Raised by the White Wolf

Disclosure: I’m a long-standing fan of many games put out by White Wolf, and was one of the writers for the newly released update of White Wolf’s Convention Book: N.W.O.

The first time I cracked open a White Wolf role-playing game, it was Mage: The Ascension. I was about nine years old. My Uncle let me flip through the game, sitting patiently as I looked through the pictures. I pointed to the page with the Verbena mages.

“I want to play one of those.”

“Well, I bet in a few more years your Mom’d be pretty cool with that. But it’s kinda a grownup game.” I sighed, wrinkling my nose at the vagaries of age, and shut the book. I then caressed the cover. “I want to make something like this.” My Uncle laughed at me and tousled my hair.

I started to actually read the games put out by White Wolf a few years later, when I was 12. I’d played D&D with my brother and his friends by then, but a large portion of my game knowledge had been transmitted by speech, not me sitting down and reading the official written content. Being given a game book to read was a big deal for me. I was playing in an environment that trusted me to be mature, to ask questions, and to study up on my own. I quickly grew to feel that it was okay to be a girl and play White Wolf games. As an adult, I have a vocabulary for why I had that feeling. In game text, there’s usually a lot of examples of play. It’s a game’s directions. If you’re putting together furniture, the directions have a lot of Tab A, Slot B. Game examples can have dice rolls, phrases, counters.

This is what you add up before you roll your dice to pick the lock.

You have to roll a seven to punch this guy.

You need a ten to jump between these two buildings without landing in the street.

So why am I making a big deal about White Wolf’s examples of play language?

White Wolf books have women in their examples.

She has to roll a ten, she needs to make a Dexterity+Brawl roll, her skill in Athletics is three.

Even in 2012, the use of feminine pronouns in the White Wolf games still feels like magic to me. It sets me at ease as a woman and as a player. The text says she, and her. It still says him, and his, but certainly not exclusively. While I played D&D first, White Wolf games have constituted my core gaming experience growing up, likely more up than any other system.

My first White Wolf group was made of three girls and one boy, ages 12 to 18. We were playing Vampire: The Masquerade. Vampire: The Masquerade RPG CoverExamples with women in them made us feel like women were a part of the world we were playing in. We felt like the playing field was equal. Girls could play this game. As a teen and as an adult, I still play White Wolf games. I continue to appreciate that women have a visible presence in the text. Even in books often primarily written by male writers.

Language tells gamers, new and not so new, whether or not they’re welcome at the table to play a particular game or even represented in the text. While White Wolf’s game books were not magically free of all gender bias, their games were some of the first to tell me that it didn’t matter what boys said to me about girls not being smart enough to be gamers. Somewhere, an adult had written a book, and they were the ones that wrote a woman was making that awesome Drive roll.

by Lillian Cohen-Moore
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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Thank you for this

I used to be friends with the creator of Vampire: the Masquerade, Mark Rein*Hagen, who used to play our live-action Lovecraftian role-playing games, which were also very female-friendly (possibly because I was the lead writer). He was very much an equalizer who respected women. I was supposed to work on his science-fiction game, but I had too many other commitments. He knew, same as we knew in Dead Earth Productions, that women were just as important as men in the gaming world. You might be delighted to know that he gifted me with the Mage: the Ascension tarot deck, which I still cherish to this day.

It was for this reason that I

It was for this reason that I was also impressed with the 3rd Edition of D&D. It got around the clunkiness of the "he or she" language and the exclusion of just using male pronouns by having an equal number of male and female character examples and using "he" in the rules when the example character was male and "she" when female.

Of course, I also remember at the time lots of dudes that equate equal time for others with loss of their own rights complaining about how 3E was "too politically correct." :/

female pronouns in gaming books

DnD 3.5 uses quite a few female pronouns and if you think that White Wolf isn't sexist, read Werewolf the Forsaken, that game is perfectly geared to serve up "Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen" jokes for guys to use on the female werewolves constantly and consistantly, to the point when I played the LARP version I ended out saying my character was Lesb, and ended out quitting cause I was tired of a whole pack (save the other girl, who's character had in a historectomy (sp?) in her backstory) making those jokes on more than an hourly basis.


Wait, what? How does Forsaken lead to "barefoot and pregnant" jokes?

Anon, I didn't think or say


I didn't think or say that White Wolf was innocent of sexism. My main point was that including women in examples of play and in game book language made me appreciative of them taking that step in the right direction of being inclusive very early on. I haven't played Forsaken, but I did play Werewolf Apocalypse. I think that games like Werewolf sadly lend themselves to an audience that can be very disrespectful to other players, and can be played in ways that are very sexist and demeaning towards women. It's a very strong example of enjoying problematic content; where even when played by people being respectful to each other, it still has thematic examples that are quite sexist.

I'm very disturbed when I hear about gaming groups that behave in such intolerable ways, and I hope very much that you have or will be able to find more respectful and inclusive groups for gaming with in the future.


Thank you for your post, I just feel the same thing about White Wolf (and particularly Mage: The Ascension) games. Can I translate your post to portuguese, please?

Thanks for a subtle but important point

Thank you for bringing this up. This is something I've been sensitive to since I started gaming over thirty years ago. Back then threre was a strain of feminism in nonfiction and occasionally science fiction and fantasy was just breaking out of the "he, he, him, his = generic normal human" mould which alerted me to the possibility of inclusive language.

But I found very little of it in the roleplaying games I was taking up. Visually and verbally, the people <i>doing</i> things were all male.

I think the first book I recall which aimed for inclusive language was the second edition Shadowrun rulebook, which is ironic because looking back at it, its illustrations rarely include females doing anything more than being decorative, and they all feel shoehorned in as the token female in a group of otherwise interesting and varied males.

Be that as it may, the use of "she" in game examples ithe Shadowrun book was a step forward, even if every species description seemed obsessed with the number of "mammaries" each female had (mild eye roll).

It's interesting that it's twenty years later and this is still an issue.

LAAAAAATE to the game, I

LAAAAAATE to the game, I know, but there was one game recently (within the last decade, anyways) that made a very clear point that they were using the feminine as the default, and that if one didn't like it then lumping it was a fine option.
And now, of course, I can't remember which one it was - I wanna say it was something like Unknown Armies, but I don't know for sure.

I'm not sure whether the in-your-faceness of this one (whichever it was, arrrgh!) or the just no-attention-called-that's-just-what-happens is stronger, but either way it's a good step forward.

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