How to Write and Create Strong Female Characters in Role Playing Games

I've been playing RPGs and video games for many years now. In those years, I have had many conversations with female nerds about their experiences in the community. From cosplay to character creation, I've heard a lot. Sometimes, being a woman in the nerd community can get weird - so this blog post is all about how to create strong female characters in your art, RPGs, and writing.

So why does this matter?

For some context on why I think this topic is important, here are some of the weird experiences I have had in and around the nerd community:
  • I was asked out by the employee of a board game cafe the first time I went - he slipped a typed note into my bag and as I was leaving told me to "check my bag."
  • I had someone ask me out after saying the following, "My friends want to buy me a prostitute, but I actually just want a girlfriend." Again, first time there.
  • Sexism, sexual advances, and dialogue that makes me uncomfortable has happened a lot when I come to new tables, with new players. Playing a female character in RPGs sometimes means that other players respond poorly to me and my character in their own character choices. It always makes the game uncomfortable and I have never returned to a game with people who play in these ways. If you want to read more about similar experiences, check out RPG Horror Stories on reddit.
Creating welcoming community spaces, especially in games that are supposed to be fun, is so important! I've had too many conversations with women who don't want to try to find a new group to play with because the game itself has been tainted by the interactions they had at the table. This is sad! I have learned a lot about myself and I've built amazing relationships with people through RPGs and tabletop games. I am so, so happy to have a consistent group of friends (all men, by the way) who I can play D&D with and ALWAYS be comfortable with the content. So, here are some things Lochlan (he is in italics) and I have learned along the way about how to create a fun environment for everyone!

Finding Inspiration for Bold Characters

It's hard to write about how I specifically create female NPCs because my goal is always to have an interesting person for the players to meet, focusing on the character rather than the gender or sexual orientation or race. As far as I'm concerned the things that matter are how the character acts and what their motivations are--that's how I write all of my NPCs.

I grew up reading about a lot of powerful women in all sorts of mythologies, so I tend to base a lot of my NPCs on them. There are a lot of weird and unfortunate tropes that mythological women can often find themselves in - most notably the "damsel in distress" archetype - but I think more often than not they are portrayed as very strong women, sometimes literally. Hippolyta beat Hercules in single combat. That's pretty rad. When I write NPCs, I like to follow a general guideline when writing them that I would like them to be someone interesting to meet in real life (notwithstanding the fact that sometimes they are elves or dwarves or orcs). That gives me enough of an end goal to be able to experiment and do fun things as I'm creating it.
Like I mentioned before, many of my female NPCs are inspired by mythological figures and concepts, especially Celtic folklore - there is something really free and liberated about the Irish goddesses and mythological figures. They straddle the line between benevolent and cruel in a very "fey" way, which makes them great mirrors for characters that have some moral depth to them. I also have the option to play them as eldritch and weird forces of nature with their own personal goals that fall by the wayside to anything the players might want or need from them.

I like writing women who don't take guff from anyone. That's another influence from mythology, but also one from a lot of the women I know in real life. Artemis once turned a man who saw her bathing into a bear and had her dogs tear him apart. Chela regularly challenges people to trial by combat, and is so far undefeated.
(It was only one time, but he won't duel me again - undefeated).

Tips For Creating Natural Character Diversity in Your World

  • As a player, if you want to find more diversity in the world - seek it out! One player I spoke to helped her DM with worldbuilding by seeking out specific NPCs. For example, her character would seek out the women in town instead of the barkeep. These encouraged the DM to create more diversity in his world and made the game more interesting as the party ended up seeking out more unique solutions for quests.
  • If you are leaning into a trope, try to make sure that your character has depth and flaws that will make the game more interesting. Sometimes a trope that is done really well can be very powerful.
  • Don't be afraid to try new things! As a DM or as a player, you can learn so much about yourself by playing new characters and experimenting with new ideas. At it's core, D&D is a game. Create the people you want to play and give everyone at the table the space to the same.
Here is a list of cool inspirational women from literature and mythology to look at!
  • Brigid, Flidais and the Morrigan of the Tuatha de Danann
  • Artemis, Antigone, and Athena from Greek mythology
  • Freya, Angrboda, and Hel of the Norse Pantheon
  • Bast, Iris, and Sekhmet from Egyptian mythology
Basically, the advice I have for creating interesting and powerful female NPCs and characters is "make someone interesting, who has a story to tell".

(Lochlan's Morrigan character is AMAZING)
A note from Max, one of my DMs over at the Sellsword Adventuring Company: "If you're a guy, creating a realistic and believable female character can be hard. I try and base the core of the character on someone I know (real life, sports, tv, etc). That way I have a genuine female base I can try and fill out best I can. The voice isn't important if you aren't comfortable with it, but a slightly higher, softer tone usually gets the point across. A female character shouldn't really be any different than a male character other than the obvious differences - no stat in D&D is more male or more female."

RPGs and Sensitive Content - The RPG Consent Form

You have a lot of of power in the way that you create and populate your world. Any character you create can impact the story and impact how the players enjoy your game. One very simple way to create a world that is comfortable to your players is to talk to them! If you are starting a new campaign, even with people you know, it's never a bad idea to find our what their comfort levels are with different types of content.

If you have strangers coming to your table, with little preparation beforehand, you can create a system that allows them to tell you when they are uncomfortable, without derailing the session. One method I have heard of is to have cards on the table that a player can hold up or tap and the DM will know to carry on the story as best as possible, without diving deeper into the content that is making the game hard for the player. The last thing you want is the content of your game to mean a player doesn't come back! Every player and group will have different ideas of acceptable content. You might find that your group is comfortable with anything and that means that you can lean in more to all of your plot lines, knowing that your players are enjoying everything! D&D can be intense - but it is supposed to be fun! We use a checklist for all of our new campaigns. Our checklist looks a little different than others out there because some game content are topics that our DMs wouldn't be comfortable including - so you won't find it on our list because it doesn't exist. If you like this idea, search RPG consent form and you will find lots of options. Here is our RPG consent checklist.

Diversity in World Building

When I think about world creating in a way that is inclusive, I think about Critical Role (surprise, surprise). Matthew Mercer does an excellent job at including a very diverse range of characters in his games. The things I love about the way he includes his characters is that he doesn't draw attention to the diversity because the diversity is so normal in his world that you aren't surprised to encounter any of his new characters. It isn't unexpected for his NPCs to be women or LGBTQ - that's good! Create a world that will allow anyone to come to your game and be able to play any character they want - be any person they want. Including diversity in your world allows for people to exist in a world that feels good.

We just played a Dark Matter 5e one shot, which Lochlan ran and created. The female lead in the game was a zany, hilarious character. It was only a one shot, but the character had enough uniqueness and added so much excitement to the story - we won't forget her!

Finding Inspiration for Unique Characters

When I'm creating a world, I refer to the long list of things that I keep on my phone that inspire me. Sometimes it's film, sometimes it's books, sometimes it's art--whatever it is, I take the core idea of whatever it is that I am inspired by at the moment and distill it down to it's core.

For example, right now I'm super into kung fu movies. I take the "Kung Fu" umbrella term from the films I've been watching and distill it down into what I like most: stunts; and different styles and techniques of martial art.

Taking those core concepts, I then build a system or a faction or a character concept around them. Once I have in my mind the way that the faction fits into society, then I go through and actually build proper NPCs to the roles that I have created. Basically I go through my list of new kung-fu-inspired factions and character titles and assign things like race, gender, etc. like I mentioned above when I wrote about characters specifically.

How to Draw Female Characters

My only advice for drawing female characters is to use as much reference as possible--I generally draw while referencing 2 or more photos--so that you are drawing from a real source. I average about 4-6 reference photos per drawing. There are also a lot of tutorials on Youtube and across the internet that are really good at pointing out how to draw women, different ethnicities, different ages--all you really have to do is google "how to draw _____" and there is a plethora of resources and people who will straight up tell you how to do it.

To reiterate my bit about writing specific characters, design your drawings with a story in mind--why do they have that specific prop/costume piece/animal friend? Things that get viewers asking questions (even when you already know the answers) are a good way of drawing them in, and then if you are using this art to supplement a game you are running you can feed out all this cool information and really connect the players to the character.

Need inspiration for realistic female armor?

I'm not the artist - it's all Lochlan, but I have to say: I adore his art. His female characters are stunning.

Sometimes female character art in video games and RPGs sucks. My cleric wants to have armor on her stomach. She doesn't want to be stabbed in the boob. The female body doesn't take less damage - it needs armor too! Thankfully, character art and design that makes sure female characters look badass and have actual* armor on totally exists! If you want to see more amazing female character art, check out the reasonable fantasy subreddit. It's full of female armor and clothing that actually makes sense. It's a great source of inspiration for creating characters too. Sometimes I see an armor piece in a style of character art and it helps me understand my next character before I have even sat down to create them. Check it out - it's a great subreddit.
That's all of our notes on creating strong female characters that look great - and like they would win in a fight. Have fun playing D&D! :)

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