Dude Rolls Like A Lady: Cross-Gender Play In RPGs

There are a lot of things that go through a player’s mind at the time of character creation.

“What class would work best with these crummy ability scores I just rolled?”

“I always play a Toreador – should I go Lasombra this time?”

“My last character was a complete extrovert – maybe a quiet type would be better for this game?”

“Hmmm, OK, I think I’ll go with a half-elf sorcerer of the fey bloodline. Do I want to be a boy or a girl?”

Does that last query seem odd to you? Perhaps it does if your character is always the same gender you are. But for many gamers – myself included – a character’s gender is never a given. More than half of my past and present characters are female, but I’ve played a lot of male characters too. In fact, one of my favorite characters ever was male – and I loved him so much, he became an iconic in our company’s RPG books.

Maybe the idea of cross-gender play is simply new and previously unheard of for you. Or you’re well aware of it, and it weirds you out. Either way, it can be a hot-button topic, so let’s take a look at it.

What’s The Big Deal?

Odds are you’ve already witnessed a little cross-gender play by way of NPCs run by your GM. Unless your party of adventurers is in a strange land inhabited by only one gender, your male GM has probably introduced some female NPCs (or your female GM has played male NPCs). In a hobby that has been long-dominated by guys (of course the demographic is changing, but there are still more male gamers than female), it’s not that uncommon for a male to play a female character, otherwise every campaign is a big sausage fest.

A woman choosing a male role seems to be less common, though I couldn’t guess at the reason why. Considering male wizard Fizban was played by Margaret Weis in the original Dragonlance campaign, the precedent is clearly there and it’s nothing new, so I don’t know why more girls won’t give a male character a try.

My first experience with playing a male character was rather unintentional. In a long-running game, the NPC arsenal my GM (my husband) was running was getting a little too big to handle, and he asked me to take over the male NPC who was married to my female character. I took the character over without even giving a thought to the fact that he was male. I never had a problem with it, and neither did the guys at the table.

In an online game I later played and GM’ed in, I played a number of characters of both genders, and so did most of the other players. Some of the guys played incredibly believable women, and one other girl and I played male characters and did just fine with them. That game is where my beloved drow conjurer Dissin came from.

When we joined our local game club, we found a lot of guys who were very open to playing female characters. There was a little surprise the first time I rolled up a male character for myself (my awesome Togorian for a Star Wars d6 campaign) but not much. So admittedly, I’ve never had the troubles that can cause worry about playing a character of opposite gender.

Excuses, Excuses

What are those worries? These are some of the most common ones I’ve heard. In most situations, they’re really non-issues, though, unless someone turns them into something more.

People will think I’m gay or confused about my gender. No, they won’t. Or at least, they shouldn’t. If they do, you might need a different gaming group. (And if you’re the one who would jump to those conclusions if a guy at your table decides to play a female character…seriously, dude?) Sure, some gay gamers like to play characters of the opposite gender, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a gamer who was struggling with his or her own gender identity played a cross-gender character as an exploratory experiment. But most of us just do it for fun, and there’s no deep hidden meaning behind it.

I’m a girl, not a boy! How would I know how to play one accurately? Are you a ranger in real life? Or a dwarf? How about a vampire or werewolf? No? Then how do you know how to play one accurately? Roleplaying is acting. If you can manage to figure out how to accurately portray a fictional race or class, you can figure out how to play a character of the opposite gender. You know people of the opposite gender, right? Learn from them. I based one of my earliest male characters on a college professor of mine, and he turned out to be a very popular character (that was Radney Gilyard, for my old gaming buddies reading this).

It’s going to make character interaction weird, especially anything romantic. Yes, there’s the possibility that it could, but character interaction is sometimes weird or uncomfortable anyway. A male friend of mine became very uncomfortable when my female PC flirted with his male PC (and because I love and respect him, as soon as I found out, I reined in the flirting). If you’re in a mature group of good roleplayers, they should be able to handle the words of Hector the Well-Endowed coming from the mouth of a cute petite girl and still play it straight. (And while that is an extremely humorous example, it’s obvious that Hector makes all his Diplomacy checks through good roleplaying by his player!)

Guys playing girls are just going to play “boys with breasts”, and any woman playing a guy is just going to make him a bishonen. Ah, stereotypes. The players who fall into the stereotypes – guys playing either hot bisexual/lesbian women or the equivalent of men with feminine names, women playing either pretty boys with sensitive souls or Prince Charmings – simply aren’t very creative. Their same-gender characters would probably be rough-and-tumble fighters (for the men) or fawning young lasses who don’t want to break a nail (for the girls). My character Radney was a middle-aged old sailor with a peg leg and a foul mouth. Nothing bishonen about him, or Babista, my Togorian pilot, or Devin the boy scout ranger/cleric. I’ll grant you that Dissin was a bisexual pretty boy, but he was also a chaotic neutral drow with a temper you did not want to cross and some spells that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

It’s immoral/goes against my beliefs. I’ve actually heard this concern voiced online before in the past, and I honestly do not understand it. At. All. What beliefs or morals playing a fictional character who just happens to be of a different gender than you could possibly violate, I have no idea. It’s just a game, you know?

What If It Just Won’t Work?

If you don’t like playing against your own gender, dude, that’s cool. No one is making you, certainly not me. But if a player in your group would like to give it a try, why not keep an open mind and let them give it a whirl? Trust me, it’s not going to hurt anyone, and it’s not going to be weird or creepy unless you let it affect you that way. (If the player with the opposite gender character is playing them as weird or creepy, odds are they’d play a same-gender character that way too.)

Sometimes a player finds themselves in a very conservative group where the others would freak out if you tried something “daring” like playing a cross-gender character. If, after talking with them and explaining your view, they still veto your desire, you have to decide if it’s worth it to push the matter. In most cases, I’d say no. If they’re that convinced that it’s going to be weird/uncomfortable/immoral, you’re probably not going to change their minds. You can always try with another group who may be more open-minded to new roleplaying experiences.

I’ve personally found that playing male characters forces me to think outside the box, use a slightly different mindset, and really hone my roleplaying chops. If you’ve never given it a try, I encourage you to do so. You just might like it!

Have you played a character of opposite gender before? Does it bother you when men play women, or vice versa?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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