Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Defense of Gender-Based Ability Limits

Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

So there's been a bit of a brou-ha-ha over at the WotC website, because they included gender-based ability limits in one of their online polls, asking whether or not it should be kept. Well, the Politically Correct excrement hit the atmospheric agitator, and then Wizards was forced to backtrack and say that it was all a joke, they never would THINK of including gender limits on ability scores because it's obvious that anyone who would dosuchathingisamisogynisticbastardwhoprobablywantstokockwomynonthehead

Ahem. I have a slightly different take on the subject.

Aside from the fact that I find Political Correctness stupid and insipid, taking a look at the actual rules for gender limits in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (as opposed to blindly flailing about, protesting something of which one is wholly ignorant) yields some interesting results.

Page 15 of the Players Handbook gives us the horrible, horrible gender limits in Character Race Table III: Ability Score Minimums and Maximums. The first thing that jumps out at me as I look at the list is that humans are conspicuously absent. [Edit: It is mentioned in relation to exceptional strength for fighters.] What!?!? You mean this isn't some sort of attempt by the Patriarchy to imply a disparity (or superiority, which is NOT the same thing) between men and women? Well, no. It only applies to dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, and halflings. Heck, even half-orcs have identical maximums for males and females down the line.

Looking at the ability scores themselves that are affected, we see... strength. That's right, all of the five other ability scores have exactly the same maximums for males and females. Dwarven and half-elven women have a maximum strength of 17. Elves 16. Gnomes 15. Halflings 14 (and male halflings can only have a 17 strength).

That's it. That's what all the hooplah over the last 30+ years on this subject has been about. Not that the rules imply that women are somehow inferior/weaker/whatever compared to men, but that the strongest female elf isn't quite as strong as the strongest man. And just how "quite as" is that? Well, the exact percentage depends on how you roll ability scores in the first place. But to take 3d6 (because it's easy), that means that there's a 0.46% chance that you'll have a character with an 18 strength. That's one person out of 200 with an 18 strength. We're talking the rarefied upper atmosphere, here. There's a 1.85% chance that it'll be 17, and 4.63% that it'll be 16. And just assuming that there's a 50-50 split among character genders (a more than generous split), that means there's a 0.23% chance that you will have to lower an 18 strength, a .83% chance you'll have to lower a 17 strength, and a 2.32% chance you'll have to lower a 16 strength. Get the picture? The odds that this will even ever come up are miniscule!

So I have no sympathy for those who say that gender-based ability limits are somehow unfair, or misogynistic, or whatever. First, they don't even apply to non-fighter humans. Second, they only apply to strength, (in which, in the real world, the strongest men really are stronger than the strongest women). Third, the odds of it actually applying are incredibly small. Fourth, IT'S ONLY A GAME, PEOPLE! Stop trying to turn it into some sort of Politically Correct statement of principals! Yeesh.