Friday, August 29, 2014

Kickstart Your Weekend: Gor RPG & Interview

So on pretty much to polar opposite end of last weeks Kickstarter I present to you +James Desborough's Chronicles of Gor RPG.

I will be up up front. I am not a huge fan of James' earlier work.  I thought "The Slayer's Guide to Female Gamers" was juvenile and moronic.  BUT I loved "Machinations of the Space Princess" and "Agents of S.W.I.N.G."  Given the time between the projects I am more inclined to look at MotSP as his model.

The system will be D6.

My introduction to Gor was not as paperback but something I had read years and years ago in Penthouse.  It was about consensual BDSM and how this woman was looking forward to getting a Kef brand.

Gor is one of those problematic topics.  A deep rich publication history and an example of fantasy and planetary "Swords & Planets" sci-fi.  But it also involves a lot of subjugation of women and paints a fairly narrow view of sex and gender roles.  It is fantasy, however. It actually has less connection to reality than 50 Shades of Grey and it's tamer sire Twilight and those sold millions primarily to women and teenage girls.

BUT there are issues.

A lot of issues really.

So instead of just getting opinions from people on the internet, I opted to go right to James and get his side of it all.

The Other Side: Let's start with the easiest.  What is Gor for those that don't know?

James Desborough: Gor is the 'counter earth', an idea espoused in some ancient Greek philosophy. John Norman, the author, is a pretty big classics fan which comes across in his lionisation of the Greco-Roman dominant cultures on this world he has created. Gor spins in an orbit exactly opposite ours, shielded from our detection by the sun and the advanced technology of the mysterious Priest Kings. These beings, akin to feared gods, have transplanted various historical human - and non-human - cultures and animals onto their world and have kept them in what they seem to consider a state of nature. Low technology (in some areas), warring city states and a might makes right culture virtually across the entire land. It's harsh, savage, slavery - especially gendered slavery - is integral to the cultures there and it's very, very different to things on Earth.

TOS: Why Gor?  More importantly what attracted you to this property?

JD:  I genuinely am a fan of the books. I was gifted the first 24 or so books around the age of 15 and was very much taken by them. At the time I was an incredibly voracious reader going through several books a day on weekends and to be given 20+ books in one go was a huge deal. I was already a fan of ERB's Barsoom stories, Howard's Conan and had chewed my way through the entire SF&F sections of the local libraries so this was an amazing gift. The appeal of nubile slave girls depicted by Jim Burns, Chris Achilleos and the rest on the covers was obvious, but beneath all that there were interesting societies, strange cities, alien and inhuman beings behind it all and tarns! Who doesn't like gigantic flying birds? In the days before the internet, the BDSM elements, though tame by the standards of today, were also a revelation to a teenager struggling to understand themselves and feeling rather alone. It might be hard for people to understand that today.

So, I've long been a fan, it has personal meaning to me and I think it's a fascinating blend of planetary romance, ancient aliens, skullduggery, intrigue, interplanetary plots and well realised cultures. It's just something... different.

TOS: What is the involvement of (the creator) John Norman?

JD:  Mr Norman is not directly involved, but we're allowed to refer to ourselves as 'authorised'. Involvement comes via his agent and his current publisher who have had access to the completed game manuscripts - though I need to make a few more tweaks due to feedback not from them, but from critics, fans, readers and playtesters.

TOS: Let's take the next issue head on.  Gor has some issues with it's treatment of women, namely most women in the tales are slaves and sex slaves at that.  How do you plan on approaching this topic?

JD:  It's true that most women in the stories are slaves, and indeed, sex slaves, but the lead character Tarl Cabot is not the most reliable of narrators and though he spends the first few books trying to reconcile his Earth and Gorean heritages bad things that happen to him push him to a ruthlessly Gorean mode of thought. Most women in the stories are slaves because a lot of time is spent with personal slaves or in paga taverns where they're over-represented. In one of the books the percentage of women that are slaves is put at something like 2%, one in fifty so while it's present a great deal in the stories, it's not quite as domineering from a world-building point of view as you might imagine.

I have tried to simply present the Gorean world as it is written, to make some suggestions on how to play with or around these topics and to leave room for the players to make their own judgements. It should be noted however that in many, many incarnations of fan-created Gor roleplay online, it's this very feature of Gor that makes it so popular with women. It seems to tap into a common set of fantasies for people which, coupled with a fantastical world, has great appeal to many.

TOS: Related. What will be the role of the female character in Gor?

JD:  Part of what drew me to this project, which I've been sat on for about eighteen months getting it cleared, written and ready, is that it is 180 degrees from current trends in world design. Being inclusive of players is one thing, but being inclusive and tolerant of characters is quite another. The Gorean world is a genuinely patriarchal, slaveholding culture. It isn't tolerant or inclusive. Slavery is integral. They kill cripples and the deformed at birth - most of the time. If you look at it purely in our terms, from our perspective it's pretty monstrous in a huge number of ways but that's the very thing that makes it so interesting and appealing from a storytelling and roleplaying point of view and - from the Gorean point of view, these things aren't horrible or monstrous, they're natural.

There are plenty of competent, deadly and powerful female characters in the books and examples, not only the deadly Panther Girls but the Tatrix of Tharna, bandit queens, conspirators, Ubaras, free companions. While women are subject to a lot of social expectations, that can work in the favour of female characters much as it can in authentically themed Victorian historical settings or others where women are assumed to be a certain way or are accorded certain social privileges.

TOS: Outside of these issues you have described Gor as Planetary Romance.  What does Gor offer the gamer that say a Barsoom/Mars game might not?

JD:  Barsoom's strength is in its wild fantasy, Gor, for all its strange elements is much more believable and gritty, less juvenile in my opinion - not that there's anything wrong with that. Gorean societies feel like real, functioning societies at all levels and where the elements all fit together and work. It has an air of plausibility to it and much more opportunity to bring in Earth-based characters. The scope is also bigger, especially once you include the Priest Kings and the Kur. I think the other draw is that the cultures are fairly complex and well developed and none of them are 'evil', so you have a degree of nuance and tested loyalty that you're not so much going to get in other planetary romances. It's also more grown up and sexual, whereas the only real sense you get of that in Barsoom is from Whelan's book covers.

TOS: You have chosen the D6 system for Gor.  Tell us why you chose that and what you expect it will give to Gor?

JD:   I wanted to use a system that had some pedigree with working with new players. It's my hope that Gor will bring in some new gamers from the online RP scene and from amongst the fans of the series. Doing something super-radical and indie wasn't really going to work as some basic roleplaying concepts are hard enough to get across to people - the lack of a board for example. Some familiar structure is useful. D6 also has templates, which fit the Gorean caste system extremely well and allows for quick and easy, off-the-peg character creation. D6 was, of course, used for Star Wars up until 1999 and many people have fond memories of it and found it a good system for this kind of swashbuckling sci-fantasy adventure, so I think it's a safe bet to work well with Gor.

TOS: Tell us about the two books.  Gorean Roleplaying & World Book.

JD:  The Gorean roleplaying book is a primer for the Gorean world and contains all the rules, Games Master advice, help with adventures, a sample adventure, creatures, NPCs and so on. It doesn't, however go into a huge amount of world detail, just the basics.

The world book contains no mechanics and is more of an encyclopaedia, A-Z, with observations from a supposed scribe, taken from Earth, giving his reactions to things on Gor.

For the roleplayer both books together provide a complete game and background.

For the non-gamer, the world book provides a reference to the world of Gor, its inhabitants, creatures, cities and so on. It should make a good reading companion, or a resource for those writing fan-fiction or RPing in chatrooms or on Second Life.

TOS: After this gets produced what is next? Gor adventures or related books?

JD:  We've got the license for a good few years, with options for an extension. Obviously whatever further material we produce beyond the core two books won't be canonical but I'd like to try and do something beyond the normal adventure books. I've never really liked adventure books as they're not great value for money in and of themselves. If you can combine them with a travelogue, details, parts that can be re-used by the Games Master then they become much more useful. I'd quite like to trace Tarl's steps with a series of adventures adding and fleshing things out - non-canonically - filling in some of the gaps. I also want to make the Panther Girls closer to the self-scarifying badasses they're initially described as, I think that should appeal to some people.


I am very interested in seeing what James can produce here. If anyone can do it I think he can.
James answers more questions here,


rainswept said...

I have the same objections & concerns about this project as I do about the cosplaying of drow.

jdh417 said...

I'm not a Gor fan (I've only seen one of the movies), but good interview, Tim. That was interesting. Hope to see your review of the product someday.

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