The players gather around a table littered with character sheets, laptops, and dice. A pair of elven sisters plan their next move in hushed voices, a dwarf fighter argues with a human cleric about the leadership of the party and somewhere in the distance, a bard is making poor life choices. There is a rustle in the trees, the eerie feeling of being watched. One of the sisters ceases her discussions in low elven, glancing around at the forest. She gestures for her sister to draw her weapon as she notices something in the trees. The dungeon master’s voice rings through the trees, “Roll for initiative”.
The world of tabletop role playing games (RPGs) has always been seen as a male-dominated platform. Like most games, tabletop RPGs first gained popularity with a male audience, as ‘boys’ clubs’ or a ‘guy thing’. The stereotype suggested that ‘girls can’t play because it’s a boy’s game’ but with a rise in both gender equality and ‘nerd culture’ more girls can be seen joining campaigns and taking charge as dungeon or game masters.
Inspiring females playing RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) are slowly creeping into the media with YouTube channels, live streams, and Twitch streams dedicated to the platform. Shows like Geek and Sundry’s Critical Role, which includes an almost even split of male and female players, are not only introducing the style of gaming to new generations but also proving that anyone can be a part of a tabletop RPG.
Marisha Ray, Critical Role’s resident half-elven druid once said, “female should never be a personality trait”. Not only is the increase in female players and game masters improving the general diversity of the the game but also the diversity and representation of characters played within RPGs. I talked to some local female tabletop RPG players about their character and campaigns.
An oak tree tattoo growing across her bow arm, a knowing smirk, and a vendetta against all things demonic, Melina Newnham-Kirby’s current Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) character, Kynareth Akamiir, is not one to mess with. The wood elven ranger is charismatic, stealthy, and a little scary. The missing heir to a tribal throne, growing up in the forest with no one but her younger sister, Ellis, Kynareth is another character added to Melina’s plethora of tabletop personas. “I got into D&D because some of my male friends were playing and I showed enthusiasm in joining” she says. Since then she’s been everything from a ranger to a rogue, an elementalist to an astrophysicist. “If you have a good GM, it’s always uber good,” she says as she begins to list some of her favourite moments from her different campaigns. Pick- pocketing, false hydras, and a Bard attempting to play a dagger as a flute, Melina’s list of favourite moments goes on. “My advice is if you want to try it, then go for it. It’s not at all just for guys. Pester them until they let you join then earn a kickass name and deal some brutal damage”.
Dr Boom, the chaotic half-orc alchemist turned vampire queen is Scarlett Bortolotto’s favourite of her many RPG characters. A player in countless campaigns and GM in a handful more, Scarlett is no newcomer to the world of tabletop RPGs. “I run random campaigns, whatever anyone wants. Mostly just Pathfinder and 5th edition D&D, but really its up to the players.” Her campaigns include everything from sentient Roombas to boss battles with Australian politicians. “[My favourite moment was] when I survived a mission by turning into a giant whale and falling,” she says, looking back at all the insane events of campaigns past. “Just find a book and let your imagination fly free, it’s just like playing imaginary games as a kid”.
Inspired by Matthew Mercer (Critical Role) and Mark Hulmes (High Rollers), artist Lisa Huggon is taking on the biggest role in any tabletop RPG, dungeon master (DM). “I love creating worlds and characters and being in charge” she says “I love to make things that other people will like … I’d love to experiment and see where this new form of creativity will lead”.
Dungeon masters rule the games, armed with dungeon master’s guides and monster manuals they create the worlds, the non-playable characters, the encounters, and the storylines. “To begin with, I’ll be using a premade campaign, just to take the strain off of being a new DM. But after that I will be tailor making stories for my characters. Each with a different arc of their own,” she says.
Lisa can’t understand why there would be a legitimate reason as to why females would be excluded from a game. “If a girl wants to play a promiscuous male Half-Elf, that’s fine! If she wants to be a genderless shardmind, go for it! If she wants to play a Male Half orc, fill your boots! It is a role playing game after all, and anyone who has an issue with it isn’t embracing the true spirit of the game”.