D&D: Three Years and Three Months of 5e | A Female Perspective
Guest Writer: Shu Qing Tan
Dungeons & Dragons: Three Years and Three Months of 5e | A Female Perspective
The world celebrated International Women’s Day recently. On International Women’s Day, I took the time to reflect on my journey in D&D and my thoughts turn to those who have paved the way for people like me. I am proud to be a member of communities with strong leadership, codes of conduct and mutual respect, and safety tools for those who need them. Without such things in place, I doubt I’d be where I am today. Today, I am a DM, and a TTRPG writer and editor. The journey, however, is not without bumps.
My first D&D experience was with the Black Isle computer games. Later on, I played 4e with friends, some of which had disabilities such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Our sessions were short but enjoyable. Then, life intervened and we each went our own ways. I moved cities and had a successful career in banking. I eventually found time to play in a fortnightly campaign and drop-in, drop-out sessions at two local game clubs. Everyone was welcoming and respectful at the places I played at. Women were turning up to play D&D at the fortnightly Adventurers League organized play sessions in the city. At the other venue, non-binary and trans-people have become more visible. These could not have happened without strong leadership in place at both venues. These leaders were staunch followers of a code of conduct that promoted good behavior, mutual respect, and egalitarianism. With the support of my local gaming community, I took my first step into DMing.
Suddenly, the pandemic hit. Most of my local gaming community did not make the transition online. I tentatively ventured into online D&D Discord servers, ones that run organized play pick-up games. There are all kinds of people on these servers. Some good, some bad, some in-between. Women are unfortunately still scrutinized in public for many things including their appearance and are subjected to sexist biases. I am not prepared to expose myself to these risks in an online space where trolls can hide behind anonymity. Interacting with people who defend their ignorance and bias can be emotionally exhausting.
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In 90% of the games I played, nearly everyone was a man. Most are well-behaved and courteous. However, the odd few that are bad apples can sour one’s entire experience of D&D and I am not exempt from this. Poor behavior abounds where entitlement trumps mutual respect and table control is non-existent. I have been spoken over by men who would only stop when being told to by other men. In a few pick-up games where most of the players and the DM already knew each other, I was either excluded from the conversation or had my turn taken by other players who think they can jump in regardless of initiative order. I was furious. Yes, I was eventually heard but were my concerns taken seriously? It is hard to say when you do not know what action has been taken or whether these players were aware of their transgressions and are open to changing their behavior.
Admittedly, running a game online can be difficult. While audio is mostly a given in most online D&D games, video is not. It is hard to tell how people are feeling based on verbal cues when non-verbal cues are not visible. However, there is a silver lining. While my voice and accent gave my gender, ethnicity, and country of origin away, I am free to disable my camera. No one can stare at me. The only thing between myself and them is a screen. This gave me a sense of safety, not just from a privacy point of view but also because how I look is no longer a factor for decision-making or impression forming.
Luckily, many of these servers have codes of conduct that are taken seriously by the community. These servers have community leaders who walk the talk. They are supportive and impartial. Just as importantly, they understand and accept differences. These people gave me the confidence to take up the DM mantle and contribute to the D&D community online. I signed up to volunteer and DM in various Discord communities and conventions large and small. As a result, I grew my system mastery and developed the ability to collaborate with different kinds of people all over the world.
D&D suffers from a scarcity of DMs. Excluding women and minorities from D&D only exacerbates the scarcity problem. Having supportive social structures that grow and develop players and DMs, and a culture that supports unique and diverse voices are critical. There is no denying the social aspect of D&D, which is to cooperate with others at the table to achieve a shared objective. Everyone is a part of a joint narrative or a shared experience. This means ensuring everyone at the table is heard and is being kind and respectful to each other.
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