How to role-play female characters

You know how to role-plan an elf. You know how to role-play a dwarf. An innkeeper. A king. A guard. A mercenary. But pray tell me, do you know how to role-play a woman?

Some time ago, on a Facebook RPG group, we were discusing an article on how to add some flair or colour to your NPC, how to change voices and use slightly different words, and somewhere during that conversation there was a call for a tutorial on role-playing female characters. So, here you go: a tutorial on how to role-play the women, written by a woman.

Cue: drumroll.

Rule number one: Do not role-play women

I mean it. Do not role-play women. Do not role-play men. Just role-play people, okay? The main cause of troubles with creating female characters is that many players think of women like it’s a different species. We all know that men are from Mars and women from Venus, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. We are not that much different; or rather: the difference between people does not lay on the gender border (it’s not much of a border anyway; just ask the genderfluid folks – we’re not all binary). Men and women are not separate groups with mutually exclusive interests and values; I’m positive that whoever you are, you’re still able to find a person of different gender that is closer to you hobby-wise than some people of your own gender. And that’s because -again – gender does not matter that much. Or sometimes, at all.

Instead, think of the character. For that you can jump to my previous article on how to create an interesting RPG character. I’m going to just randomly generate it, using my favourite website with the address that needs censoring, so just click the link. It will help me prove a point.

So, my randomly generated character is: “an outgoing elf barbarian from a backwater village who came out of retirement for this adventure”. Cool. Let’s add some detail: the elf is going to love good wine, despise discussing politics or money, and be quite spiritual in a druidic way. After years of retirement the barbarian became more of a willful hermit satisfied with living a couple of paces from the small village. The elf is generally a happy fellow, easy-going but prone to flashes of tempers if someone invades their privacy. Won’t talk much but from time to time shares some advice collected during years of adventuring. When in a really good mood, tells long stories about elves, dragons, stars and winemaking.

Oh, and the elf is female. It does not change a thing.

 

Rule number two: There is no such thing as girly talk

One of the guys discussing the issue said he can’t role-play women because they talk of stuff he doesn’t know or understand. At the same time, he was fine with role-playing miners and hackers, and mages, and gods.

That’s true, we – women – sometimes discuss things that you can collectively name “aesthetics”. We do discuss pretty dressess and shoes, we comment on people’s clothing or hair, discuss make-up. Just last week I was chatting with my colleague at work about painting nails with Vallejo Model Air paints – the trick is to coat it all with transparent nail polish to add the gloss and colour depth, also durability. We also discuss books, photography, wargaming, and traffic, and Kingsmen: The Golden Circle. Society just decides to call part of our interests “the girly things”, and other parts “the manly things” (see? it’s not even girly/boyish or womanly/manly). But they are all human interests – it’s just that you don’t know a thing about some of them.

But here, as a probably male gamer (apologies for assuming your gender. Also, no woman needs to learn how to be a woman; there is no bad way of being a woman) you have two options. You can either avoid the problem or solve it the same way you solve other role-playing issues: learn how to speak the lingo!

Let’s face it: if you’re going to role-play a priest, you read up on the religion in the universe; if you’re playing a decker, you’re learning at least something about the Matrix, nodes, devices, and hacking programs; if you’re playing a time-traveller, you get informed on paradoxes and the history of the universe you’re playing in. Similarly, if you’re keen on role-playing a woman with traditionally feminine interests like cooking, fashion or make-up, just start learning! Anyway, getting some information about preparing food or making yourself good-looking could actually be beneficial to you in real life.

And if you can teach yourself the difference between a falchion and a scimitar, you should be able to tell apart a dress and a skirt.

Don’t want to learn the lingo? Then don’t! Do you really think all women are fashionistas or perfume gurus? Think again. Your female character can be a woman even not knowing how to apply the eyeliner.

 

Rule number three: Give them bodies, not boobs

“I want to create a woman who won’t be remembered because of her boobs”, said one of the guys.

Ah, you see. Then don’t make her about the boobs!

Unless she’s breastfeeding or intentionally trying to show off her bosom, there’s little to no reason to even discuss the breasts. You’re not describing your male character by giving the details of shapely calves or firm buttocks, are you? Are your male characters only remembered by their penises? I guess not.

You want to emphasise that you’re role-playing a beautiful woman? Then just say it! She might have wonderfully dark, braided hair, bright eyes, cheeky smile. She might move gracefully, with purpose, wear well-tailored clothes, and smell of good perfume (go with jasmine or lilac if can’t think of anything else). Give her any facial features you want. Let her wear whatever suits her personality and profession. It doesn’t have to be the chainmail bikini (it doesn’t provide any armour bonus anyway).

 

Rule number four: Don’t over-do it

I get it, you want to be a nice guy and avoid stereotypes. Good for you, I’m really glad. Seriously. But, you see, you don’t have to worry that much, especially when creating a NPC. It’s not like all your male inkeepers are that diverse and three-dimensional. It’s okay if you decide to create a nice, plump female cook, who greets her customers with a pleasant smile and treats them a little bit grandmotherly. It’s fine if you decide that this particular sorceress will be cunning, sexy and interested in one of the male characters in the party.

Just don’t forget to unravel your imagination. There are possibilities aplenty, that’s why we’re playing this game!

The truth is, you can’t escape the stereotypes. They are just one of the ways your mind is trying to cope with amount of information it’s getting from outside. If I asked you here and now to create a small party of five people of the same gender and occupation, as diverse as possible, would you manage? Five male warriors, for example? Or five female druids? I’m sure you’ll manage. Each and one of them will have something stereotypical about them – and that’s still okay. The point is to make them diverse, not unbelivable.

 

FAQ

  • How am I supposed to know what’s inside a woman’s mind?
    For Iluvatar’s sake, look around. Chances are, you have some women in your environment. Observe. Listen. Process. You’ll find that there’s no The Woman. We’re not a hive mind. We do not want the same things. We’re not always in agreement with each other. You’ll find some brave women, some not so brave; some bright, some not so bright; cheerful, morose, dedicated to families, concentrating on careers, sporty, nerdy, sweet, obtuse, observant, charismatic, delicate, cultured, or annoying. Damn, you can actually even see almost all of these characteristics in just one person!
  • Help, I can’t think of anything interesting to role-play!
    Get inspired! It’s not like you don’t have cool female characters in TV series, movies, books, or comic books. Borrow some traits from here and there – it’s called active participation in culture and you should be proud of it. Remember: interpreting is generative!
  • I know to role-play a strong woman, who likes to brawl and drink, swears and spits on the floor, and she’s practically a man. But how do I play a kind barmaid, a seductive enchantress, or a delicate female bard?
    Can you role-play a kind barman, a seductive enchanter, or a delicate male bard? If yes, just change the pronouns; if not, your problem is not with role-playing women, you just don’t know how to role-play anything but the brutish brawler. Read, observe, practice. You’ll learn.
  • I don’t know how to speak like a woman!
    With your mouth, preferably. Avoid the shrieking and sing-song trill. Not all of the women are opera sopranos, anyway. Have you ever heard woman speaking?
  • But what with the… you know… female things?
    Yes, what about them? You’re not role-playing other bodily functions, you don’t have to role-play menstruation. And – never mind what popculture tells you – many women do not suffer from PMS. You’re probably not going to role-play childbirth, and definitely not without your previous knowledge and agreement (just punch your GM if he’s making you do it. Nobody should be ever forced to give birth). As for gynaecological examination, just role-play it the same as your proctological examination. Oh, you don’t do that? Then what’s your point?
  • I don’t understand completely how a woman thinks, how can I role-play her without making mistakes?
    You can’t. Or rather: do you really understand completely how every other man thinks? Do you even understand completely what’s going on inside your own mind? And you don’t have to! It will be enough if you have a proper grasp on your character’s personality and motivations, the rest will follow. You’re just having fun, not writing a case study for your psychology degree.
  • How do I even start to role-play some with a vagina?
    How do you even start to role-play some with a brain?

Women are not a different species. Actually, you should have more problems with role-playing an elf (especially someone who’s lived for a century or even more) or an orc, someone out of your race, culture and society.

Why do you have problems with women?

 

Final thoughts

I’d stop there, but my dearest husband prompted me to add one more thing, which I actually tried to avoid. But I shouldn’t.

One of my GMs, the best one I’ve ever played with, just banned his players from role-playing people of different gender. Why? Because almost every time one of his male players role-played a woman, he’d use sex as a solution to every single obstacle. Divert the guard’s attention? Seduction test. Persuade the quest giver to raise the reward? Seduction test. Infiltrate the nuclear farm? Seduction test.

I’ll tell you this: in my almost twenty years of playing and GM-img I’ve only seen once a female player to just declare: “Alright, he doesn’t want to let us in? I’ll just give him head in the alleyway”. Once, and it was an informed decision based on the character’s personality. So you shouldn’t solve all your problems with Seduction tests, too. Your female warrior/druid/mage/pirate/hacker/con artist probably has other means of achieving her goals.

By the way, if you’re wondering about the featured image, it’s Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, an amazing Renaissance artist that you’ve probably never heard about (is it still considered ‘hip’ to use this phrase, or did the hipsters found it too common?) because nobody wanted to look at the powerful, solid women in art. Which is kinda the point of this post.

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