Sexism in Tabletop Role Playing Games


This post uses a recent Tabletop Role Playing Game (TTRPG) as a concrete example of the problems that still remain within our community. When it comes to including women, it seems that there are many things that “shouldn’t need to be said” but apparently still do. This post will say most of them.

If you’re a guy who enjoys TTRPGs, I ask that you read this with an open mind. If you find yourself feeling defensive, or upset, that’s a sign of internalized sexism or misogyny. It means you’ve got work to do, but that’s ok. We’ve all got internalized, and unexamined biases. The first step in ridding ourselves of them, is realizing they exist.

Diverse perspectives make for better experiences, and TTRPGs are an amazing tool for exploring aspects of our personality, and taking a moment to imagine what it’s like to live as someone else with different perspectives. Women are ~50% of the human population. We need to be including them in our play, especially when that play is imagining worlds that are also populated with women.


  • misogyny: prejudice against women
  • sexism: discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of the opposite sex
  • male gaze: the male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world in the visual arts and in literature from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer.


A while ago a backed a Kickstarter for a new TTRPG. The cover had a bit of “male gaze”, but while I don’t like it, i need to accept that this is still a male dominated community, and “sex sells”. It’s not uncommon to have a book that’s all “look boobs!” on the cover but actually pretty neutral inside. I crossed my fingers, and backed it.

What I received in the end made me very uncomfortable. The core ruleset it was trying to convey had promise, but i set it aside because of that discomfort. The other day I picked it back up because it aligned with some of the game development research I was doing. I told myself I could “push through” the “male gaze” that permeated the pages, extract the core info, and never look at it again. In the end I gave up. I was too upset. I was too grossed out.

Even if this game was amazing, I would never feel comfortable asking the women I play with to look at it.

If this came out in the 80’s, that would be the end of it. There was a lot of that back then. But this came out last year. We’re supposed to know better. Even those of us who grew up with Red Box D&D should have learned by now that you don’t treat women like sex objects.

Unfortunately, it seems we don’t know better, and I’ve encountered other recent cases of men in our community getting defensive when you dare to point it out.

It should also be noted that I grew up in art classes. I have seen, and appreciated countless depictions of nude women. I have absolutely no problem with sexy images of human bodies be they male, female, or anywhere in between.

It should also be noted that I am very specifically not addressing issues of racism, sexuality, or gender identity in this.

The game, and its problems.

If I could write this without calling out the game I would. I don’t want to slag it or it’s creator. I want to believe that its creator is a good guy, who just never stopped to think about these problems.

I need to use concrete examples though. Without concrete examples people will just nod their heads and say “of course”. “Of course women should be depicted equally”. My hope is that by using these concrete examples and explaining why they’re bad, some men will learn how their choices can be harmful, and contributing to the lack of women at our tables.

The Male Gaze

This is, by far, the biggest problem. The thing is, “sexy women” aren’t inherently bad. If you want a game filled with depictions of sexy people, go for it. As a species humans are sexually motivated. We think about it. We yearn for it. Most people enjoy seeing sexy depictions of the kind of folks they find sexy, at least when they’re in a safe space and it’s their choice to see them. The problem is if it’s only sexy women. The context you put them in can make it even worse.

So, let’s start with the biggest example. This is a rules-light game with three “archetypes”: Combat, Academic, and Social. Here’s how they’re depicted.

The pages for the combat, academic, and social archetypes. The character displayed on combat is a genderless alien with a big gun. The character displayed for academic is a woman standing with her hips emphasised and her torso leaning forwards to expose her breasts. She's wearing thigh high boots, panties, and some implausible bone bra that has fingers holding from the sides, and carries a spear. The character for social is wearing fishnet stockings and beaded bikini style lingere

There’s so much to unpack here. The “combat” character is an alien so they may not be “male” but most people would assume “male”. By depicting the female “academic” in a thoroughly sexualized manner we devalue a woman’s ability to be respected for her mind. It says “sure, she may have an education, but who cares! Check out her tits!”

Social, is actually worse once you start to read the text.

A charismatic type would be someone who is outgoing, entertaining, and utilizes their personality to affect the world around them. Entertainers, bards, dancers, and whores would be examples of an entertainer class.

First off, it talks about using their personality to effect the world around them but places it next to an image of a woman who’s obviously doing some sort of sexy dance or pose to effect the people around her. So, the obvious implication is that a woman’s personality is her tied to sexiness.

Then we come to “whores”.

Women are never “whores”. It is an unquestionably derogatory word, and has been since long before this century started. Women may be sex workers, but they are never whores. In the USA, guys who have lots of sex are revered by other men. Women who have lots of sex are looked down upon and called “whores” or “sluts” by everyone.

I should not have to say this, but engaging in sex never makes you a “whore” or a “slut”. We are sexual creatures. It is normal for humans of all genders to want to engage in it.

This negative association of women and sex is also displayed in the “Erotic Arts” Skill.

Erotic Arts The character is adept at utilizing the services of sex, relaxation, and therapy.

The fact that “sex”, “relaxation”, and “therapy” are all considered “erotic arts” is both disturbing and telling. While “sex therapy” is a thing, and sex can be both relaxing and therapeutic, relaxation and therapy are generally very asexual practices. They’re also incredibly valuable practices to mental health. You should be able to relax without it being sexual or erotic. This is even more true for therapy.

This tells us that sex is a tool. The fact that the only sexualized characters in the book are female tells us that sex is a tool that women use. While there are no depictions of relationships in this book, it’s pretty clear that the implication is that women use this tool on or against men.

Comparative Representation

This book follows the not-uncommon trend of visually depicting a handful of archetypical characters in multiple scenes.

The men are always fully clothed, or covered in armor. The only exception is the Orc adversary who is depicted as a more primitive barbarian in an armored loincloth. I am very specifically not going to dig into the racist surrounding that particular trope.

Here’s a typical guy

a close up of a man at a card table holding 2 cards in his hand. he's wearing a coat, and a t-shirt. There is absolutely nothing sexual about this depiction of him. The camera looks from between the shoulders of two aliens that are also, not even remotely sexualized.

Here’s the woman who gets most of the images

a woman has lept into the air holding a halberd. she wears strategically placed strips of cloth that have no chance of retaining her large breasts when she lands. her legs are bare and spread towards the camera.

The other main female character is wearing a victorian era dress with a tight corset pushing up and exposing her cleavage. Essentially every depiction of a woman in this involves prominent cleavage. Even the woman beaten up and laying in a hospital bed in multiple casts and bandages is displaying cleavage.

Again, it’s ok to depict sexy women, but not if it’s only the women who are sexy. Men need to be depicted equally. If sexy people are important to your game then you need sexy people not sexy women. If they’re not important, then don’t emphasize sexiness. Also, having 20 sexy women and one sexy guy is not equal representation. It still says “women are sex objects” not “people can be sexy”.

In the rest of this book I believe there are only 4 other images in the book that don’t show off a woman’s chest or ass. One is a very reasonable depiction of a female doctor. One is an old-fashioned maid. One is a genre mash-up with minimal cleavage.

The last one is a problem.

Context Matters

Yes, this book depicts strong women. However, all the images of a woman doing something dramatic and strong are also images of women flaunting their tits and/or ass1.

In addition to the many depictions of imaginary characters, there are some depictions of the people playing the game. One is young black man. He’s fairly average looking and - from my perspective - there’s nothing particularly notable about his depictions.

The other is a fat girl.

I have chosen that word, with all of its negative connotations very specifically. In this book imaginary women are sexy, powerful, and always displaying improbable amounts of cleavage. Women in the real world are fat.

To be clear, I actively want more positive depictions of big girls in media. I want to see games that say “Yes, we want all types of people with all types of bodies to play!” Representation is important for everyone, but context matters. And the context here says “real girls are fat and unsexy”. Note that the chest which was nigh-impossible to avoid in all the other depictions of women, is hidden, despite the fact that big girls, by definition, have more boob to flaunt.

a fat east-asian woman of indeterminate age smiles behind imaginary characters while she rolls a die. It's hard to make out what she's wearing but it appears to be a white tank-top.

All women are weak.

In this book male and female adversaries are depicted as getting beaten up, shot, mauled, etc. There is one depiction of a male hero being hurt, but it’s a combo image explaining a rule where you can undo something bad happening to your character. In other words, the guy doesn’t actually get hurt.

a split image. In the left half a man takes a sword to the gut. In the right half he's shown deftly dodging the same blow.

I believe that literally every other image of a hero who has taken damage is a woman.

our sexy heroine with strategically placed cloth lies unconscious and bleeding on stones. We can can easily see the bottom half of her breasts. A man in armor stands in the distance between her and a dragon.

One can debate if the man in that image was defending her, or simply fighting the dragon, but this image makes it pretty clear.

a woman in a victorian dress crouches with a magical flame in her hand. Her back is to a large orc who is swinging a sword at her, but a man in armor has jumped in to take the blow instead.

In this image the man is literally “Taking damage for an ally”. That’s the title of this section of the book. He has jumped in to protect her from the primitive looking orc. Once again, I’m ignoring the inherent racism with the orc here. What’s important for this article is that it’s very clearly showing that women are the ones who need protecting. Women repeatedly show their weakness by getting beaten bloody, while men remain strong and protective.

There are zero images of women protecting men.

There are zero images of fantasy women who aren’t explicitly “sexy”.

There are zero strong female characters depicted who don’t eventually get beaten to a pulp.


According to the credits, there were no women involved in the creation, or play-testing of this game. It is painfully clear that there was no sensitivity reading done.

Women need to be included in every aspect of our games.


It doesn’t have to be like this.

Here’s a random selection of female2 characters from Paizo’s Pathfinder game. All of these are powerful looking characters. None of these are powerful because of their sex. They’re just bad-ass looking characters who happen to be female.

4 illustrations of women from paizo. the first is a cleric wering many robes, carring a scimatar, and a holy symbol. The only skin you can see is her face and hands. You can see the shape of breasts, but they are in no way emphasized. The second is a ranger wearing studded leather armor and holding a bow. The visible skin is on face, and hands, as well as a tiny bit of chest skin but no cleavage is visible, and the breats aren't emphasized. The third is a person who is either female or non-binary, and completely covered in armor. They are staring daggers at the viewer. The fourth  is a tiefling. Their clothes are open at the chest but while they do show chest skin they stop before displaying cleavage. The skin of their arms and face is visible and they are holding a martial arts pose with both arms and one leg raised.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with depicting women who are sexy, or are trying to act sexy. But women can’t be defined and thus valued for their sexiness alone.


I didn’t cover all the problems in this book, both because I’m too upset, and because it’d be “beating a dead horse”.

There is no excuse for this in the 21st century.

I recognize that lots of guys have internalized sexism and misogyny. We take on the values of the people we spend time with. If you don’t spend time with women, or people who care about them, you won’t be aware of your biases. To a degree that’s ok. That’s human nature. What’s important is that once you’ve had those biases pointed out, you acknowledge them, and work on eradicating them.

You’ll never please everyone, but when creating a game for others - or even just a space for others to come and play games - making people feel welcome and comfortable, regardless of their gender is the bare minimum.

I should not have to say this, but women are people. Women are important. Women and men are equal3. Women’s opinions are valid. Women’s needs are valid.

To ignore the needs and comfort of women is to say that they aren’t valid, or valued by you.

We must take women into account when creating games and playing games. We must ask their opinions. We must listen to them. We must make gaming a safe space for them. We need to acknowledge that our personal perspective on what’s “acceptable” or “good” is not shared by everyone. Things that we think are “fine” may make the people around us very uncomfortable.

Everything about this article is depressing and saddening.

Everyone has mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and/or daughters, and all of those women should feel be comfortable at our gaming tables. Do we really think it’s appropriate to teach our daughters that being an entertainer means being a “whore”?! That sex is a tool they should use against men?! That they can’t be strong without a man to protect them?!

Fuck all of that.

All of that sexist and mysogynistic bullshit has ruined what might actually be a decent game. I wouldn’t know. I would never ask a person I respected to go.

I feel gross for having given money to the creation of this, so I’ve made a donation to Futures Without Violence. The portrayals of women in this book, and books like it always result in harm. I hope that maybe my contribution can help offset a little bit of the damage done by supporting this game’s creation.

If you want to discuss TTRPGs and how we can make them better for women and everyone else, you can find me on mastodon at

  1. Yes, there are some depictions of women being powerful where their cleavage is obscured. In most of these the woman is hurt, and there are none where we haven’t already seen that cleavage and don’t have it in our minds. ↩︎

  2. The third character may be non-binary. I don’t know their backstory. ↩︎

  3. Some ass-hole is going to read this and say, “not physically”. Riria Ropata lifted 599Kg (1320 Lbs) in Women’s Powerlifting in the Oceania Championships in Australia. Literally every time a women has beaten the men at combined olympic sports they have divided the competition into male and female categories. Women kick ass physically too. So please, take your ignorant bullshit somewhere else. ↩︎