brown,” but based on where she’s from, I assume they’ll fill in the blanks.

Edited to add: Amn is apparently more specifically based on early modern Spain/Portugal with heavy influence from Middle Eastern crusader states such as the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


That sparked an idea of doing something like you said and having the queen have gone to negotiate with the other giants and then having presumably died. I might just have her fake her death and be surreptiously doing cool stuff in the background somewhere.


I’m not explicit with character races when I’m running games, but for my player characters I try to cast them in my mind as different women of color. This is also despite what the player’s handbook says about the expected skin color for characters cough cough elves


Is it too late to fridge the King, or is that just a trope inversion that doesn’t help solve the problem? I could see the Queen wanting revenge on her husband dying, and having it be obvious that she is the only one powerful enough to take his spot could be fun. It also makes it a lot easier to change the plot with almost a simple word replace.


That whole part of the plot hasn’t come up yet. The way it’s written, the queen is killed and the king is kidnapped, so inverting it means the queen ends up being ineffectual and kidnapped instead. I’d rather have the queen be able to do things.


Y’all are making it awfully difficult to keep up on this discussion when you’re (I think?) talking about spoilers from the game I’m a player in :wink:

@slaughterhouse5 makes a great point though, and another one I’ve tried to be conscious of in my own campaign. Amn is a major player in the story I’ve been writing, and right off the bat, I recognized it as that stereotypically “Orientalist Menace” trope. Being that our campaign is set in Waterdeep, and Amn has traditionally been cast as a Waterdhavian rival state, I’ve tried my best to bring some nuance to that narrative. For all intents and purposes, my players have all reason to see them as a “threat” at this point in the game, but as the variety of plot threads come together, they’re going to realize that the Amn empire isn’t inherently evil. They’re simply acting in the best interests of their own people, and any and all prejudices against them are entirely the result of regional biases and straight-up racism. It’s an approach that — I hope, at least — brings a bit more nuance, and keeps the campaign from being too proscriptive and morally absolute.


I think the race issue is an interesting and complex one and there are legitimate reasons to restrict the spectrum of appearance for each race/species. For my part as a GM, I never use pre-built settings since my biggest draw to GMing is creating settings so my perspective is a little different than many.

Whenever I create a setting, I completely define each culture, nation, race, etc. usually with references to real-world analogs to help players understand them. So I might define elves as living in the north and with classically nordic appearance in which case a dark-skinned elf wouldn’t exist. Likewise, I’ve run games in more equatorial climes where the default skin tone is dark brown and white-skinned races just don’t exist. All my settings are very specifically setup to be internally consistent and with a defined scope. That scope tends to range from a small continent size (approx. western Europe or 1/4 of Africa) down to something like a large county with one or two major cities and outlying towns.

Another major point is I hate absolutes, while there could be a nomadic horde of bloodthirsty orcs, the average orc would tend more moderate and there will always be opposing factions within the group. I’m also a fan of cultural race selection where there aren’t just elves, but elves from X, Y, and Z cultures and regions and the modifiers are either identical or vary on cultural theme. I’ll usually have each species have 3-4 options for more diversity, or more commonly ditch all the species and focus on only one with many cultural options.


I totally see why you do this, and I do so myself, but with this example all I can think of is the image of a white snowy landscape, contrasted with a deep dark, serious elf face.


So, most of Drizzt’s Icewind Dale adventures.