Friday, June 30, 2017

Gender Based Strength Maximums in Old School D&D

Only one of these characters has their strength capped at 16. Can you guess which one?

Yesterday, I called out Kotaku blogger, Cecilia D'Anastasio, for making a "howler" about early D&D in her recent post, Dungeons & Dragons Wouldn’t Be What It Is Today Without These Women. She claimed that a "mid-70's" ruleset of D&D capped strength for female characters at 14. Here is what she wrote:
Part of why this flew [misogyny in early D&D art] was because, in its very ruleset, D&D assumed a mostly-male audience. In the mid-70s, that ruleset faced accusations of chauvinism when it became clear that women characters’ strength was capped four points lower than men’s. It compensated with the “Beauty” attribute, a substitute for “Charisma” [the link are from the original].
But this, as anyone even cursorily familiar with any of the early editions of D&D could tell you, was false. I identified the origin of the error in a mistaken reading of an account by Jon Peterson in his essay, The First Female Gamers:
The first serious backlash against perceived chauvinism in Dungeons & Dragons arose in 1976, after the publication of Lenard Lakofka’s article “Women & Magic,” which he distributed in the July 1976 issue of his obscure fanzine Liaisons Dangereuses. In October, the third issue of The Dragon reprinted the article and added the subtitle, “Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D.” In keeping with the wargaming tradition, Lakofka tries to specify a simulation of how women might measure up as adventurers. Virtually all of the level titles are changed: women Fighters, for example, may be “Battle Maidens” or “Valkyries.” He suggests that women “may progress to the level of men in the area of magic and, in some ways, surpass men as thieves,” though “only as fighters are women clearly behind men in all cases.” For Strength, Lakofka has women roll one d8 and one d6 (for a range of 2–14) instead of the traditional three d6; he furthermore grants women a “Beauty” attribute as a substitute for Charisma in baseline Dungeons & Dragons.
I then mentioned that while there weren't any mandated gender differences in OD&D - the most plausible candidate for D'Anastasio's "mid-70's ruleset" - there were gender-based caps on strength for some demi-humans in a ruleset that would follow. As I put it:
One other fairly well-known actual fact that D'Anastasio could have mentioned, but didn't, is that in 1st edition AD&D, while human females are not limited when it comes to strength, some demi-human females have their strength capped a few points lower than their male counterparts, with no compensating advantages. It's particularly egregious in the case of gnomes and hobbits, whose male/female strength maximums are 18/15 and 17/14, respectively. But for some reason, female half-orcs can be just as strong as half-orc males. Don't ask me, I didn't write it.
Thus, in AD&D, as far as humans are concerned, there's no four-point difference or, indeed, any point difference in maximum strength caps by gender. "[H]uman females are not limited when it comes to strength . . . these [differences for demi-humans] didn't apply to humans, nor did any sex differences [for caps on strength] appear in 'mid-70s' OD&D."

Or so I claimed.

Actually, the last statement, above, is, if not completely false, not exactly precisely true, either, as two people reminded me on Google+ and the comments section of my blog. While there were no differences in strength maximums for genders in "mid-70's" D&D (OD&D), nor differences in maximum strength points for human genders in late-70's D&D (AD&D), tucked away in fine print on the strength chart on page 9 of the AD&D Players Handbook is the fact that for fighters with a strength of 18 - who are then entitled to a further percentile roll for exceptional strength - the strength of female fighters, is capped at 18(50), and that of female fighter half-orcs is capped at 18(75). Male fighters can theoretically get as high as 18(00).

I think I probably knew that back in the day but subsequently forgot about it, even though for some weird reason, those odd caps on female strength for smaller demi-humans will always be etched in my memory. It might have been that the rule never really came up in play - we didn't have any women fighters in the group, let alone women fighters with a strength of 18. And indeed, we knew warily from experience that anyone with a strength of 18 had probably cheated. He or she would have been the person who wanted to play the anti-paladin or whatever.

But in any case, I want to correct the record. Again, thanks to those two commenters.

And by the way, this appears to be exclusively an AD&D thing. Even though rolling percentiles for exceptional strength was first introduced in the OD&D supplement Greyhawk, no sex differences are mentioned.

So was Gary Gygax responsible for adding that into AD&D (even thought he hadn't put it in previous editions)? I think it's unclear. Many people had a hand in putting AD&D together, though Gygax obviously signed off on most of it.

Where does that leave us? Gender based strength maximums did not appear in OD&D, either in the three little brown books (1974) or the three supplements (1975-76). They did not appear in the Holmes Basic Set (1977).

They did appear in AD&D (1978), amounting to a difference of 1-3 points for elves, dwarves, halflings and gnomes, as well as a difference for half-orc and human fighters (but not other character classes), not in maximum points per se but in limitations on maximum exceptional strength - female fighters were denied the possibility of going past 18(50) (humans) or 18(75) (half-orcs). Here are the relevant charts:

Player's Handbook, p. 14.

Player's Handbook, p. 9.

They didn't appear in the Moldvay Basic Set (1981), nor in 2nd edition AD&D (1989). I suppose it's possible they were taken out of later printings of 1st edition AD&D, but I cannot verify that either way. Perhaps someone else with a later printing could let me know?

What does all this mean? Frankly, I don't intend it to mean anything, other than to accurately present what the rulesets actually said. I hope this is the last word. But with my luck, someone will point out that in 5th edition D&D (first printing), Transgender Tiefling Mage-Paladin-Assasins who are female on a Wednesday are limited to a 13 strength against their non-male-on-Wednesday comrades (who could potentially have a 14 strength if they made their knowledge roll).

As long as they didn't have a double Fizzbin.

I know, I shouldn't joke about sexism (or transgenderism, for that matter). It's not funny. Not funny at all.

Or, as they say in one particular gaming group, "I'm going to notify an Administrator."


  1. is about the second or third time i see this name (D'Anatasio) who is her? what makes her so important? can you explain to me this?

    1. I don't think she's really important herself, but her example highlights the silly and biased propaganda emanating from the SJW contingent that writes about gaming. And I guess you could say she's one of the more well-known members.

    2. for some reason Patricia Pulling came to my mind, i suppose that each generation has one

    3. I agree, the points raised and commented in these posts featuring this woman are representative of an specific ideology which needs to be signaled as such, even if it's mainstream (or because it).

  2. "Capping a broad's strength at 16 is pretty realistic, but if you're really trying to capture the battle of the sexes, you should also roll her Wisdom on 1d4 + 1d6. And give her a Craziness stat that goes from 4-24.

    My point is, Gary and the guys were really being incredibly charitable to the women's libbers of the day and this broad is just bleeding all over the floor for no reason. She needs some man to explain that to her."

    Send that to her and see how she reacts.

  3. I have no issue with a 50 percentile difference between male and female, generally that is going to be the case, and of course any GM could just say.. nah, I'm not using that in my game.

    I met my wife when running AD&D and let me tell you, she had no issue with such trivial nonsense and laughs at people getting so upset at things like this. It by no means creates some kind of hostility towards women. 25 years ago half my group were female.. it seems like some feel that females playing RPGs are a new occurrence, like they are breaching some some non-existent sexist wall.. nope, the wall never existed unless it was anecdotally. As for that, there are idiots in every hobby..

  4. There is realism and then there is common sense. We are playing with heroic characters here. The AD&D 1st edition rule was unfortunate and there is a reason that a similar rule doesn't appear in other versions of the game. AD&D is my favorite game and all my players are female in my current game. I do not use this rule.

  5. There is no problem with having no mechanical difference between a man and a woman. If we have elves and hobbits, then we can suspend disbelief a little for people too. Subjecting real things to more "realistic" standards than imaginary things is the kind of bad thinking that leads to Magic Users being worth ten Fighting Men at higher levels.

    1. Ha! I love the Scalzi data point.

    2. Yet the game does differentiate between races and their corresponding physical attributes... So there is a precedence to make distinctions. What is the problem with accurately reflecting the scientific fact that women are not as strong, fast nor durable as men?

  6. Clearly is was patriarchal social construction that differentiated stats between sexes amongst gnomes and hobbits (halfling is colonial slave name). Orcs and ethnically fluid people of orc heritage (half-orcs) are living proof of the feminist utopia with their undifferentiated stats.

  7. Pretty much like everything else, men are misogynistic if you even question any accusation whether it's comic books, movies, video games, sports and now D&D...

  8. By including that 18(00) vs 18(50) difference TSR just gave ammo to people who didn't like the game to sneer at it, the same sort of people who today refer to rpg gamers as neckbeards, shut-ins etc. Women and girls know they are not as strong (or as fast) as men and boys are. Sexual dimorphism isn't just a quirk, it was important in our human evolution. The problem in game terms is finding plusses for female characters to even out the minuses. Women are generally believed to have higher empathy than men do, but D&D doesn't have an ability score for that, although I suppose you could argue for Wisdom. Giving female characters a bonus to magic using (either divine or arcane) is also possible. The other option is to accept that male characters have an inherent advantage and this explains why fewer adventurers in the game world are female. When you add in the bonuses from advancing in level, magic weapons, buffing spells and the like, a -4 strength penalty is pretty minor.