Might and Magic: Gender

The visit-all-the-towns quest ends with instructions to seek out two brothers living in the towns of Algary and Portsmith. Portsmith, however, is the last place you’d expect to find a brother: the entire population seems to be female, including the monsters — hags and witches abound. And no wonder: the town is riddled with fields that drain health from male characters. (How exactly this works in-fiction isn’t elaborated on, but I imagine it as something similar to the Pangs of Ulster.)

The fact that player characters have genders at all is something of an anomaly for the era. Wizardry characters certainly didn’t. And I suppose that, having spent a bit on storing this information, the authors had to come up with some way for it to be relevant to gameplay, and to make the manual’s advice that you make characters of both genders somehow relevant. Gender doesn’t affect stats the way race does — is racism more acceptable than sexism? — and there’s no real conversation, and thus little room for gender to have social effects. I can imagine that somewhere there’s a clubhouse with a “No Girls Allowed” sign in front, and I suppose that Portsmith’s anti-male fields are just a gentler version of that.

So, what do you do about it? To a large extent, you can skip over the anti-male fields using the Jump spell, which lets you move forward two squares at a time, but this won’t let you miss them all: the town is basically laid out in a grid, with the fields at the intersections, so you need to go through one in order to turn left or right. Then again, you can also just ignore the effects: plowing through the fields will drain all your male characters to 0 health, but, weirdly enough, not actually kill them, or even render them unconscious. Sure, it’s a risk — if you find yourself in combat, all it takes is one hit to take them out. But I’ve actually been through an encounter where none of my men got hit: at the end, they still had 0 hit points, but were still standing. And anyway, you can rest periodically to avoid the extreme. Food is cheap.

Or you can do what the designers probably intended and create an all-female party. Presumably you’d want an all-male party as well, for whatever area makes that desirable. I don’t really want to take this approach if I can avoid it, though. I’ve been using one set of characters ever since I realized that this was feasible (unlike in Wizardry). In fact, ever since I understood that the character stats wouldn’t be increasing any time soon, I’ve been using the premade characters instead of the ones I rolled up myself. This is something I don’t often do. And of those six premade characters, exactly one is female. Fortunately, it’s the healer — yes, just like in a stereotypical JRPG — which is exactly what you need to patch up your other characters when they’re knocked out in combat due to starting out with 0 hit points.

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