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I want to introduce a variant rule that allows for stat adjustments for men and women, but I would like something more in-depth than just a bonus and penalty to stats. Are there any existing variants or guidelines on how to implement this?

My reasoning is that most heroic adventures were written with men in mind—even if not specifically addressed—and that women aren't always as strong as some men but may be smarter or more "in tune", for lack of a better term.

Any help would be great as I would like to avoid re-inventing the wheel.

(This is for 3.5 but other sources that offer guidance would be good too if there are no 3.5 specific ones.)

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I would be careful about introducing this; there are classes for which wisdom is considerably more useful than strength, and being able to grab +2wis/-2str on top of an already good set of racial mods makes those classes considerably more attractive. Likewise, it penalizes players that want to play a strength-dependent female character, like some of the more realistic (i.e. not blatantly a pin-up) Red Sonja depictions (example: libertymeadows.com/covers/RedSonja1s.jpg). –  Oblivious Sage Feb 7 '13 at 0:36
@Gamer_Chick: Having mechanically different genders 1) reinforces gender stereotypes and 2) impacts the balance of the game by making some options better and others worse. Those are the cons to doing it; the pros would (presumably) be helping you convey the setting, making things more "realistic" (to the extent that that applies to gender differences), or both. Only you can decide whether the pros outweigh the cons. Unless you roll stats and assign them in the order they were rolled, players can always just assign their female character lowers strength if they think that's important. –  Oblivious Sage Feb 7 '13 at 0:56
This whole digression has been nuked as "not constructive" by the mods now. I suggest either taking discussion to chat, or folding information as to why this is potentially a terrible and/or sexist idea into an answer that follows our site guidance on how to challenge the frame of a question. –  mxyzplk Sep 11 at 17:58

5 Answers 5

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Stat jumps are really important to the game, and can easily and accidentally introduce imbalances to the system. In light of that, I suggest one of these pre-existing mechanics:

Traits (UA 86) and Flaws (UA 91)

Unearthed Arcana introduced these mechanics. Traits give a small mechanical bonus while also imposing a complementary penalty (Near-Sighted gives a bonus to Search but a penalty to Spot). Flaws give larger penalties, but grant an extra bonus feat as compensation. There are small sidebars about how to make your own traits and flaws.

These mechanics are designed to be reasonably balanced already, and can mimic individual variations of body and mind that might reflect your ideas. They do not give actual stat bonuses and penalties, however.

Point Buy (DMG 169)

If you want a actual ability score differential between genders, use point buy to simulate it manually within an existing balanced system.

Ultimately there's no way to generalize this without being offensive and unrealistic

Gender dimorphism is insignificant to player characters. In humans and most fantasy humanoids dimorphism is minor and individual variation makes any given person likely to defy it in some way; adventurers get an even bigger pass on population-based statistics due to their exceptionalism.

For this reason, I suggest that it's actually more interesting and realistic to use one of the above options to customize an adventurer to fit her own personal physical and mental traits rather than forcing her to conform to gender stereotypes in a way that will also imbalance the game mechanically.

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+1 for mentioning traits and flaws. You might also check out the Pathfinder traits if you want to go that route; they're more powerful, but there's a lot more of them: d20pfsrd.com/traits –  DuckTapeAl Feb 7 '13 at 1:07
I'm familiar with the traits/flaws, they've always been optional for us, but I think the best way to handle it without negatively impacting mechanics is to make them take atleast one and then let them choose a skill bonus that makes sense to their gender that way there's no direct penalty and a (somewhat) minor buff for their customization. –  Gamer_Chick Feb 7 '13 at 3:29

Short answer: You already have exactly what you're looking for! Players are free to explain their stat allocation via fluff, which has no effect on gameplay and will likely lead to much fewer hurt feelings and a more diverse cast of characters!

Let's operate under the assumption that as a rule, women are better at some things and men are better at other things (I'm personally against gender-typing, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion, so I'll leave it at that). In AD&D and OD&D, player characters were generally meant to be fairly typical members of their races, until they got a few levels under their belts. This is displayed by the extremely harsh stat generation systems utilized in those games (roll 3d6, straight down the line, to determine your stats). In those environments, one could conceivably make stat edits (let's say, +1 dex, -1 str) for female characters, or whatever you want.

However, in D&D 3.5, perspectives changed rather grossly. Adventurers are not quite the pinnacles of their race that one finds in 4.0, but PCs in 3.5 are exceptionally good at what they do. They get much better stats, along with feats, skills, traits, flaws, etc. All tools to help customize your character to be the one you want to play, doing the things you want to do. So you can pretty much create whatever type of character you want, male or female.

The thing is, applying bonuses/penalties to the genders restricts players in the long term, which, in a game where customization is as important as it is in 3.5, is a Very Bad Thing. In short, giving even small bonuses/penalties to a gender effectively changes that part of character creation from a fluff/roleplaying element toward the 'minmaxing' character creation element. In the +dex, -str example above, female characters would make for better wizards, rogues, etc, but worse fighters, barbarians, and the like, which isn't really fair to people who want to play a strong female or dexterous male, as they would never be able to be quite as quick/strong as a similarly-statted member of the opposite sex of their race. Any advantage to such stat allocation would invariably be noted in playtesting, which would lead to more powerful monsters/traps/what have you. So ultimately you aren't really giving people an advantage, you're just putting those who want to play an unusual class/sex combo at a disadvantage.

This doesn't really make sense from a roleplaying perspective, either. If the PCs are supposed to be exemplary at what they do, why should something as trivial as gender decide their core skillset? Naturally, if your players feel like their female character should be more [insert stat X]-ey and less [insert stat Y]-ey, then they are free to express such opinions through their stat allocation. If a player says "My character has a sharp women's intuition" as an explanation for her high Wisdom, great for them! But leave them free to make up other explanations, which are, in my opinion, usually a lot more engaging than the binary choice of "man strong, woman fast".

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I think enforcing gender differences in a mechanical way is a recipe for disaster and hurt feelings, and I also think that @BESW’s answer probably indicates the best way to do it if you insist.

I’m just going to note here that there are a (very small) handful of cases where sex matters in 3.5. In most cases, these favor women, as it turns out. Forgotten Realms really likes its women (almost all of these are from FR).


This is the big one: by default (i.e. in Greyhawk; also holds in Forgotten Realms), Drow society is very sharply divided along gender lines, and the women dominate the men almost utterly. Drow women are far more likely to have authority, far more likely to have great wealth, and far more likely to have education and magical power than men.

All of this stems from the Drow goddess, Lolth, who favors women basically exclusively (Drow men are forbidden from being Clerics of Lolth) and also encourages extreme amounts of infighting in the race, which causes the women to use that favoritism to their extreme advantage.

This is represented mechanically by the Favored Class of the Drow, which is Cleric for females and Wizard for males. As far as I know, this is literally the only racial statblock in3.5 that references any kind of gender differences.

In reality, Drow make pretty poor choices for either class (or much of anything else, if we’re being honest), thanks to that LA +2. The +2 Intelligence helps Drow Wizards more than the +2 Charisma helps Drow Clerics, though. It pales in comparison to the social benefits of being a woman in Drow society, however. How significant this is in your game varies massively, however, as should be obvious.

Beloved of Valarian

Basically going with the “unicorns only appear to female virgins” thing, this prestige class from Book of Exalted Deeds is kind of like a weird hybrid Druid/Paladin in ten levels. Valarian, by the way, is a unicorn deity, and his beloved have “foresworn the love of mortals to dedicate themselves entirely to the unicorn deity Valarian, thus fostering a close bond with unicorns.” Your mileage may vary on exactly how squicky that is.

Hathran and Durthan

Forgotten Realms prestige classes from Player’s Guide to Faerûn and Unapproachable East, respectively. The Hathran are a sisterhood of spellcasters from Rasheman; the Durthan are Rasheman witches somehow related to the Hathran in ways I do not understand.

The Hathran are quite powerful, with full spellcasting, Leadership and bonuses to it, and Rashemi spirit magic. Rashemi spirit magic is basically insane, it allows a prepared spellcaster to spontaneously convert a prepared spell into any other spell they know, provided they are within Rasheman. At higher levels, they even get the ability to use it a few times per day outside Rasheman. Hathrans are also required for Rashemi Circle Magic, which is powerful, and high-level ones can lead a Great Circle, which is even more so.

The Durthan requires both arcane and divine spellcasting, but only advances one, so that’s pretty weak unless you trick your way past it (Magical Training plus Alternate Source Spell is a common trick). Still, she gets Place Magic, which is roughly identical to Rashemi Spirit Magic, though I don’t see any explicit restriction to having to be within Rasheman, which is absurd if that’s the case. The rest of the class features are much weaker than the Hathran’s, though.


As the name might indicate, within the Forgotten Realms setting, these spellcasters are almost only women. The prestige class does not actually require that the character be female, though. The only reason I bring it up is because Incantatrix is easily in the top-5 most-powerful classes in the game.

Scourge Maiden

Weird 3.0 prestige class from Shining South, the Scourge Maiden is basically a champion of Loviatar, the Forgotten Realms’ goddess of pain. 3/6 spellcasting means it’s pretty awful. Gets the equivalent of Stunning Fist but for scourges, which upgrades to Nauseating and then Dazing, which is pretty solid (immunity to Daze is extremely rare, so it’s a great effect to inflict). Still, it’s only up to 6/day, so hardly amazing.


Another prestige class from Book of Exalted Deeds requires that you be female. You can turn into a Swan (à la Wild Shape), which isn’t exactly amazing, but hey, free flight. Also gets full BAB, good Fort, 9/10 spellcasting, a bunch of Spell-like Abilities (charm person, charm monster, speak with animals, and speak with plants), Wild Empathy plus bonuses to it, and type changes to Fey at 10th level, which comes with DR 10/cold iron. Not great, not awful, but it is female-only.

Eunuch Warlock

The only male-specific prestige class I can find, from Oriental Adventures. Entry requires being born male but losing your manhood, which is harsh by any definition. Some would probably argue that it’s worse than the Blood Magus in a world where death can be reversed...

Anyway, the class is awful: it doesn’t advance spellcasting, just gives bonus spells like the Dragon Disciple, but without the melee buffs that the Dragon Disciple gets. He does get to designate three spells as being permanently Empowered with no cost, and a two to become Maximized instead. Not even close to being worth the lost spellcasting, since someone who had just stayed single-classed would have had the spell slots to use those Metamagic Feats normally.

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I agree with most of what you said, & thanks for the list of examples the game has (even the Eunuch, that I almost listed to be funny but as the new person here I didn't know how well it would be received) But I also think a group of adult players should be able to play a fantasy game without having hurt feelings over gender stereotypes. –  Gamer_Chick Feb 7 '13 at 3:35

There is no official rule for mechanical differences in gender in D&D 3.5.

In fact, I'm not aware of any rule from any source that introduces such a rule, probably because it's so divisive.

In any case, using stat jumps is probably not the way to go, as BESW states. Another way to go that might be more appropriate is to use skills. This works especially well if you only use skill bonuses, and not penalties. Giving a +2 to a skill or two is not going to cause many balance issues, and are less likely to cause anger from your players.

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I like this and think I'll combine your answer with BESW's to get what I'm aiming for without penalizing them. –  Gamer_Chick Feb 7 '13 at 3:31

The first problem with making a difference like this is the likelyhood of perceived sexism. It doesn't sound like that's where you're coming from, and it sounds like you don't think your players would mind, but that is what some people are going to think with a question like that. I know that if I tried mechanical differentiation due to sex with the people at my table, there'd be a riot. I've tried to run vanilla Dogs in the Vineyard (a game with a fairly realistic fluff difference between male and female roles in the wild west) twice, and both times gave up at the player response. (Interestingly, they had absolutely no problem with me saying the sex roles were reversed, but that's a separate problem.) And from what I've seen, there is a really strong argument that while there would be slight stat differences between men and women (around where I live, the stereotype would be that men have higher Int and women have higher Wis) the bulk of the difference is cultural. But that gives me an idea.

Assume for the moment that this is true; that around 90% of the differences in Strength or Dexterity between men and women is cultural. That sounds like an excellent way to differentiate cultures in your world. See, the biggest example of sexual dimorphism I can think of that I've actually run with was a FATE Core character who had "The Manliest Man of Mt. Morrigan" as an aspect. This basically meant he could get a bonus to an action if it was something that a manly man from Mt. Morrigan would be good at- and so over the course of play, we got to find out what Mt. Morrigan's culture thought of as manly. (Turns out, that means mostly brute strength, protecting those weaker than yourself, and being absolutely terrified of spiders.)

At the beginning of the campaign, have a list of cultures. If you're running in Ebberon or the Forgotten Realms feel free to use the cultures from there, but I think this will work better in a relatively blank world. Maybe ask your players to come up with some names for them; nice evocative names. Then, go around and have each player* assign a +2/-2 stat mod based on sex to that culture. So, maybe in Waterdeep men are considered to be very dextrous but not very bright, whereas women are seen as cunning but clumsy. However the Arganian Empire's women are trained as warriors, so they are all strong but foolhardy in contrast to the men's penchant for enlightenment but physical frailty.

By making the difference cultural instead of biological, we take the sting out of accusations of sexism. By letting the players come up with the exact differences, we allow players more investment in the world, which is always good. By having a variety of differences, we allow for a greater variety of characters. This is going to change the math a bit, making those who focus all their points into one or two stats stronger, but I strongly doubt that an extra +1 modifier is going to break the system. This does reward players for playing up stereotypes from their background, which might be seen as a bad thing. Given that I've never really had any way to spot the difference between one PC from Cyre and another from Thrane, I see this as a good thing.

*If you prefer more control in the hands of the DM, feel free to decide the differences yourself. Just be sure to mix it up- not every culture should think men are wiser for example, though similarities might be an interesting way to show cultural relationships. (For example, England and America have pretty similar set of stereotypes, and there's a good historical reason for that.) I'd say that no culture should have a repeat of another culture's stat modifications.

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