My role playing groups have been, almost exclusively, male. What are some ideas/options for making the group and the experience more likely to attract, and retain, female players?
I think it boils down mainly to the winning two step formula of
- Invite females to play
- Don't be a dick to them when they do
Step one should be fairly self explanatory, but for some reason many people worrying about this topic skip it. Try it, it works. My roommate was talking to a manager lady at work about an unexpectedly shared interest in Babylon 5, and said "Hey, we roleplay, if you want to give it a try come over one Sunday," and, despite never having gamed before, she became the most avid member of the group for a five year long campaign. We didn't do anything else complicated to attract her, we just invited her and she decided it/we were fun and thus kept coming back. Many people, female or not, feel reticent about inviting themselves along to something, so reach out.
Step two should also be self explanatory but my experience says it's not, so I'll elaborate. Here's your rule of thumb. If you act towards a new female player in any way that, if they were a large muscular male player, you would reasonably expect them to beat your ass in the parking lot after the game as a result, then you are behaving inappropriately. This includes overt hostility like character rape, continued references to sexual characteristics of the player or player's character, being overly pushy with someone else's character, being domineering and condescending, telling jokes at their expense, continually interrupting them, etc. No really, it works. Are you saying the equivalent of "Hey man, does your character have a big dong? Huh huh huh! No, don't do that - he doesn't cast that, he attacks with his dagger instead! There you go, now you're getting it, little buddy!" Obviously you know you'd be formally requesting a beat down were you to act like that to a guy. Women tend to take that kind of thing more quietly just because they get it so much that it becomes sadly routine, but in their minds they are giving you a beat down too.
Everything else people generally say on this topic ends up being false as much as it is true. People will say "Oh don't just focus on combat, have loads of role-playing," or "don't have use games with all those rules and math and stuff," or "make sure things are clean," but there are women that are hack monsters and rules wonks and slobs too - making gender generalizations is unhelpful and you should tune your game to the individuals involved regardless of race, gender, age, etc. I have yet to see any game preference or irritating personal habit not shared by members of both genders.
Female gamer geek, checking in with 2 cents...
It's okay to treat women/girls like "one of the guys" -- as a matter of fact, it's preferable. Walking on eggshells around us is just as much unwanted attention as never taking your eyes off our breasts. Ignore people who suggest you have to communicate differently, be PC, etc. to get female players: the type of woman who cares about that sort of thing won't get into gaming long-term anyway.
Do actual role play. The never-ending dungeon crawl with no plot besides "kill stuff, move, kill more stuff" is a decidedly male attraction.
Have a clean play area, a clean bathroom, and clean air (and understand that the average female's idea of "clean" is way different than the average male's). Also, make sure you have a trash can with a liner in the restroom. We really don't want to have a conversation with you about feminine hygiene, we just want to do our thing and go on gaming.
Think about why you want more female gamers in your group: Are you trying to reform a couple of "those" geeks who are terrified of the opposite sex? Are you growing bored with a fairly homogeneous group? Are you looking for a girlfriend who won't complain about your gaming nights? Do you have an insecure female player that would feel more comfortable if she weren't the only girl/woman around?
The girlfriend thing won't work. So many guys try it that it just pisses us off.
For the other reasons, you will probably be better off trying to snag some existing gamer girls than trying to get uninterested ones to like gaming. Introducing someone new to gaming is awesome, but if your existing group is socially inept or just not used to having women around, it's a lot harder to do.
I don't think you should change anything about the game itself. You just need to invite female players and make sure they feel comfortable. If they show up and spend more time brushing off unwanted advances than rolling dice, they're not going to have fun and they're going to leave. Even if they think you're inviting them to the game just because they're female they may get creeped out.
It has been my experience, in many mixed groups over many years, that the one concrete step that has had the greatest usefulness in retaining women players is stifling the male geek urge to talk over people. (This is a common tendency both of men and of geeks in general, so male geeks tend to do it more often than most.) In many male-dominated groups, it's the loudest and the most aggressive players who get heard and whose suggestions get implemented. Put a halt to that — make sure that everyone gets to put their ideas forward, even if they don't necessarily seize the spotlight. Pay attention to how you, well, pay attention.
Before all this, note that what I'm going to say doesn't necessarily include the person who asked the question.
I'm going to borrow some stuff from "Howto encourage women in Linux", because I do think programming geeks and RPG geeks overlap (I am one).
I will add "don't change your campaign to "cater to women"". If you have no idea on what "feminine" means to the actual players, and how to represent it in-game, you'll fail. If people don't like the idea of impersonating magical beings that fight monsters, it's probably not due to gender. Point them to something else. Just two days ago, I was explaining what DnD was to a friend. She said that she didn't find fantasy heros and monsters appealing or fun. I pointed out that not all RPGs were like DnD, and used Fiasco as an example (whether the idea of representing con men and deluxe whores is more appealing or not depends on your friends, I guess).
Here's the original "Do's and Don'ts list, lightly adapted:
3.1. Don't tell sexist jokes 3.2. Do protest sexist jokes 3.3. Don't call people bitches 3.4. Do show some respect 3.5. Don't take the dice away 3.6. Do give directions and explain them clearly 3.7. Don't make sexual advances towards women 3.8. Do act friendly 3.9. Don't complain about the lack of women in RPGs 3.10. Do encourage women in RPGs 3.11. Don't stare and point when women arrive 3.12. Do treat new arrivals politely 3.13. Don't treat women stereotypically 3.14. Do treat women as normal people 3.15. Don't criticize too much 3.16. Do compliment 3.17. Don't invite only male speakers 3.18. Do ask women to speak 3.19. Don't micro-specialize 3.20. Do discuss broader topics 3.21. Don't make your meetings hard to attend 3.22. Do make meetings easy to attend 3.23. Don't make new people feel unwelcome 3.24. Do help new people get involved 3.25. Don't underestimate girlfriends or wives 3.26. Do treat girlfriends and wives as independent people
Before you dismiss this nonsense, how many times have you heard or referred to someone as the "DM's girlfriend", with the obvious connotations? Have you thought if the place and time you meet for roleplaying are viable for someone who might have to return home to care for children or the like? It is very easy to think "I don't do this". It is much harder to actually think about the inadvertent comments or condescension, or the time you stayed up until 3 in the morning playing because "hey, the game!".
I do believe all answers in this thread basically boil down to "don't be a troglodyte", "don't be a dick" and "think before you act". This is basic advice, true. This is not only applicable to women, true. But the fact that this question is even asked painfully points out that some people need help with this.
Yes, this list of stuff should not be necessary. I don't know about RPGs, I'm a newcomer, but in programming I've met the full gamut of men that were kind and considerate, through people only guilty of "minor" variations of these sins, to many men that simply hadn't a clue and were sexist as hell. How many of them do you think saw themselves as sexists? I don't even know if I'm normally doing half of this stuff (except the condescension: I know that I do get pissy if I think people are being dour. It's a flaw of mine). The very Howto I linked to points out that many women see entering a community of programmers as something of an uphill battle, so think about it before saying that the problem isn't there.
Fundamentally, I don't buy into traditional gender stereotypes between what men and women like in a RPG. I've seen female players that have thrilled at gory fight scenes and horror scenarios as often as I've seen male players buy into romance plotlines.
I'd apply my general approach to getting new players into roleplaying:
Find out what pushes the new player's buttons. Chances are you're going to approach friends, friends of friends, peoples partners, etc. So it shouldn't be too hard to ask. What books do they read, what films to they watch. It could be that they're in to a film/TV show/book that you can easily match to an existing game system (Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Smallville, etc). Alternatively, you can try an structure the session around well trodden tropes (zombie survival horror, fantasy heroes fighting against the overlord, etc). We're not trying to run the most inventive session here, just help people to get in to the hobby/art form.
Write a one-shot scenario that picks up on these interests using pregenerated characters and a straightforwards or cut down system. The pregens avoid a lot of complicated rules explanations and allow you to tailor characters to suit the players involved.
Make the one-shot hinge on choice and the consequences of those choices.
Invite some of your more flamboyant and outgoing experienced players to join in the session and act as examples of what roleplaying is as well as assist the new players to interpret rules, get the hang of things, etc.
Run the session in as encouraging way as possible taking time to explain anything that is unclear to the new players. Saying 'I like it' a lot to reinforce player decisions/actions is great.
Keep the session short. 3 hours tops. Keep it moving.
If the session goes well invite them to your ongoing campaign, or start up a new one. Remember they will have the fun of creating their own characters and learning about the fun to e gained from this kind of personal investment in the game.
As for retaining female players I'd try and engage them as I would all players making sure you collaborate as a group and play the games you all enjoy playing. It think it goes without saying that sexist attitudes are not cool.
Here's what's worked for me:
Invite couples play. Serious couples, Married couples, casual couples, whatever. Allow and encourage them playing characters that have an existing relationship (even if antagonistic!)
This has had a few benefits - more diverse play, longer sessions, and better attendance. Also, the males in couples tend to be more sensitive to gender-related communications skills mentioned in other posts, and can model it for the single males in the group.
Note: This may only work with an all adult playing group, as in these cases, adult-themed situations almost always come up in games.
College Libraries. Or Gaming center where others play possibly female, start playing there more, and then you have just jumped your chances of getting new gamers female, and male alike. Many places are always willing to get new DMs.