Comments on: [Guest Post] D&D, and Who It’s Packaged For /2013/01/08/guest-post-dd-and-who-its-packaged-for/ A feminist pop culture adventure Tue, 08 Jan 2013 11:22:30 +0000 hourly 1 By: Pet Jeffery /2013/01/08/guest-post-dd-and-who-its-packaged-for/#comment-18949 Tue, 08 Jan 2013 11:22:30 +0000 I was actively involved in RPGs in the 1980s and early 1990s, and would now like to return to them if I could find anyone with whom to play. I used to write for the Call of Cthulhu game. The most recent version of D&D I’ve seen is the one published between 1983 and 1985, so I can’t comment on the way it looks now. Even so, perhaps my observations on an old version of the game may be interesting.

I’m now looking at the 1980 edition of the D&D Basic Rulebook, and have mixed feelings about the cover. It depicts three figures: a monster (dragon?) of indeterminate sex, a very short male (dwarf?) and a female (human or elf?) who looks more than twice the height of the male. The way in which the female figure towers over the male pleasingly transgresses against gender stereotypes. The female is actively engaged in the conflict, evidently about to hurl some (magic?) missile. More problematic, perhaps, is the way she’s clothed: in a long dress slit to the hip, from which a bare leg emerges. Her breasts are covered, but are remarkably large.

The interior artwork starts off well. There’s a picture of a female player and a male with their characters in ‘thinks’ bubbles. Neither female portrait reveals a breast fixation on the part of the artist, and the female character is more fully dressed than the male. Unfortunately, the artwork deteriorates as it progresses, and on page 20 there’s a depiction of a woman with enormous and unnatural-looking breasts.

The 1983 Basic rulebooks show, to my mind, an improvement on the 1980 one. Female characters are reasonably well represented, none of them have overly-large breasts and none are dressed in ways likely to make young women feel uncomfortable. Some of them wear rather snugly-fitting trousers, but no more so than one can readily see on the streets of London.

Some of the subsequent rulebooks of this era (the Companion and Master level books) show very few female figures — perhaps female players weren’t expected to progress that far. Also, the word “Master” for the most expert of the four stages of progression is both gendered and carries implications to do with power dynamics.

Turning from gender to race, not one of the books from this era (as far as I can see) contains a picture of a non-white person.

In the AD&D books of this period, the word “race” is used to signify the distinction between humans, elves, dwarfs, etc. — which strikes me as unfortunate. In the Monster Manual we are told, for example, that elves are chaotic good. If the elves are a “race”, and their character can be covered by such a generalisation, it seems to me that we have a serious problem. This was amongst my reasons from turning away from the D&D family of games to those designed and manufactured by Chaosium.