Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More Historical Howlers from Cecilia D'Anastasio

D&D history as herstory

I assume Cecilia D'Anastasio would describe herself as a liberal feminist. Just to be clear, I have no issue with that when it comes to gaming or gaming journalism. If you want to write about gaming, I don't care what your politics are.

The problem is that D'Anastasio's politics constantly gets in the way of her journalism, to the point where, at least when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, she's a terrible journalist, making factual mistake after factual mistake.

I criticized the inaccuracies of a previous article here. But she's just come out with another one, Dungeons & Dragons Wouldn’t Be What It Is Today Without These Women, which in many ways is worse. Among other things, it contains a number of factual howlers. Is she lying about the facts? I'm not going to go that far. Rather, I think that in her zeal to confirm her political narrative - that D&D used to be horribly sexist and chauvinist, largely due to the misogynistic views and behavior of Gary Gygax, but now it's emerged into the light of progressive tolerance and diversity - she's not very interested in getting the facts right. So she ignores things, or misunderstands things or just gets things wrong because, well, because she doesn't really care about the facts, per se, unless they serve an ideological purpose for her.

Women are stupid, at least when it comes to gaming. They don't even really care very much about gaming, or at least, real gaming. They're just posers trying to fit in with currently hip geek culture.

I don't believe that, of course. But if I did believe it, or were inclined to, I might think that D'Anastasio would provide excellent evidence for it. She's just about the best thing now going for that misogynistic stereotype.

Let's try this one, instead:

Dishonest political hacks shouldn't be trusted when it comes to game journalism.

And that applies to men as well as women, by the way, and to political partisans of both the left, right, center or wherever else one might choose to hang one's flag. That in game writing, these days, much of this tends to come from liberals or leftists - the so-called "SJW" crowd - is obvious. But let's stipulate that this is an arbitrary historical accident. In an alternate universe, it might have been moderate Republicans or monarchists or anarcho-capitalists or whatever. Or so some would argue.

But on to D'Anastasio's latest article. No, Diplomacy was not a "play-by-mail game," although like many games at the time it could be (and was) played by mail.

But here's the most outrageous howler. I'm excerpting the entire paragraph, to be fair:
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.” D&D also featured a “Harlot Table,” a bounty of twelve “brazen strumpets or haughty courtesans” players could summon with the roll of a die [the links are from the original].
Now, the Harlot Table claim is quite true, as one can verify by clicking the link provided. It did in fact appear towards the back of the 1979 Dungeon Master's Guide, although I'm not sure what she means by the "summoning" part. If you're interested in this sort of thing, there's notoriously much more of it, in, say, early Judges Guild products, such as the Ready Ref Sheets and City State of the Invincible Overlord.

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.

Later edit (7/3/17): The above claim, "human females are not limited when it comes to strength [in AD&D]," isn't precisely true. See the follow-up post on 6/30/17, here.

But these didn't apply to humans, nor did any sex differences appear in "mid-70s" OD&D. That "in its very ruleset . . . women characters’ strength was capped four points lower than men’s (but was) compensated with the 'Beauty' attribute, a substitute for 'Charisma'" is just out and out false.

So, where did D'Anastasio get this from? Interestingly, she provides a link to her source, a 2014 article by Jon Peterson, The First Female Gamers. But here's what Peterson actually wrote:
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.
So it was in an article in the early The Dragon magazine (which was quickly slammed by many), not part of any edition of the rules. D'Anastasio simply misread Peterson. Anyone could have misread it, too, I suppose. But any gamer who know anything about the contents of, say, the 1974 Men & Magic or the 1978 AD&D Players Handbook would have instantly realized the mistake. D'Anastasio obviously has no such internal check. She writes about early D&D all the time - contrasting "bad" old D&D with "good" new D&D - but she literally has no idea what she's talking about, having almost certainly never read the early rulebooks. She doesn't even seem to be able to understand the claims of her secondary sources.

There are all sorts of other problems with D'Anastasio article that I won't go into here. The irony is that there is an interesting story to tell about women in the early days of D&D, and, to some extent, that story broadly maps D'Anastasio's desired theme - a small number of women, many largely forgotten, making important contributions to the hobby, within a male-dominated gaming culture that might have often validly been compared to that of a locker room if the participants hadn't been so nerdy.

But with all of her bias and carelessness, D'Anastasio isn't the one to tell that story. For now, read the fascinating Peterson article, instead.


  1. You know, the more I read that article, the more inclined I am to agree with you. One read-through, and it sounds fine, but it doesn't survive the second.

    1. I'm getting a bit killed for this in one part of social media. It's a "cheap shot" because I focused on one paragraph. But there are 17 things in that article that are presented inaccurately or in a slipshod fashion. And, of course, the particular women she cites, while talented, were arguably somewhat peripheral, at least compared to some other people she doesn't cite - Lee Gold being the most glaring example.

    2. Apparently my kids know who she is, they don't like her either. I bet that you do get shit, the people who are typically her supporters believe that having a penis is a sure sign of mental illness. You should be locked up and re-sensitized for picking on this wonderful person who just wants to save you from original thought.

    3. It wouldn't matter. If you refuted all 17 with citations, they'd say you were cruelly and unnecessarily piling on. She has a narrative and you countered it with facts, that's all that matters.


  2. "Terrible journalist" is redundant.

  3. From a woman in her mid 50s who has been a gamer for her entire adult life let me just say this; lady, you need to actually get the books out and read them, because you have no clue. I did face a huge amount of misogyny from some male gamers and in some instances still do. That however does not take away from her lack of true knowledge.

  4. The saying "Never attribute to malice what ignorance or laziness will explain" really applies here.
    I see this less about a political bend to her journalism and more on her lack of proper research.
    The information is out there, but you do have to look for it and confirm it.

    1. I get that. But she's willfully lazy, at a minimum, about everything that doesn't fit into her narrative. There's a pattern to this that is exhibited in post after post, part of which I've documented elsewhere. Someone trying to learn about "old school" D&D from her would be completely mislead. If I had first encountered early D&D, only from her, I would avoid it in the same way that I have so far avoided reading Mein Kampf.

  5. I do have to say that Darlene's map was fantastic.

  6. While I don't disagree with your points about shoddy research, egregious errors and misrepresentation of the rules, I do feel the need to correct you when you say "human females are not limited when it comes to strength" in 1st-edition AD&D.

    Take a look at "Strength Table I" on page 9 of the Players Handbook.

    "18/01-50 Maximum strength possible for a female human or male gnome character"

    So, in AD&D the upper levels of exceptional strength are reserved for male humans. In other words, fighting-women have a limit of +1 to hit, +3 damage, and 20% bend bars/lift gates, while fighting-men are allowed to reach 18/00 strength, gaining +3 to hit, a whopping +6 damage, and 40% bend bars/lift gates.

    Just one of many reasons why I prefer OD&D and B/X.

    1. Thanks! You're absolutely right. And someone else beat you to that correction on Google+ :). I think the question might deserve another post to clear it up.

    2. Well, here's what I wrote:

  7. Is D'Anastasio a self taught "journalist" or did she obtain training from an accredited university?

  8. She went to Reed College. The following link suggests that there is no journalism department included.

  9. She of course completely omits any mention of Liz Danforth and her key roles in illustrating, editing and developing Tunnels & Trolls, which was contemporary with the D&D she is discussing.