Dungeons & Dragons, Women, and Grognards



Photo by doctor_bob at Morguefile.com

This is somewhat of a follow-up post to my original Dungeons & Dragons article I made some time. It has been my most successful article to date in terms of views, receiving over 2000 since its original posting. However, that visibility meant that it was ripe for receiving hit-and-run comments.

Compared to other platforms, WordPress is pretty mild in terms of nastiness in my experience. Post moderation is robust, the community is very friendly and overall I’ve found it to be a welcoming place.

But, I did receive two comments that I’d like to respond to. Usually, nasty comments for their own sake will just be trashed from the moderation queue. They will never see the light of day.

Initially, I kept these comments public because I wanted to prove that they were around. However, I decided to go back on that because I don’t want to establish that kind of precedent. After this post is up, they will be trashed. All that will be left of them are the screenshots that I took. I am not doing this for their benefit since I don’t think they will be inclined to listen. However, I do believe this might be beneficial in understanding some of the behavioral mechanisms at play for an outside observer.

With that in mind, let’s get started.

Maybe It’s Better This Way

The first comment is fairly straightforward.

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For the uninitiated, the commenter is saying a handful of things. He is pointing to the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as the One True Edition. Everything else is unworthy and not “real” Dungeons & Dragons. This commenter takes umbrage at these new editions and the changes they make to the rules. He holds particular disdain to the addition of character classes and unspecified “wingdings”. Those new players are held in contempt since they “lack imagination”.

Although this commenter misspells the word, he self-identifies as a “grognard”. The word grognard derives from a term meaning “old soldier”. Since D&D came out of wargames, it borrows the terminology from some of those wargames. In the context of Dungeons & Dragons, a grognard plays the oldest editions when new ones are around.

The etymology of the term comes from the French grogner which means to snarl, grunt, grumble, and growl. This association has never really left the term. Usually, when someone is described as a grognard it’s not in an endearing manner. Since there has been a resurgence in older editions thanks to what is known as the “Old School Revival”. Now, older editions of Dungeons & Dragons are available once again to play.

I would absolutely love to go back and play the older editions since I take an interest in the history of the game. It probably won’t replace 5th edition as my preferred edition but it will be an interesting journey. I would love to play White Box  (the very first edition of the game released in 1974) if given the chance.

But White Box is going to cost several hundred dollars to do and that’s money that I just don’t have.I am also not interested in becoming a grognard myself and with good reason.

What this comment basically showcases is a behavior known as “gatekeeping”. In this context, gatekeeping is when a person appoints themselves to be the arbiter of who belongs or has the right to belong. In this case, admission hinges upon playing the AD&D 1st edition.

I began playing under 3.5 and skipped 4th edition straight to 5th. I enjoyed 3.5, but appreciated the changes that 5th edition made. It serves as my favorite edition thus far. But, according to this commenter, I am not a true D&D player.

The problems with this logic should be patently obvious. It’s a blatant act of exclusion. All you need to do is take the people who play an edition that you don’t like and shove them into a box with the word “fake” on it and you’re on your merry way.

But of course, not everyone is going to like 1st edition AD&D. Some people are going to like 2nd edition. Others are going to stick with 3rd edition or 3.5 (since 3.5 is basically a minor facelift of 3rd edition, that’s usually the one we hear about) As much as we may recoil at the thought, some people are going to like 4th edition the best. How can we say that they are imposters?

Ultimately, there is no litmus test. There is no One True Edition. 5th hits the sweet spot for many people, including myself, but I cannot dictate that others belong simply because of that.

In terms of business, focusing on grognards is a recipe for disaster. I remember attempting to dabble in Warhammer 40k some time ago. I entered a store and reluctantly shelled out $75 for a starter set. It included two factions and basic play components, but no terrain. I remember the sales associate pressing me very hard about it. I was so put off by it that I never returned. That associate was replaced but the damage had already been done. Clearly, there wasn’t enough of an audience there because it closed within a short period of time.

There’s a reason that Wizards of the Coast worked to bring more people into Dungeons & Dragons. Since it was significantly easier to get into a computer or console based RPG like Final Fantasy or Skyrim, that’s what most gamers did. 5th edition did what 4th edition tried to do: it brought new people in. I think this is going to be good for the community by adding fresh faces and good for Wizards for bringing in new customers.

Geek culture has a huge problem with gatekeeping, usually meant to exclude new fans and women. Which leads me to the next comment…

Why is the “S” Backwards?

The second comment I received is as follows:


I must confess, this commenter uses more emojis than I would normally expect. I don’t quite understand why that many were necessary to convey his point. There’s no purpose in using seven laughing faces when one will do. Perhaps I’m missing the forest for the trees, though. Let’s dissect the content of his argument and depart from critiquing the style.

At the start, this commenter makes a blanket statement about women not digging D&D. He believes that everyone who plays this has always known this.

Ok, how does he know? Does he know about the d20 girls project? Can he read the minds of every single player and DM in the world and conclude that there is something within that second X chromosome that just locks off any and all mentions of Dungeons & Dragons? In every group that I’ve played and DM’ed in there is at least one woman.

We can go even further, though, because this reveals the commenter’s ignorance of D&D’s own history. As was written in “Of Dice and Men” by David Ewalt, when Gary Gygax was playtesting the game he had his children playtest it. They consisted of Ernie and Elise Gygax, his son and daughter. After adding in new players and successfully playtesting the game (which was dubbed “The Fantasy Game” as a working title), he needed a name. When he read aloud titles his youngest daughter Cindy was delighted with the name “Dungeons & Dragons”. As a result, that’s how we got the name we have today.

However, the commenter’s worldview will be well-preserved because he has set up a cognitive means to protect it. If I point to 5000 women who play the game, he can shift the goalposts to 5001. No matter how high the number gets, he can just say that it doesn’t count.

As of now, Wizards has not released an updated set of statistics on player demographics. The most recent one was conducted in 2000 with a 19% female player base. While it was clearly a more male-centered market at that time, there has been a female presence. I would like to see updated statistics since the market has clearly shifted.

Like it or not, since its inception D&D has gone through the hands of women. It will continue to go through the hands of women and they will want a place at the table as well because there’s no rule in any edition of the game that says “you must be male to play”.

I would encourage a moment of careful self-reflection, should this be an issue to anyone. What does it say about one’s love of a hobby if that enjoyment is quashed by the fact that a woman might enjoy it too? Why does a woman playing ruin the experience? Is it Dungeons & Dragons that is more enjoyable or the sense of excluding someone else?

Personally, I am glad that women are playing the game. I cannot begin to articulate how engaging dating a woman who played D&D would be. But, even if we took the whole dating aspect out, I’ve had lots of fun playing with women whom I had platonic friendships with. I don’t really see how keeping women out is beneficial to everyone except those who just can’t handle the presence of a woman in their hobby, which quite honestly says more about them than the women they want to exclude.

While one may not be painting “No girls allowed” with a backwards “S”, it is effectively communicating the same thing. It’s time to take that sign down because we’re adults now.

Revoking the Nerd Card

However, there is one group of people that I don’t believe are worthy of being geeks. I believe I’ll let John Scalzi sum this up:

Now, bear in mind that I understand that when you’re off haranguing a woman (or anyone else) on the subject of geek worthiness, you’re not actually thinking of me or any other person or company who makes the work you enjoy and have made a focus of your life. You are effectively working under the assumption that all this stuff just magically appears out of nowhere, a golden store of treasure, of which there is a limited supply, and thus must be defended at all costs against the unworthy, which in this case are usually Teh Womans.

Well, surprise. It doesn’t come out of nowhere; we creators make it.  It isn’t a limited resource; we can make enough for anyone who wants it. It doesn’t need to be defended from anybody; we like it when it’s shared as widely as possible, including to Teh Womans.

And as for who is unworthy of it: Well. It’s not the women or anyone else who wants to try it, or who has tried it, liked it, and wants in to get more. It’s the people who are trying their hardest to keep them out.

One thought on “Dungeons & Dragons, Women, and Grognards

  1. Reblogged this on The Blogging Meetup and commented:

    Here’s a follow-up to my original Dungeons & Dragons article!


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