I am one who wants to play both female and male characters. Up until now I have played two male characters but only for small quests (5 sessions max). At the moment we are playing "Shackled City" and it seems that this will go on for a long time.

In this game I role play a 16-year-old human male fighter who is a noble. Being with other men in game isn't a problem but interacting with women is. Savoir-vivre helps but I still find myself never too pleased with what I say or do. My DM says that this is because I'm lacking testosterone but I say I need more practice. ^_^

I have a conflict between nobility and age. I figure that as a 16 year old man he would talk to women no matter the social status (isn't it what you did at 16?) but as a noble the opposite is expected. It's not so much that I want him to be hitting on them, but flirting to boost his ego and making sure that he is being noticed. Being noticed is important to him because at this moment he is just an adventurer (noble, yes, but still just a 6th-level adventurer) and not yet a hero with a long background.

My DM is male (and also my boyfriend—it's really funny seeing us play the opposite sex). I feel that men and women talk in different ways and I think that is where I lack. Judging form the answers so far I'm playing him too subtle, and I see that I portray him as a very mild noble—kind to commoners and silent to jerky nobles who are his elder.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I definitely think that As a man, how can I roleplay a woman better?, while being the exact opposite of the question asked has some universal insights on concept of different gender gaming. Good luck! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are less differences between two groups of people than within one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 6:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just base it off men you know, to be honest. I'm seeing lots of suggestions of encoding seriously suspicious gender behaviors which leads me to think "Why the f*** are we encoding sexism into our fantasies when we have the option not to?". If its honestly a stretch, go with guys you know and try and put yourself in their shoes. Or perhaps pick a male character from fiction you enjoy. But honestly, men and women think pretty alike, its the cultural aspects that differ, and its not hard to work out how those things work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shayne
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 8:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu While the OP does refer to 'Shackled City', I don't think either the setting or rules system are at all germane to her question. I am tempted to remove both the 3.5 and published adventure tags and add system generic. Could you explain why you thought they should be added, as I might be missing something? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 20:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt clarification from now-deleted comment (flagged no longer needed by me) and this answer: rpg.stackexchange.com/a/191113/44723 is a stellar example of why exactly all of these tags are helpful (some of these highly uprated generic answers do not work in that setting at all, it is not sys-ag). \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 21:04

11 Answers 11


You're over-thinking it. Men, let alone young men, are not all alike. Some are brash, others are timid. Some are inventive, others are hidebound. Some are optimists, others are doomsayers. They also exhibit different degrees of 'masculine' and 'feminine' characteristics.

To be a bit simplistic, 'masculine' and 'feminine' traits are extremes on a continuum, or several continua for different traits. Real people exist somewhere on the scale between the two, and the population of actual men and actual women overlap on that scale. The same can certainly be true of fictional men and women.


The answer to this would be heavily dependent on the culture and time period involved. Expectations of nobility and controls imposed on younger people vary heavily on those two factors.

That said, let me offer some advice here.

Being with other men in game isn't a problem but interacting with women is. Savoir-vivre helps but I still find myself never too pleased with what I say or do.

Yeah, that's pretty much how your character should feel when interacting with women too. I mean, most people have self-confidence problems, and men are certainly no exception to that. Self-criticism and doubt can factor heavily into a believable character. Especially as a teenaged character. Even though societies gave more responsibilities to people at a younger age in the past, biology hasn't changed that much.

Keep in mind that depending on the culture and time period, nobility might well have a highly distorted view of commoners. Maybe your character was told all sorts of horror stories about common people--not even just by adults above them, but by their peers who didn't know any better than they did. If your character spent their whole life stuffed away in a manor by over-protective noble parents dealing with other nobles and a combination of soldiers and courtiers in service of their father... well that's bound to leave someone fairly ill-prepared to deal with life outside of those confines.

Certainly such a character probably shouldn't view the commoners he's likely to encounter as an adventurer as equal or worthy of respect beyond that required to achieve his immediate ends--even if, in fact, they are equivalently valuable human beings. This tension could create a lot of resentment towards your character by the women he interacts with, and by others in the party who might not be from a noble origin.

And it really shouldn't be relegated to women--if the character takes the presumably common class-oriented view on nobility/commoners, then it would be applied to everyone he meets. Everyone he meets would have to be viewed through the lens of class. Including other members of the party. While that doesn't have to be represented as condescension, it can easily be represented as resentment towards PCs and NPCs whom your character recognizes as more skilled or powerful than their station ought to allow them (in the noble world-view).

Status, image, and power tended to be important to nobility. While it may not be critical to your character (after all, people who would choose the adventuring life of a d&d Player Character would not be your typical person at all), it would certainly be important to the people who raised him and to the subset of society with whom he interacted with for the first 16 years of life before going adventuring. That's bound to have an effect of some sort. Maybe it only tinges his views, or maybe it is a deeply ingrained set of responses. Maybe your character accepts that view, maybe he rejects it. But that sort of thing is bound to have a serious influence on everything from his relations with other party members to his interactions with women.

Another thing to consider might also be his family's reaction to his decision to head off adventuring rather than focusing on his duties.


The answer depends on just how stereotypical one wants to get.

Male noble stereotypical traits:

  • Take charge
  • might-makes-right attitude.
  • Women are divided into several groups:
    • Women of quality & virtue for marriage
    • Women of quality but not virtue for flirtation and/or fornication
    • Women of Virtue but not quality. Typically in habits and cloistered. Corrupt one if you can.
    • Women of low social status: beneath contempt, let alone notice, unless one is horny. Then, just don't get caught by other nobles doing the help. Their consent is helpful, but not essential. (Yes, raping a commoner was often considered a nobleman's right, even tho' it wasn't done all that much, and could get one in quite a bit of trouble.)
    • Prostitutes
    • Women who fight - they're either good, crazy, or both. Beware them.
  • You've several direct motivations... which order varies by individual, but food is usually first and sex second or third.
    • Power
    • Prestige
    • Sex
    • Food
    • Intoxication
    • Sleep
  • Comfort may or may not be a motivation; if it is, it often trumps power and prestige.
  • Commoners damned well better do what you tell them and better not have an opinion.
    • Squires and Men-At-Arms are not commoners, even if of common birth.
    • Clergy are not commoners, even if of common birth
    • Anybody your liege tells you to listen to, you listen to, no matter how humiliating it may be... at least until you can get your revenge.
  • Show off when you can

Pick a male character from a film, TV series, and/or book, that is male and see what things they do that differ from what you (as a woman) would do. For example, Look at Barney from How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris is openly gay yet he still manages to get a "Bro" feel and large interest in women to his character. Another example would be to look at Gerald of Rivia in the Witcher books.

Another way is to look at romance books and do the exact opposite that any male hero in there does. Plus remember: men do not get subtle. Ever. Oh yes, I do love a good stereotype... Why do you ask? ;>

On a more serious note, look at how men act around you and other women in bars/nightclubs/on dates. Take an anthropologist approach and look at behaviour patterns. You could even go and do research by asking questions to guys.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nobles who do not get subtle end up marginalized at best. If this noble was from a family with any hope of advancement, he would have gotten some training -- though he may have shirked. \$\endgroup\$
    – dhasenan
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 19:48

Great question!

  1. Focus on one short-term goal.
  2. Think in terms of action, not relationship. View people in terms of what you do with them (or even to them).

The rest is more a function of the character's environment than his physical sex. How are male nobles raised in this society? What's expected of them? What's allowed. aramis's post is perfect.


Really, make a well rounded person with motivations and wants and desires, and a philosophy to life… And then after that is done go about adding some "male" traits. When a character seems like a gender stereotype is when the stereotypical behavior is what is defining them, rather than something that incidentally is also part of the character.


In a tolerant culture, you find so much diversity that there is very little that is uniquely male or female. I know women that are enormous football fans, that drink beer, and lift weights. While I know men that act relatively effeminate and cook masterfully. Even in terms of attraction, there are men that prefer men and women that prefer women. In a tolerant society it is difficult, outside of a few biological factors, to find something that is uniquely male or uniquely female making it hard for someone to say you are truly playing a male character wrong. You may be playing one that is especially effeminate, or perhaps one that is trying much too hard to be macho, but you find both of those things in the real world.

Now, in a less tolerant society there might be consequence (ranging from teasing to stoning) for breaking gender stereotypes. But what those stereotypes are depends very much on the culture. For instance, it was considered a sign of sensitivity (which was viewed as a positive) in Heian period Japan for an upper class man to weep openly and even profusely at certain events.

Now, if you are asking how to play a stereotypical man based on modern society, then just play up the stereotypes, but not too much. There are a few traits common to men but unusual in women that most people overlook (men tend to stand with their feet more broadly spaced, cross their legs differently, laugh less frequently but harder), but those are the types of details that just get omitted in most role playing and even prose writing as being too minor to be worth pointing out (unless, say, hinting that it is really a woman disguised as a man or vice versa...). If you are curious about those details, Desmond Morris discusses them in depth in his book People Watching.

Also, an interested look is provided by the movie "Boys Don't Cry" which is loosely based on a true story of a trans man set in a time and place that was not at all accepting of that.

Incidentally, as far as the conflict with the "noble" thing remember the difference between what one does in public and what one does in private. Nobles of all time periods (and both genders!) have often had affairs and lovers from the lower classes, they just were not acknowledged publicly or discussed publicly. A noble might be reluctant to flirt in public with a commoner, but happy to do so when in private. A noble might not discuss their affair in mixed company or near "commoners" but might be happy to brag when surrounded by his (noble) friends (that he considered peers and who were of the same gender...) In most societies, the stigma that would befall a noblewoman caught in an affair was worse than if a nobleman was caught, but it is well documented that both genders were involved in affairs with the "lower classes".


Well, you did mention you have a boyfriend, so why not play the character like him?

No, really. You have met (I assume) many male friends in your lifetime - some good, some bad - and you've seen how they act towards other people. It is perfectly acceptable, encourageable, even, to base your role-playing on those people that you've met. The absolute best character acting comes from remembering how a real person you've met would handle a situation, and having them do just that.

Granted you don't have access to "a nobleman of noble birth in a noble setting", but what you DO have are situations where you've seen men trying to impress people of higher rank, or impress other men with their 'ability to flirt'. And while you don't need to play up that steriotype, you can certainly play into it a bit to get into the head of your character.

But, I should hasten to point out, you should also consider the idea that he might not actually like playing to the steriotype. He might be more comfortable painting still-life and writing poetry beneath an oak tree than flirting it up in a bar and brandishing a sword...but what he likes and what is expected of him are very different things, and you can certainly easily play someone who is expected to act one way, but feels very strongly in another way.

Not to say that a male character won't have a certian...male-ness to them...but while playing that up (and you certainly should, for the fun it can bring!), don't forget the deeper, personal things that a guy might like, or even what he might be deeply ashamed of liking.


If you're struggling to have a voice and phrasing that work for a male character, especially a noble, one thing that might help is having him treat the worth of himself and his opinions as self-evident, regardless of what he does. There's few people who he'd really have to worry about inadvertently showing up, so speaking plainly and to the point with equals and lessers would be really likely even if he's courteous and dutiful to his subjects.

Don't be afraid to speak as him, and don't let him get talked over. That reads as neither male or noble. Being listened to is his birthright.

You may or may not do it, but things like couching statements with asides tend to come across as not manly, so "I'm not a bowmaker, but isn't that the wrong wood for a bow?" would probably work better as "That wood's weak for a bow". The only thing a knight should be couching is a lance, after all, and that certainly isn't to reduce impact. If you're trying to deal with expressing doubts or just respond to a jerk higher up the chain, you can go either way with it, both starting to pull punches with his speech or staying blunt but dancing around the point and leaving challenges unvoiced would be interesting characterization.


Since “Shackled City” is a D&D adventurer path, I’m going to couch this answer in the context of Dungeons and Dragons 5e, which is distinctly different from the game I first played in the 70’s. In particular, the PHB now explicitly addresses this when it says (p121)

“Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior.”

In other words, your character’s behavior is going to be framed by the society in which they grew up. This will vary from culture to culture, so DM input is relevant (rule #0), but you will probably be able to specify a culture that fits the character you want to play.

Why do I say “the character you want to play”? Because the choice is yours. For context, let’s consider the related question you raised about nobility:

  1. some nobles consider themselves so far superior to commoners that they would be insulted by the thought of having to interact with one.
  2. some nobles consider themselves superior in a way that justifies them using commoners for their own gain.
  3. some nobles are raised to believe that nobility is a responsibility – that they have a burden to care for the common folk, and go out of their way to do so.

It’s important to recognize that all of these are valid representations of an individual nobleman, though invalid as a global stereotype. In the same manner, there are a broad range of male characters, all valid -- and not all of us share the "traditional male" behaviors of any one culture. The question you will need to ask is what life experience led your particular character to behave in the way he does.

When doing this, you may find that the hardest part is letting go of the life experience you yourself already have, which may not match the experiences of your character. Here are a few examples of experiences that affect male behavior on earth:

  • In many cultures, the man is expected to take the initiative (and associated risk) in romance. This can lead to a perception that taking risks is masculine – so a male character influenced by this may be more likely to say “yes” to a risky opportunity.
  • In many cultures, men are measured against the other men in a zero-sum game. This can lead to competitive behavior when individual men are left to themselves. This competition is going to take place in areas that their culture considers “masculine”, which varies from social group to social group.
  • In many cultures, nurturing behavior is deemed un-masculine. As a result, some men are reluctant to admit if they care, and are reluctant to encourage one another. At the same time, men who do share a stressful experience together can become fast friends who will do anything for one another, though they may not be willing to discuss it.
  • In a culture where hierarchy is respected, having a well-defined leader can suddenly transform that competitive group of men into a team, provided they have been given a goal by that leader. The specifics of that goal are somewhat irrelevant, provided it is well defined.

For comparison, here are a few expectations I’ve seen placed on women in the US:

  • Women are often trained to notice and comment on details in other’s appearance. If this is you, you may need to do it less.
  • Women are often trained to take up less space in conversation. If you do this, try to be more assertive, and tell the party what you think should be done.
  • Women are often trained to use encouraging speech. If this is you, consider using an occasional put-down. For many men, this is a standard form of humor, even with friends.

Good luck!


People will happily play a half-dragonborn half-tiefling who can do magic and talk to gods and nobody gives a damn. Last week I played a plant. But merely flip the gender, and suddenly everyone worries it might be slightly unrealistic?

It sounds to me like you're probably worrying about nothing. I identify as male, just to be clear. I most often play males; but I have played females and also non-binary characters.

I'd also say that many 16 year old males don't just talk to any female, and the world you're playing in also doesn't have the same social rules we do. I don't think there should be an expectation you'd play such a male any particular way. Not all males are confident, not all males are smooth talkers. Not all males would transgress boundaries of social class without compunction. One noble might be just as awkward as a farmboy.

On most kinds of behavior, there's usually more variation within one gender than there is between the average behavior of males and females.

In one of the groups I play in, none of the women play females (the DM is also female and plays far more male NPCs than female ones). I have never seen any hint of "unrealistic" portrayal of males by any of them, even though they all play wildly different characters. They're all valid individual choices of character.

You've had plenty of examples of males in your life to observe, so no doubt you have some sense of the variety of male behavior in the world. On the other hand, keep in mind you're playing a fictional character; they don't have to be super-real-world realistic anyway. I presume you've seen movies and TV shows and that you've read many stories, so you also have many fictional males to base the behavior on.

My suggestion is to choose a set of behaviors that you feel you can play, or attempt to emulate a particular character (a fictional one is probably easier) that you can work with and that fits with the culture you're trying to play in. If the 16 year old part trumps the noble part or vice-versa, that's fine - as would be choosing some other aspect of that character that's more important than either of those things. Just play them the way you understand them to be and don't worry too much if it's imperfect. Allow your character to develop over time. Relax and have fun with it, you're not hurting anyone.


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