“Wokeness” and Pendragon

Knight from Pendragon Rulebook

I was asked about the desire of some players of Pendragon to play characters who are not necessarily white, male, Christian, heterosexual, upper class people in the comments to my last post. I think it’s an interesting question, so I’m going to write another post about it. 

Let’s begin with an issue of my own making, because of an aspect of the game I omitted: Pendragon’s setting draws on history, legend, folklore, and literature from many different periods to differing degrees, and encourages GMs to do the same. Greg Stafford did draw heavily from Mallory, but he wasn’t afraid to dip into some unpublished French manuscript or steal a scene from Excalibur if it was what worked. 

Among all of that, there are certainly opportunities to play all sorts of knights of different genders, backgrounds, faiths, and sexual orientations. These are not anomalies – most were built into the official game at one point or another. Early on, Greg allowed pagan knights out of player concerns as to playing Christian warriors, and the rulebook started discussing the possibility of women as knights way back in 1990. This is not to say this inclusion is always done thoroughly or particularly well. Still, bringing in players who might not want to play what they see as the “default” in an Arthurian literature game has been key to the system from the beginning.

And sometimes they just need to be brought in. For example, my Pendragon groups have begun with most characters being pagan, because they feel more comfortable with that. As time goes on, however, some of them create Christian characters, because they feel comfortable with trying them out. I don’t know how to analyze this, but I think that being open to accommodating other people may lead them to reach out similarly. 

One other note about wokeness. I’ve always found that whatever dangers may arise from attempts to be inclusive are a distant second to those that arise from its absence. I have a recent example from Pendragon that establishes this.

A few months ago, Chaosium released a quick start that also reflected the changes in the upcoming sixth edition rules. It sparked off considerable controversy in the fan community, with some people very angry about what they were seeing. Why? Because the quick start adventure mentioned the possibility that female knights might be characters, and a statement that the art of Pendragon books from this point forward would include more women in armor.

Yes, the rulebook suggested how to include women as knights back in 1990. That artwork at the top of this page? From the current rulebook. Will the rules be changing anything about their inclusion? Not really – it remains at the group’s discretion.

Yet we have had some people furious because an upcoming book might have slightly different art that harms no one and has no impact on their lives or leisure time activities, but that might encourage other people to buy the book and play the game. Those are the people who worry me, frankly.

It might be best to end with a dimly-remembered anecdote from a lost message board about Greg Stafford. Someone once told him, “I won’t play Pendragon until I can play a lesbian Jewish knight.” Greg said, “Come over next Tuesday!”

Published in: on February 8, 2021 at 8:34 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 Comments

  1. Worth mentioning Female knights were no unheard of. Forget 1990. What about Bradamante from the Middle Ages?

  2. I understand the feelings of those who are upset by Chaosiums introduction of female knights into Pendragon. Not that I’m against female knights (or gay, or smurf) in roleplaying games in general, but in this case it diminishes the setting, which, yes, emulates medieval chivalric romance. Not everything is strictly historical and Stafford made debatable choices (the pagan knihts for example),yet many of the essential elements typical for these tales (male knights, christian society, no magic user characters,…) are there. It’s what makes the game tick. And the choices he made were not driven by a desire to pander to hardcore identity politics. They were an attempt to reconcile contradictory sources, eg the (supposed) historical Arthur and the one of late medieval imagination. Pagan knights are not allowed because there is a need to make space for pagan players at the table, they’re there because paganism was still present in the days of the historical Arthur.

    Which brings me to the notion of “inclusiveness” as it is currently pushed by woke activists. It has nothing to do with welcoming players that are “different”. Everybody was always welcome to play Pendragon, as long as you’re interested in playing a traditional knight, because that is what the setting is about. Your race, culture, sex, gender, hair color, shoe size or political opinions didn’t matter. It’s not what you’re there for when you show up to play. If there is a problem in a group of players, it’s typically not related to the game itself, and it will show up in every game this group plays, whether that be vanilla broad minded D&D or a game like Pendragon with its restricted and to us mostly alien setting.

    Woke activism isn’t terribly interested in this type of real life inclusivity. They pretend they are, some of the more confused might actually be, but what they really strive for is to enforce a narrow set of cultural norms in all products of the imagination. Every setting has to bend to the identity obsessions of a bunch of radical narcissists who cannot bear the thought that an imaginary world might not conform to their ideals. It doesn’t matter there are plenty of games in which female knights are already present, or that some GMs will allow them locally in their own groups. No, what matters is that all RPG publications fit the norms and strike out anything offensive to the loudest shouters. You might think this is harmless and has no impact on those who don’t welcome the change (they can just continue privately in their old bad ways, dinosaurs!), but you are utterly wrong in this. The loss of true diversity is a genuine loss. It’s sad you can’t see that. And worrying. Much more worrying than the nerd rage of some disappointed Pendragon fans.

    Those who are angry about the changes made by Chaosium are not angry in a vacuum. Cancel culture rules. Radical identity politics is everywhere these days, pushed by twitter trolls and online witch hunts. They see that Chaosium, like many other “big” publishers, is giving in to this, and they’re upset about the ultimately depressing outcome this will lead to if it continues to rage, not only the debasemant of a much loved unique game, but a bland monoculture with just one story to rule us all.

    • This guy is super angry about women being in his elf games and it shows.

      “Adding diversity is the true loss of diversity!” ahahahaha

      Imagine losing sleep at night because an imaginary elf game about a folklore history that never happened that already includes magic and dragons isn’t “realistic” because knights can be women or gay which actually is historical.

      These people crack me up, it’s hilarious and also just really really sad and pathetic.

      • I must say I was hesitant to write that long post. Partly because, unlike what this snide little troll claims, I’m not super angry or losing sleep over this. I wasn’t even aware of Chaosiums plans until I readd about themin this blo entry. I was, however, aware of the now for some time ongoing purge of older D&D material by WOTC under pressure from identitarian activists. And I do think something critical can and should be said about this. Intolerance and toxic identity politics are on the rise, and within the RPG world, they come mostly from the left. I’m noit sure you can call it liberal anymore, certainly not the most radical voices.

        And this is the second reason I was reluctant to post. I knew it was likely to generate at least some hateful, disrespectful personal attacks from clowns and keyboard nazis who don’t know me at all but are always ready to make big negative assumptions. I don’t have the appetite for that sort of nonsense, and don’t want to make time for it. Flame wars are for twerps and 15 year olds.

        Nillic, you could have written a thoughtful reply and we might have had a conversation. That you instead chose to post this wank speaks volumes. The words “sad” and “pathetic” spring to mind.

        (oh, I also believe you don’t grasp the concept of genre, or it’s relevance to gaming, to answer the one argument you give. My objection is not so much that women knights are not historical in a real world sense, it’s that offering them as a regular character choice in Pendragon doesn’t fit this particular genre. Dragons and magic of certain types do. But also not for player characters)

  3. Methinks gavroche has watched too many youtube videos featuring the words “red pill”. The idea that letting people play a wider range of identities is “a loss of true diversity”…
    As Tim points out, in the chivalric tradition as constructed in late medieval/renaissance sources like Orlando Innamorato and Furioso has female knights, not to mention pagan knights, saracen knights, and queer characters too.

    • Yes, well… If you had paid better attention to what I actually wrote instead of making facile and misplaced comments about red pills, you would have noticed that I have no beef with people playing a wide range of identities. What I lament is the drive to make RPG *publications*, not actual people, all conform to a narrow set of values. And that is a loss of diversity, whichever way you turn it. Regardless of whether or not you like the values championed.

      I’m well aware that late medieval/renaissance sources are quite varied, but if you are honest, you will also have to admit they not quite conform to woke dogma even in the case of female, homosexual or other outside the norm characters. Pointing out that not everyone in chivalric romance was a white male heterosexual christian is nothing but a diversionary tactic, sidestepping the real issues.


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