Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am currently creating a dryad-themed fantasy setting and want it to feature a matriarchal society. My patriarchal-raised brain (needlessly) needs a reason for why this is so, and so I have created a world where male dryads only live ca 40 years, while female dryads have a lifespan equal to that of their hometrees (hundreds of years).

The question this has raised is: what (other) aspects of my setting this might change? Are males (and long lived females) more or less likely to become adventurers? Murderers? Will conflict need to be handled differently?

I realize the temptation here is to cite well-accepted gender stereotypes, and while not completely unwelcome, please consider that this is a dryad race who need not conform to our expectations.

share|improve this question
Take inspiration from bees, perhaps. The tree-dryads might have several "husbands", doting on them and keeping them in comfort, but ultimately they're short-lived and blur the line between partner and pet. –  SevenSidedDie Dec 25 '12 at 19:03
In Mass Effect, the Asari only have one gender. They can bond with other species to add genetic diversity to their offspring. I could imagine a world where Dryads reproduce similarly, but are able to bond with plants or animals as easily as people. This doesn't answer the question about your world, instead offering another. –  Joshua Shane Liberman Dec 26 '12 at 19:47
add comment

7 Answers

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Obvious note from a theoretical ecologist: if females have several times longer lifespans than males, and nothing else changes to compensate, that's going to significantly skew the sex ratio (several times more living females than males).

That suggests that (at least) one of the following options should hold:

  1. If the society is monogamous and the birth sex ratio is even, then most females will be unmated and childless. Husbands should be very highly prized (but ephemeral). Temptation for male infidelity is strong — it is either rampant or subject to a strong social taboo (or both!). (Alternatively, most females might be sterile, like worker bees.)

  2. Another possibility is that the society is polygynous, with each male having many females — basically a harem. Again, the short male lifespan implies that these groups are only temporary, and must either break up or be taken over by a new male when the previous one dies. (Probably not what you really want, since it's unlikely to produce a simple matriarchal society, although the social tensions created by such a system could be very interesting.) Or perhaps there's no stable "marriage" at all; if females do all the childrearing, males are free to sleep around as much as they like.

  3. Alternatively, the sex ratio at birth could be strongly male-biased, so that sons are several times as common as daughters. Daughters would typically be very highly prized by their parents. (Alternatively, the birth sex ratio may be equal, if something causes most female children to die before adulthood.)

  4. Finally, the females might be reproductive for only a very small fraction of their lives — either they have very late puberty, very early menopause, or both. So your society might be full of grandmothers, or (perhaps less likely) of centuries-old prepubescent girls.

Out of those choices, option 3 (biased birth sex ratio) seems perhaps the most likely to produce the kind of society you were envisioning. Of course, it does raise the question why such a bias would evolve, since, if male and female children both take about the same effort to raise, it should not be evolutionarily stable.

Perhaps there's something that makes raising a female dryad a lot harder than raising a male one — maybe the males mature much faster too. Or, since you mentioned female dryad lifespans being tied to those of their hometrees, perhaps bonding with a hometree is so difficult or risky that only a small fraction of females succeed in it (while the rest die or remain permanently infertile).

(Actually, come to think of it, there's at least one more option found in some insects: sperm storage. If the females can retain sperm after mating and use it to have children later, even after the male has died, that would eliminate the need for so many males. I'm not sure if you want to go quite that far, but it would pretty inevitably produce a female-dominated society.)

share|improve this answer
Actually, it could simply be harder to raise a daughter because you'd have to find a place to stick her tree. (Large) Centuries old trees need a lot of space (bonsais not so much...) - we're talking 30-40ft between trees for a forest with 100ft+ trees. So, finding enough open space, somewhere not too far from her own tree, able to be protected (perhaps by her brothers?) with abundant resources (now and in the future?) - That would be enough to make daughters precious, and difficult to raise. –  Clockwork-Muse Dec 26 '12 at 16:44
add comment

I have to reverse @Phill.Zitt’s opinion, personally. The males are young, brash, short-lived, less to lose.

I see the females as not needing to reproduce on a regular basis. I could see the males having situations where most of the females he knows aren’t interested in anything “right now” for the entirety of his life. As a result, most males face an extreme shortage of potential mates, and therefore competition for them is intense.

Hence, adventuring. Young and not a lot to lose, and desperate to impress.

I’m actually imagining a sort of bee hive: the drones don’t do anything but fly relatively fast/well, and their only job is to fly faster/better than the other drones so they can catch the queen during the mating season. The worker bees (all female, but sterile) do the work, and the queen (female, obviously, and the only viable one) lays the eggs.

I doubt these dryads have the worker/queen distinction (I assume they’re all generally viable and all generally work), but the drone/worker distinction seems likely. I suspect that for the most part, males leave home to try to get something to impress the ladies, so that the overwhelming majority of adults actually living in the town are female. Some males may stay out of laziness/cowardice/belief that they’re more likely to succeed with a woman by staying, but for the most part the only men in town are those who have already succeeded.

And that means that the women, when interested in men, are basically taking “trophy husbands” – he may not last all that long, and he’s not really good for anything in town, but he did go and kill that horrible beasty that one time, and he is in phenomenal shape... It’s hard to imagine that the majority of these relationships are particularly deep on an emotional level (but that could easily be my human mind talking).

The women, of course, might decide to go adventuring; they’re certainly capable of it. But for them, adventuring is a choice, which they may or may not make the same as any other race. Plenty of women are interested in seeing the world, especially when young, etc. It’s the men who are largely compelled by biology to do it, though. The women have other options, positions of respect, prestige, or authority that are available to them.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I have created a world where male dryads only live ca 40 years, while female dryads have a lifespan equal to that of their hometrees (hundreds of years).

From a cultural/society standpoint having such a disparity in lifespan causes problems.

what (other) aspects of my setting this might change? Are males (and long lived females) more or less likely to become adventurers? Murderers? Will conflict need to be handled differently?

I like to think about other cultures when I build a world and making them believable is part of the fun for me. With one simple change you have opened a door that makes this culture fundamentally different from any existing human culture. For that reason we can't pull a great deal from existing cultures and have to really imagine what this small change means for your dryad society.

As I see it, the attitude toward reproduction will change. Pair bonding will change. The treatment of males will differ from the treatment of females. The social opportunities will change based on gender. This is huge!

Assuming the dryads are as social as humans, there will need to be some form of pair bonding. A bonding of like minds beyond the bounds of genetics (family). For someone that will live three or more centuries it just does not make sense to make that life bond with one that lives at most 40 years. For this reason, the bonding will be more likely between females. It need not be of a sexual nature as reproduction is not a factor. It could just as easily be based in the intellectual or social spheres. In fact, it may not be just between two dryads. It would be possible for small bonded groups to arise in this way.

The attitude toward reproduction will differ from humans. If reproduction is only done to increase the population then things get a bit easier on some fronts. However if reproduction has any recreational value there will be increased social friction. Why? Well, if your birthrate for gender remains at about 50/50 your female population will be way out of balance due to the extremely long lifespan in comparison to males. I can easily see 80% female and 20% male just based on the lifespan. Should the act of reproducing have recreational value, this "shortage" of males will cause all manner of social problems. I would foresee low born males be pushed in to a brutal, sleazy underworld of sex for money and abuse. Females may fight for the "right" to claim a mate. Males would be unilaterally treated as nothing more than breeding stock. They would not be educated or allowed to have a life beyond that function. They may even be shared by groups of females. Maybe the pair bonding of the females would be the basis of this.

I should note that if sexual acts have an aspect of pleasure for dryads then there may be an increase of homosexuality. And in a society that does not frown upon same sex pair bonding that will help alleviate some of the sexual tension. But in this case with such a gender gap (at least 80/20) it may not be enough. Again, it depends on the dryads and I am basing a great deal about them on humans.

So, females have all the opportunity and get to do whatever they want. They would be adventurers. They would be educated. They would be the driving force of the culture. Males would be at best, house pets. At worse, slaves.

These are just a few ideas and I'm going to pause here. This is what I came up with by taking twenty or so minutes to think about it but even more possibilities are out there. Your idea will change so much about this culture and you could spend days thinking and writing about it. I encourage you to do so!

share|improve this answer
add comment

If you're going to explore social and societal constructs in play, ask your players what they think it means and use that as a basis. If the players don't engage the issue, then the specifics don't matter at all.

One game that explores player-driven social issues is shock: social science fiction. As the title suggests, it's not a fantasy game, but "matriarchy" and "sex-based lifespan disparity" are excellent shocks to work with.

share|improve this answer
add comment

How it works out depends on many of the other factors that go along with it, as other answers have mentioned.

Risk and adventuring

But one crucial area is how they would view risk and property. Females would likely be much more risk averse because they have much more on the line. And they will get even more risk adverse with age. Males have comparatively less to risk.

In addition to having less at stake (fewer potential years to lose) they also have a greater time pressure. A female could take a decade to compose a poem and think little of it, if a male is to make his mark, he must do it while young.

So, barring some other factor to change it, I would expect that nearly all adventuring in the traditional fantasy sense would be done either by males or young females. Without some strong impetus, I would expect extremely few older females to adventure.

On the other hand, the females would probably hold most of the property. Simple compound interest works heavily in their favor. They'll also just be around longer to accumulate more. Even if somehow the bulk of the income were earned by males as a group, it would wind up in the hands of the females over time.


Which brings us to inheritance. The system of inheritance they use will matter a lot. If wives inherit from husbands, especially if they inherit substantially all of the husbands property then that handing over of the money to the female side will happen fast. On the other hand, if the system is more akin to primogentra (where the first born son gains virtually everything the father had). Over time, I still suspect most of the money would wind up with the females for several reasons, but it means that at least the first born sons would be a bit less eager to rush off adventuring.


And finally you wouldn't expect a lot of males in professions that demand decades to master. Conversely, while a female might do well in a simpler profession, it would be a poor decision on her part to go into one. So, in traditional fantasy terms, you would expect most wizards, clerics, and skilled craftsman to be females. You would expect most fighters, rogues, and laborers to be male.

The other factors matters.

Of course while I think that is what is most likely to happen, that can all be drowned out by the other cultural and physical patterns. Its not at all hard to imagine a culture of dryads with the females living much longer where that very reason reinforces a patriarchy.

Imagine the males, driven by the need to make their mark now, do exactly that. They go adventuring, and in absence of external threats, they go to war with each other for power, wealth, glory, and to prove they can. They get their power and walth, or at least the successful ones do. They seize power by force and begin to view the females as property. Long lived property to be considered accross generations, but then the same is true of land now, and a female in this society is bound to a tree and thus bound to the land.

When a powerful man dies, his son will claim all that belonged to his father as birthright, including his own mother. (Unless of course he is defeated by another male that takes it all by force) Now of course a long lived widow like that can't just be declared a widowed mother to be doted on. But she can certainly be traded for some other man's mother and passed around through the generations.

With centuries more experience then the men, it might seem like the females could easily amass the power and wealth over the years to overthrow the men. But their very longevity makes them too conservative. Instead, they don't do anything that could put them at risk, including angering a violent, hot tempered male. So instead, trapped by the desire to continue their long lives and protect their long lived daughters, they meekly submit to an ever changing roster of aggressive males.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Males would probably be much less inclined to become adventurers, due to their extremely short lifespan. They would tend to be shortsighted, abrupt and consistently in haste to complete their tasks, as well.

Females would have a lot of options open to them, especially becoming adventurers. They would tend to think in the long term, possibly planning years and years for one event, should they have the foresight to know of it. Their actions would be slow, methodical, and as they age their willpower and mental fortitude would be considerable. Most if not all would end up being a spellcaster of some sort.

To put another twist on the setting, you may do the one of the Star Trek matriarchal systems:

The women 'own' the property, and her men vie for her attentions and affections. When a female is married, she extends the right of rule to her mate over her property, but the property itself remains with the female, unless she dies ( in which case it is passed on to the male ). The actual arrangement of male-to-female in the relationship could be open for adjustment ( many-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many ). Ligonian

Another is to simply reverse the physical stereotypes of the race - the women are larger and stronger with more force of will than the men, and so they rule the race instead of males. Then, if other races come along, where the gender roles are more 'traditional', they would be utterly fascinated with the reversal ( as would your party, I would hope ).

share|improve this answer
A good answer. You should also consider the reverse of the first paragraph: Males are frequently adventurers (as they're both young and risking comparatively little), whereas the females are more risk-averse - they've got centuries of lifespan to protect and reasons to take the long view. –  Tynam Dec 25 '12 at 18:22
add comment

In this fantasy I see the population demographics and matriarchal bias to mimic human effects to painful levels of parallel. The age demographics are all caused by death of one cause or another while the offspring are balanced as in life 50/50. The chief causes depend on each primary tree species, each with male-related DNA ego differences from Narcissism to Pathological liars to Sociopathic delusions of grandeur resulting in assassination.

The regional differences could account for differences in Matriarchal upbringing. Varying from over-bearing Mother trees who do everything for love of their offspring to spare them the pain of their own childhood from the hardships of nursing the dying from wars or being raised from elder inexperienced parents who told them to do all the chores. It inadavertently results in the early demise of male drayds who were never taught how to feed themselves or protect themselves from a harsh environment.

Other attrition of male species due to wars and the genetic dominance of subscription to war on the front line is biased towards Black Walnut and Blue Collar trees or terminal cancer from smoking to cope with the devastations of war. The White collar tree-surgeon Males tend to die early from libacious consumption of poisoned wood alcohols in remote MASH units while operating on the injured Black Walnuts who later die from Phantom Limb pain induced narcotic deaths after amputation

Then there is the tree-genetic bias towards bipolar self-destructive accidents during moments of rage or PTSD accidents with memories of wars while trying to fertilize as many young female tryads as they can because their partners ran off with another tree while during or returning after war, males filled with anger and strange reactions to normal situations.

Or drought-induced deaths and inability to cope with water shortages because Mom was always the care-giver but is too old and deeply rooted to be mobile enough to help in their son's time of need and the female hormone competition to be fertilized triggers epidemic imbalances of death due to natural causes to males.

Or infections diseases from carcinogenic penile implants for those weeping willow trees that felt the need for more weight in their strokes.

Some male trees get ostracized from the rest of the younger family due to a matriarchal sister that quietly bad-mouthed her brother's attempt to upgrade and sell the Matriarchal home with good intentions to raise the shared wealth of resale by removing the rotten mouldy wood in the basement and applying granite and fine wood trim to the kitchen which resulted in expected profits on resale but ultimately the death of the male from emotional losses in the ensuing battle of power struggle.

Some Male trees die earlier due to lack of stable partners and the growing age differences so female trees turn to Lesbian solutions of love making and female dominance and end up becoming better hunter gathers than the younger male species who die from starvation.

The symbiotic yet competitive spirit in nature for adaptation to conditions to survive triggers suicide at any male age .. from opiate based self-termination or over-indulgence or Depression from isolation caused by Matriarchal sibling rivalry with passive aggression. etc etc

  1. The fertile young female dryads seduce the older (30'ish) male Maple limbs to swing their lumbers where they don't belong in a monogamous relationship. The resulting action triggers instant divorce or death by isolation or some passive aggression protecting their oasis from the males even those left in the forest or by the sea.

  2. Flirtatious nymphs sometimes wrapped roots so tight in the heat of the moment that it made a boa constrictor look like a limp ju-jube and another incident gets counted.

  3. Another species of female drayds suck the sap out of him in the heat of the night to near the point of extinction because their hormones are so driven to enjoy the sweet sap that they forget it's not a milkshake.

  4. The game may start with an even distribution of ages up to 40 but for many different reason unique to strengths and weakness of each species of trees, there is an obvious bias towards female longevity and Males burn out or self destruct at age 40. Males tyrying to counter-act Mother Nature either learn too late or accidentally try a fatal would-be solution to save themselves of certain death trying riske methods to thwarte systemic decay.

e.g. Black Walnuts known to be late bloomers learn to bear fruit early when fed with loud rap music while micro-nutrients are sprayed and actually boosts the fertility rate of young Black Walnut trees. Except the micro-nutrients get approved with GMO's and the long term fatal effects don't get detected for 3 decades resulting continual trial N error of micro-nutrients much to the demise of the male species since it is biased towards certain chromosomes.

What a Reality based dryad fantasy game? sounds like a winner.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.