How not to market RPGs to women

I love prehistoric fiction. Everything from the tacky, pulpy movies like One Million Years BC to the anthropologically and archaeologically accurate novels, like Michael & Kathleen Gear’s First North Americans series. So I buy any ‘caveman’ RPG I come across. (Not that you come across many).

So I bought The Land of Ice & Stone (Mongoose) and have been reading through it. And am grinding my teeth every now and then, because it obviously thinks it is being all equal opportunities, but keeps slapping me down every time I might dare to have the expectation that playing a female character might be fun. Only manly men get to do anything of import in the Ice Age, don’t you know? :rage:

A typical example… here’s the text describing the Gathering skill.
"Although the typical image of Stone Age people is of a hunting band heroically bringing down a mammoth, the vast majority of food is gathered, not hunted."
Okay we’re off to a good start here. But wait for it…
"Most gatherers of the Land of Ice and Stone are women, children, old men and the crippled or infirm."
Whoa! WTF? You just blew it, big time!
"Skilled in the knowledge of plants and animals, they gather nuts, berries, small game, shellfish, and much, much more."
Sorry, but ‘skilled’ and ‘much, much more’ doesn’t make up for the fact you just said WOMEN ARE INCOMPETENT AND USELESS.

Gathering. It’s so easy that it can be done by… feeble people, such as… a 5 year old… a frail elderly person… a sick person… It’s so easy it can be done by incompetent people, such as clueless kids… pensioners with dementia… people suffering from life affecting brain injuries…

Their view of the Ice Age is the occasional ‘special snowflake’ woman who is the tribal healer or trader, but mostly women sit about in the cave having babies and wishing someone would hurry up and invent the house, so they could do some housework to alleviate their boredom.

Gah! Does no-one do any bloody research for these games? These people were nomadic and walking an average of 20km a day, not sitting about in caves. And they DO NOT start puberty at 10 to 13 “because of the meat rich diet”. It’s fat, not meat which controls onset of puberty. Puberty would be delayed and these people would actually have their adolescent infertility phase during actual adolescence (unlike modern kids). And they weren’t having 6 to 8 kids each! Grrr.


Well, I suppose at least RPG companies have mostly now got away from the cover design philosophy of “BREASTS (may also contain adventure)”.

There was GURPS Ice Age, back in the day; it has the problem now of having been published in 1989 (Mitochondrial Eve gets a sidebar as a shiny new idea), and I get the feeling research has moved on a bit since then. I’ve never done much with it, though.

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I’d like to plug Elizabeth Marshal Thomas’s Reindeer Moon and The Animal Wife at this point. Any other recommendations?

Yes, I love Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s books too.
Other recommendations:

  • Sue Harrison - the Mother Earth, Father Sky trilogy and the Storyteller Trilogy.

  • Linda Lay Shuler - She Who Remembers and sequels.

  • Joan Wolf - Daughter of the Red Deer, and others set in the same tribal history.

  • Charlotte Prentiss (who is actually 2 blokes, being marketed as ‘like Clan of the Cave Bear’) - Children of the Ice.

  • William Sarabande (who is actually a woman, being marketed as ‘like Dances With Wolves’) - has a long rambling saga of the colonisation of the Americas by prehistoric native Americans, starting with Beyond the Sea of Ice. Some I really enjoyed, others were just okay.

  • And if you are going to try Michael Gear & Kathleen O’Neal Gear’s books, do NOT start with the first they wrote (People of the Wolf). That’s fairly plodding and cliched. Pick one of the later ones - much better politics, characterisation, etc. Most of their ‘People of’ books are stand alone, so it won’t matter which one you pick.

  • If you want a scholarly analysis of prehistoric fiction, there’s The Fire in the Stone by Nicholas Ruddick.

  • If you want a scholarly analysis of how storytelling/narratives are an inadvertent part of how archaeologists and anthropologists construct theories of human evolution, then read Explaining Human Origins: Myth, Imagination & Conjecture by Wiktor Stoczkowski (translated by Mary Turton).

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I’ve got GURPS Ice Age. I love it for the Donna Barr art, where any breasts on view are of the flabby, careworn, belong-to-a-real-woman sort, rather than supermodels with push-up bras. I also love her comedy illustrations, like the one of the guy who is trying to get some sleep while the shaman is dancing and chanting. There is not a single sexualised image of man or woman in the whole book. Even the courting couple look like the Neanderthal version of giggly teenagers, rather than soft porn.

Wurm (French ice age RPG) was doing pretty well with its illustrations (though lots more blokes than women depicted) until I reached the ‘Mammoth Spirit creates humans’ painting. The Mammoth Spirit is a perv who makes nude women with enormous boobs. No men, nude or otherwise, in sight. One of the newly created women is fondling her own breast!

I ran a few GURPS Ice Age games back in the day. My players were happy to throw spears at wolves and scimitar-toothed cats, but weren’t really interested in tribal politics or the spirit world.