Joan of Arc, the Templars, Gender, and Culture

edited December 2009 in Story Games
[cross-posted at]
I'm fascinated by the Three Orders of medieval European society - the laborer, warrior, and priestly castes, or laborares, bellatores, and oratores, respectively.

I've been meaning to check out Chronica Feudalis, to see the extent to which it covers the entrenched classes of euro-medieval culture, but for now, I know this: I would like to make a game that focuses on the tensions between these three groups. I think Joan of Arc and the Knights Templar provide a fine example of what I want to do - the former was a peasant whose military leadership and religious fervor propelled her to new heights, but ultimately pushed her up against adversaries she never would have encountered, otherwise, and they were the death of her.

The Knights Templar were pilgrim-guardians who ended up quite fabulously wealthy from their labors, the envy of both noblemen and the Church. This led to their branding as heretics and their dissolution and deaths.

What I've got so far is, more or less:

- characters of the peasant caste have the virtue of Industry - whatever labor they may put their minds to, rest assured that they will see it completed.
- characters of the knightly/noble caste have the virtue of Courage - any daring deed they put their minds to, they will be victorious.
- characters of the priesthood/other clerics have the virtue of Piety - if they put their trust in God, He will provide.

Also: no idea about the whole death/not death thing, when it comes to both succeeding at and surviving a grand deed. I'm thinking that the better the rating in your Order's virtue, the better you are (somehow) at handling any fallout/complications that arise from doing the thing (simplest way of mapping that could be to start out at a high number and tick down to a flawless "one" rating).

And also: I think that it's possible to start developing another virtue, but the complications you develop around it relate to people who find your actions presumptuous - what's wrong with the role God saw fit to give you? Complications would actually be more difficult to fend off when using this "cross-virtue", though you would still be able to get what you want (it's just that the situation would go all pear-shaped in the process).

One last thing: it's somehow a tossup when two people of the same caste do something either outlined or forbidden to their caste - any two non-knights fighting, for instance, would have to be settled based on their relative levels of virtue. But there's no question at all that most any knight could beat a peasant, or a priest, in a test of arms.

On reflection, I think this basic idea could also work for crossing gender/culture lines, too - if you set it up that the women of a family (the family being the focus of the story?) can readily get what they want through family and family-friend connections, but cannot, say, physically defend themselves (against men) without being seen as presumptuous, that could be very interesting, indeed. There could be an odd trick to playing this in a way that doesn't feel icky - you set up the things that your characters feel limited by, the ways in which your culture blocks your free actions, and then keep acknowledging that *society* feels one way, and *you-the-player* feel differently (or not, I guess). The extra-icky part would probably come from fetishizing or objectifying some not-your-own-culture, and using it for a milieu for the game. Historical distance is one thing, but it could be akin to Blackfacing to set such a game like this in 21st century Afghanistan. Buuut that's a whole topic, unto itself.

That all aside, I think that a given game would really have to focus on a fairly close-knit community or segment of a community; I'm imagining a man who has really racked up points in Comforting Others, which, in his community, is considered a not-men behavior. As a result, he can definitely push some physical boundaries with others in order to settle a conflict, all non-violently of course, but there's the chance that people will react angrily or with confusion to him for doing so. At the outset of a possible bar-fight, he might bring a guy to tears instead of having to knock him on his ass, but there's a chance he might get his ass beat by the same guy, *at another time*, for making him look "like a fag" in front of the whole damn bar. The player still has the satisfaction of stopping the initial conflict, but now things go in a different direction. It's tough to go against the social grain, even if you do get what you want in the short term!

I'm now debating whether auto-success should happen or not, but I'll see where that goes.

Wow, okay. Cool! Here's hoping you found reading this interesting, while I worked out some of these ideas. Any and all thoughts and comments are welcomed!

[edited for HTML issues and an addition to the bar-fight idea]


  • edited December 2009
    [bumped 'cause now I have a better way of explaining myself]


    I think I may have found a way to use Otherkind dice to talk about oppression, social roles, and such.

    It goes like this: the players devise a community, choose a group in that community that is oppressed, and then pick a trait/skill/way of getting things done that is forbidden to that group, but accessible by the dominant population. The oppressed group can certainly act in the manner outlined by the trait on its own group-members, but not on white people/in the presence of white people.

    Let's say we devise a Colorado post-industrial town, choose Vietnamese immigrants as our oppressed group, and then decide that it's forbidden for Asian people in this town to be Confrontational - white folks can get up in people's faces whenever they deem it necessary, but the Vietnamese community here has learned to lie low and get what they want and need in other ways.

    Next, we make characters: at least one (maybe only one?) player will control a character who is of the oppressed group. Any such protagonists are going to start the game with a 6 in the forbidden trait (high is bad). I have no idea what other traits there might be, but certainly gameplay is going to focus on the forbidden trait, so some designated opposition-player is going to try to maneuver you into situations in which the Forbidden Trait would be the simplest way to approach a problem.

    Vietnamese characters in this town are going to avoid being directly confrontational with white folks, but they can confront other Asian characters all they want, provided no white people are present in the conflict (or maybe the scene, altogether?), as how "those people treat one another" is of little consequence if it's not making white folks upset.

    Next, we have a Kicker - most people in the oppressed group lie low and don't make trouble, but the protagonist has done so at least once/is in the process of doing so *right now*. Example - you play a Vietnamese family man whose wife was killed in a hit-and-run (car only; not a drive-by or anything), and the local police are really dragging their asses on the case. You stop by the station one day to check on the investigation's progress, and you hit a wall - they're "really tired of you coming by so often; why don't you just let us work?" Annnd .... action!

    So, the Forbidden Trait works like this - set your goal for the conflict in which you use this Trait. Then, for each point you have in the Trait, above 1, the whole table works to come up with one complication or escalation of the conflict - not necessarily something directly related to any actions taken *in* the situation so far, but definitely stuff that will change the landscape, so to speak.
    Next, you roll d6's equal to your rating in it (it starts at 6, for oppressed-group-protagonists). For each 4-6 you get, you can make one thing (your goal, or a complication) go your way. Naturally, it's going to really suck having lots of dice to start, but I'm thinking that there's going to be a lot of push-back when you first start overtly resisting oppression. I haven't worked out a "clouds and dice" idea for how you can "buy down" the Forbidden Trait's rating (which means there's less fallout when you use it), but that's something to work on.

    Anyway, let me know what you think!
    -- Zac

    p.s. I think the number of protagonists is going to be fairly low, and having only one is going to be totally okay, as it means you can really sink your teeth into one person's take on the situation (kind of a one-player-and-many-gm's scenario).
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