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Character Sheet Cross Dressing

Written by Nicholas - Published on October 17, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

If you ask an average guy if they have ever pretended to be a woman, you will likely get punched. Ask a gamer and the reaction will be quite different. It is not uncommon for gamers to play characters opposite their own gender. Some it out of mechanical necessity, some for the roleplaying challenge and others just because they cannot imagine that character any other way. Whatever the reason, roleplaying outside your natural gender is a tricky thing and involves walking a narrow line.

Gender Archetype vs. Gender Stereotype

When inventing a character that is nothing like us, we tend to gravitate towards archetypes. For cross-gender archetypes men might go for the femme fatale or the overly protective motherly type. Women can make an a horn-dog hyper macho man or the socially awkward geek boy. This isn’t a bad place to begin thinking about a character, it’s just a bad place to stop. Chromosomes do not take the place of motives and history. Your character, male or female, is shaped by life events. Your gender may influence those events, but it is far from the whole story. A solid background provides makes an archetype into a real character.

Moderation

In roleplaying we tend to go for extreme personalities. Characters might be lawful, honorable and chivalrous or they might be mad as a hatter. Whatever they are, they are something big. This is great for creating great scenes at the table and being memorable, but it doesn’t handle subtlety very well.  In playing your first cross gender character, I recommend moderation. Playing a fanatic or other extreme personality is fun, but it overrides the more subtle gender differences. Does it make that big a difference character-wise if you paranoid delusional warlock is a man or woman?

Start with something more simple, get into the mind set of the other gender first before going big. You can always develop your character or play a new one later on. Master the basic before moving on.

Victims of Society

If you go into a deeper character background, don’t forget the influence of society. I don’t just mean “oh, a medival-ish society was probably oppressive to women”. You D&D game may have the same tech level, but it is not Europe in the middle ages. D&D has female gods, magic and constant threat of monsters. Did priestesses have a special station? Was there a stereotype that men make inferior sorcerers? Did women frequently take over the estates of their slain male loved ones? Gender relations could be completely different in your campaign, collaborate with your DM! And don’t be afraid to make things unfair or biased against your gender. Being the underdog can be fun!

Remember not be human-centric. Drow males are going to be treated much differently than human males in their societies. Dragonborn women might have a very different experience than human ones. Odds are good your DM has not even given thought to a lot of it, so you have leeway to write your own society. If you want to say that your character’s home pack of razorclaw shifters was matriarchal and polygomist, you’ve just created hooks for both genders.

What Not to Do

It would be negligent to not refer you the D&D gaming comedy “The Gamers: Dorkness Rising”. That movie features a character who does everything wrong in playing an opposite gender character.

Have you played a character outside your gender? Share your stories in the comments!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

 

 Comments

16 Responses to “Character Sheet Cross Dressing”
  1. This is an interesting subject. I just asked the same question on my site a few days ago and got some pretty good comments.

  2. RoboSheep says:

    I usually forget the sexual identity of my fellow player’s characters. From a sex bias perspective this is a good thing because that means they aren’t pushing horrible stereotypes in my face.
    Also, I find it interesting and a bit alarming that you think that the average man’s reaction to being asked “Have you ever pretended to be a woman for any reason?” to be physical assault.

  3. Nicholas says:

    @John L. Williams: Seems that we were both inspired by the same source, that Critical Hits article about gaming women. I find it strange that no one you gamed with gender swapped. I think just one person needs to do it well before it becomes normal for the group.

  4. James says:

    Well it wasn’t me that played her, but I have a player in my current D&D 3.5E game who continually plays females. He always plays them as laid back and more mature then his other male characters. He uses the female character as a way to escape the stereotype that in a fantasy realm all men are seven feet tall and just like to smash small critter till there nothing more then a discolored smear on the pavement. For him playing a a female allows him to be a diplomat. I’m not complaining as he’s currently playing a female elf sorceress and is also the first person in my group to ever actually try to talk to the monsters and see what can be done to turn them to the PCs side.

    Any one else get that out of there female PCs. Tend to be more level headed and less about KILL?

  5. Chris says:

    This is an interesting problem any roleplayer faces, in my opinion, that is usually very dependent not only on the person playing the opposite gender, but also on first impressions (though that’s hardly limited to gender when it comes to character). If you begin playing your female character like a femme fatal the first session, most likely it’s going to be very hard to deviate from that as that’s what people come to expect from you.

    I generally try to avoid playing the opposite gender when I’m roleplaying in real life unless I think I have a good enough concept that’ll support it, and a group mature enough not to make a thing out of it.

    When roleplaying through other media, text-based for example, I generally just go for a concept that I find interesting, and decides gender upon what seems reasonable within the boundaries of the character.

    As a GM, I honestly don’t oppose other people playing a different gender, although admittedly I haven’t had a player who’s done that yet. As long as you make an interesting enough person, gender is really not that important (unless, as you mentioned, it is relevant to the setting).

  6. Swordgleam says:

    This topic comes up often enough that I should just save my usual comment in a file somewhere to copy and paste.

    I’m a girl. A little over half my characters are guys. Some of them sleep around, some of them are faithful to their one true love. Some of them are super-aggressive, some of them would rather run away from trouble. No one has had any problem with any of this, aside from the occasional pronoun confusion.

    I DM a group of all boys. One of them plays a girl. She’s kind of a misandrist, but she’s also a bit of a misanthropist anyway. She’s neither an ice bitch nor a slut, but she does have actual social skills, which none of the male characters do. No one has a problem with any of this.

    I have never encountered a player who has issues with characters of the opposite gender. This is because I find people like that repellent for a variety of other reasons and would never let them within a mile of where I’m rolling dice. You can’t tell me some moron who plays Lascivia, High Priestess of Seduction, is otherwise a great gamer and a fun guy to hang out with.

    And if all that sounds a bit mechanical, it’s just because I’ve said it so many times and this issue drives me a little crazy. Mostly due to the last paragraph – good people who are good gamers do not have this issue. If anyone’s experience in this respect has varied, I’d be interested to hear about it.

  7. Justin says:

    I actually don’t have a problem with experienced Role-Players crossing over. I do seem to think that it goes badly in both directions sometimes though. I find that the female gamers I play with(50% of my current gaming group)…tend to play males poorly or have no want to play males. As a DM you have to play other gender roles often…it has to make the characters feel like they’re talking to a girl. I also worry about the consistency of a newly created cross gender character (hah!)… most people, I’ve noticed, will lose interest in playing another gender…and inevitably ask me to work in a new character. I tend to discourage it based on my experience but won’t forbid it from my game.

    I very rarely run a character in a game…this is just what I’ve noticed in my experience.

  8. Sean Holland says:

    Like Swordgleam above, I answer this question alot. My stock answer runs along the lines of:

    “We expect people to be able to roleplay immortal elves, fallen angels, cyborgs and super-intelligent shades of the color blue but somehow we cannot expect them to properly roleplay the other gender of our own species?!”

    I often run female characters, letting the character ideas that inspire me go where they will.

  9. Dungeon Dork says:

    Over the years, I have had my number of female characters that I have played. I think a good player should be able to use his imagination freely in the creation of their character and not let his own gender limit his choices. Of course, I don’t think this would go over very well with your buddies if you are into LARP.

    ~Dungeon Dork
    Geeks and Goblins – A Blog For Gamers

  10. Shent says:

    Funny, I have always run PCs that are same sex as me in table top RPGs. I have had female gamers run men which adds to some confusion at the table from the male players.

    As a DM, I do try to goof around if I have to speak as a female to the group. I tend to fall into “Monty Python” mode when DMing a female NPC. As a rule I don’t care what the player’s sex is it becomes a mute point in the majority of the games I have played/run. Most players are focused on the mission of the game not the normal sex jockeying you see in teen groups or singles clubs. Most play the sex of their PC as a tool to achieve a goal whether it is role playing or min/maxing. I have noticed, my players gravitate towards sex neutral in game, behaving like the marines in Aliens or the soldiers in Starship Troopers, whether they play same sex or opposite sex PCs.

  11. @Nicholas, I guess great minds think alike and read Critical Hits. It is strange that the whole gender swap thing has never come up with any of my groups over the years. I guess in my next campaign, men can only play women and women can only play men, and metrosexuals can only play half-Orcs… that should put everyone in a roles they’re not used to.

  12. Personally when I play females they tend to be soft talking versions of their male counterparts. Maybe it’s a lack of understanding of the female mentality but I personally don’t see them being that much different.

    I have seen players really play up the stereo types of women though sometimes to hilarious effect.

  13. Jade says:

    As a female player, most of my characters are male. Not because of political reasons, or wish fulfillment or increased status in campaign worlds. I play male characters simply because I can’t see the characters I play in any other way. I usually find my character’s sex until I’m mid-way through the creation process; I let the character tell me if they’re male or female (or other).

    I once had character where I got to the end of the creation process and I still had no idea what the characters sex was — so I made the character completely androgynous. It made for some great roleplaying, since the character let everyone around him/her decide whether to refer to her/him as “he” or “she” and would respond to both. When talking about the character, I carefully alternated between “he” and “she”.

  14. Krys says:

    I like playing all different kinds of characters. As a Dungeon Mistress, a lot of times it’s necessity. As a player, though, I’ve played a very well-endowed male stone child who just LOOOVVVVEEEDDD getting nekked. He was arrested a lot for public indecency. I’ve also played a bisexual Baptist female farmer bard who got her singing skills from choir practice. I’ve played a scuzzy female who was obsessed with trying out toilets. I’ve played an Eladrin female warlord who was very Captain Janeway-esque. My characters are just generally quirky, male or female.

    Krys

  15. ScottM says:

    As a GM, I regularly play characters of both genders. As a player, I default to male characters, unless a specific character concept encourages otherwise. Some of my favorite characters were female. Let me tell you at great length about Alanora the bard…

    Hmm, cleared the room? On the flip side, my wife tends to play about 50/50, though she likes aliens without identifiable gender. I know that her initial character with a new group is usually male; playing a female character in a group you don’t know can open you up to horrible commentary or differential treatment. Making a man seems to successfully signal “I’m here to kill Orcs– let’s get to it”.

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  1. […] Character Sheet Cross Dressing Playing a character of the opposite sex can be a huge blast. I’m not talking about logging into your favorite MMORPG as a member of the opposite sex and flirting with people when your true identity is hidden. I’m talking about sitting at the table with a beer gut and a five-o-clock shadow and playing that elven maiden… or for you ladies, sitting there with makeup on and a fresh manicure and playing a belching, farting barbarian. Sure, I’m taking things to the extreme with my examples, but that’s not necessary. As a matter of fact, taking the opposite sex to the extreme will only be good for some laughs, and could potentially offend the other people at the table. For more details about playing someone totally different, check out Nicholas’s post over at Dungeon Mastering. […]



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