Diverse gaming groups

There is a body of research that reports that diverse management teams and diverse engineering design teams — ones that include members of a mixture of different genders, cultural backgrounds, social classes, training, and degrees of experience — produce better solutions to design and management problems than teams that are homogeneous. That shouldn’t be surprising; a wider range of experience, views, ideas, and knowledge means more experience, views, ideas, and knowledge.¹

Has it been your experience that diverse gaming groups make for better RPGs? Do they solve mysteries and other problem-based adventures better and more reliably? That aside, do they make for adventures that are more varied and fun? Do the effect an amusingly varied set of approaches to conflicts and scenes?

I don’t feel that I have had enough experience of diverse groups to say. I have a suspicion that, unless the GM is uncommonly mindful of the issue and applies a little skilful effort to it, ideas and views that differ from what the GM has in mind are not as well-rewarded in game worlds as they would be in real worlds. I am put in mind of a sad incident in one of my games in which a woman with a background in primary teaching had her character persist in an approach to interviewing an NPC who was in great distress and vehemently denying facts, where I felt sure that he would respond with mounting and eventually explosive fury. The player is doubtless better at handling people than I am, and had better ideas than mine. But her knowledge of people and skill at handling them did not pay off as perhaps it ought to have.

  • Are diverse groups more fun?
  • Do character-players find themselves more effectual when they possess a marked difference of gender, generation, culture, class, field of training and experience etc. from the rest of the group? Or less?
  • Do character-players find themselves more effectual when they possess a marked difference of gender, generation, culture, class, field of training and experience etc. from the GM? Or less?
  • What do the GMs do who make their games more amenable to players who have different ideas and approaches from theirs?

  1. Whether this lesson ought to be applied to legislatures, cabinets, councils, campuses, and faculty is controversial, and off-topic for this discussion board. I think we would do best to avoid that tangent.

I grew up roleplaying, specifically GMing, originally in “TMNT and Other Strangeness”, then “Robotech” (including Southern Cross and Invid Invasion), a few brief sojourns into non-Palladium games (Mage The Something, Shadowrun, and D&D 2nd Ed) before settling into a 6-year Rifts campaign that lasted from Grade 8 until OAC (effectively Grade 13).

Palladium still makes, in my opinion, among the best and most beautiful games with the worst rules. Anyway.

My RPG group was 4 guys until the last 3 years, when two women joined (one came once and dropped). I had a single session where a group of female gamers asked me to run a D&D game with them and I happily walked them through character creation… we all had a really good time, they laughed their butts off, but then decided they didn’t want to pursue more games (I secretly hope they decided they could run a D&D campaign on their own and didn’t need me their any more… at the time I would’ve been very hurt to learn that, but now? I’d be overjoyed if they did that).

That stated, all of the members of my group (over the years… 7 guys and 3 gals at different points in time) were white, middle-to-upper-middle income, and stra… oh, that’s not true. They were all straight at the time as far as I knew, but a few of them are no longer in hetero relationships at this point. Huh, never thought about that. Anyway.

ALL this to say: I don’t know. The inclusion of women in the group was definitely a positive, but only because it was good for me/us to be more inclusive and both the guys and the gals seemed to have a lot of fun… enough fun that they stuck with it even after I went off to university, for some of them. I know that almost all my old RPG books went to one of my old buddies to keep running games with about 3 years after I ran my last RPG session.

I suspect that adding women to the group helped in that it is always better to be inclusive than exclusive, and I’m certain that a lot of the fun we had involved approaching problems and combat (ugh, Palladium combat…) in very different ways, but nothing I could specifically put my finger on and say “This! This was different because of Kate!”

Oh, there was a short while when (gods this is so embarrassing) I was attracted to one of the women in the group, and I gave her PC a sentient sword that gained powers (and changed colours) by drinking blood (stolen completely from one of the “Forgotten Realms” books I had read around that time… something about a god-slayer). And I used the sword to try and ‘tempt’ the PC into being more evil, as a way to subtly suggest I was interested in her (hey, I was 16). I even had one part of a session where I got one of the other PCs to play “Music of the Night” on a little piano as part of the sword’s temptation.

We did end up dating for a few months. Which I assure you had absolutely nothing to do with the sword.

So, crippling idiocy aside, yes, I think it was definitely a good thing for the group, although I wouldn’t be able to specifically say why, other than we all had a tonne of fun.


I’m going to have to address several different aspects of “diversity” here. But I’m going to start out with including women, because that’s my predominant experience here: In San Diego, my gaming circle came to include roughly as many women as men, I hardly ever ran a campaign without a woman player (though I think I ran a Discworld campaign without a man player—let’s see, A, C, L, S, and S were all women, though not all their characters were), and it wasn’t uncommon for a campaign to be majority women. In Riverside the gamers I encountered were almost all male, but a woman joined my last and longest campaign.

There’s a natural assumption that men will be more focused on action and combat, and women on characterization and social relations. That’s not necessarily true; I had one persistent subgroup that regularly went for action campaigns (all of them were in DC Realtime, which was supers; Hong Kong Shadows, which was Awakened mages; Boca del Infierno, which was the Buffyverse; and Fixers, which was consulting criminals, among others), one of its members was a woman, and she was my biggest enthusiast for playing combat monsters. But by and large, my roleplaying-heavy campaigns attracted women and my action-heavy campaigns attracted men.

I haven’t personally seen a big issue with this, but I suspect that there may be a meaningful difference between campaigns with one woman and campaigns with two or more. The one woman can be singled out, whether as the GM’s girlfriend, or as a target for being hit upon, or to be excluded and mistreated (and at least one of my women players told me stories of this—I was probably lucky to have another woman player vouch for me). If there are two women, this is less likely, and conversely they have the option of allying to represent a non-boys’-club outlook that makes for a better atmosphere. Having a lot of women players surely encouraged the obnoxious male player I’ve mentioned being voted off the island! I can also say that without necessarily knowing what I was doing, I was encouraged to roleplay certain outlooks and points of view by playing to that audience. I would encourage a GM who has the option of bringing in two women players to do so! Going beyond “see, we’ve got a woman” to just having women as regular participants is a good step, and besides, it increases your player pool if you don’t treat women being in it as anything special—and you’re better off without any men who would react poorly.

(Back in the dim past, I got introduced to D&D by a group that included two to four women, so it took me a long time to realize that all-male groups were a commonplace.)

When you come right down to it, though, I think a decisive thing for me may be that I like character interaction, social situations, and that sort of thing, and women players often bring more of that into a campaign. One of my favorite campaigns ever was Manse, a kind of anime-esque fantasy set in an ancient castle ruled by sorcerer aristocrats in the midst of a wilderness, where each player had four characters: a senior aristocrat, a cadet aristocrat, a guard, and a servant. (I started out with each player making up their House, including its name, style of magic, ethnic appearance, kinship system, system of governance, and family tree, plus any House secrets, such as “We have an infant of unknown paternity born with fur” or “We don’t actually have an uncorrupted text for our part of the great protective ritual that secures the Manse against wild magic.”) Three out of four players there were women, and they were wonderful (and so was the fourth player, for that matter).

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I’ve never been in a regular group with non-white people.

It’s happened at conventions but RPGing in the UK has traditionally been pretty white and upper-middle-class; you need money for books, time to meet, space to meet, a decent facility with language, and at least back in the day a certain amount of social capital so that you didn’t have to care what normal people thought of you, each of which is somewhat correlated that way. It’s certainly changing now but there isn’t a lot of player churn among the groups I play with.

Even women have been fairly rare in the groups I’ve been in, usually zero or one, often the partner of one of the other players (though I’ve never met the “bored partner” stereotype, they’ve always been interested and involved in the games; and in one case the partner left the group and the woman stayed). I’ve never seen women being hit on or creeped on at the table, though I’m aware that I may simply not have noticed; as a group organiser I’ve always tried to ensure that people know they can talk to me if they’re not happy, but I’m sure that hasn’t always worked.

I’ve met one or two out gay gamers who mentioned it, but the subject has rarely come up; so there are probably plenty more I’ve met but didn’t know, even without any attempt to conceal it on their parts.

So most of my experience with diverse groups is in one-shots with pre-gens, that don’t cater for a lot of cultural input. That said, it’s always been positive: even in a one-shot, I’m trying to show off what I think is best about RPGs, and a big part of that is that players can come up with unexpected solutions to problems which the GM can then adjudicate.

I definitely haven’t noticed a male-female correlation with characterisation. Some women like to play the talky rather than the fighty type; others are happy to get up to their elbows in orc guts. Same with non-white players.


I haven’t a lot to say about ethnicity. I’ve had a black player, a Hispanic player, a South Asian player, and an East Asian player, but only one of each. I’ve encountered other East Asian players in campaigns I’ve played in or guest starred in; I think they’re fairly common in southern California.

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Yes, after permutation.

I’ve had two gay male players that I know of; one lesbian player; one bisexual player; and one transgender player. That was in San Diego, where my players were pretty up front about such things, whether because most of them had been with me for years and years, or because our local culture tolerated such revelations. I may have had a second transgender player in Riverside, but neither they nor anyone else made it explicit.

One of my women players appeared in a guest role in my transgender player’s first campaign with me, and, learning that he was transgender, promptly asked if he would go out with her. That wasn’t cool!

I think that was the only time there was ever an issue about any player being in any of these categories. One of my two gay players was much admired, but I think that was mainly because he’s one of the two best roleplayers I’ve ever had in any campaign (his being a professional voice actor probably provides helpful skills; he once ran a convention workshop on improv acting exercises for roleplayers, which is a really great idea).

Finally, the other dimension of diversity I would mention is ideological, philosophical, and religious—and this has worked in an odd way for me. I’m aware that a lot of gamers come from a military background and tend to lean conservative. (I myself am not conservative, nor do I have any military background.) However, my circle in San Diego were predominantly progressive, and the core members almost exclusively so; the ideological spectrum ranged from a couple of moderate Republicans (who are now never-Trumpers or outright Democrats) to liberal to bitterly intolerant liberal. This meant that there was a sort of “diversity” here, in that my players were sitting down with me, and I’m a fairly hard core libertarian. The only one who’s close to me ideologically is C (perhaps not surprising, as she and I are married!).

In general, this doesn’t come up during games, though occasionally after-game conversations veer into ideology. But more importantly, I don’t use my game worlds as vehicles for preaching any particular ideology. My goal isn’t to run a utopia (a “good” world) or dystopia (an “evil” world—not merely a bad one in a neutral, factual way, but one where harmful things are actively imposed out of moral conviction), but often to run a heterotopia (a different and interesting world). My point of view does suggest questions to ask about a world, and tools to use in answering them. But the explicit beliefs of characters in a world may be quite different from my own; they have to make sense in their own terms, and not as mouthpieces for GM sermons.

There’s less of an incompatibility on religious matters; I think my players have largely tended to agnostic or atheistic. I have had the odd pagan, including one woman who became a practicing shaman; in one campaign I had a devout evangelical (my one East Asian player, by the way); and I’ve had some players who would consider themselves spiritual. Now I was introduced to gaming by people most of whom were seriously Christian in one denomination or another, but that was long in the past. And we secularists haven’t been inclined to argue with the pagans, or vice versa.

(I should note that one of C’s and my closer friends, the woman who officiated at our wedding, is an evangelical literalist. But she’s not a gamer.)

Okay, but do diverse groups of players have advantages like those claimed for diverse management teams and diverse engineering design teams?

  • Are diverse groups more fun?
  • Do character-players find themselves more effectual when they possess a marked difference of gender, generation, culture, class, field of training and experience etc. from the rest of the group? Or less?
  • Do character-players find themselves more effectual when they possess a marked difference of gender, generation, culture, class, field of training and experience etc. from the GM? Or less?
  • What do the GMs who make their games more amenable to players who have different ideas and approaches from theirs do to accomplish that?

And if you don’t know, but dare to speculate, what seems plausible and worth investigating. Would experiments be ethical?

Likewise. I’m reading about British India at present, preparing for a campaign, and the common game narrative of “A small group of people arrive in a strange land, deal with the problems afflicting it and expect rich rewards” is kind of colonialist, really.

I’ve played in groups that had more, but that is exceptional. I specifically like having women players, because male players tend to behave in a more civilised manner when there are women in the group. Quite often, they’ll also spot aspects of the situation that men miss, which makes the party more effective and the game more interesting.

This is not the case in the UK. There are some with military backgrounds, but they’re rare.


Well, the US has about twice as many active military personnel per capita as the UK, so even if terms of service are identical that would suggest ex-military people would be rather more common in the population. (And I think it’s quite usual in the US to do a single term and then get out, whereas most (former) military people I’ve known in the UK made a decade or two’s career out of it, meaning the US probably has more people per capita who’ve been in even than that ratio would indicate.)

Whether US military people are also more inclined to RPGs than British would be another matter.

I know that, largely as a result of my nearly 40 years of RPGing, I’ve learned quite a bit about some quite obscure things. But if my character doesn’t know them, I try not to use them in play. (I have been known to say “can (character X with the relevant skills) have an Idea roll to see if they think of this thing that (player of X) doesn’t know but I do”.)

I once asked the owner of the old Cambridge games shop why he stocked lots of Palladium books, never having met anyone who’d played it. He said they sold well to people from the USAF based in East Anglia, of whom there were a lot in the late 1980s.

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I suspect that there may be more to it than diverse groups containing a greater knowledge of obscure details, though I suppose they do. People of different genders, cultures, generations, religions, professions, and so on may see into each other’s blind spots, span a more complete understanding of the big picture, perform different analyses of the fundamental situation or problem, and think outside each other’s squares.

Hmmm. Thinking about this, on one hand, I find it perplexing, and I might even say alien, to think of player characters as being “effectual.” I mean, for example, when I ran a one-shot game of Hellcats and Hockeysticks, an RPG set at an analog of St Trinians, it wasn’t really clear that the players were trying to accomplish anything. But they seemed to be having fun! And the flavor wasn’t all that different from campaigns with a mission statement; perhaps a bit more wild and crazy . . .

On the other hand, it seems to me sometimes that having a life history of dialogue with people who don’t share my worldview or my ethical outlook has been a valuable education for me. It may even have made me a better GM. But I don’t know how much benefit my players are getting from their adherence to things that I find weird and alien.

I didn’t ask about the player-characters. I asked about the character-players.

Okay, but then what do you think the character-players are trying to accomplish? I don’t think of RPGs as having victory conditions.

I suppose that it varies. But for myself, I find that if nothing I do can have any effect on the course of the game, or that no effort of mine can produce any effect that I want, I get frustrated and bored and do not enjoy the game.

Back in 1982 I played in a scratch AD&D game in which the DM handed out pre-generated characters of about 10th level and tried to run us through what I later came to know of as the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. One of my characters was an 11th-level cleric, which list of prepared spells included by Wall of Flames and Insect Plague. part-way into the adventure I announced that I was going to use the Wall of Flames to create a protective ring of fire around the party (as the spell description said was possible) and then cast Insect Plague to produce a swarm of insects outside the wall of flames, to last 11 turns doing 10 hp/turn to everything in the volume of effect. The DM told me that if I did that the insects would all be killed crossing the wall of flame from me to the point of effect. I said “Okay, I’ll cast Insect Plague first and then Wall of Flame”. The DM said that in that case there would be insects inside the ring of fire that would do 110 hp each to every member of the party. So I said “The spell description for Insect Plague says that it can be used in conjunction with Wall of Flames to protect a party in the midst of the volume of effect in this way. My character doubtless knows how to do it, and whatever the correct method is I will do that.” So the party all took a rest for 11 turns while everything within 110" but outside out ring of fire took 110 hit points. And immediately the ring of flames went down we were swarmed by 4-hit-dice monsters. I felt that nothing I could do was going to have any effect, so I handed my characters over to @AndrewK and went off to get some work done in the terminal lab.

I imagine that some players might have a similar experience when the things that they try don’t work because of a lack of shared understanding with the GM about what sorts of things happen.

Because I am not male, I have no idea how all-male gaming groups might differ from the gaming groups I am part of.

I accidentally ended up running a campaign for an all-female group once. (That is the participant gender mix was accidental because GMs pitched games and players selected what they wanted, not that the campaign was accidental). It didn’t play out any differently than games of mixed genders.

The only thing I can think of is that I have never encountered an adult female player whose default character type was murder-hobo. But I know several men who rarely play anything else. And a bunch of children (both boys and girls) who just want to kill people and take their stuff.

My friend is a teacher who runs her school’s RPG club. She says there is a distinct age difference in play style - the younger kids are all murder-hobos. The 17 year olds are more nuanced and want to talk to NPCs and solve mysteries, not just kill everyone they meet.

It’s usually only at conventions that I play with players from a BAME background. Back when I worked at the university and went to their Gamesoc we had one British Indian player and I played in a campaign with him. I didn’t notice any cultural perspective from him that made the game play differently, but it was a weird fantasy about pirates based on an anime, so would I have noticed?

Playing with gay or lesbian players I learned (a) not to assume their PC’s sexuality always reflected the player’s sexuality and (b) to be an ally when some dick is spouting off about “you can’t be a lesbian in D&D because it was banned in the real-world Medieval Period”.

I’ve run and played in campaigns with a trans friend before they were out. They said it was such a relief to them that I didn’t bat an eyelid when they wanted to play a woman and do all sorts of girly-girl things in character. (I still recall the shopping expedition for dresses, make-up… and a Barbie pink Uzi).


Some groups seem to have a strong tradition of not doing cross-gender play (I’d say “not allowing” but it’s not that formal) (I should probably also say “cross-apparent-gender” because a non-out transwoman is not likely to feel the same way about playing a female character that a man is). Some are fine with it. Some male players definitely shouldn’t play women because they fall inevitably into offensive stereotype; probably there are women who would do the same with male characters but I haven’t met them.