(This is the second article in a series of posts about my experiences playing King Arthur Pendragon. The first is here.)
The feedback that I got from my first article in this series was one-hundred percent positive, and I was happy to see it. Many people responded with words of praise and support, and I am truly grateful for that. However, there were a few themes in the comments I received that interested me and are worthy of mention here.
Several people made comments about their experience playing female knights in Pendragon. Interestingly enough, these players were all men. (A few men mentioned that they played in games with female players, who played both male and female knights, but I didn’t see any comments by women in my circles.) The men talked about their experiences in the game, which typically involved a scenario where a female knight (sometimes in disguise) performs in her role with such distinction that she wins acceptance for female knights all over England.
This is, of course, the standard role for a good female knight. She is female before she is anything else, and she must do her utmost to adhere to the knightly code, as she has an inkling that any failings will be blamed upon her gender. (In fictional, she is as tough and smart as the men — but no tougher, and is typically not the main character.) In the Pendragon games, ultimately, the Lady Knight succeeds. Sexism is over in some small way, and everyone gets to feel good. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this story, of course — it’s just not one that I find particularly exciting, because it is more or less the only story that ends up getting told about women warriors. I imagine that men must find it more interesting, as they have many other narratives to choose from and thus don’t find it as stale as I do.
Another interesting phenomenon regarding comments on my first article occurred on Google Plus. A male friend of mine linked my article, and then reflected upon how he hadn’t really noticed some of the sexist language in the game until I pointed it out. He immediately got several comments praising him on his insight and sensitivity for noticing the erasure of women in men’s spaces.
The irony was not lost on me.1
At any rate, let’s move on to character gen!
Unfortunately, the night of the character gen session that I had promised to write to you all about, I managed to get a blistering migraine. (A propensity to migraines is an unfortunate malady for someone like me, whose work and hobbies generally involve staring at glowing screens for several hours straight.) Missing that session was a bit disappointing for me. Character gen is a great time to build group cohesion and establish character relationships. I caught up with the GM over the weekend, and created my character in a one-on-one session.
I decided to name my knight Olwen. The GM asked how Olwen came to be a knight, so I came up with a fairly bare-bones backstory: Sir Olwen was the eldest daughter of a knight who had no male heirs. Out of a sense of egotism, he didn’t want his family’s land to be taken over by whoever married his daughters, and so made a deal with his lord that his daughter would become a knight and thus assume all the rights and privileges thereof. So, little Olwen, at the age of 12 or so, was whisked off to become a squire, and then eventually a knight.
With that question settled, I filled out the rest of the numbers on the character sheet. I will not bore you the details, save to say that Olwen is very good at Singing and also murdering people with a spear. I struggled the most with assigning her Virtues and Vices. It was there that I found myself worrying about stereotypes. I wanted to make her Merciful, because I get the feeling that as an outsider, she has a soft spot for people who are also on the outside, but I was also worried about Olwen being accused of being a soft-hearted woman. But maybe I should let her be Merciful even despite the fact that it’s a stereotypically female trait just so I can thumb my nose at the haters by being unapologetically, stereotypically feminine!
So I went for making Olwen Merciful, and then, upon later reflection, realized that I made my decision on what Olwen’s personality would be like by primarily (and lazily) referencing her gender, rather than thinking about her as a human being. Goddamnit.
We puzzled out the rest of character gen, and then I asked my GM about some of the hard questions about being a lady knight. (Though the book says that you can play a lady knight, it doesn’t give any guidelines for doing so, which is difficult considering the starkly gendered mechanics of the game.) First on my mind was childbirth, which I’d mentioned in my first post on this subject. My GM suggested that we simply ignore any mechanics that involved dying in childbirth. I was extremely relieved to hear that, and felt quite a bit better about the game after that. His overall approach seems to be that I should take the lead in deciding how a female knight should work in his game world, and it’s something that I’m very grateful for. I want to be able to decide for myself what it means to be a lady knight, and my GM is fully supportive of this. Now I just have to do the hard work of imagining Olwen — without relying on stereotypes and tired tropes.
I’ll let you know how the first session goes…
- To his credit, the irony was not lost on him, either, and he told his commenters that he was not the person that they should be praising. ↩