Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thoughts on the Nature of Things.

Being the witty and personable fellow that I am, I have a splendid collection of equally astute friends. From time to time, these worthy persons occasionally give me gifts, as has been known to happen throughout the nation. I am always thankful to receive such presents, especially when they are in line with my eccentric and occasionally odd interests, but I do not always take the time to peruse them right away.

In today's case the perusal portion of the process took about two years.

In short, I just read 'Fantasy Imperium' last night.

For those few of you with short attention spans that still struggle to gain insight from my ramblings, though I doubt any of you are left, I shall make it short and simply say, "Oh, dear..."

Allow me to lead the rest of you down a merry pathway for a time and I shall endeavor to provide additional enlightenment.

There was a time when, as a matter of course, games would set characteristic maximums at differing levels depending on the gender of the character. Generally by limiting female character's strength score. What was that from the back? No, males received no limits to any statistics, why do you ask? Sarcasm aside, this was and is defended by many as "realistic" (more on this below) but has generally been dropped from most games produced from about 1990 on (if not before). Since, you know, it's sexist and pointless and drives off players.

'Fantasy Imperium', my copy dated 2006, has such rules. They are, in the interest of full disclose, mostly optional. The non-optional part is that female character's may re-roll their "attractiveness" statistic...

Because it's a woman's job to be pretty.


And we wonder why the hobby is not that popular amongst females...

Galloping forward once more, the rules system seems horrifically convoluted, the sub-title exudes pretentiousness ("An Interactive Storytelling Game of Historical Fantasy"), and the chosen setting is Europe... with magic.

The setting has many problems. One, it's basically impossible to boil enough information on Medieval Europe down to a setting chapter that is either usable or accurate. Two, despite the vast and complicated theologies of the times, the author has decided that Christianity is the One, True Faith. This despite the provisions for "mythical races" in the rulebook...

Perhaps this is just mine own opinion, but the existence of centaurs would rather successfully argue for the presence of the Greco-Roman Pantheon.

But apparently not.

The game's piety system is vastly amusing, however. As long as one performs the rituals, one can have a high piety score, belief isn't necessary and believing in God only nets one ten points out of a one to a hundred (or more?) scale.

But enough. Though the game is bad, it's not 'Racial Holy War' or 'F.A.T.A.L.'

However, it is enough to make me wonder about the thread of misogyny that seems to weave itself into this hobby. One could, perhaps, forgive the old 'Fantasy Wargaming' its flaws as it was a product of an earlier, more benighted, time (the '80s) and it did provide really spiffy lists of the Hosts of Heaven and Hell... Nonetheless, it is part of the spectrum that includes the previously mentioned games, as is 'Fantasy Imperium'. It is possible that we simply live in a misogynistic culture and that permeates everything, but that merely redefines the problem on a grander scale.

We should, I think, consider how this sort of thing begins, and why it begins. It's easy to point at 'F.A.T.A.L.' and see that it crosses the line, the trick is finding the seemingly innocuous thing that might allow someone to think that the next step is OK as well. Keep in mind, as horrifying as it is, that the author(s) of 'F.A.T.A.L.' and 'Racial Holy War' are a part of this hobby and they started gaming somewhere before they wrote their games...

Moving on, or backwards for a bit, I wish to touch on the old AD&D limits on a female character's strength score. A sadly large number of people defend these, even unto this day, as being "realistic". The usual counter to these folk is, "So, where are the realistic dragons?"

I don't think that addresses the problem.

I am not sure if the problem can be addressed. It may be pure misogyny, it may be far more harmless.

I do know how I plan on addressing the argument in the future however.

I plan on implementing what I call "Conan-reality" in my games.

As I was thinking about this old, old argument, it came to mind that, "realistically", there was no way that R.E. Howard's Conan could be as supremely muscular and powerful as he was described in the stories. Historical barbarians could be strong, but were generally worn down by the hardships they endured, not built into towering powerhouses. However, I like the archetype of the mighty barbarian and I plan on keeping it.

The "realistic" limitations on a female's strength go in the same basket as the "realistic" limitations on the barbarian.

I hear the horde of the outraged, "But, but..." and a million reasons are proffered.

I'm not going to listen to them. Not even those that harshly restrict everything in their campaign world to "realistic" levels (where, I might ask, is the fun in that?).

Suffice to say that there could be any number of reasons for the seemingly "unrealistic" and I see no reason to artificially penalize female characters.

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