The release of Dungeons & Dragons 5e has ushered in a renaissance in tabletop gaming, resulting in an explosion of diverse new players rushing to the hobby, seeking an immersive storytelling experience. As women flood into gaming stores across the country, we need to reflect on how the DnD experience is evolving and how we can work together to shape the future of DnD.
Behind the Curtain: Women Developing DnD
DnD is a TTRPG originally designed for a male audience. Created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the design staff of early-edition DnD was primarily male, with a focus on creating a fantasy version of classically popular wargames. Unfortunately, by writing for an assumed predominately male audience, several published materials included sexist rules and features; for instance, AD&D included a “Harlot Table” as well as character-generation rules which capped female PCs’ Strength, in exchange for “Beauty” points. This faced public backlash within the community during the mid-70’s, with female writers and players becoming more visible and demanding an end to chauvinism in the game they had come to love.
While DnD has historically been seen as a boys’ club, women have been involved in DnD from the very beginning. When first developing DnD, Gygax playtested the game with his two children, Ernie and Elise; in fact, Elise is said to have chosen the name “Dungeons and Dragons”, which Gygax went on to use for the game system. Writers, editors, and artists such as Jean Wells, Kim Mohan, Darlene, Penny Williams, Rose Estes, and many more, helped develop earlier editions of DnD into the game we know and love. Iconic features, such as the original Greyhawk map and the Sage Advice column, were created or staffed by women.
While these women are often overlooked when recounting the history of DnD, women have been present every step of the way working to design and develop the game we’ve come to know and love. By breaking down barriers and proving the worth of women as artists and game designers, their work has awarded us all a seat at the DnD gaming table.
Industry Role Models
DnD experienced a Renaissance with the premiere of 5th edition, focusing on collective storytelling rather than mechanics and rules. Streaming brought DnD to an entirely new community, with groups such as Critical Role and Dice, Camera, Action! featuring talented actors and community role models bringing games to the public on a weekly basis. Their success has led to the involvement of TTRPG creators, which donate dice, dice sets, dice boxes, miniatures, and other materials to these streams, as well as to local group and school who are starting up their own DnD clubs. The success of streams has led to an influx of new gamers, transforming the community and ushering in a new generation of diverse gamers, including women, minority, and LGBTQ+ players.
As the community has grown to accommodate more “non-conventional” gamers, we’ve seen more and more community leaders and creators stepping up and representing women in the industry. All-female streams, such as Sirens of the Realms and Fate and the Fablemaidens, have increased female visibility and served as role models for up-and-coming DnD players. DnD Adventurer’s League has added female administrators, such as Lysa Chen, who also serves as the Community Manager for DMs Guild. Female writers and streamers, such as Kate Welch, have emerged as figureheads in the community, working to create content for players everywhere to use.
This visibility of women in the DnD community is incredibly important, as these role models forge a path for women everywhere to be included as writers, artists, DMs, and players. These women show every day that DnD is made for everyone and that we all deserve a place at the table.
Female (N)PCs: More than Just a Pretty Face
As players and DMs, we all can work to create a more inclusive environment for gaming, whether it’s by creating a special women- or LGBTQ+- only game night, promoting female-developed content, or simply by encouraging diversity among players at the table. Creating spaces where minorities are empowered to play the game, by creating a safe space where they can see individuals like themselves enjoying and creating content, can help reassure those who don’t fit into the typical gamer-guy mold to break out of their comfort zone and try playing DnD. Once these players get more comfortable and self-assured, they can act as ambassadors to others looking to join the community, resulting in a more diverse player-base that allows everyone to feel comfortable playing DnD, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.
One thing we can all do to promote inclusivity is to create and roleplay fully-fledged characters, regardless of their sex or orientation. Break outside of stereotypical roles: create an uproarious female half-orc Drunken Master, a raging female pirate captain Barbarian, or a sardonic female Vengeance Paladin. Instead of letting a character’s gender decide their personality, stats, or class, create a vibrant, 3-dimensional character where gender is just one of many facets of their personality.
As a DM, create a wide array of female NPCs, letting them hold the same positions and ranks as their male counterparts. Ensure that women are equally represented in your fantasy world and embody a wide range of personalities, flaws, and motivations. Always allow female players, PCs, and NPCs to have control over their own lives and choices; never force situations onto characters and take away their agency.
We all need to work together as players, DMs, writers, and creators to create an inclusive space, where gatekeeping and sexism are a thing of the past. As we forge a path ahead, we must develop a community where inclusion is a top priority and everyone can feel like they belong.
Emily Smith is a D&D Writer, TTRPG Blogger and DMs Guild Content Creator based in Los Angeles, CA. She is a regular DM and player for Adventurer's League, the official organized play system for D&D 5e. In her free time, she enjoys playing League of Legends, cooking, and cat herding.