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.

2 responses to “Chronicles of Gor – Sex, Gender, Race, Consent, Fantasy & Gor

  1. Wow, I wish I’d have stumbled upon yours before writing mine.🙂
    You really went into it in detail and, in my humble opinion, made an extraordinarily classy post explaining the Gorean universe without falling into the “fanboy-trap”. I, being a fan of Gor as well as classic pen&paper RPGs, especially agree with your notion about “kinksters” and roleplayer being at each others throats for something so silly while they could so easily compliment each other.
    Back in my RPG-days we let our fantasy world even slide a little into a darker version, a mixture of Conan and Gor so I wish you all the best with this!
    I am not just impressed but I sincerely hope your project is met with success!
    If you’re ever looking for a female perspective please don’t hesitate to ask.

    • The World Book isn’t RPG material, just background material. The best way to help out would be to raise awareness of the project – and donate!😉

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