Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saintly Saturday: The Samaritan Woman at the Well

Today is the feast day of the Samaritan women at the well from the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. One of the things that I truly love about the Orthodox Church is Her very long memory. Whereas the Bible only knows her as the Samaritan women, the Orthodox Church knows her name, her life and her death.

St. Photine had five sisters and two sons. She went to Carthage in order to preach the Gospel. She was martyred along with her family in Rome in A.D. 68 under Nero. While all of this information is inspiring, I am most interested in the title that the Church gives her: Equal-to-the-Apostles.

This isn't a moniker given to her in the wake of the equal rights or feminist movements of the the twentieth century. It is one she deserved and has had for almost two millenia. It speaks to the radical equality that can only be found in Christ and reminds us of the vital role women play in Scripture:
  • the first person to hear the Good News of the Incarnation: a woman (the Virgin Mary — Luke 1:31)
  • the first sign performed by Christ in His ministry: done at the request of a woman (the Virgin Mary — John 2:5)
  • those who were brave enough to stand by Christ at the Cross: women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, Salome, the Virgin Mary, etc. — Matthew 27:55, Mark 15:40, Luke 23:55, John 19:25)
  • those who were first given the Good News of the Resurrection: women (Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Salome and others — Mark 16:6, Matthew 28:6, Luke 24:1)
  • the first person to witness the Resurrected Christ: a woman (Mary Magdalen — Mark 16:9)
  • the first apostle: a woman (St. Photini the Samaritan Woman and Equal-to-the-Apstles — John 4:39)
  • the first European convert: a woman (St. Lydia — Acts 16:14-15)
A note: for an institution that is supposedly part of the patriarchal establishment, and that comes out of a culture where women are second class citizens, it is rather shocking, not only that so many key moments in Christ's ministry are witnessed by women, but that the early Church would admit it.

This makes me want to take stock of women in D&D. At first glance, the world of RPGs seems to be a male sport. Personally, I have only ever played in two groups that included women, and only one where the women playing weren't wives. When I look a little closer, however, I note that the game itself seems to encourage and acknowledge the concept of the female adventurer.

  • The example character for explaining character generation in Moldvay's Basic D&D is Morgan Ironwolf, who is not only female but played by a female.
  • AD&D has racial min/max ability scores for female characters.
  • Pre-rolled characters in modules often included females (including my own personal favorite, Elwita the dwarven fighter from the A-series).
  • Apendix N includes the female authors Leigh Brackett, Andre Norton, and Margaret St. Clair.
  • Module B3 was originally authored by Jean Wells (and, I might add, was much better than the Moldvay co-authored version that was eventually published).
  • I am sure there are plenty more examples...
Personally, one of the most formative role-playing experiences I had was playing a female character. It was my first "real" campaign where the DM was in college and several of our players were of high-school age. I played an evil illusionist and was encouraged by the DM to be as creative as I could be (all the while backing me up in my choices and defending me from other players who wanted to kill my character but could never justify why). This became the foundation of how I would play the game to this day and also taught me that ultimately evil characters aren't much fun and probably shouldn't be part of the game.

I am curious. What is your own experience with the feminine side of our hobby?


The Standard of St. Svetlana

This seemingly innocuous and tattered piece of cloth is actually a religious relic. When worn on the back as a battle standard in the Japanese fashion (see the battle sequences in the movie Ran) the Istinite blood drop holy symbol appears upon the cloth and glows with a warm yellow light in a 20' radius. The effective Charisma for determining the number of retainers and retainer morale is moved up one category (9-12 becomes 13-15 etc.). For those with 18 Charisma, they may have 8 retainers with a morale of 11.


velaran said...

Haven't virtually ALL the previously anonymous people in Christian literature been given a name by now? St. Anne being the most prominent, IIRC.

'it is rather shocking, not only that so many key moments in Christ's ministry are witnessed by women, but that the early Church would admit it.':
Jesus is a big fan of the ladies quite obviously. Whether in official lore('discredited' or not) and in folk memory, he's always depicted as being friendly to females.(And quite egalitarian, one might add!)
Unfortunately, various Church officials sought to reign in female secular autonomy/authority in the church and the status of various Apostles, Saints, and more legendary figures fell accordingly.

Mary Magdalene's fortunes have really fluctuated over the years: formerly the Apostle to the Apostles in the Ancient World, she then became the Patron Saint of Repentant Prostitutes.(Hardly something most people find admirable or empowering...[regardless of humanitarian intent.]) Though collaboration between sympathetic church hierarchy and recent feminist scholarship in and out of the aegis of Christianity had been slowly restoring her to prominence, the Catholic author Dan Brown has probably did more to bring Miss Mary back into the public eye.

Mary, Mother of Jesus, is a very interesting case! She's considered to be Queen wherever Jesus is Lord, so she's Queen of Heaven(and Commander of the Angels, I've read), Earth... And Hell! Medieval people in Europe were particular enamored of this often forgotten Aspect of Her.(Similarly not much emphasis on the Harrowing of Hell by modern people either.)

'who wanted to kill my character but could never justify why':
Wow. I guess it didn't occur to them this would be an Evil act?

'ultimately evil characters aren't much fun and probably shouldn't be part of the game.':
Of course group standards vary. But other than that, it depends on the level and sustainability of the Evil behavior, doesn't it? Someone who does the 'occasional' Evil act(i.e struggling with murderous rage toward foes) in the party, or is fairly malicious(say, Chaotic Evil) but cares for her/his compatriots could possibly hang in there. But I'd say it's only a matter of time before they end up dead.(Though they might last longer than expected![Even outlasting 'Heroes' on occasion. Sometimes the bad guys have good survival instinct, and altruism can be deadly in certain circumstances!])

As for how fun an Evil character can be, that seems to vary by the player, but ime, it's never played terribly long.(The banality of Evil, perhaps?) It seems to be an exercise in venting anti-social tendencies in a fictional venue, and as such the desire peters out after a time. I feel its better when somebody tries to grapple with the essence of the character's villainous outlook and tries for redemption(Sinners make the best Saints? Darth Vader?, There's Good In Everyone? and so forth.), whether succeeding or not.(Makes for gripping drama, done right.) 'Cartoonish' Evil(like say, I kill/rape/litter/kick kitties/deface libraries for the Hells of it and at the drop of a decapitated head) is kinda ludicrous and pointless, in my book.(Unless its a game revolving around that, like a goofy one-shot or some such.)

velaran said...

Hadda split post:
'I note that the game itself seems to encourage and acknowledge the concept of the female adventurer.':
Absolutely. Though AD&D's female STR penalty, unwarranted in a game(especially a fantasy one with Amazons), I'd say, and unfair since males weren't hampered in their statistics. Though AD&D had it's share of memorable Female NPCs. The MTF transsexual(revisionism counts ;-)) Iggwilv and her daughter(must've been a polymorph, huh?) Drelzna
probably top my list for their prominence. Though Eclavdra comes close.

'The example character for explaining character generation in Moldvay's Basic D&D is Morgan Ironwolf, who is not only female but played by a female.':
According to the Dungeons And Dragons Dungeon Master's Adventure Log(for AD&D), she's played by Tom Moldvay! Also of note in the Log is Sister Rebecca(Tom Moldvay's Sister, and an awesome Cleric; her laying down the Law to Morgan about killing the helpless is an absolute formative moment for me!), Yolanda Mirabilis, and Lakesla, all played by women. Knock Grafton, a male, is played by Jean Wells, who seems to have played a lot of guys, from what I recall in the Rogues Gallery and adventure playtests. And the illustrious Steve Marsh plays a half-elf female called Illysio Morningstar. Note that Black Dougal, here a 7th level LN(?)Ranger, is killed by a Fire Giant and not Poison, as we had been lead to believe! :-) Here's a link to the Grognardia Review, if you haven't seen it and are interested Dungeon Master's Adventure Log .

'I might add, was much better than the Moldvay co-authored version that was eventually published':
Absolutely. IIRC, there's a Jean Wells interview on Grognardia which mentions this. B3 was meant to be like a mini-campaign providing the base of operations and many adventures for the group, as I recall.

I've gamed with a lot of females, from childhood(where I played RPGs and other board/card/outdoor/video games almost exclusively with them) to adulthood. They usually tend to be really hard-ass butchers and want to wipe out the opposition, go back to the inn, grab a stableboy and call it a day! Woe betide you not give them their fair share of the treasure! They were also pretty into exploring the world and the characters' places in it, perhaps a bit moreso than some guys who seemingly were trying to outdo them in the bloodthirst category(and FAILED, I might add! :-D)

The Standard is cool, btw. Excellent post!

JB said...

RE Experience with the feminine side of the hobby:

All my best game experiences have included female players. I strive to include female gamers at the table whenever possible. There is an elevated dynamic that occurs when both men and women are present.

Oh...and very few of the women who I've gamed with have been interested in playing "ass-kickers" like Velaran describes. But then, when I've run games I've had a tendency to kill ass-kicking characters, and all the women I've gamed with have been smart and savvy types.
; )

velaran said...

My distaff players were not the looking for trouble type, but the ones who finished it when it was found. Which they considered a right and proper strategy in a brutal Swords and Sorcery type world. So, ya see, they were in character. ;-) The guys I compared them to were the 'ass-kickers' who were basically posturing, and got nowhere with it, I might add! Sometimes it made me wonder if females were smarter...(And none of them ever played an Evil PC, now that I think on it. Dunno why that slipped my mind...) The game play got considerably less bloody when we played something like Top Secret(Except when called for), Call of Cthulu(mostly...), Street Fighter(generally...), Gamma World(ok, not so much...), and Tunnels and Trolls(Um, no wait ;-)).... In other words, it varied due to default assumptions about survivability, which definitely shows an appreciation of the underpinnings of the genres, I'd say. The guys were mostly cool about knowing when to, and not to, wreak havoc as well. Except the guy with the huge Dead Character Sheet Pile, he never had any luck, or sense..., but he mostly endangered himself and he was fun to have around!

'I've had a tendency to kill ass-kicking characters':
You mean the GAME has, right? Not the GM? 'Cuz we don't do that! :-)

JB said...

@ Velaran: PCs have a tendency to die in my games...and the ones who are more "ass-kicky" in temperament seem to die quicker. That's all I meant.
; )

velaran said...

Oh yeah, I got your meaning!(I've seen the blog, and commented a coupla times...) ;-) I was being tongue-in-cheek there, but it is true for me. I've WANTED to waste a few PCs on principle, but luckily they themselves always rise to the occasion and off themselves(not as fast as I'd like sometimes, though.). :-D In my games, Death is omni-present, hovering just out of range, ready to snatch the unwary, as it should be, imo. Its easily provoked by stupidity, carelessness, and fake 'Badassery', ime.

It used to astound me when somebody played a character who was just reckless, uncooperative, and an all-round, over the top, self-centered jerkass(often times a 'combat monster' and tend to lean towards being Evil in general), and expected to survive, and even thrive! These people, which are thankfully rare, contribute greatly to the Dead Character Sheet Pile. The naive, unassuming, and sweet, but clueless seem to make up the rest(though they seem to get it after the loss of maybe one PC), those making the Heroic(Though they weren't always 'Heroes') Last Stand, Against All Odds, Dying In A Blaze Of Glory, In A Battle For The Ages round it out and are remembered with reverence. On topic, the first two types, have like never(as in maybe a couple?), been female! Fairly even representation on the 3rd, though.