Saturday, 26 July 2008

Women in the Gloranthan West

One of the biggest problems I faced while writing Kingdom of the Flamesword is that we know, from previously published material that the Rokari are a pretty patriarchal lot. The default assumption in role-playing games these days is that your character's gender really doesn't matter. What matters is that you're a paladin, or a wizard, or whatever it may be, and nobody will react in the slightest if you happen to be a female paladin or wizard.

Many cultures in Glorantha follow this principle - it's particularly true of the Heortlings, for example, who perhaps are the best described of all the cultures of the world in the existing publications. But it's not true of the Rokari. Now, granted, the Rokari rationale for this is that women 'are more perfect' than men, so they shouldn't be risked in combat... but that doesn't help much in an RPG, even if we accept it at face value.

There is a section in the book about role playing women in Seshnela, and outlining some of the options open to them - there's even a way for them to lay about themselves with swords, contrary to Rokari norms. One of the tools I used to get across Rokari culture is to have three people talking about what's important to them (if you've read by "Voices of Loskalm" piece in one of the Continuum fund-raisers, you'll know the sort of thing); one of the three is a woman, who at least gets to be quite snide about the men in her life. And, if you're happy to play a power-behind-the-throne sort of character, there should be no problem.

But, let's be honest, women in Seshnela don't get the same sort of equality that they do in Heortling lands. Of the NPCs described in the book, the great majority are male. The only exceptions are two members of the royal family, two healers, and one that's a little harder to describe. Now, all of these characters have potential scenarios around them, and two of them are powerful magicians. But, at the end of the day, Seshnela is a male-dominated land, and that's going to come across in the book.

Given the setting, there isn't a lot I can do about that, although I've tried to alleviate it here and there. I've set things up so that you can play a female character doing anything that a man could do - but not so that they can do so without people remarking on it, or devout Rokari looking askance at her if she oversteps the bounds of "propriety". If that worries you, you might want to use the book as a source of enemies to fight... or you might want to wait for the later books in the Lords of the West series.

Loskalm, for instance, is sexually egalitarian. They have female wizards, female knights, female wizard-knights, women at the highest echelons of government, and so on. In Loskalm, women can be whatever they want to be - which is all part of its utopian nature, of course. Further down the road, my view of Jonatela is that women are more or less in the same situation as men. Which is to say, female peasants are just as thoroughly stuffed as their menfolk, while Nemuzhik women get to be just as obnoxious as their brothers. Which makes sense, given that the Jonatings were Orlanthi not so long ago.

Personally, I like this variety. Glorantha is a big world, and it doesn't all follow exactly the same tropes. If you want to explore the pitfalls of patriarchy, the opportunity is there and, more importantly, so is the opportunity to go somewhere else and not worry about it. There are even parts of the world where being male is a disadvantage, after all...

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