Chronicles of Gor – Player Groups

GroupsFUND IT!

Creating player groups within the game part of Chronicles of Gor can seem like a tricky proposition. While I’m sure that gaming groups are smart enough to come up with reasons to throw characters together, it can’t hurt to have  few suggestions, particularly as people have some problems working out how slave characters – or even simply female characters – can fit into the mix.

Some General Suggestions

Free women frequently wield a lot of economic and social power – so long as they remain free. A free woman’s retinue is a good hook to build a group around with the other characters playing her guards, slaves, free companion etc.

You could have everyone play male characters if you can’t see a way around that.

Or have everyone play female characters and pay for hirelings to protect them – or have them play Panther Girls.

Mercenaries

A mercenary company may have men from many different cities, giving it a more cosmopolitan feel and allowing for men of many castes, cities and backgrounds to come together in common cause – the pursuit of wealth. Roles for women include spies, physicians, slavers, siege engineers, negotiators, saboteurs, camp followers and companions. Roles for slaves include fighting slaves, captives, camp slaves, pleasure slaves and work slaves.

Pirates

Port Kar – the main source of piracy for continental Gor and the primary naval power currently, is a much more cosmopolitan city than most on Gor. Anyone – pretty much – can roll up to Port Kar, open a business, join a crew and call themselves a citizen. Pirate crews then – like mercenary companies (many of which are based out of Kar) can be very mixed in terms of caste, city of origin and culture. Piracy and trade also make for great adventuring hooks and opportunities for a Games Master to throw things in the path of the players. Roles for women include spies, physicians, slavers, pirates themselves (if they’ve proved themselves), even pirate captains – since it’s wealth that determines fleet size, which in turn determines captaincy and a place on the Council of Captains. Roles for slaves include oarsmen (though Kar almost never uses slaves on its oars), captives, house slaves, pleasure slaves and work slaves (unlike most Gorean cities, Kar uses work slaves in its building projects).

Slavers

The slavers are a sub-caste of the merchants concerned with the capture, trade and training of slaves. They follow the battle lines, prey upon the broken cities and settlements and employ tricks and legal loopholes to gain new captures. Like pirates, mercenaries and bandits, merchants are cosmopolitan in their outlook compared to the other castes and will hire and work with members of their caste from almost anywhere. Roles for women include agents, salespeople, auctioneers, trainers, slavers themselves, breeders, overseers and more. Roles for slaves can be… any. Some slaves even aid with the training of others.

Merchants

Merchants have always taken a wider view of Gor than their fellows and have always been much more well travelled. A merchant caravan seeking its fortune can provide all manner of opportunities for adventure and any number of hangers on, guards, guests and others can tag along. The merchants also have their own espionage organisation and spies – as a caste – which again gives all manner of opportunities to those who want a group concept with some variety and opportunities for adventure. Roles for women include merchants, spies, traders, artisans and travellers. Roles for slaves can include work slaves, fighting slaves, trade goods, personal slaves, pleasure slaves, draft slaves and cargo slaves, palanquin carriers and personal attendants.

Entertainers

Travelling entertainers are not well regarded on Gor, though musicians and poets can claim some caste immunity from being enslaved (which makes such a good choice for a character, or cover, for female players who want to avoid that fate). Seen as little better than beggars the actors and actresses, stage magicians and performers are both looked down upon, and overlooked. Entertainer’s caravans can be great adventuring groups with all manner of secrets and looking for ways – even beyond putting on a show – to raise a little coin in order to get by. Roles for women include caravan masters, actresses (to a degree, slaves are preferred as acting lacks propriety), kaissa players, stage magicians, freaks, jugglers and performers. Roles for slaves including acting roles, personal slaves, performers and pack slaves. Fighting slaves are also an option as they offer an opportunity to make money for their owner.

Agents of Priest Kings/Kur

If you’re playing a high stakes game based around the ‘kaissa of worlds’ then the best route to take is to have your major players being agents of the Kur or of the Priest Kings. Agents of either power can be from anywhere, even from Earth, and have a certain amount of insulation from the normal threats of slavery and execution as they have a powerful group looking after them. Serving this higher purpose – to conquer or to protect the fate of two worlds – allows justification for all kinds of exceptions and strange groupings.

What is #GamerGate ?

Dagons-Lair-for-iPhone-screenshot-002This question seems to be popping up a lot and there’s a lot of obfuscation going on from the social justice warriors*, the gaming media (such as it is) and others. So here’s a quick primer into what’s going on (or you could start HERE):

An indie computer game developer – who happens to be a woman (irrelevant) – was exposed as having cheated on her boyfriend (irrelevant) with a bunch of guys (irrelevant) who happened to hold positions in gaming media and to have given her all sorts of booster articles and kudos (supremely fucking relevant).

Obviously, this at least looks dodgy as fuck, even if it’s all above board and just sexytimes rather than payment in kind. It calls into question journalistic integrity, which is what should divide professional gaming/journalism sites like Kotaku/Forbes/Vice etc from ‘mere’ games bloggers and Youtube personalities who are just doing what they do for the ‘lulz’ and the fun of it.

The conflict of interest should be obvious.

When this hit, however, it was ignored and/or suppressed by most of that same gaming journalism field, which again, looks dodgy as hell since it’s their ethics and transparency that are under question.

That was, however, just the spark of what has become a more generally skeptical and critical eye that has turned on other conflicts of interest (such as PR or consultancy businesses also run by games journalists) and long standing issues with corruption via threats, blacklisting, pre-order culture etc in games journalism.

It has ALSO become tangled up in a general backlash against the kind of judgemental, gamer-hating, ‘everything you like is bad and wrong’ articles which have also been common in the last few years, along with the lionisation of known fraud Anita Sarkeesian.

In short, it’s been a long time coming.

It has been complicated, of course, by trolls and by Social Justice Warriors who – along with the people under suspicion of corruption and ethical breaches – are using the fact that it all happened to start from a love septagon involving a woman to deflect into their existing narrative that it’s all to do with crying man-babies who don’t like women in their games. Unfortunately, accusations of misogyny, sexism, racism etc still carry a lot of currency and power in silencing people and the hate towards gamers is – at this point – well entrenched.

What it is really about is:

  • Journalistic ethics and integrity.
  • Irritation with clickbaiting.
  • Annoyance at being constantly demonised and criticised by people who are supposed to love your hobbies.
  • The many hateful articles and the doubling down on censorship and slandering of the fanbase sites have indulged in since this broke.
  • SJW censorship backlash.

This is also part of a wider cultural problem, affecting many forms of media and play.

As background, it’s worth noting that gamers have a very well justified siege mentality towards this sort of thing and wider nerd culture even more so. You can trace it back at least to Fredric Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent, via, Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, Tipper Gore, Jack Thompson, MMO scare stories and all the rest. In that context, little wonder people are suspicious and react badly to their concerns being brushed off as some, supposed, gamer-inherent misogyny (which has also been the basis of much slandering and hatred directed towards games and game producers themselves).

*’Social Justice Warriors’ (or SJWs) means the kind of Tumblrina, vicious, nasty online bully who likes to pretend at being progressive and liberal while being authoritarian, nasty and everything they claim to hate.

Chronicles of Gor – Worldbook Sample ‘D’

DDesert Kaiila: The desert kaiila is similar to the kaiila used by the wagon people. A lofty, silken, long-necked creature it has a smooth gait and a proud bearing. The desert kaiila stands around twenty hands at the shoulder and is a swift runner with great stamina, able to cover over six-hundred pasangs in a day. While a swift and useful mount, desert kaiila are also temperamental and vicious. Desert kaiila are almost always tawny in color and unlike the more common kaiila suckle their young. Desert kaiila milk is reddish, with a strong salty taste and a high level of iron. Desert kaiila are omnivorous with broad, heavy, padded paws with webbed toes. This keeps them more stable on the sand, and especially in the dunes.

Observations:
I have a hard enough time with horses. Mounting a predatory, stinking, pest-ridden beast in the heat of the desert and before men who were born to the saddle is much worse than mounting a horse. The worse you can get with a horse is trodden on, the worst with kaiila is eaten. At least the desert breed is somewhat more mellow than the northern kaiila and as content to munch on plants as people.

Chronicles of Gor – Sex, Gender, Race, Consent, Fantasy & Gor

RaceFUND IT!

This is going to be a bit of an essay, in which I try to address – or at least talk about – some of the worries, concerns and objections to the very concept of this game that have been doing the rounds. So, ‘For god’s sake, strap yourselves in!’ – keeping your foot on the red pedal is optional.

Race & Gor

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

Despite being written in the 60s – up until today – Gor gets a lot of comparisons with the pulps, and with good reason. To the modern mind a great deal of the pulps were extremely sexist, racist and otherwise fit that dread phrase ‘problematic’. Certainly a lot of the pre WWII pulps contain a lot of racism. Robert E Howard’s assumptions about race are fairly explicit, HP Lovecraft’s even more so. Edgar Rice Burroughs was playing with racial perceptions in the early John Carter stories and Tarzan certainly plays around with the same topics. In writing my neo-pulp story collection Pulp Nova, I played around with some of the ideas and inverted some of the same expectations in the story ‘Wild’.

To a casual reader, Gor might – at first – seem racist. One sees references to ‘Red Savages’, ‘Red Hunters’, the Pani (ersatz Japanese) have a somewhat moustache-twirling cruelty to them but, not one that’s unjustified by history, and Bila Hiruma is referred to as the ‘great black Ubar’. Dig beneath this surface though and the books are surprisingly respectful, and even admiring, of the transplanted cultures that are found on Gor.

The hero of the stories, Tarl Cabot, ingratiates himself with the various cultures he encounters but never truly outshines them. It is often the secondary characters within those cultures that are the true heroes of the story, with Tarl as the observer to their genius, their sidekick or even their slave. The native American culture (Savages of Gor, Blood Brothers of Gor) is particularly interesting. A extremely militant and protective culture carrying the memory of mistreatment in the settling of America and organised, ruthlessly, to prevent the same happening to their lands on Gor.

Sex & Gender

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

The Gorean world is one of savage, might makes right, philosophy for the most part – though ‘might’ can take many forms from physical to intellectual or economic. It’s savage and cruel in many ways and a great deal of political and social power derives directly from the strength of one’s sword arm. As such it is a world of extremely stratified and defined gender roles with much of the political, and almost all the military power, residing with men.

Yes, men and women’s roles in society are – typically – very constrained but that’s a reflection of the wider (normal) Gorean society which is very stratified by caste as well as gender and by people ‘knowing their place and role’. That’s the very thing that makes defying those expectations and playing characters that defy, pervert or undermine those expectations (or embody them!) so interesting.

Since the criticism directed has been towards the roles available to women in the Gorean setting, I’ll direct this section towards that.

Tarl is an exceptional character, as the protagonist, and also an unreliable narrator coloured by his own experiences and betrayals. Still, he meets many women in his explorations of Gor and they’re not all helpless maidens or slaves – or at least they don’t start out that way.

  • Right from the start, in Tarnsmen of Gor, Tarl encounters Talena, who is – at least in the first books – much his equal in terms of cunning. The daughter of Marlenus she not only throws Tarl from his tarn saddle but wins him as a free companion – as his equal – but also survives amongst the panther girls, regains her position in Ar and overthrows its government.
  • In Outlaw of Gor there is a whole city, Tharna, run by women who – somehow – wrested control away from the normal male-dominated state of affairs. True they were overthrown, but women were the ones in power there, controlling and subjugating men (until the revolt).
  • In most of the plots of the Kur, their agents are women – and often those of Earth – running schemes and plots upon which the fates of worlds rest.
  • In Tribesmen of Gor, the bandit leader Tarna is a woman, and one who defies the normal gender constraints by wielding weapons and – by all accounts – being rather handy with the scimitar.
  • In Hunters of Gor, Verna – leader of a band of panther girls – is shown to be an equal of Marlenus and a woman who cannot be tamed. The panther girls as a whole are a countercultural defiance of Gor’s natural order and quite ‘hardcore’, even using scarification and self-mutilation to defy Gorean standards fo beauty and to render themselves ‘worthless’ as slaves.
  • By the time we get to Conspirators of Gor, we have the Lady Bina, once a mute grooming slave of the Kur, now – with Grendal in tow – potentially a major threat to Gor as a whole, with the ambition to rule the whole world.
  • We see huntresses, physicians, leaders and – yes – slave girls, some of which ‘top from the bottom’ with as much control over their Masters as their masters are supposed to wield over them. We also see women – like Tarna – with seraglios full of male silk slaves, serving their whims.

Slavery

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

Gor contains slavery. This is not unusual for game settings. Slavery exists in many fiction settings and games, as well as existing throughout human history and – in some forms – still today. What is different and challenging about the Gorean setting is that slavery in this context is not seen as an unambiguous evil, but sometimes even as something… good, it also takes it to an extreme.

Slaves are not only taken on Gor, they are bred and it is an accepted part of the Gorean culture that some people are natural slaves and that that’s the state they belong in and are most fulfilled as. Within Gorean gender relations that is most often taken to be women and that is the message of the entire culture, with female slavery in particular being something simultaneously full of dread and titillation to Gorean free women.

Gor, BDSM, Consent, Roleplay & ‘Rape’

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

Gor exists in a space with some relation to the BDSM community. ‘Gorean slavery’ exists as a real kink, or style of kink at least, playing off some of the formalised slave movements, poses, recitations and behaviours played out in the novels.

The novels themselves are actually fairly coy, with very little in the way of graphic sexual activity being depicted. Most of it is simply hinted at or takes place ‘off screen’. The difference between them and, say, Conan, is that the sexual part is at least acknowledged rather than being simply implicit.

Something that is hugely important in the BDSM community is consent, even when the appearance of consent is absent (consensual non-consent, slave play or rape-play). It’s arguably more integral and up front in the BDSM community than it is in relation to any other aspect of sexuality in a way that’s only recently been brought to the fore elsewhere. This is even formalised in soft limits, hard limits and – perhaps most explicitly – in the practice of having safe words.

This is not entirely different to the social contracts we create around roleplaying, one form of fantasy play not being that different to another when you get down to it. We have rules to make it safe and it all operates on consent.

One last thing worth pointing out is the role of ‘rape’ in the Gorean novels. The word doesn’t quite carry the same connotation within Gorean society as it does to us, being more akin in meaning to the colloquial use. On Gor its meaning is more like ‘ravish’, to take with passion and strength and force. In a world where it is the considered wisdom of both free people and slaves that slaves wish to be slaves and where sexual fervour and freedom can lead to frenzies of lust, the context is also different.

Nobody is saying this is the state of the real world.

What I’m finding fascinating is the RPG people shaming the kinksters and the kinksters shaming the RPG people. Gor seems to exist at a Lagrange Point of contempt between two groups of people who really, really, aren’t all that dissimilar.

The Role of Fantasy

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

Fantasy gives us a space to engage in behaviours, to experience situations and to experiment within a safe space. For some reason, which continues to utterly befuddle me, this is considered fine when it comes to murder, warfare, horror, violence, torture etc, but is still considered – for many people – off limits when it comes to anything titillating or sexual and that seems to be spreading to other things as well. This isn’t really the place to get into that in detail.

uThere is a line between reality and fantasy and the vast and overwhelming majority of people nderstand and respect that line. You can slaughter a hundred bandits beneath your axe playing D&D and not think it too many, nor be held suspect (at least not since the 1980s) that it would make you a mass murderer. You can summon up fell demons from the warp and set them upon your enemies in Warhammer and nobody is going to think you’re a satanic cultist. You can read 50 Shades of Grey (I know, I know…) and nobody necessarily thinks you’re into everything that’s in that.

So why should a little titillation and fantastical gender relations be any different?

I don’t know.

Conclusion

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

The sexual aspect, even in the books, is background exoticism against the backdrop of which adventures, intrigue and exotic adventures take place. You can ramp it up or tone it down as you and your group prefer, but it is integral to the background. It is one of the most intriguing, difficult and different aspects to a game that there is. Do we not want to be challenged? To stretch our mental legs? Can we not enjoy things that are difficult? Imagine alternate moral systems and cultural norms? Is this not a big part of the deeper appeal of roleplaying games? If we’re only going to be playing in fantasy theme parks that reflect our modern sensibilities, with a thin veneer of magic, dragons or science fiction, then we’re selling ourselves short.

At least, that’s my opinion.

Nor do we have to approve of the Gorean culture. Tarl spends a great deal of time in the first few books having trouble adjusting, as does Jason in the novels that focus around him. Those men are, of course, of Earth, while those brought up within Gorean culture – male or female – are unlikely to have the same trouble or to be able to understand the moral quandries that those men went through.

My aim in providing the game book, and the world book, is to provide tools to play YOUR games and to make YOUR Gor. Whether you want to indulge your swords-and-sandals fantasies and lead strings of captured women (or men) from burning towns, or whether you want to lead a revolt of panther girls to raid the border towns and liberate the slaves, that’s entirely up to you. They’re all valid choices.

With any game, I think the best thing to do is to provide the tools and the context, and then to let people make their own stories.

Chronicles of Gor – Worldbook sample ‘C’

Castes

FUND IT!

Caste System: Civilized Gor exists within a well developed and life-shaping caste structure. Everyone is born into a caste and, for the most part, will not change caste during their life. It is possible to, by companionship, apprenticeship or being accepted and initiated into the new caste, but most grow up proud of their caste and eager to take on its duties.

Children are considered to be of their father’s caste while female companions can retain their own caste or join their companion’s caste. While every caste has its secrets and its pride, regarding itself as essential, there are still divisions between the high castes and the low castes.

Rulers – administrators and Ubars – always come from the high castes and are advised by a council drawn from the high castes, though the Ubar need pay them no heed. Indeed, if a low caste ruler should ever rise, superstition tells that the city will fall to ruin.

Castes look after their own, providing caste sanctuary, contributing to caste based charities and taking part in entertainments and competitions determined by caste. Not all members born to a caste are necessarily talented enough to take up the main job associated with that caste. The physicians, for example, can only make the subtleties of their advanced medicine known to the most intelligent of those who enter the caste. Others may find work delivering medical products, working to grind ingredients or acting as couriers, taking scrolls of recipes and discoveries from one city to another.

Male children are trained in the workings of the caste from birth, alongside the rest of their education while women are not typically trained in the skills of the caste until they have given birth to two children. Despite this, many women run households, small businesses or make businesses of hobbies. They also often act as the ‘front’ of the caste, representatives of the rest of their caste in negotiations.

Outlaws and slaves lose their caste rights, though a freed slave may be able to reclaim them.

Gorean Chronicles – Men are from Gor, Women are from Erskan

sexFUND IT!

A lot of ink (pixels?) have been spilt over the years about the misogynistic and patriarchal nature of the Gorean world and – more recently – about this fundraiser and this game as a whole. The Free Woman/Slave division is seen as the virgin/whore dichotomy writ large. Michael Moorcock even campaigned for Gorean novels to be put on the top shelf and Norman himself has blamed these criticisms for various setbacks over the time the novels have been published, though I’m not sure how true that is.

Still, we live in a more enlightened age, don’t we? People are much freer about sexuality than they used to be and after the Comics Code, Satanic Panic, Murder Simulators and all the other nonsense we’ve had to put up with we’re all well aware that (for the vast and overwhelming majority of people) there’s a sharp delineation between fantasy and reality? Right?

Right?

It seems not.

Well then, is there a role for women in a Gorean role-playing game or are they destined to just be – as some wag asked me on Twitter – ‘part of the equipment list?’

There’s no getting away from the fact that the Gorean society, as written is deeply patriarchal – as in genuinely, actually patriarchal. Men hold the power but in the Gorean world that is largely because men still hold the means of production and the military might. Gor is largely pre-industrial, everything is done by hand and muscle power is more important in fighting, agriculture and in generally keeping the world moving. Men cannot be done without and as such hold the balance of physical power.

Women are not without power though. Many castes do not disfavour women, the Scribes, Physicians and Initiates certainly don’t, and there’s nothing to prevent a woman becoming the head of her caste in a city. The caste of Warriors lacks examples of women in the books, but as an hereditary caste there seems no reason to think that there aren’t female warriors, though they might be more likely to fall into support roles, espionage and the like. Women in the Caste of Builders might be supply sellers, architects, researchers, even if they’re less likely to be hod-carriers or bricklayers.

Women hold a great deal of economic power as well, running most of the shops, leading merchant houses, investing their money, managing estates and breeding racing tharlarion (examples from the books). Free women are accorded a level of respect that – within certain bounds – give them a decided social advantage over Gorean men. Nor are free women asexual ‘Madonnas’. Free women have access to male silk slaves and are presented as sexual beings throughout the books, slavery is not an inevitable fate and many women and men find free companions to be with (equivalent to marriage) though both may also have slaves to entertain them on the side.

Tharna, until it was overthrown, was a vicious matriarchy. There are Panther Girls in the northern forests and in the great jungle of the interior (called Talunas) who are runaway slaves and free women who reject the dominant male society. So tough and committed are they that some scar their faces or otherwise mutilate themselves to show their rejection of Gorean society.

Nor is there any reason you can’t play as a slave girl (or slave boy) within the group. Many slaves are loved and cherished, fought over and for and many slaves have played key roles in important events on Gor. A slave may also only temporarily be a slave, seeking to earn their freedom or perhaps a skilled thief put in a collar as a punishment and simply biding their time.

Nobody, male or female, at the table should be – or is – forced to put up with anything they don’t want to.

Fantasy games, books, graphic novels, heck – fantasy art in general – is an opportunity to engage with and experience a world that doesn’t even have to exist. We don’t even have to like what occurs there to enjoy it. Just consider the popularity of horror novels, of splatterpunk films, reaction videos. It’s OK to enjoy ‘problematic things’ and you don’t have to agree with them to enjoy it. A game world that is genuinely different is interesting, conflict is interesting, a bland, generic, everything is shiny and happy game world is dull as ditchwater.

It’s fantasy.

Your game is your own, make it your own.

Repeat that mantra.

When it comes to sexuality, Gor in the novels is presented as almost 100% heterosexual, though there are a few hints as to otherwise and one glaring exception that gives some hints that homosexuality is accepted within Gorean society and catered to by slavers. In short, there’s nothing whatsoever to stop you playing a gay or lesbian character and Gorean society doesn’t seem to give too much of a fig about it on a societal level.

Transgender issues are a bit more thorny. So if you’re sensitive, stop reading now.

Still want to read on?

Good.

Intersex conditions are likely to be viewed as deformity and the Goreans are pretty ruthless when it comes to babies with deformities, killing them almost all the time – for any deformity that cannot be healed or prevented by the physicians. Deformed people and cripples are viewed with disgust more than pity and even begging a living can become virtually impossible for them as in Gorean society it is seen as a deep insult to either be pitied or to be shown pity. It’s all a bit Spartan.

With that unpleasantness out of the way, what about people who aren’t intersex but feel that they’ve been born into the wrong sex? Given Gorean views on the importance of gender this is likely to be a very difficult path to go down and they’re more likely to be slotted into the homosexual identity than anything else. Some cultures have room for those who live differently than their obvious gender, the Red Savages in particular make young men who fail to become warriors live as women and it seems likely that the transplanted cultures of the jungles and of the barrens have also carried over cultural acceptance and spiritual reverence for this kind of thing.

It’d be a hard thing to play out, just as its a hard thing in real life, but the conflict between the hugely strict and important Gorean attitude to gender and someone who defies that could make for fascinating RP.

Chronicles of Gor – Dead Trees

FUND IT!

It’s been suggested by some that I’m just in this for the moolah (which at this point remains to be seen), rather than being a TruFan™.

Here are the Gor books that I was gifted some 20+ years ago.

And some of my favourite covers.

As you can see. They are actual, real, physical books, wot I own.

The Roger Dean-esque font is delicious, but sadly probably a little tooooo 70s for anything but nouveau-prog rock album covers any more. The free font Medusa is very similar, if you fancy having a go with it yourself.

Some of the fantasy greats worked on covers for the paperbacks.

Burns being one of my most favourite fantasy artists, and the one I think made the best Gorean cover, this one for Explorers of Gor.

With an art pedigree like this, you can see why I want enough money to make these books visually striking!

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JimBurns_ExplorersOfGor