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Friday, 2 February 2018

Why Have Gender Roles in Medieval-Authentic Play? Because it Makes it BETTER!

I ran my original Dark Albion with a number of women players. If I'd run it utterly straight to the Medieval gender norms, it could have been difficult for them to enjoy play.  On the other hand, if I'd run it as though the medieval society had gender-equality in the 21st century North American sense, the whole thing would have been somewhat pointless.

So I went with the same guidelines I point out in Lion & Dragon in the section on gender. The same ones I outlined in yesterday's blog. There's no class restrictions for women characters, but some classes provide a more egalitarian opportunity than others.

Now, the rebuttal to this has been voiced, and not only by vicious ill-motivated swine on rpgnet. That is, "you can have a setting with magic that really works and with monsters, but somehow having gender equality would be a bridge too far"!

That sounds like a credible argument at first glance, but it totally falls apart upon consideration. The reason for magic to really work, and for there to be monsters that are real, in the Lion & Dragon setting is that it fits the medieval paradigm. I didn't use the vancian magic system, the monsters aren't inventions drawn out of the Monster Manual circa 1978. It's magic the way that people in the middle ages actually believed magic to work; it's monsters built on medieval folklore about how people really thought monsters were like.

Is it 'unfair' that women have some challenges in a medieval setting that might sometimes come up in play (modified to the extent that the GM would want them to)?  Why should it be? Why shouldn't it be a part of the emulation, an experience that produces immersion in the character? Why would you remove something like this, which is full of potential for character development?

Let's look at another aspect of Lion & Dragon, one that is quite a bit more relevant to the situation than monsters:  Social Class.

In mainstream D&D, contrary to the shrieking of certain Left-wing nonsense-peddlers, there has never really been an issue with female characters. Sure, individual gaming groups might have problems with it, but the game itself?  There was no world in the history of D&D where women characters experienced challenges based on prejudice: not in Greyhawk, not in Forgotten Realms, not even in Dark Sun (to say nothing of a setting like Eberron)! They've all had female adventurers, female NPCs of great power, and societies that were utterly egalitarian.  And there's nothing wrong with that, because that's just how those settings are.

Likewise, there was never, in any of those settings, any real concept of Social Class distinctions.  Sure, Greyhawk or the FR might have peasants, and lords, but it doesn't really mean anything.  NPCs who were peasant-born become great and mighty heroes or lords or run cities or whatever.  All that "peasant" means in those settings (in what is no doubt a tribute to the American paradigm of thinking) is people who are poor and work on farms; and Lords are just dudes with money or "sir" or "lady" before their names or fancier clothes.  But there's no special challenge to being a peasant on Faerun or Krynn, your peasant PC can get to hobnob with the King and tell him off just the same as if your character was an Earl.

In Lion & Dragon, it doesn't work that way. There are very strongly-defined social class distinctions. There's weapons and armor you don't get to go around in if you're not a Knight. Peasants can be literally imprisoned and sentenced to lashings for telling off a Lord. Social Class distinction should, if you're playing the game straight, be something that very strongly defines every Player Character in a Lion & Dragon campaign (or in any campaign set in Dark Albion).

You could make the same complaints, though I guess from a Marxist rather than Feminist angle, about this as you could about gender.  Why should peasants not get to feel equal to the sons of Earls in the setting?!

The answer is the same: why the fuck wouldn't you want that? It's a huge feature of the world. It's therefore a huge opportunity for you, as the player, to work with that in developing your character. It provides specific elements of your character's background, and of how they have to navigate through the world in play, that makes the game more immersive and interesting for you. It's a feature, not a bug.

Because of course, you could just have a game where peasants were treated just the same as and could just pal around with (or lecture) the high-born as if they were the same. Ignore for a second that in that case, you might as well just be playing in the Forgotten Realms, and that strips away a great deal of what makes this game unique. Besides that, it makes things a lot more BORING.  You've probably done that already in your fantasy RPG experiences, many, many times.

But having a party where some PCs have to be deferential to others, where some characters can talk in court and others  can't, while some can get honest answers out of peasants or the local poor in a town that their supposed 'betters' never could, where player characters will walk in different worlds, and sometimes have to overcome some of the social norms of the greater reality of the setting, makes for some kick-ass roleplaying.

Yes, it would suck if someone who was a BAD GM just let people have characters that they would then put into impossibly limiting situations that just ruined all their fun. But that's a BAD GMing problem, and not a problem of the concept itself.  And to me, it would be equally bad if you were sold on the idea of playing a "Medieval-Authentic" game that sells itself with the motto "you only THOUGHT you'd played Medieval Fantasy... until now", only to find that their social class OR gender have no significant effect on the game because everyone in the world is running around all hip like it was 2017 Seattle and not 15th century England.

If you're playing a female character, and her story is "I had no challenges at all by being a woman, no one had any issue with it, and now I'm x", that seems a lot less interesting than creating a character in this world where you (with some help from the GM) have to craft a tale of how a peasant-background girl grew up to become a skilled warrior, or sorceress, or what it means for her to be a gypsy Cymri both within her own people as well as among the normies who lack the same respect her people have for women with The Gift. To explain what that background meant in terms of family, in terms of class, in terms of society, and in terms of their own personal motivations.

This is in no way different than how any male character has to explain themselves, in the context of being an adventurer in a Medieval-Authentic world. How a thief from the snickleway-slums of York would have to explain how they ended up working for the Clerical Order as an inquistor, or how a son of a knightly family would have to explain what it meant that he didn't follow in the footsteps of his family as a soldier and instead studied the occult arts in a Collegium, or how a Scotsman would have to tell the story of what he's doing away from his clan and people living in Albion.

The reason why you want to have Medieval-Authentic social roles (including gender roles) when playing in Lion & Dragon is precisely because these things matter in play. And if approached the right way they make your character and your campaign much MORE interesting for everyone, rather than less.

Now, you'll have to excuse me, in a little bit I'm about to start my new Lion & Dragon campaign.


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  1. I just don't understand their beef. Well, I do, it's not really about the setting, it's about you, but if it was about the setting, I don't get it. It's interesting to see something like this and you've done nothing different than what they're precious story games: your ask, what is it like to be an adventurer in an actually simulated medieval setting vice what is it like to be a gay Gypsy vampire in high school?

    If I were part of the poutrage brigade and as creative as I claim, I can't think of anything more interesting than paying a woman disguised as a man, moving through the courtly intrigue and society to find the men who murdered my little brother. Or a band of women who were part of a mercenary company or who formed a mercenary company after losing their families to a massive tragedy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Sadly though, this is really only about bitching about you. Sigh.

  2. Absolutely spot on. I've recently been watching the mini-series based on Ken Follett's World Without End. What you've said here is played out in every minute. If a player or GM needs some ideas of how social class and feminine rights play into adventures and drama, they should watch this.

  3. Just came across this:

  4. I'm reminded of the comment you made about Blue Rose a while back that it doesn't understand the sub-genre it wants to emulate: In typical YA fantasy aimed at girls, the protagonist DOES face some level of discrimination and demonstrates her strength of character by overcoming it to become a great hero. Whereas in Blue Rose, teenaged girls are just handed equality by the benevolence of the Venisonocracy, which both removes the challenge AND the satisfaction of overcoming the challenge of sexism.

    It occurs to me that all of those who want to remove "racism" and "sexism" from their games are themselves too bigoted to get beyond their 21st century left-wing identity politics to be willing to even try to understand another culture that doesn't share all of their values.

  5. Are these people also holocaust deniers? Are you sure the people who are angry at you aren't rich white men? This is very confusing.

  6. A very long and well thought justification for misogyny.

    1. Yeah, the 10 women who were involved in my 6 year long Albion campaign where Lion & Dragon was gradually created are all awful fucking misogynists. I keep trying to tell them not to hate women so much and to stop being such awful rape-enablers by wanting to play in campaign worlds that are interesting and challenging for them where their characters have the opportunities to overcome difficulties and excel, but they just won't listen to me!!

      You're a male feminist, please, tell me how you would ignore and repress these women's preferences to stop them from being self-harming misogyny-enablers! If you do a good job, I'm sure a blue haired obese woman will briefly consider giving you a pity-handjob before thinking better of it when she remembers your Aura of Neediness!

  7. You thinking that a man is only interested in feminism to get handjobs is proof enough you are a misogynist and, perhaps, a rapist. Some men, believe it not, care. Most, like yourself, do not. But de are not the sale as you.

    1. Funny just how many 'male allies' have ended up being accused of sexual harassment or assault lately, huh?
      I think you're projecting.