The Unfortunate Treatment of Women in D&D

Avery Gautieri

Outside of discrepancies between DM’s and the occasional disagreements between players, there are some larger issues within Dungeons and Dragons as a community. This editorial may be a bit more serious than previous ones because, with the approach of International Women’s Day on March 8th, this will be discussing misogyny within the Dungeons and Dragons community. Don’t be mistaken; D&D is full of wonderful, creative people who are extremely inclusive in their playstyle. Matthew Mercer, the DM for Critical Role, for example, has written numerous NPC’s (Non-Player-Characters) that are women that display a range of prowess and complexity, such as Lady Kima and the dragon Raishan. However, there are some people that aren’t as accepting of the concept of women in tabletop gaming. Though not always explicitly, this is something that women in any gaming community continue to experience.

To pull from Critical Role once again, in their first campaign, the two female members, Laura Bailey and Marisha Ray, both played female characters on the show, Beast Master Ranger Vex’Ahlia and Circle of the Moon Druid Keyleth respectively. Both of these characters received a large amount of criticism from some fans of the show with seemingly arbitrary reasoning, Marisha Ray receiving the largest amount of hate. While it is perfectly reasonable to disagree with characters’ decisions in the show, it’s a different situation when fans attack the intelligence and motives of the actors playing the characters, particularly singling out the women and ignoring the equal mistakes of the male players. 

For example, in Campaign 1, Episode 7, Titled: The Throne Room of Critical Role, Matthew Mercer, not long after introducing the Paladin NPC Lady Kima, forgets to roll for Kima and have her fight in nearly half of a combat sequence, he apologizes and brings her into the fight, and the show goes on. Fans didn’t seem to mind this. Matthew Mercer is one of the best known DM’s in the entire community, and obviously this mistake wasn’t a display of his intelligence. However, the previously mentioned character, Keyleth, played by Marisha Ray, is periodically ripped apart by some parts of the fanbase. In episode 61, titled Omens, during a fight, Keyleth casts the spell Wind Walk. For those who don’t know, this spell isn’t ideal for combat because your character literally becomes a cloud of vapor that can’t really do anything except move quickly, takes one full minute to cast, and one full minute to revert from the vaporous form (one turn in combat is equivalent to 6 seconds, so these actions would take ten turns to do).  Marisha misread the spell, thinking those affected could still take actions, and didn’t know the time it took to cast it was so long. Nobody else, including Mercer, noticed this either until later. Everything turned out okay, Marisha apologized for her misunderstanding, and Matthew for not noticing the details of the spell. However, once again, nobody criticized Matthew for his part in the incident, but many fans were very upset about it on Keyleth’s end, and personally attacked Marisha. Many called her a bad player, inconsiderate of Matthew’s hard work on the campaign for not knowing her spells well, many saying that as a person alone, she is incompetent and annoying. There are many other points in the campaign that people are mad at Marisha as a person, not only for ability mistakes, but also for scenes during roleplay. 

This is not only prevalent in the entertainment side of D&D. Women have noticed exclusion in many fan bases that are traditionally deemed more “nerdy” by the general public. Because these fan bases are often predominantly male, many women feel under pressure to be a “perfect” player, lest they be criticized and accused of not knowing how the game works. While it’s not always so black and white, it’s easy to see the way women are often assumed to be “fake fans,” and are treated that way. It’s something that is far more common than it should be, and is something that honestly deterred me from gravitating towards fantasy games. However, this behavior doesn’t represent the fanbase in the slightest. The majority of people in the community, that I have experienced personally and online, have been accepting and ready for all kinds of inclusivity. So while this is not how most D&D players are, those that do take part in such behavior do cause an unfortunate ripple, and are important to be aware of.