Thursday, 16 February 2012

AD&D Gender Differences: Not Big Enough for Realism

If you defend gender limits on Strength in a game because of "the basic facts of anatomy," are you going far enough?

Most research studies put men on average at about twice the physical upper-body strength of women, whether measured by lifting or throwing (even this meta-analysis challenging the importance of psychological sex differences has to acknowledge the strong physical sex differences on this score.) To put it statistically, effect size differences on things related to the Strength stat in roleplaying games range from 1.5 to 3 standard deviation units (d). The distribution overlap for a d of 2 looks like this:

What this would mean is that 2.5% of women are physically stronger than the average man, and 2.5% of men are less strong than the average woman. If you assume that the male is the norm for the D&D character (and given the premises of this discussion, hey, why not?), this translates to a -6 penalty to female Strength, so that the top 2.5th percentile cutoff of the female distribution (3d6 roll of 17+) matches the top 50th percentile cutoff of the male one (3d6 roll of 11+).

Nothing this size exists for psychological differences, so unless you're positing some very bizarre cultural constraints, balancing out male strength  by giving women characters a +6 to "wisdom" or "charisma" or what have you is just as unrealistic.

And people are arguing about AD&D capping human females at 18/50 strength? It's clear that neither realism nor equality are served by the classic  rule, which can only be defended on the grounds of tradition.

My own game's rationale for not having gender modify strength: Along with the wizard, the dwarf, the elf, the barbarian - each of which rests to some extent on a suspension of disbelief - there is another fantasy archetype, the "warrior maid" or "kick-ass woman." Whether her name is Penthesilia, Bradamante, Wonder Woman, or Xena, both men and women love to watch her, and sometimes to play in her role. Anything the system does to make this character possible, and attractive to play, is allowable.

Long story short: why the hell are people so concerned about female anatomical realism when half the female fighters in D&D art look like this:

And if so, why can't they equally "unrealistically" look like this?


  1. I just figure that if women can't have a maxed-out strength score because of "realism," then no one gets to play a wizard because of "realism" too.

  2. 3d6 in order-hardly ever have to worry about it.

  3. (First; I love to see the probability mapped out properly, btw - thanks)

    Don't the stat rolls seek to replicate a sample of *adventurers*, rather than of the normal human population?

    So, there are fewer female than male fighters, but those female fighters that exist are as strong as the male ones.

  4. zornhau - that too - just keeping in mind that (again staying under "realistic assumptions") there is about a 20:1 ratio of male to female fighters to make that work.

    You could also argue that in order to be an adventurer in the face of all the crap that roleplaying game designers and DMs have shoved at women in Medieval World (rape, sexism, breast size rolls), a female PC has to be exceptionally good, so +2 to any 3 abilities!

  5. Interesting analysis!

    I was in the "who cares about the STR limit, when does this even affect actual play" camp, but I guess now I'm in the "why bother with a STR limit, since it has no obvious benefit for the game".

    Didn't 2e throw out all attribute limits, even for demihumans?

  6. First up, Gygax long ago told us the game was a "dismal failure" as a realistic simulation of anything. The same is true of all other rpgs, it's just none of the authours since have been as honest. Any attempts at making it realistic are just being silly.

    I work in gyms, so I see a great variety of people come in. I must inform you that arguing on the basis of made-up figures is not wise.

    More than 2.5% of women are stronger than the average man. And the average middle-classed man is weaker but smarter than the average working-classed man. And the average Western man is weaker than the average African. And so on. And the average male is more prone to poor impulse control, leading to more frequent masturbation and violent crime, which would imply lower Wisdom. And so on.

    Once you start this, you end up going places your typical middle-classed spaghetti-armed geek doesn't want to go, especially since all he really wanted was to pretend to himself that there was someone out there weaker than him, preferably a whole class of someones.

    And really there are few physically weaker people in the world than the typical netsurfing geek. Well, outside hospitals, anyway.

    Lastly, "dismal failure" as realism, remember?

    1. Some quick Googling shows the numbers in the article are not far off. Women are around 40-60% as strong as men (the assumption in the article was 50%, right in the middle), on average (per Wikipedia,, and I read the references). -6 puts women at about 43% of men's strength, so that's at the lower end of the spectrum. I might go with -5, which would put women at about 50%.

      It seems women top out at around 80% of men (from one of the references on Wikipedia). That would mean 14.4 strength vs. 18. So, be generous, round up, and say 15 strength.

      So, by my reckoning (depending on whether you'd rather accurately model the best or worst case scenarios, and whether you'd rather accurately model an average or an exceptional case) the mod could reasonably be placed at between -6 and -3.

      This is borne out by cited facts, as opposed to a biased sample of the population and anecdotal evidence (which would fall into the category of "made up figures" which - as you point out - is shaky ground on which to form an argument.

      Now, personally, I don't really see the need for sex modifiers. The real world is stacked enough against women. And besides, as Jack wisely points out, if we're trying to simulate reality, we should probably ban Wizards, too.

      And D&D is, in some cases, a reasonable model of reality. For instance, two unarmored normal people bent on killing each other with swords will kill each other in a few rounds. One or two sword blows is likely to kill a normal person. This is about right, from watching swordfights (no, not in movies, in real life with trained swordsmen).

      Even falling damage is about right - ten feet could kill or incapacitate a normal person, but isn't likely to. Falling 20 feet is pretty likely to. Falling 30 or more feet is almost guaranteed to. Sure, there are edge cases, and D&D is harsher on dying than the real world, but all in all, it's not half bad.

      But if you want realism, there's always Harn...

  7. "balancing out male strength by giving women characters a +6 to 'wisdom' or 'charisma' or what have you is just as unrealistic."

    You could give +1 to Hit Points and +2 to saves (greater ability to resist pain), +2 to hirelings' morale (no one wants to be the one to run when a woman stays) and so on.

    I don't think you should, but you probably could have balanced gender differences that are also justifiable.

  8. PS What is going on with comics these days?

  9. I hate the excuse 'but shitty cliches havenwomen fighters!' First of allx Valaria ( Conan) was not that strong, she was easily overpowered by fit men. She was a skilled and experienced fighter, that's all. Secondly, buff women aren't going to look like Red Sonja, they're going to be built like men.if you want to play Ursa the She-Bear I'll let you have a 14 Str, good luck finding a boyfriend though. I also hate chainmaille bikinis and breast-conforming plate armor. Oh, and how does Tits McStackin use a bow with those flotation devices? Women not only get a STR penalty, they get a SIZ penalty; and if we're playing on Earth different ethnic groups will also have SIZ modifiers. Asians are not as big as Norsemen, generally speaking, and that's a disadvantage in combat. Deal with it. Dont fucking fight all the time and it won't be a big deal, I hate modern roleplayers wih their shitty movie and video game expectations. Equality is for slaves.