This winter the other Ladies and I took a huge step and started our very own monthly game of Dungeons and Dragons. For quite some time, I personally had been avoiding tabletop RPGs for a couple of reasons. The most pressing of those reasons being that I was nervous about playing as a newbie. I was concerned that playing would feel like a struggle as I attempted to juggle both the mechanics of the gameplay with actual improvisation and role-playing. It felt like too much at once and that I was going to be a burden to the DM and other players.
The game they play is Pathfinder – a modified and enhanced version of the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons. There are four ladies in the group (just like this blog!) and they chat together like they’ve been friends forever. While two of them have, and each lady knew at least one other before joining the group, some of them had never met before a few months ago when they started playing together.
There’s Sam, who introduced me to the group, and who in many ways is the lynchpin of the entire enterprise. While the idea for an all-lady game had floated about for a while, it was Sam who got the ball rolling and made the idea a reality. It is her fiancé, Jay, who is the gamemaster (GM) for the group. Her character in the game is a half-elf ranger with a longbow specialty and an abiding hatred of the undead. She also wields a mean war-hammer.
Then there’s Caitlin, an avid gamer. Prior to joining the team her medium was video games, from first person shooters to role-playing games. The party gives her another way to engage in the latter, and she recently purchased her own set of dice due to continually bad rolls. She may or may not have been influenced to get into tabletop gaming by a certain episode of Community. Caitlin’s character is also a half-elf, a rogue who wields two swords at once.
Next to her sits Bethany, who introduced her to the group. A former roommate to Jay, she’d been interested in table top gaming for years, but hadn’t had a good entry point until now. She’s clearly a Doctor Who fan , as she literally wears, rather than her heart on her sleeve, a tattoo over her heart reading “allons-y.” (I have a fondness for this sort of subtle yet right out in the open sort of declaration.) She plays a human cleric, in part because she wanted a character who uses magic without being a wizard, and her character has a horse named Bill, who comes in handy in transporting the party’s gear. Both cleric and horse are a bit fussy about who they choose to befriend.
Bridget sits across from Bethany. Friends with Sam since high school, she’s always like fantasy fiction and the like but is a self-described “closeted geek” – she seems to have the most separation between her groups of friends in real life. In the game she plays a Halfling bard, apparently much to the chagrin of the GM – Bridget had excellent dice rolls and he was concerned she was “wasting” them on a non-combative character. However, Bridget felt she could “get into being little.” Rather than a great fighter, her character is incredibly persuasive thanks to a hefty charisma score, and has come to be seen as the comic relief of the party.
The group has been together for about three months, and they’ve played about two full games together – they admit that it can take a while to get started on an adventure because they’re all very detail-oriented, spend quite a bit of time on things like like selecting supplies – debating the need for tampons, for example, since their in-game party is also all female, or making sure they have enough food for Bridget’s Halfling’s prodigious appetite. I get the sense that this is the root of the appeal of adventure gaming for the ladies – not tampons and food, but the ability to completely customize their experiences, to have a game and indeed a world that belongs wholly to you and your friends.
Caitlin points out that, in most games, the choices you make can shut off entire story lines to you – for example, if you decide to be amoral or immoral in a video game, you become ineligible for certain bonuses or plot lines. In Pathfinder, the group has control over what direction the story takes, rather than a programmer, and they can decide that rewards are not merely for the virtuous.
The other women in the group also appreciate the creative outlet. Though it can be difficult to schedule the time to play in person (each session takes several hours), the four regularly exchange emails about decisions they’ll need to make the next time they play, attributes of characters they might create for future games, and in-jokes related to their experiences. Bethany has even designed a logo for the group:
I asked what their friends not in the group thought about the game and them playing it. All four ladies had been quick to point out that people don’t really understand what table top gaming actually IS. Since people’s perceptions of it are largely influenced by what they see in movies and TV, the image in people’s minds when you say “Dungeons and Dragons” or “role playing” tends to be awkward teenage boys in a basement, wearing capes and getting into arguments over hit points. Or they confuse it with Live Action Role Play (LARP) – asking if they’re going out to the woods with foam swords. So there’s an element of simply explaining what they do when they get together, which at its heart is collaborative storytelling. That said, most of the ladies said their friends were unsurprised to learn that this was something they were into – they almost all hear some variation of “oh, you didn’t play already?” Only Bridget, in her “closeted geek” stance, said that she doesn’t tell all of her friends about the game – but those she has told seem interested.
One of the main reasons I was interested in talking to the ladies was the fact that, apart from the GM, they ARE all women – are there any advantages to that? Sam mentioned that she plays in another group as well, a co-ed group, and she’s noticed that the No. 1 Ladies Adventure Party is more collaborative – they will go out of their way to help the other members out of a jam in-story, while the co-ed group is much more every man for himself. Bridget points out that the all-female group eliminates the fear of being called out as a “fake geek girl,” for not being as hard-core a fan as some men. It’s a safe space to explore the game and wear your fandom on your sleeve – something I think is really important if we’re going to break down these ridiculous, false gender barriers.
I don’t personally play role-playing games, but talking to these ladies made me see the appeal – it’s a chance to be creative, spend time with friends, and even test your personal boundaries at times. The four women of the No. 1 Ladies Adventure Party are smart, creative and funny – this article really doesn’t do justice to our conversation – my secret wish is that they start a podcast or vlog (possibly with our ladies – think about it!). Thank you for sharing what you love with me, gals!
The No. 1 Ladies Adventure Party would like you to know that they are searching for a fifth lady – specifically, they’re in need of a bad-ass fighter! If you think you’ve got what it takes to join this merry band, leave a comment below or on the Ladies of Comicazi FB page – I’ll make the connections.
Also, if YOU know a lady or group of ladies doing something cool, or if you ARE a lady of that description – let us know! We’d love to chat with you.