Feeling like a cliché as a woman gamer

edited March 2017 in Story Games
I had kind of a depressing experience tonight playing Stars Without Number. My telepath character spent a really long time negotiating with some insectoid aliens whose queen seemed to desperately need our help, except it seemed like everything she said was a lie, and even while reading her mind, I somehow didn't notice. After we agreed to help them, her people ambushed us and tried to feed us to their kids. We killed the ambush group, and next session, the rest of my party plans to scour the site and murder every alien they see.

There are a couple of things going on here that annoy me. One is that I spent an hour-plus on a complete narrative dead end, having a conversation that didn't matter about things that weren't true. That just doesn't seem like an interesting story choice to me. Getting tricked by a crafty opponent can be terrific for a story. There are ways to foreshadow betrayal so it feels inevitable, yet terrifying. But this was such a protracted, pointless conversation, with nothing useful to learn, and the attack afterward felt so arbitrary and at odds with everything that happened before it.

But the other thing that bothers me is that I'm a woman in a party that's otherwise all-male, and I feel like such a girl-gamer cliché right now, stupidly trying to talk to and make friends with the rapacious monsters who just wanted to eat us.

I haven't had a ton of gender-based problems as a gamer. I've played with a lot of groups where I was the only woman, and a lot of gender-split groups. Some have been more talky, some have been more fighty, and it usually depends a lot more on the individual game than on the gender mix. I'm generally over gamer gender stereotypes. But it's hard not to feel a little out of place when I'm both the only woman and the only social character in what's turning out to be a "kill everything in sight" game where all the guys are on the same page, and I'm not.

So I'm curious what kinds of situations other people have run into around gender stereotypes and gaming expectations. Has this kind of dynamic ever been a problem for you as a player, or for games you've been in? When you run up against a gender-split decision in how to proceed in a story, do you handle it any differently from any other kind of split decision in your games?

Comments

  • edited March 2017
    The specific thing about the alien queen... it sounds like something out of the original Robin's Laws. Put in some pointless conversations for the Method Actors to get it out of their system. So meaningless. Robin Laws has some great RPG theory these days but back then it was awful. That book is something I like to return to again and and again as an example of what not to do.

    It's weird, though, that it happened in SWN. It should be about what the players do, not about any narrative threads the GM wants to impose. The same author has another book "Silent Legions" where the conversations are pretty meaningful and interesting. Force your GM to read it.

    SWN is about clashing factions. The insectoid aliens are one among others. It should be interesting to try to negotiate with them, not just a waste of time. Maybe the faction could've been split or the queen could've shown some remorse.

    That said, GMs do make mistakes. Every GM has had things happen in the game that ended up pointless or a waste of time due to what later happened. It sucks :/ but it can sometimes mean that things really sing.

    I was in a similar situation as you; being the only woman in a male-only group and wanting to talk to the monsters. But, I had the GM on my side and the result was awesome. We had one group of monsters on our side and another group against us and it was an amazing clash. I mean the factions in The Lost City or ASE have been amazing. I played with the same group again after taking a long break from them (b/c they were playing Raggi which I wasn't in the mood for). And when I returned, they had taken up the mantle of talking to the monsters and negotiating with them. I was playing a snowflake character, an extreme pacifist cleric who never joined the battles but always cast protective spells on the other party members. I got turned into a goat from a random table roll later. It was awesome, great session.


    As for other issues... I dunno, I used to be super sensitive (maybe I still am?! haven't really put the post-therapy 2097 to the test. Still practicing the skills on easy stuff) and wrote The X-Card isn't enough back then. Not to say that being hypersensitive or, for that matter, wanting to negotiate rather than fight is an exclusively lady thing — the point I, and I think Bricoleur too, are making is that when the group is disagreeing on something, if the argument is split along gender lines, it can be more difficult to negotiate or feel more hopeless & unresolvable & "natural" (in the bad sense) & immutable. The specific points of contentions aren't always specific to one gender or the other, when you zoom out far enough to look at other groups. Sometimes it's the women who want to bring the ruckus and the men who wants to talk through it. That's not to say there aren't some systematic trends, I just want to hedge here.


    Oh, yeah, one thing. One pretty annoying thing. Got reminded of this from the other thread. I sometimes hear some DMs who are very authoritarian. As a woman DM occasionally running games for all-male parties... there just hasn't been any way to do this. It's so hard to get taken seriously. Now, in the other thread I argued for this as a positive, that you can get group buy-in and make table decisions and that can be great. And I do think that, that it's mostly a good thing. But it's not all upside. It can sometimes be like pulling teeth.

    Like I ran a con game three weeks ago and we played three hours, took a lunch break, then three more hours. For that other half, a new player joined in and for a recap, the other players jumped in to provide the recap. I could just nod along. Trying to correct some things got me nowhere. At the time, I did see this as upside too. I saw it as a sign that I had buy-in for the goings-on in the session, I saw their recap as more efficient and relevant than my own, I was happy that they liked the game so much and gave me compliments, so I was like "Oh, wow, this is great! I can just sit back and they make the game really come alive!" But, after a while, a downside (besides it being kinda invalidating of my role as traditional DM) showed up. I had some hippie elements in the game and I was going for an Judee Sill, आशा भोंसले / Asha Bhosle vibe. The new player had gotten more of a "South Park" impression of the game's tone. "Hehehe kill all hippies yeah fun". + he made r*pe jokes :(
  • edited March 2017
    It seems to me that the problem isn't really with different genders of players, but with GM/Player expectations that don't align with yours. Also, one hour of dialogue for nothing sounds like bad GMing (maybe because the GM was under pressure to make a decision, etc); reminds me of all the pixelbitching in the old days that lead to nothing.
  • What pops to me in this experience is Stars Without Number, because what you experienced (the frustration, not the gender aspect) is something I've seen a lot in my own old school D&D play, and SWN is specifically, very explicitly old school D&D. Not everybody plays it precisely the same way, but there is a strong ethos, supported by the game's system of play, for certain sorts of things.

    Specifically, what this kind of D&D advocates a GM to do is to referee impartially. This means, taken to a certain point of logical purity, that the adventurers are indeed allowed and even encouraged to waste their time in pointless dead ends. I cannot speak for your campaign as a whole, but if I was playing Stars Without Number, I would take it as a given that it is not a game about fulfilling narratives, but rather a complex strategic exercise in a dynamic world of adventure.

    (A few examples of what this has meant in practice at our table: in the last session we played all but one of the player characters died, including characters that had been in play for dozens of sessions; the two sessions before that had been spent dungeon-delving in a dugeon that was, unknown to the players, empty of all treasure and therefore utterly pointless for them. These are just two examples of the merciless nature that old school D&D can adopt: mistakes and bad luck can easily have you waste your time or die.)

    When this kind of game encounters a player who assumes (because the group is misunderstanding their own play, perhaps) a meaningful narrative experience, there is going to be frustration. Even players who are fully on board with the merciless consequences and personal responsibility of hardcore D&D will often feel strong feelings of disappointment and resentment when things don't go their way, and they know and accept the nature of the game explicitly and with full understanding of what's going on.

    Consider it from the GM's perspective, in the context of what kind of game SWN may be (I cannot say if it is like this at your table, of course - I'm just speculating based on the game you happen to be playing): they introduce a challenging situation with evil insect aliens, describe the situation carefully, and then let the players figure out what they want to do about the situation. They are committed to being fair and even-handed in resolving the events. They know in advance that the insectoids are evil in a metaphysical, poetic sense, beyond rational expectation of biological imperative; a common D&D theme, and far from unknown in science fiction. Now, one of the players decides to engage the aliens in diplomacy - what does the GM do? My answer, 100% of the time, is to do exactly what seems to have happened with you: engage the player seriously in in-character dialogue, play the sneaky evil aliens as sneaky evil aliens, and see if the players might get suckered and die horrible deaths because they trusted the wrong unknown. Specifically, my players would be quite disappointed in me, and I would be as well, if I helped them by telling them something like "you know, these aliens are genuinely evil, so you're just wasting your time talking to them, so you should do something else". That would be helping them avoid a mistake, and what's the point of that in what is essentially a wargame?

    When I've GMed old school D&D for players who react badly to what it is like, I've generally talked it out, somewhat like the above discussion - tried to explain how the game is by nature merciless, and that it's natural to feel disappointed at failures, and that it's part of what some people want out of a game like that. Sometimes people learn to appreciate the experience after the initial shock, but it is not at all uncommon for us to come to agree that a "challengeful" game is not what they want to play. In my gaming circles this is OK, and I personally often make sure to encourage other kinds of gaming to occur as well in the local ludosystem; you want to be able to give everybody the kind of gaming they want and need, and that doesn't mean forcing everybody to play a nasty game of disappointments and failures, when what they really want is a meaningful story gaming experience.

    I know that this wasn't your actual theme here, but I felt like laying all that out just in case you're having a conflict of expectations in your group - maybe the GM is assuming that they should be running a neutrally refereed game of challengeful adventure, while you would prefer a cooperative game of meaningful space stories?

    I'll discuss the gender angle next, I might have some experiences with that as well.
  • So I'm curious what kinds of situations other people have run into around gender stereotypes and gaming expectations. Has this kind of dynamic ever been a problem for you as a player, or for games you've been in? When you run up against a gender-split decision in how to proceed in a story, do you handle it any differently from any other kind of split decision in your games?
    I've been gaming for quite a while now (well over 20 years by now, all told), so yeah, this sort of thing has come up occasionally.

    My most recent experience has been in our on-going campaign of historical fantasy old school D&D. In the most recent leg of the campaign (started a year ago, ~45 sessions in at this point) the player population is predominantly boys and men with wide age range (10-years old being the youngest), but we do have one regular woman as well. Her situation parallels yours in many ways - similar game, too.

    This player, I'll call her 'S' for now, is what I characterize as a "casual" campaigner: she's the girlfriend of one of the alpha players (regular, highly committed campaign leaders) in the group, and we might characterize her interest in the game as social in nature - she's there to hang out with her boyfriend and friends more than to engage in medieval wargaming. I'll clarify that she's not a "fake geek girl" in the American sense, it's just that this game is somewhat casual for her (just like it is for some of the male players) - she would probably choose a different game to play were she initiating the creative construction of the campaign.

    Now, D&D is a very masculine type of game in cultural terms, and old school sandbox wargame D&D is particularly so. It is not uncommon for there to be a gender split in playstyle with this game, precisely as you postulate. I've played with women who play pretty much like one of the boys, but miss S is not one of these: she takes to the game with a somewhat casual, ironic attitude compared to many of the other players, and her moves are often somewhat peculiar compared to the male groupthink.

    Some examples follow of how miss S and the men in the group have ended up thinking differently on some particular situations. I'll just characterize how it is, without trying to figure out which differences might be "because she's a woman" and which are just because she's an individual.
    * She tends to discount strategic threat analysis, preferring to make decisions more lightly. It is not uncommon for the men in the group to worry about and prepare for speculative problems, while her precautions are mostly ritualistic in nature: you set guards while camping because that's what fantasy adventurers do. Mostly she just takes things as they come.
    * She shares my appreciation for realistic historical detail, so it's not uncommon for her to initiate problem-solving based on medieval material or cultural technology that the other players are oblivious to. Her boyfriend does this to a degree as well, as they share an interest in historical recreation, but as they do it independently of each other, she regularly ends up spearheading some idea alone.
    * She tends to emphasize off-scenario downtime play more than the other players, and regularly ends up initiating strange things that way. This is also something that I like to do myself when being a player in this type of expansive sandbox (it's a good source for future adventures), so it's not strange to me per se, even if it is an exceptional trait in this particular crew. For example, her most recent character spent more time working on starting a distillery than prepping for the next adventure expedition.
    * She tends to be emotionally more resigned and fatalistic about setbacks than the men in the group; I generally foster a pretty focused and intense "hungry for success" atmosphere in these D&D campaigns, and in this case as well the players are mostly pretty emotionally invested in success and failure. Miss S is more of the sort who'll just shrug and smile at setbacks.

    So those are the kinds of things on which we've had "gender splits" in this particular campaign over the last months. Of course because it's just one woman vs. however many men, one might as well characterize these as "S versus the rest" contrasts. Most of the time these differences in strategy and approach to the play do not become doctrinal disputes or anything like that - everybody plays the way they like, making the moves they like, and that's that.
  • The biggest "gender split" of the campaign so far actually came up in the last session, on Wednesday. The short of the story is that the party encountered a gnoll war party that was hunting for them after they'd assaulted the gnoll nest, and when they engaged in pursuit, the gnolls led them into an ambush. The adventuring party was strung out on the ski track (it's winter in Sweden 1360, the party is on skis) due to the chase, so they arrived at the battle site in drips and draps, and ended up defeated in detail. Miss S and my young nephew 'E' were leading the baggage train (basically, dragging the party's sledges), and thus were far and away the last to arrive at the scene of the battle, long after it had come to its gory end.

    Now, many of the male players are pretty wimpy about the IC/OOC knowledge split, and have to be cajoled quite a bit to acknowledge the fog of war in situations like this: the baggage train did not know what had happened to the rest of the party, although the players did, so there was some chance that the gnolls would catch the remainder of the party as well simply because they would stumble innocently to the scene. The group as a whole did not really care about what happened to the stragglers, as we'd just witnessed the biggest set-back of the campaign arc so far, with a 3rd level leading hero dying at the hands of the gnolls. It would have been completely in character for the group to simply invent some in-fiction excuse for why Miss S and E (who due to his age generally follows the lead of the adult players) were being particularly careful, got wind of the situation early and got the heck out.

    However, here miss S started deviating from the script, so to speak: instead of turning tail she chose to lead the baggage train, sledges and all, closer to what we the players knew to be the recent battleground. I don't know why she was doing this, but my best guess about a tactical metagame reason is that she wanted to look for survivors, in case the gnolls had failed to finish the job. In-character her adventurer simply wanted to find the rest of the party who'd gone ahead in pursuit of a couple of gnolls, of course.

    So they come closer and gain very definitive tactical data: gnolls looting bodies, with the corpse of one of the leading heroes being nailed to a tree trunk, that sort of thing. At least half a dozen gnolls, which at 2 HD a piece is definitely too much for two 1st levelers and a couple of henchmen. The rest of the players are basically witnessing this extreme bravery or fatalism slack-jawed: what is she hoping to accomplish?

    Miss S starts speculating with E about ways and means for distracting the gnolls, so as to perhaps save survivors from the scene of battle. (This was, I judge, a heterodox tactical evaluation of the situation: the men in the group all assumed - correctly as it happened - that the casualties were all dead at this point in the hands of the merciless gnolls.)

    They come up with something involving E's animal companion and whatnot, but the planning is disrupted by the gnolls finally noticing the people and sledges observing them. The gnolls are pretty savage, and while they don't have skis, they get by pretty well in the thick forest without them. The party tries to escape at this point, but they've cut it too close, and miss S's character - largely helpless in combat, more of a civilian type - is cut down alongside one of the henchmen. E and the other henchman escape. She takes it in stride, no dramatic displays of grief.

    After this the situation wound down, with E managing to return to the titular Keep on the Borderlands with his sorrowful story of defeat. As we finished up the session, S's boyfriend started an after action discussion with her about what, exactly, she was hoping to accomplish by going in and having her character killed off like that - was it a pity death of some sort or what? I don't remember her defending her choices very strenuously; her social habit in general is pretty laid back and ironic about this game, so it was more like "eh, what happens happens". At least she didn't blame me for what happened. I don't think that the men in the group respect that kind of attitude, as there's a certain decorum to the sportsmanship in this kind of game; she's sort of implying that she doesn't take it seriously, which disrespects the players who are trying their best every week in a hellishly difficult game.

    Not a big row by any means, but that's the best we've had so far, and this is my most recent experience in cross-gender party splits. I don't think that anybody in the group really views it as a cross-gender split, though, as much as a show of attitude and idiosyncratic playstyle from a casual player. She's not the only player in the group with a somewhat laid back attitude, although nobody else has been this blatantly uncaring yet about defeat.
  • What other folks are saying here makes sense; I just want to say that for me, personally, it would largely come down to die-rolling and other rules-based questions. If you actually made some sort of diplomacy roll or had some sort of systematic power that should have made it possible to successfully forge an agreement with the insectoids, then yeah, the GM fucked up pretty big time. If not, then this may be more of a "genuine" expectations mismatch--still pretty painful, potentially, to be sure, but less of a case of someone just not doing their job.

    The one place where I do want to slightly push back against Eero, here: I actually don't buy that "proper" old-school GMing requires letting people waste lots of *out of game* time on tasks. Like, you can still use scene framing techniques to an extent without ruining the purity of the experience, IMO. YMMV of course.
  • I tried to be explicit about how I was merely describing one particular way that some people, myself included, like to play - I did not intend to say that "proper" old school requires time-wasting. It is not a mandatory Right Way To Play, and there's no official "definition of old school" that requires you to play that way, but neither is it an unreasonable and illegitimate expectation. Ultimately I don't even know at all how the OP's group is playing SWN, so the speculation about certain old school ideas might be wholly irrelevant - they could just be using it because it's relatively stream-lined and has a cool planet-creation subsystem, rather than because the GM is a crazy grognard who wants to play old school D&D in space.

    I'll note that this is something of a side issue for the thread, though. Going beyond "maybe there's other stuff going on aside from gender" is pretty speculative when it's not the topic, and literally all we know is that the campaign uses the SWN rules set. Not that time wasting in OSR games isn't an interesting topic, it's an exotic feature mostly missing from other kinds of rpgs.
  • edited March 2017
    I thin that Eero is right in his (looooong) analysis of the situation. I was perhaps a bit harsh when I said that it was bad GMing, but that is not necessarily the case, since what the problem really seems to be here is a dissonance between the player's creative agendas. Like Eero said, it's perfectly fine to do what that GM did if tat's what he was consciously going for, but I'll add the caveat that it's not really clear if that was the case or not. In a sense, I was channelling Ron Edwards when he goes on about some players/GMs playing in a certain way (usually the way described by the original post) not because they like it, but because they don't even fathom that there are other ways to play that they would perhaps enjoy more.

    With that said, reading Eero's description of gender differences in play, I have to say that I'm not so convinced his examples really are gender-based. I've seen males having similar reactions, so I think this is more a matter of personal expectations in gaming combined with individual personality, what games one has experience with, capability of distinguishing between IC/OOC, a a range of factors that I don't really think are strictly about gender. But that's my experience, which I guess is different, and therefor anecdotal.

  • But it's hard not to feel a little out of place when I'm both the only woman and the only social character in what's turning out to be a "kill everything in sight" game where all the guys are on the same page, and I'm not.
    Ugh, yeah, that doesn't sound like the most fun situation in the world. Though honestly, to me, "kill everything in sight" is never all that fun. I hope you find a better game or group or combo of the two!
    So I'm curious what kinds of situations other people have run into around gender stereotypes and gaming expectations. Has this kind of dynamic ever been a problem for you as a player, or for games you've been in?
    Is it useful if I say "no" and then tell some stories about how female players playing social characters have saved some of my games? :)
  • Well yeah, that's what I said - I was just telling about how we also have a singleton-woman in our group, and sometimes she's alone on one side in some arguments about how to go about things. It wasn't supposed to be a great treatise on how women in general think - gender essentialism isn't something I believe in anyway :D

    How would I even know whether what S does is gender-based? Is there like a signal light somewhere on her that I can check when she's making decisions?

    By the way, an interesting detail about something that Sandra said - about how she, too, has been the woman in the group who advocates for talking instead of fighting as a problem-solving solution. In our current group we also have one outlier player who's much more keen to diplomancy through problems, except he's a man. The most experienced hardcore-dungeoneer in the group, too - he's sort of slumming it, letting the less experienced players get leadership experience, and focusing on cunning lateral thinking himself. Amazingly great results, too: his main character has barely any XP, but he's finessed himself a position as the prime lover of a dark elf high priestess in a nearby spider-worshipping sect (evil wizard character, in case you're wondering), plus he's the personal advisor of a local knight who happens to own a castle with a dimensional rift that the PC keeps studying. This guy has the weirdest adventure hooks, if he only adventured more.

    I understand what that's about pretty well, as I'm precisely that sort of adventurer myself in old school D&D: give me a dungeon and I start analyzing the monster ecology in terms of resources and possibilities. Which monsters can I make friends with, and at what price? How can I productize the poison from this monster here? Should we leave some of these critters alive and come back later to collect the eggs?

    There's a lot of individual variety on how people play, that much is obvious. The interesting question is not which issues are somehow "gender-based", but rather, precisely as Bric suggested: how do you deal with it when the group is strongly divided on something, and that division happens to be on gender lines? Does that require more tact than usual? Do the players involved in the discussion treat each other differently? How can you avoid players feeling that they are treated unfairly in this sort of situation (regardless of whether it is unfair, that's a different question)?
  • edited March 2017
    I had kind of a depressing experience tonight playing Stars Without Number. My telepath character spent a really long time negotiating with some insectoid aliens whose queen seemed to desperately need our help, except it seemed like everything she said was a lie, and even while reading her mind, I somehow didn't notice. After we agreed to help them, her people ambushed us and tried to feed us to their kids. We killed the ambush group, and next session, the rest of my party plans to scour the site and murder every alien they see.

    There are a couple of things going on here that annoy me. One is that I spent an hour-plus on a complete narrative dead end, having a conversation that didn't matter about things that weren't true. That just doesn't seem like an interesting story choice to me. Getting tricked by a crafty opponent can be terrific for a story. There are ways to foreshadow betrayal so it feels inevitable, yet terrifying. But this was such a protracted, pointless conversation, with nothing useful to learn, and the attack afterward felt so arbitrary and at odds with everything that happened before it.

    But the other thing that bothers me is that I'm a woman in a party that's otherwise all-male, and I feel like such a girl-gamer cliché right now, stupidly trying to talk to and make friends with the rapacious monsters who just wanted to eat us.

    I haven't had a ton of gender-based problems as a gamer. I've played with a lot of groups where I was the only woman, and a lot of gender-split groups. Some have been more talky, some have been more fighty, and it usually depends a lot more on the individual game than on the gender mix. I'm generally over gamer gender stereotypes. But it's hard not to feel a little out of place when I'm both the only woman and the only social character in what's turning out to be a "kill everything in sight" game where all the guys are on the same page, and I'm not.

    So I'm curious what kinds of situations other people have run into around gender stereotypes and gaming expectations. Has this kind of dynamic ever been a problem for you as a player, or for games you've been in? When you run up against a gender-split decision in how to proceed in a story, do you handle it any differently from any other kind of split decision in your games?
    I think it's always hard to know if it's a gender issue, or playstyle issue. Sometimes you're just playing the wrong game, or with the wrong group at the wrong table. I don't know much about SWN, but I think it's a DND clone, and that may be the reason for the play style folks expect and maybe the game just doesn't support interactive dialogue well. If it was me, and I was in the situation you are, I would have a talk with the GM and a talk with the rest of the players and see if you're on the same page as far as your expectations and what you want out of the game; also, I would ask them if they are willing to compromise and to bring your interest into the game. You might also ask the GM if they are playing in the play style that Eero mentioned (where the GM has a predetermined idea of how the aliens will respond and considers it cheating to deviate from this idea). By the way, I'm with you, I hate hack and slash campaigns; and, I really hate it when GM's won't move the story forward because they have a predetermined idea and just keep on saying "nope that doesn't work," "nope that doesn't work," instead of moving the story forward and adjusting to the player's inputs for the sake of the story. But that's a personal taste thing, and if that was the issue I would talk to the group and see if they're willing to adjust, and if not, just realize I'm at the wrong table with people who don't share my interests. I always think communication is the best way to deal with these problems; however, I realize that this can be difficult with people who are stubborn or not open to communication or take it as an affront or criticism. Also, there is always the issue that some men have when it comes to listening to a women; some men can be very dismissive. I find that in the indie space, women's needs seem to be much more acknowledged and appreciated, and there tends to be more of an effort to accommodate these needs; plus, a lot of indie games communication and relationships are paramount. I'm speaking in aggregate being that individuals of both genders have very different needs and, of course, there's a lot of crossover when it comes to the traditional view of gender. I wish you good luck with your endeavor, and I hope your group is willing to adjust to your needs and/or you find a game that is right for you :-)
  • It seems to me that the problem isn't really with different genders of players, but with GM/Player expectations that don't align with yours.
    Is it useful if I say "no" and then tell some stories about how female players playing social characters have saved some of my games? :)
    I think it's always hard to know if it's a gender issue, or playstyle issue. Sometimes you're just playing the wrong game, or with the wrong group at the wrong table.
    Something rubs me a little bit the wrong way about this line of reasoning represented in these three quotes. But, I dunno. It's a tough subject for sure.
    By the way, an interesting detail about something that Sandra said - about how she, too, has been the woman in the group who advocates for talking instead of fighting as a problem-solving solution.
    My main point here was rather that when there is a disagreement in the group and it happens to fall along gender lines it can feel like it's pretty hard to get taken seriously. It could be the reverse, that the women want to kill the enemies and the men want to talk with them, but it still feels like it's difficult to get taken seriously. There is this feeling that there is a subtle hierarchical undercurrent that's hard to get away from. A fear and power imbalance that runs deep.


    We all do our best
  • I get that about the power imbalance, yes. Even aside from actual hierarchy and power, I think there is an ingrained tendency to interpret interactions that way, caused by people being able to pattern-recognize and react to things that are even not there: once you've internalized the idea that gender relations are power relations (or even that there is such a thing as "gender relations"), it becomes easier to perceive a genderized disagreement (that is, a disagreement between people of different genders) as being about gender. While this can be helpful, it can also ironically mean that you become more "sensitive" to the whole issue, and start over-reacting to it. Better than under-reacting, I'm pretty sure.

    I am reminded of a few times when I've been the only man at the game table. That also produces its own sort of genderized tone to the communication; thinking back, it's a feeling of being an outsider, which can be caused by many things, but gender certainly is one among them.

    For example, in the latter end of last decade I helped organize a rpg course for a local high school, which obviously meant running some games. We split the class into four-ish groups (according to player interest), with an experienced GM for each, each group playing different games. I was running My Life with Master, and ended up doing it for a group of three or four schoolgirls with no prior rpg experience. We played I think three sessions - enough to finish the scenario.

    In that situation the gender thing was one of several elements that contributed to my feeling myself to be an outsider: I was the expert vs. the newbies, I was the adult vs. the teenagers, I was the stranger vs. school mates, and I was the man vs. the women. The aspect of the actual play experience that strikes me as the most genderized is the strong assumption that the girls brought to the table about what kinds of art and culture and activities a man would enjoy; they were pretty surprised at times about the game, I think, when I brought my best period drama play; MLwM is not even close to your more typical adventure game, as you probably know. They tended to sort of talk through me about the elements of play that they assumed that a man wouldn't get, such as details of 19th century clothing and whatnot, and be surprised when I contributed in a well-rounded way in all aspects of fiction.

    (The BDSM and erotic horror elements of MLwM weren't that genderized, which may be an interesting observation - it's pretty similar running MLwM and such games for men and women, I've found. The teenager vs. adult thing was much more at the forefront in that regard, obviously. If there was a gender element to that, it was similar to the above, in that people are a bit more likely to tell naughty stories in good fun among a homosocial group rather than in mixed company - so girls would be more used to hearing girls on such subjects.)

    Thinking of that specific experience, it's easy for me to recognize that gender can be a somewhat tricky social fault-line in a gaming group. On the other hand, as I described, it's one of many categorizations that have similar potential. On a deeper level it's about the way we label other people and use assumptions to help us understand and interpret them.
  • edited March 2017
    It seems to me that the problem isn't really with different genders of players, but with GM/Player expectations that don't align with yours.
    Is it useful if I say "no" and then tell some stories about how female players playing social characters have saved some of my games? :)
    I think it's always hard to know if it's a gender issue, or playstyle issue. Sometimes you're just playing the wrong game, or with the wrong group at the wrong table.
    Something rubs me a little bit the wrong way about this line of reasoning represented in these three quotes. But, I dunno. It's a tough subject for sure.
    By the way, an interesting detail about something that Sandra said - about how she, too, has been the woman in the group who advocates for talking instead of fighting as a problem-solving solution.
    My main point here was rather that when there is a disagreement in the group and it happens to fall along gender lines it can feel like it's pretty hard to get taken seriously. It could be the reverse, that the women want to kill the enemies and the men want to talk with them, but it still feels like it's difficult to get taken seriously. There is this feeling that there is a subtle hierarchical undercurrent that's hard to get away from. A fear and power imbalance that runs deep.


    We all do our best

    Ah, that is somewhat different from what I was thinking. Given that in real life there will be different interpersonal dynamics based on gender, the same bound to happen at the table. But it's somewhat difficult to talk about without first hand knowledge, since so much of it is subtle and dependent on the particular group and personalities.There may very well be a tendency to associate differences in opinion/expectations with gender when they just happen to overlap at the table.


    No sure what could have rubbed you the wrong way in what I said, though.

  • I get that about the power imbalance, yes. Even aside from actual hierarchy and power, I think there is an ingrained tendency to interpret interactions that way, caused by people being able to pattern-recognize and react to things that are even not there
    Sure, it's hard to tell from the inside of one person's head when the interactions are so subtle. The old "Is it a microagression, or did they only sneeze?" dilemma. I've tried to phrase my posts in this thread carefully to allow for that perspective.

    But, sometimes it is there. Like the aforementioned rape jokes directed towards an NPC (when I was running a 5e game for an all-male party — to be clear, four of the people there were really sweet; this guy joined the game half way through) a few weeks ago or the "I cut the bitch's throat" when I got pvp:d in a Labyrinth Lord game.

  • No sure what could have rubbed you the wrong way in what I said, though.
    OP brings up problems with different genders of players, get responses along the line of
    It seems to me that the problem isn't really with different genders of players
    from guys. Which... well, maybe the guys are right in this case, but it's just a little... my brain immediately jumps to "Of course they think it's not a gender-related issue, they're guys, they can afford to not think of it like that", I got this sort of "Let them eat cake" vibe and I have to put a pause to that line of thinking and take a step back. As we've noted upthread, it's easy to get a bit apophenic and overgeneralizing when it comes to human interaction patterns and that applies to me too.

  • I know what you mean, I started thinking the same as the thread progressed over the day, that we'll just end up forgesplaining that anecdote about insectoids in SWN instead of talking gender splits. (I love a good forgesplaining, but I didn't mean to derail the actual topic with my guesses.) I thought that Bric was pretty clear in framing the discussion, too: she didn't ask us to validate her specific anecdote (or invalidate it, for that matter), but to expand upon it with our own experiences.

    What's your take, Bricoleur? At least you got us spilling ink, this is a pretty interesting topic :D
  • No sure what could have rubbed you the wrong way in what I said, though.
    OP brings up problems with different genders of players, get responses along the line of
    It seems to me that the problem isn't really with different genders of players
    from guys. Which... well, maybe the guys are right in this case, but it's just a little... my brain immediately jumps to "Of course they think it's not a gender-related issue, they're guys, they can afford to not think of it like that", I got this sort of "Let them eat cake" vibe and I have to put a pause to that line of thinking and take a step back. As we've noted upthread, it's easy to get a bit apophenic and overgeneralizing when it comes to human interaction patterns and that applies to me too.

    Hum...I guess the thing is that the situation has such a wide variety of approaches to analysis that it's unavoidable that someone may ask if the problem is really one of gender in a particular case. For the OP personally it is (in the sense that she feels it that way, so it does become a gender-related problem). Hum...dunno. My apologies anyway, since it rubbed you the wrong way. Talking on the internet is not always clear.
  • Yeah, same here. I didn't mean to be as blunt as I was.
  • RPGs started out as a male club descended from wargames. There's TONS of baggage right there. The macho wargame values are still strong, even if the games are promoted as tools for personal expression and collaboration of equals. Female players are going against all kinds of unhealthy cultural norms just by existing. Maybe this is obvious, but it's all I've got right now.
  • The thing that really bothers me, by the way, is that the people who want to kill everything in sight are not being "more strategic" players. Far from it--in most situations of strategic play, you want to conserve resources. Fighting when you don't need to is the surest way to lose.
  • Hi, all. Thanks for the long and detailed and thoughtful answers! I've read everything through, but there's so much here, conceptually and just in terms of detail, that it'll take some time to digest and address all of it. Here are just a handful of things that stand out to begin with, working from the most recent stuff at the bottom:
    I thought that Bric was pretty clear in framing the discussion, too: she didn't ask us to validate her specific anecdote (or invalidate it, for that matter), but to expand upon it with our own experiences.
    This is exactly right. My first iteration of this post had a lot more detail about the gaming situation in question, in an attempt to make people understand it and empathize with my specific frustrations. Reading back through it, I found it boring and petty — basically asking strangers to take my side in a personal argument. So I tried to pare it down to something more discussion-worthy — specifically how gender disparity in a game, and sensitivity about gender clichés, can complicate an otherwise-standard GM/player or player/player mismatch of expectations. I was looking for perspective on whether other people have faced this and how they've addressed it.

    I wasn't expecting perspective on what Stars Without Number is designed to do, but I found that helpful in my specific circumstance. I'll get into that later. And the broader perspective on how people have reacted to single-female-player-in-a-game conflicts is useful too, whether they think there's a gender dynamic at work there or not. I don't even think there necessarily was a gender dynamic in my experience — I recognize that the "I'm being a cliché" feeling is a very subjective reaction. Certainly no one at the table said anything judgmental or impatient about my talking to the monsters. I just became uncomfortable with it because it was clearly an unprofitable and pointless choice, and it was also a behavior pattern that fits familiar stereotypes — a double whammy of "doesn't feel great."

    So I'm fine with people addressing this all in terms of their experience and their feelings about gender-essentialism behaviors in gaming in general or specific. It's what I asked for — other people's experiences around these kinds of feelings. If those experiences are "this isn't necessarily a gender issue," that's certainly fine, given the way I framed the discussion..
    the situation has such a wide variety of approaches to analysis that it's unavoidable that someone may ask if the problem is really one of gender in a particular case.
    And in this case given that it was at least 50 percent not gender-related (instead, related to the nature of SWN and to what I see as the GM contradicting himself), that seems reasonable enough to me as well.
    My main point here was rather that when there is a disagreement in the group and it happens to fall along gender lines it can feel like it's pretty hard to get taken seriously. It could be the reverse, that the women want to kill the enemies and the men want to talk with them, but it still feels like it's difficult to get taken seriously. There is this feeling that there is a subtle hierarchical undercurrent that's hard to get away from. A fear and power imbalance that runs deep.
    I think this is very true, and that part of the reason this game ended on such a sour note for me was because I see a much bigger party conflict coming via the "Okay, next session we roll through this place and kill everything" plan, which everyone but me seemed to agree on. As Deliverator says above, break-enter-murder-take is not necessarily strategic, efficient, or a sound strategy, and in this case, it has an unpleasant tang to me because we invaded the insectoids' home, and now their violent reaction is an excuse to murder them. This is a very old-school D&D attitude (see the final panels of this Order Of The Stick strip), but as my character told the other party members, I signed onto this mission for space exploration, not to murder every alien I could see, in hopes that it had some cool stuff I could steal.

    And I'm just not looking forward to that conflict. Party conflict can be satisfying and dramatic and interesting if it's based in character, especially in a party that's been together for a while. It's not great when it starts earlier in the game, and touches on the fundamentals of what the game is. As the only woman in the game, I'm worrying about being taken seriously. I also don't want to be a drag. It's not a fun or satisfying role.
  • I'll try to keep this separate post just for the Stars Without Number stuff, and the appraisals of my specific situation. And I'll try to keep that briefer.
    It's weird, though, that it happened in SWN. It should be about what the players do, not about any narrative threads the GM wants to impose. The same author has another book "Silent Legions" where the conversations are pretty meaningful and interesting. Force your GM to read it.
    Can't force my GM to do anything, and wouldn't appreciate anyone in the games I run trying to push me to read a book to make the game more like what I wanted.

    But while our characters have had a lot of choices about what to do so far — explore tombs, go on salvage missions, hang around the station taking odd jobs, etc. — most of what we do seems to involve exploring dungeon-like mazes one hex at a time, so I think that's just the kind of game this GM wants to run.
    What pops to me in this experience is Stars Without Number, because what you experienced (the frustration, not the gender aspect) is something I've seen a lot in my own old school D&D play, and SWN is specifically, very explicitly old school D&D. Not everybody plays it precisely the same way, but there is a strong ethos, supported by the game's system of play, for certain sorts of things.
    Sure. I've played my share of AD&D and other hack-and-slash dungeon-crawl games. My general feeling is, if you want your players to explore rooms, kill everything they meet, and rack up XPs and GPs, don't have them run into NPCs that a) initiate conversations, b) ask for their help, and c) read as sincere to all available read-intent spells. It just causes confusion when they're expected to treat those NPCs as disposable XP-fonts.
    the adventurers are indeed allowed and even encouraged to waste their time in pointless dead ends
    What on earth is the upside of such a game? Dead ends are fine if they're narratively interesting or exciting to experience, but why would anyone play a game that's inherently aimed at making players feel like they've wasted their time on pointless things?
    the two sessions before that had been spent dungeon-delving in a dugeon that was, unknown to the players, empty of all treasure and therefore utterly pointless for them
    Presumably if they were still having encounters or killing monsters, they were getting XP? Failing that, did they get some decent role-playing out of their frustration? If not… if I was playing with a GM who let PCs spend two entire sessions tromping through a space with nothing whatsoever to show for it, I would certainly conclude that I couldn't trust that GM to respect my time or tell a story that interested me, and I'd bow out of the game.
    Consider it from the GM's perspective, in the context of what kind of game SWN may be… they introduce a challenging situation with evil insect aliens, describe the situation carefully… They are committed to being fair and even-handed in resolving the events
    This is the root of my complaint with this particular situation — it wasn't "fair and even-handed." My character was reading the mind of the queen the entire time we were talking, and there was no hint of treachery, malign intent, or desire to feed us to baby-bugs. She was thinking entirely about mysteries about their situation that she wanted our help in resolving. Rolls are open in this game, so I knew the queen wasn't resisting or deceiving me. So when she then had her people ambush us out of the blue, it felt arbitrary. Imagine you're playing your old-school D&D game and you enter an inn where your party encounters an NPC who scans as "good" to a successful detect evil roll, who comes across as sincere to your successful sense motive checks, and who offers you a quest and spends an hour explaining it to you in great detail. Your party accepts the quest and gets up to go. Literally the second you stand up from the table, the NPC hits you in the head with a battleaxe. Is your first thought "The GM certainly played that in a fair and even-handed way," or "Why did none of us get the slightest inkling there was something wrong here? And why did we spend so much time talking about a quest if none of that was real or relevant to the game?"
    for me, personally, it would largely come down to die-rolling and other rules-based questions. If you actually made some sort of diplomacy roll or had some sort of systematic power that should have made it possible to successfully forge an agreement with the insectoids, then yeah, the GM fucked up pretty big time.
    I blitzed across this in the original post, but see above — about a dozen dice rolls were made, I was reading the queen's mind during the entire conversation, and she came across as sincere and desperate for our help.

    But again, all of this is a bit beside the point. The original question could maybe boil down to "My GM and I were not on the same page tonight. And it worried me because I'm the only woman in the game, and it makes me uncomfortable when I'm the only one who doesn't fit in, because it makes me wonder if it's BECAUSE I'm a woman. Have you dealt with similar problems at your games, from either side of the gender equation?"
  • I hope you don't mind, Bric - I'll philosophize a bit more about Stars Without Number and how it's usually played in the old school circles. This is something of a pet topic for me. The following is not intended to take sides in your particular case, it's just generic philosophical background.
    I think this is very true, and that part of the reason this game ended on such a sour note for me was because I see a much bigger party conflict coming via the "Okay, next session we roll through this place and kill everything" plan, which everyone but me seemed to agree on. As Deliverator says above, break-enter-murder-take is not necessarily strategic, efficient, or a sound strategy, and in this case, it has an unpleasant tang to me because we invaded the insectoids' home, and now their violent reaction is an excuse to murder them. This is a very old-school D&D attitude (see the final panels of this Order Of The Stick strip), but as my character told the other party members, I signed onto this mission for space exploration, not to murder every alien I could see, in hopes that it had some cool stuff I could steal.

    And I'm just not looking forward to that conflict. Party conflict can be satisfying and dramatic and interesting if it's based in character, especially in a party that's been together for a while. It's not great when it starts earlier in the game, and touches on the fundamentals of what the game is. As the only woman in the game, I'm worrying about being taken seriously. I also don't want to be a drag. It's not a fun or satisfying role.
    I think I know precisely how you feel about that. I'm currently playing a Call of Cthulhu campaign where I am in a very similar position in the group's creative dynamics: while I expect and desire the game to be about natural character motivations and their inner experience of what it is to come face to face with the mythos, the GM and the other players seem to be all about cultist murdering. While my character is agonizing about e.g. their legal position in a covert war against a hostile cult, and the philosophical principle of religious freedom (I mean, why is "Nidhos" so different from "Christ" that religious freedom doesn't apply to the former?), the others are generally kidnapping and torturing people who they think might have something to do with their cult issues. The GM seems to actively work to reduce moral ambiguity, and you can bet your ass that nobody's getting any Sanity checks in this game for any horrible things they do - only visually perceiving Mythos monsters causes those, apparently they have some sort of an insanity field or something.

    (It's a pretty bad game all told, yes. I'm still playing because the GM is a childhood friend who needs more GMing experience, and the lead player, the one most excited to play, hasn't had an opportunity to play in a game arranged by somebody other than me. It's a good experience for those two, even if I personally find it pretty ham-fisted.)

    Did you know, though, that Stars Without Number is a hack of Basic D&D, one of those older editions of the game? It's basically the same game, just with different character classes. I usually only see anybody reading or playing it in that cultural context, as a scifi alternative to playing old school D&D. That's what makes me think that your expectations of what the game should be like may not be in accord with the GM's: for all I know they might be a keen Old School Renaissance hobbyist who's earnestly trying to play an orthodox kill-loot adventure wargame.

    This is so important because there's a lot of technical baggage in how different games play, and old school D&D is positively weird compared to most games. For example, what you said about your character not having signed up to murder aliens: how old school D&D usually handles this kind of intra-party cohesion issue is that the players are outright asked to create characters who are on board with whatever the adventure happens to be. If your character doesn't want to do it, you bow them out and generate a new one who wants to do this adventure. People often have "character stables" specifically so they have more flexibility in achieving a party consensus about what to do next. "Oh, if you all want to go murder Italians, I guess we'll just drop my Italian character off in Marseilles. I'll whip up a new one to join you, someone appropriately Italian-hating."

    Again, we don't really know if your game is at all like this, and it's not like the OSR scene is monolithic about how things are done. I'm just describing some "common knowledge" that may or may not be knocking about in your GM's head, whether they explain their assumptions to the other players or not.
  • the adventurers are indeed allowed and even encouraged to waste their time in pointless dead ends
    What on earth is the upside of such a game? Dead ends are fine if they're narratively interesting or exciting to experience, but why would anyone play a game that's inherently aimed at making players feel like they've wasted their time on pointless things?
    Oh, this is a great question. Let me serenade old school D&D's "neutral referee, tough personal responsibility" approach a bit:

    The reason for why I (and the rest of the group, presumably) like to play old school D&D in a very pure form is that the more mercilessly neutral the refereeing is, the stronger the emotional rush from success becomes. There's a kind of a psychological continuum of uncertainty involved here, where at one end the players are pretty sure that the GM is cheating to their benefit, to make sure that the game keeps being "fun", while the other pole is where we're at: a total acceptance of personal responsibility, and strong faith in the GM's neutrality.

    Of course, as has been touched upon, there are technical compromises that one can use on occasion to cut down on the pointless time-wasting, but ultimately, when you come down to the basic creative contract of the game, you are left with the stark truth that in this kind of game nothing interesting or worthwhile is ever going to happen unless the players, with their characters, make it happen. The GM is relatively impotent to help out, as long as they are committed to their neutrality.

    As an example of "time-wasting", it is relatively common in our campaign for the players to manage to spend an entire session in planning and preparing for a new dungeon expedition; I call these "mule counting sessions", they make up something like 20-30% of the campaign. The content of play in these sessions is varied, but the overall effectiveness of how quickly and productively our time is spent depends very much on the players themselves: if they organize, choose a party leader, distribute preparation tasks efficiently and know what they're doing, we can be ready for the adventure in half an hour. If they dither, change their mind halfway through, work on different side projects, and generally waste time, then we might spend 3-4 hours on that.

    And the great thing about this, aside from an opportunity for weird little side stories and "living world" elements, is the personal responsibility: the GM is not responsible for the game being "fun" and "productive" and "narratively meaningful", he's just there to cooperate with the players in running the game world. If the players want to waste the entire session bickering about the price of horse-flesh, then that's apparently the plan for the day. Radical freedom is a powerful drug in a roleplaying game, creatively speaking, but it has to be real, the GM can't just pretend to give it to you. They really have to give up all responsibility for the game making sense, and that means that sometimes you're going to make a hash of it and waste hours of playtime on something that is pointless in hindsight.
    the two sessions before that had been spent dungeon-delving in a dugeon that was, unknown to the players, empty of all treasure and therefore utterly pointless for them
    Presumably if they were still having encounters or killing monsters, they were getting XP? Failing that, did they get some decent role-playing out of their frustration? If not… if I was playing with a GM who let PCs spend two entire sessions tromping through a space with nothing whatsoever to show for it, I would certainly conclude that I couldn't trust that GM to respect my time or tell a story that interested me, and I'd bow out of the game.
    No XP, because in this campaign characters only get XP for success - so only quest XP or treasure XP. Choosing the wrong place to assault and coming back with zilch was a strategic failure for them. The adventure was pretty tense, though, and we got in some well-performed combats (on both sides - my aztec-like trolls were quite fearsome).

    The specific situation was that the party has been acting as a commando team for a royal keep in the medieval Swedish borderlands. The keep is surrounded by troll habitation. While investigating a different adventure, the adventurers random-encountered a party of trolls in the wintery woods and tracked them down to an inconspicuous-looking cave.

    About half a dozen sessions later the party had formulated a theory about how this new troll cave they'd found was somehow involved with "Romentola", the main troll stronghold and the residence of the local troll king. They were a bit scared of Romentola, so they decided to assault this new cave instead of going straight for the head honcho.

    Unknown to the party, however, this new cave had nothing to do with the local trolls: it was an Underdeep entrance created by dark trolls of the Underdeep. It was a sect of spider-worshipping goblins, basically (all Gygaxian humanoids are "trolls" in this milieu). The thing is that this new opening was recent, and they were still setting the place up: the trolls intended to start kidnapping cattle and people to feed to their spider gods some time in the next summer, almost half a year later.

    Attacking the Underdeep spider cult was one of the bigger strategic plunders in the campaign to date, because the party lost the flower of the local keep's soldiery to the fiery resistance of the Underdeep trolls, who defended their position with the stoic attitude that Underdeep breeds in its denizens. The trolls had little in the way of treasure, because they had yet to bring their cult implements (golden ritual masks and such, the adventure material has a list) to this new cult center from down below. Ultimately the only potentially useful thing that the party hauled out of there was a dozen doses of spider venom antidote; slim pickings for a dungeon with such heavy defenses. Their reputation at the keep was never quite the same again, after leading such a pointless excursion.

    And yeah, some people do leave the campaign after they encounter a really harsh failure like this. Totally normal, this kind of game is not for everybody. The ones who tend to stick around are those who get hooked on the feelings of success and cleverness: you feel much more clever and satisfied when you succeed in a game where you know that it's truly challenging, than in a game where it's not even supposed to challenge you, because you're all there primarily to tell exciting stories to each other.

    I hope that helped explain this whole philosophy a bit. Again, I've no idea if your GM is going for something like this, or if it was just random asshattery with them. I can only say that the situation you describe, where the PCs waste hours of play time negotiating with somebody who never wanted to make a deal, is pretty common in our D&D campaign.
  • This is the root of my complaint with this particular situation — it wasn't "fair and even-handed." My character was reading the mind of the queen the entire time we were talking, and there was no hint of treachery, malign intent, or desire to feed us to baby-bugs. She was thinking entirely about mysteries about their situation that she wanted our help in resolving. Rolls are open in this game, so I knew the queen wasn't resisting or deceiving me. So when she then had her people ambush us out of the blue, it felt arbitrary. Imagine you're playing your old-school D&D game and you enter an inn where your party encounters an NPC who scans as "good" to a successful detect evil roll, who comes across as sincere to your successful sense motive checks, and who offers you a quest and spends an hour explaining it to you in great detail. Your party accepts the quest and gets up to go. Literally the second you stand up from the table, the NPC hits you in the head with a battleaxe. Is your first thought "The GM certainly played that in a fair and even-handed way," or "Why did none of us get the slightest inkling there was something wrong here? And why did we spend so much time talking about a quest if none of that was real or relevant to the game?"
    Yeah, that sounds pretty fucked up. Obviously the OSR nature of of the game does not defend GM arbitrariness - to the contrary, being fair is an absolute cornerstone.

    I don't know if this would be appropriate at your table, but with us it's an important part of the play technique that the GM can "show their work", and that the players have an arbitrary subjective right of review. This means that any player can at any point ask the GM to explain their decision-making procedure, and the group can review it, and if necessary, make corrections to it.

    So if something strange and unexpected and surprising like you describe happened in our old school campaign, either the GM would explain on their own initiative, or one of the players would demand an explanation from them: why the telepathy did not work? I can think of at least four reasons myself:
    * The insectoids are master-class telepaths, or the queen is, and they simply could mislead a weaker human telepath. The GM might even roll for it in secret to find out in advance, and then play accordingly to mislead the telepathy-using character.
    * The GM interprets the telepathic power differently, and thinks that it is not supposed to reveal your contact's true thoughts, but rather merely what they choose to say to you via the psychic link. In this case the GM might have simply been simulating a duplicitous person like they might in any conversation. The rules text might bring clarity to whether this would be a legit interpretation (although obviously your group might just decide that you want to run it differently).
    * The insectoid queen might have genuinely been positive, but what if they have internal political schism in their organization? I know that this doesn't sound like scifi insectoid aliens, but there's nothing in particular preventing this from being so in the GM's notes. So maybe the queen tried to deal rightly by you, but the royal council forced her to switch tack and backstab you?
    * The insectoids might be psychologically aberrant in a very strange way, and the psychic contact might have mixed things up further. This is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but I could see a scifi scenario where things go down like this: perhaps the reason that the psionic power lets you communicate with a weird life-form is that your own powers do their best to "translate" the mind-signals of the other party into language that you can understand. This would work just fine with human-like things, but what if you try to communicate with something really, really different? One would expect you to get gibberish, but perhaps, with the right (wrong) kind of psionics, what you get instead is a Google-translate outcome that misleads you into thinking that the aliens are friendly, when nothing of the sort was actually communicated...

    But yeah, the way it would work with us would be that the players would ask the GM, and the GM would tell them. The GM might say that the queried business is "still on the table tactically", in which case the explanation might be delayed until the scenario's over, but sooner or later they would have to account for themself. And if the account was unsatisfactory ("I did it arbitrarily because I wanted to punish Bric for being so annoying"), the GM's trustworthiness would take a hit. It does not take many hits for a GM to lose the trust of the group, at which point they cannot really play hardcore old school style anymore: if the players believe that you cheat and are unfair, they won't feel anymore that the game presents objective challenges that they can solve with their choices and luck.
  • edited March 2017
    I mean, why is "Nidhos" so different from "Christ" that religious freedom doesn't apply to the former
    It might be a question of degree, the examined parameter being likelihood of successfully immanentizing the eschaton and/or inverse thereof.
  • edited March 2017
    Ha ha, indeed. After all, gotta keep Church and State separate, even if it means an extralegal vigilante action against the Second Coming.

    But really, this CoC campaign is like playing with teenagers. Which isn't so surprising when I consider the fact that the GM hasn't really played rpgs since we split up after high school.

    The moral vacuity of the game is bad enough, but it's also such a traditionally illusionistic game. In the last session 12 cultists surprised our heroic investigator party of half a dozen people; only the former were thoroughly armed. After a long sequence of dice-rolling and flexible result interpretation we had 12 dead cultists (apparently Nidhos appreciates fanaticism-unto-stupidity) and one wounded investigator. It wouldn't be so annoying if it weren't for the GM pretending (apparently to himself as well) that he's refereeing impartially.
  • I blitzed across this in the original post, but see above — about a dozen dice rolls were made, I was reading the queen's mind during the entire conversation, and she came across as sincere and desperate for our help.

    But again, all of this is a bit beside the point. The original question could maybe boil down to "My GM and I were not on the same page tonight. And it worried me because I'm the only woman in the game, and it makes me uncomfortable when I'm the only one who doesn't fit in, because it makes me wonder if it's BECAUSE I'm a woman. Have you dealt with similar problems at your games, from either side of the gender equation?"
    I don't think this is beside the point *at all*. People who run games who believe they are above the law in terms of the game rules are also those most likely to believe they are above the law in terms of how they treat their players. Or, to put it another way: the GM may or may not be mistreating you because you're a woman; he's *definitely* mistreating you because you're a player in his game. Run, don't walk, away from that table.

    By the way, I didn't say this earlier, but I have often been the person who is the only one in the group who has sufficient strategic vision to call for talking when it's clearly appropriate to do so, and to not be interested in random murder-hoboism. One of my "favorite" stories: a short-lived 3.5E game I played in at a game store. I played a Cleric, because literally everyone else in the group had no interest in playing anything with nonviolent / healing powers.

    At one point, we're in this lizardman dungeon, and we come across a grate in the floor of the tunnel. It turns out to be the entrance to a prison cell, and one of the lizardmen has been thrown into it, with no equipment. The other PCs begin firing arrows at the helpless creature. I fling my body across the grate to prevent it. Turns out the guy in the pit is the deposed lizardman former king, and if we help him out, he's willing to basically turn over the dungeon's treasure to us in return for restoring him to the throne. But we never would have found that out because of the murderhoboism inherent in everyone else's attitude—not the GM, fortunately, but all the other players looked at me like I had grown three heads when I took such a dramatic action to defend an unarmed, nonhostile prisoner from random slaughter.

    Sometimes you just gotta walk away.
  • edited March 2017


    Certainly no one at the table said anything judgmental or impatient about my talking to the monsters. I just became uncomfortable with it because it was clearly an unprofitable and pointless choice, and it was also a behavior pattern that fits familiar stereotypes — a double whammy of "doesn't feel great."


    I think this is very true, and that part of the reason this game ended on such a sour note for me was because I see a much bigger party conflict coming via the "Okay, next session we roll through this place and kill everything" plan, which everyone but me seemed to agree on. As Deliverator says above, break-enter-murder-take is not necessarily strategic, efficient, or a sound strategy, and in this case, it has an unpleasant tang to me because we invaded the insectoids' home, and now their violent reaction is an excuse to murder them. This is a very old-school D&D attitude (see the final panels of this Order Of The Stick strip), but as my character told the other party members, I signed onto this mission for space exploration, not to murder every alien I could see, in hopes that it had some cool stuff I could steal.

    And I'm just not looking forward to that conflict. Party conflict can be satisfying and dramatic and interesting if it's based in character, especially in a party that's been together for a while. It's not great when it starts earlier in the game, and touches on the fundamentals of what the game is. As the only woman in the game, I'm worrying about being taken seriously. I also don't want to be a drag. It's not a fun or satisfying role.

    Can't force my GM to do anything, and wouldn't appreciate anyone in the games I run trying to push me to read a book to make the game more like what I wanted.

    But while our characters have had a lot of choices about what to do so far — explore tombs, go on salvage missions, hang around the station taking odd jobs, etc. — most of what we do seems to involve exploring dungeon-like mazes one hex at a time, so I think that's just the kind of game this GM wants to run.

    Sure. I've played my share of AD&D and other hack-and-slash dungeon-crawl games. My general feeling is, if you want your players to explore rooms, kill everything they meet, and rack up XPs and GPs, don't have them run into NPCs that a) initiate conversations, b) ask for their help, and c) read as sincere to all available read-intent spells. It just causes confusion when they're expected to treat those NPCs as disposable XP-fonts.

    Presumably if they were still having encounters or killing monsters, they were getting XP? Failing that, did they get some decent role-playing out of their frustration? If not… if I was playing with a GM who let PCs spend two entire sessions tromping through a space with nothing whatsoever to show for it, I would certainly conclude that I couldn't trust that GM to respect my time or tell a story that interested me, and I'd bow out of the game.

    This is the root of my complaint with this particular situation — it wasn't "fair and even-handed." My character was reading the mind of the queen the entire time we were talking, and there was no hint of treachery, malign intent, or desire to feed us to baby-bugs. She was thinking entirely about mysteries about their situation that she wanted our help in resolving. Rolls are open in this game, so I knew the queen wasn't resisting or deceiving me. So when she then had her people ambush us out of the blue, it felt arbitrary.

    I blitzed across this in the original post, but see above — about a dozen dice rolls were made, I was reading the queen's mind during the entire conversation, and she came across as sincere and desperate for our help.

    But again, all of this is a bit beside the point. The original question could maybe boil down to "My GM and I were not on the same page tonight. And it worried me because I'm the only woman in the game, and it makes me uncomfortable when I'm the only one who doesn't fit in, because it makes me wonder if it's BECAUSE I'm a woman. Have you dealt with similar problems at your games, from either side of the gender equation?"
    It seems to me that I wasn't so far off in my first comments after all. There is definitely a problem with player creative agendas at work here. You want something and the GM gives you something else. And your description of the rolls regarding the Queens intentions and you, as a player, getting derailed by the GM somehow arbitrarily ignoring those rolls also justifies my point regarding if the GM was actually doing a good job.

    Your last comment pretty much answers your question to a certain degree. Most people at the table are fine with "I don't care, just lets kill stuff" but you're not, because all that time talking to the Queen and the results of the roll SHOULD have meant something and the GM seems to have failed there. But because everyone else's expectations from the game are different from yours they end up being fine with it.

    And finally, yes, because you also happen to be the only woman at the table, you unavoidably and understandably feel that that may be an issue, even if it is an issue just for you given how you feel. From what you describe, I don't think the players feel that way and, and for what it's worth, I'd feel exactly like you if that happened to me, except that gender would not have been an issue for me since I'm male.

    And to answer your last question directly, no, it has never happened to me, because the creative agendas at the table were always basically the same, regardless of gender.
  • edited March 2017
    I've had male players try to talk over female players at my table. I've had female players be the only voices of non-violence at my table. I'm pretty sure I've never had male players try to talk over female players because they were the voices of non-violence, though.

    Perhaps some female players did feel extra trepidation about advocating for their angle on play because it was stereotypically gendered -- that could certainly have happened at my table. If so, I never found out.

    I don't have a direct, targeted solution for this. "Make sure everyone at the table gets heard" certainly helps with the talking-over and getting-taken-seriously phenomena, but that's not gender-specific.

    Same with "the GM is not an authority, everyone at the table is an equal participant."

    Maybe trying to make sure that everyone at the table feels heard and safe and free to express themselves en route to having a good time is sufficient, or the best we can do? I dunno. My experience is quite positive on that front.

    Story I've been itching to share (if it's a digression, at least it's short):

    My best "stop killing everything and let's talk" experience was a serious, immersive game that I ran at a con, which two players were turning shallow and goofy with quick-trigger violence, until one woman at the table and I worked in an awesome dialogue scene which set everything back on the right track for an excellent session. We were all strangers at the time, but 7 years later, she and I are still friends. :)
  • edited March 2017
    As for that SWN game, that GM behavior sounds maddening. I want to yell, "Come on, GM! You can either follow the players around including on dead-ends, or you can control the direction of the story by throwing out alien ambushes, but you sure as hell can't do both. And you certainly can't lie about the results of using the rules in the course of doing both."

    I'm curious about the "kill everything" players. Were they bored or entertained during your long negotiation with the aliens? If they were entertained, and the main piece of evidence against "talk, don't kill" is that it didn't work this time, I can imagine fixing this situation. "Guys, it didn't work cuz the GM cheated. Can we all agree no more cheating? Okay, great, negotiation is back on the table, right? We can still kill some stuff, but let's be open to other options too, okay?" If the group is on board, I can at least manage to imagine the GM shaping up. If not, then that sounds like a really, really tough spot.
  • Okay, I don't know to what degree gender was a factor there. I was not there.

    My knee jerk reaction is "Wait, you made die rolls and the GM said, basically, that you succeeded and that the person you were talking to was sincere and then said no she wasn't? WTF?"

    I mean, the GM did not say "You get nothing and can't tell" or "Okay, this is a bit of a dead end here, because negotiation isn't going to work", either of which might annoy me (as that doesn't sound interesting), but wouldn't anger me (maybe it's not the game for me, and that's okay).

    But the GM seemed to be validating everything and then saying that not only did that conversation not matter, but that what the system and the GM said -- the stuff we use to check ourselves on the meta level, to check in, to make sure we're not pulling the game away from everyone else or wasting their time or ours -- was a lie.

    In case it's not obvious, I have a problem with that.

  • Yeah, that sounds pretty fucked up. Obviously the OSR nature of of the game does not defend GM arbitrariness - to the contrary, being fair is an absolute cornerstone.

    I don't know if this would be appropriate at your table, but with us it's an important part of the play technique that the GM can "show their work", and that the players have an arbitrary subjective right of review. This means that any player can at any point ask the GM to explain their decision-making procedure, and the group can review it, and if necessary, make corrections to it.

    So if something strange and unexpected and surprising like you describe happened in our old school campaign, either the GM would explain on their own initiative, or one of the players would demand an explanation from them: why the telepathy did not work? I can think of at least four reasons myself:


    Eero is right here, in the sense that there could be a good reason why the rolls were what they were and why the betrayal happened anyway in an apparently arbitrary way. But that doesn't really seem to be the case here. If I was GMing that game, I would not even wait for someone to ask "WTF?", I'd just say "In case you're wandering, there's a good background reason why things turned out this way". But from the way things went from that point on, I doubt there was much of a good reason, or at the very least the situation wasn't handled properly regarding the players.
  • I'm glad people have come around to what immediately hit me as the #1 problem with the original situation, namely the fact that the GM apparently said "Yeah, you read her mind, she's totally telling the truth" and then she wasn't. To me, that's A Level jerk behavior that needs to be justified, bigtime. There may also be gender stuff happening here, but it's hard to tell because the main problem seems like the GM being a jerky cheater.
  • edited March 2017
    The idea being that when the conflict is along a kyriarchal line it can make one doubt ones own mind or attitude even when it's obvious to outsiders that the other is at fault. Now, the degree to which any given relationship is enmeshed with this sorta BS of course varies. And, how one has been treated -- or experienced -- earlier can deeply color ones interpretation of the present.

    Sorry for the haughty-sounding language -- going for denseness and precision.

    That isn't to say that what the GM did is abusive or (on its own) cause to run from the table. But, he made a mistake. As all DMs and GMs have, from time to time.

    Bricoleur, please don't take this as me trying to invalidate of your original complaint, quite the opposite. I've felt many times that feeling of "Oh, shit, is this because they're all guys?"
  • edited March 2017
    In SWN each character class has basically a single really special thing they do, the text is generally very clear what it is. The Warrior can avoid a single hit each battle. If the dudes in this game got shot and the GM told them their best power didn't actually work, I doubt they would want to come back to the table again either.

    Then again, they'd be in a position to challenge a single call, rather than have their ability and judgement questioned continuously over a long period, leading them to question whether they are playing the game right or fitting into a specific play culture. This reads like textbook gaslighting.
  • edited March 2017
    The idea being that when the conflict is along a kyriarchal line it can make one doubt ones own mind or attitude even when it's obvious to outsiders that the other is at fault. Now, the degree to which any given relationship is enmeshed with this sorta BS of course varies. And, how one has been treated -- or experienced -- earlier can deeply color ones interpretation of the present.
    Sure, but I still feel that there is no way to tell what the GM's "motivation" was here and that therefore it's probably cleanest to just make sure bad behavior on the part of the GM is addressed as bad behavior on the part of the GM.

  • Sure, but I still feel that there is no way to tell what the GM's "motivation" was here and that therefore it's probably cleanest to just make sure bad behavior on the part of the GM is addressed as bad behavior on the part of the GM.
    Missing the point; when you're unsure of yourself, as it's easy to become when there's a conflict along gender lines (even if it's not caused by gender lines), it's very difficult to address the other persons behavior from any position of authority.

    adamwb nailed it.

  • edited March 2017
    Nevermind.
  • Yeah. The gender dynamic in question doesn't have to overt or intended in order to make someone feel uncomfortable or put-upon.
  • So what are people actually suggesting, other than "Treat it like someone being a jerk"? Or is this just affirming that, yes, it's okay for Bricoleur to feel this way? (Because it totally is, and the idea that that would be under debate is weird to me)
  • Ok, I'm not speaking for Bricoleur in this, but as for myself?
    You're right in 'treat it like someone being a jerk' being the right approach in this instance. But, seeking validation in a "is it just me, or have others felt the same?" way was valuable for me. Emotional validation ftw

    Btw thanks for asking, Airk. I appreciated it
  • Makes sense to me, thank you!
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