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Thought experiment: 50/50 male/female balance amongst knights, what are the consequences?


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People have noted, in this thread and elsewhere, that IRL the average woman tends to have lower strength than the average man. This could possibly have a (negative) effect on the female knight's effectiveness in combat, also possibly leading to some form of "discrimination" on the part of liege lords.

However, again in this thread and elsewhere, it has been noted that women warriors are historically common in several cultures. Do we have any data or documents on how female warriors were evaluated in these cultures? Were they thought of as equal to male warriors? Or, did they tend to have some "specialized" duty or position, which relied more on physical characteristics different from STR? Could this information be applied and relevant for knightly combat?

In general, could some physical or mental characteristic of women compensate (or more than compensate) their perceived lower strength, making them as effective as men,  in the liege's eyes, in carrying out knightly duties?

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My impression (which could be wrong) is that they were probably never "common" as much as just existing. Of course, we have records of women sneaking off to enlist all the way up through the 19th century, so it's always been a factor.

Of course most of the tribal cultures where f.x. the Romans reported the sight, were also non-literate so we have little idea of how they functioned internally.

As a general rule though, a woman in the ranks is likely to be there because she's made the explicit decision to do so, while a man may be there before it's expected or because he was drafted in. As Napoleon said, morale is to the physical as three is to one.

Edited by weasel fierce
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Agreed with weasel fierce; women warriors existed in some cultures but they were not common as in a significant fraction of the army. Sieges, sure, drop stuff from the wall.

In the more industrial age, guns are a great equalizer. Also the more massive armies of post-French Revolution meant that you are taking even teen boys off the street who might not be all that muscular compared to a grown woman. That was the usual cover for women in the civil war armies, pretending to be young man to explain the smooth cheeks and higher voice.

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The notion of Celtic women warriors as being a routine thing in historical reality (as distinct from the definite historical reality of individual women warriors like Boudica) is iffy, in part because there really isn’t some single unified “Celtic” society that remains the same across a wide geographical area over many centuries of time, and collecting scattered isolated references that relate to different places and different times and then synthesizing them into a single timeless “norm” poses a lot of problems.

Here’s an entertaining rant on the subject of popular misconceptions about “Celtic” women  (by someone who has professional qualifications in the area):  https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/08/the-myths-of-avalon.html

But the thing is, there are women warriors in Irish myth - and for Pendragon how common they were there in reality isn’t as important as whether they are an accepted part of stories.  (Not that them not being in myths should exclude them, of course.)

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There are also some very interesting examples of Women knights in Arthurian litterature:

the Wigalois from Winrt von Grafenburg has Marine of Alarie and her troop of women warriors (all noblewomen with no male kin left beacause of the villain of the story) helping the eponymous hero in his adventures. She meets Gawaine who basically goes cool beans a woman knight and nothing more is made of it. 
 

We have Silence and Avenable/Grisandole from their stories (basically the same story Woman hides she is a woman becomes the King/Emperor best knight) Le roman de Silence being the best version as far as I am concerned, but the archetype is interesting in both versions.

Then of course Spenser’s Faerie Queen has Britomart and Palladine. In both cases they are simply treated and presented as renowned knights. There are also Radigund the amazon queen and her army of amazons. Would love eventually to play an Amazon that decides to go see what the chivalry thing is all about.

I have never felt the need to fight canon to include as many women knights and warriors as I felt like. 

Not sure, however how strength differences between men and women matter much in a setting with fairy knights, solar powered heroes and knights that can pick up their cut heads from the floor. The authors of the time didn’t care about things like these and neither do I. My arthurian stories have never been about the historical but rather the mythical.

 

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6 minutes ago, MelronPeredor said:

Not sure, however how strength differences between men and women matter much in a setting with fairy knights, solar powered heroes and knights that can pick up their cut heads from the floor. The authors of the time didn’t care about things like these and neither do I. My arthurian stories have never been about the historical but rather the mythical.

Not all things are equal to others. Simply because magic exists, it doesn't mean that all people are mages. But as you said, you don't care about that. Which is fair. Your Pendragon Will Vary, as Greg was prone to saying. Me, I like to keep the campaign a bit more grounded (up to a point given the faeries, monsters, and anachronistic society and technology; they are more of an overlay for me).

IF the people in KAP are regular humans, then they, as a population, have some average characteristics that can be broken down by sex and by culture (or to use an outdated term, race, since BotK&L clearly posits that the cultural modifiers are genetic, not actual culture i.e. nurture). In KAP, there have been differences in the stats between male knights and female ladies (i.e. non-knights) since 1E. And since it is more useful to talk about what is in the books (or what is the case in real world) than just posit something specific to a single campaign, that is the example I used (as well as gave my own 'correction' to the stats), to see what the effect would be.

Warrior women are exceptional people who are equal to men in strength and stature? Yep, no argument there. In fact, I argued that self-selection would likely ensure that they'd be better than the average male, even ignoring the determination to excel, although the male knights would probably been raised to be determined to excel, too, lest they bring shame on themselves and their families. But when it comes to PKs, by far the easiest and cleanest way to handle it is to use exactly the same character generation rules for male and female knights, regardless of sex.

But if you just take the average of all women and the average of all men, if they correspond to the modern size differences that we see reflected through the ages, then yes, the female homo sapiens sapiens is on average smaller and weaker than the male homo sapiens sapiens. Of course, you don't have to make that assumption in the game. In your game world, all the women can be 6' tall amazons able to armwrestle just as well as any man. But then there can be some ripple effects from this. Gender roles might shift a bit. You lose the instinctive default that people have of gender roles in pre-modern times, shown in movies, when the difference in the physical strength mattered for agriculture, the daily life for most people.

Also, if you make all combatants 50/50 male and women, the PKs will be putting female Saxon raiders to the sword, too, riding them down and putting them out of their misery afterwards. And... I think it is part of the cultural conditioning that we tend to accept male enemies being killed much easier than female enemies (just look at any Hollywood action movie, let alone a war movie, or a shooter game; naturally those are mainly driven by the proportion of men vs. women in those roles in the real world, too). I am not saying that it was all fun and games to be a female civilian in war times; it most certainly wasn't and isn't. What I am saying (and this probably says more about my own biases) is that at least for me (as a player), whether the game is post-apocalyptic Fallout with GURPS or way advanced technological scifi (with GURPS again) or generic fantasy with D&D, in all of those cases I need a moment to reset my brain from 'hitting girls is wrong' to 'it is an enemy trying to kill you, kill it first quick!' whenever the opponent is a female. And since it is my brain, it doesn't matter if I happen to be playing a female or a male character in those situations. I recognize that is a sexist bias to have: killing people is a bad thing, regardless of the gender (we are obviously talking about imaginary people here, characters in a story). That might be an interesting question, actually, if other people have a similar bias, and if that bias holds even if the player is female? And I wonder if that same bias is making me less likely to put female opponents up against the PKs in the campaigns I GM, unless I am really trying to make it into 'are we the baddies' -scenario, such as post-Lindsey and post-Badon 'revenge' campaigns on Saxon lands, fighting against boys, old men and women (with some warrior women sprinkled in, too).

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It's worth noting that "Women are shorter and weaker on average" does not translate into "members of an exclusive and highly trained warrior elite will be smaller and weaker than the typical foot soldier" because there's a selection process going on.

Just like if the oldest son is sickly and frail, he gets sent off to the monastery instead of being trained to be a warrior. I know you aren't necessarily saying that it would, just wanted to point it out. 

And of course, as we're playing a game with dice, for every woman that rolls well for strength, there's a man that didn't :)

As far as actual distributions in the game, my stance for Pendragon is much as it has been for other semi-historical semi-fantasy games: Players can play whatever they want (within reason) while the world tends to look as we would expect it from literature or history. 

Hence, you can play a lady knight (Sir Ma'am) if desired, but very few knights in the setting will be women. Occasionally, an NPC will remark on the matter, usually they will not.  In that regard, it is no different from pagan knights, faeries or any other thing that is "not for reals" but which we desire to have in our games. 

So far that has served me pretty well. I find that a lot of the very militant stances is confined to weirdoes on the internet who enjoy arguing about what other people should be allowed to do in their games, because nobody will put up with them at the table. 

 

I realize that's a bit of a digression in a thread that is specifically about a thought experiment and the logical conclusions thereof, but since the esteemed Morien was pontificating, I wanted to as well 🙂

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10 minutes ago, Morien said:

That might be an interesting question, actually, if other people have a similar bias, and if that bias holds even if the player is female? 

From experience, women at the table will 100% kill a fool, regardless of the appendages said fool might have 🙂

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4 minutes ago, weasel fierce said:

From experience, women at the table will 100% kill a fool, regardless of the appendages said fool might have 🙂

Oh, I don't doubt it. :) I was mainly curious if there would be a mental hesitation based on the sex of the opponent (mainly, if the opponent is a female; I am sure we all know the joke about the female CIA trainee). I mean, if someone is trying to kill your character, and part of the character's career is combat and killing the enemies (or capturing them, in case of knights), then probably that killing happens right back. But I have noticed, as I stated, that I need to make that extra adjustment if the GM is making a point of mentioning that the enemy happens to be a woman (especially in campaigns where this is rarer) or a minor (child soldiers being a thing in post-apoc especially). Naturally, if the woman in question has already proven herself to be a murderous psychopath and a leader of a local assassins' guild, that adjustments happens in a snap (D&D campaign)! But there is still that moment at the start.

It is not something I have actually asked my players outright, but I have noticed that when the point is made that the opponent is more of a desperate non-combatant, the focus tends to shift from 'kill it until it is dead' to 'neutralize the threat, preferably without killing'. Which again makes sense: if you are threatened by a 14-year old holding a wooden club and you are in armor with a shield and sword, you are feeling much more able to take care of things rather than taking the first opportunity to kill the threat. Whereas if it is a 6d6 Saxon axeman, you have much less room to play nice, too. I have also noticed that the players tend to be more inclined to take prisoners in Pendragon than they are in, say, D&D. Partially of course because of the ransoms, but also, I believe, since Pendragon feels more real. Killing someone in a fair fight is one thing. Cutting his throat while he is lying unconscious takes another step in cold-bloodedness. (Also, some people are fishing for Merciful checks, I know it. :P ) In D&D, with its healing magic and regeneration, using "Cujo-rules" (shoot it until it is dead and then shoot it in the head some more just to be sure) becomes more of a survival tactic, as we have learned.

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11 hours ago, MelronPeredor said:

We have Silence and Avenable/Grisandole from their stories (basically the same story Woman hides she is a woman becomes the King/Emperor best knight) Le roman de Silence being the best version as far as I am concerned, but the archetype is interesting in both versions.

I was surprised no one spoke of it before. Clearly, this "feministic" ( (this word is anachronistic for a medieval story) arthurian tale is not well known, even among the more feminist parts of the fandom.

It was always my take as a GM. I allow female knights as "special" in a world of men, and of course, as PK as well. It's just not a given.

 

 

 

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17 hours ago, Morien said:

I was mainly curious if there would be a mental hesitation based on the sex of the opponent (mainly, if the opponent is a female; I am sure we all know the joke about the female CIA trainee). I mean, if someone is trying to kill your character, and part of the character's career is combat and killing the enemies (or capturing them, in case of knights), then probably that killing happens right back.

It actually gives female knights an advantage.

In a fight, if the male knight downs a female knight and then realises that the opponent is female, does that mean that chivalry kicks in and he hesitates? perhaps enough for her to stab him with a dagger?

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20 minutes ago, soltakss said:

It actually gives female knights an advantage.

In a fight, if the male knight downs a female knight and then realises that the opponent is female, does that mean that chivalry kicks in and he hesitates? perhaps enough for her to stab him with a dagger?

I was actually thinking about the PLAYERS hesitating, not the PKs.

To answer your question, though, if the female knights are rare, I could see a male knight hesitating, especially if he is chivalric. There is actually an adventure involving the ladies-in-waiting of Morgan Le Fey that explores this issue, in the Blood & Lust. However, I am not sure this is a big issue anyway, as usually you are supposed to take the knight as your captive anyway, rather than stab them in the face. So it would be more of a "Surrender, Sir Knight! I have the advantage!" and that advantage would stay even if she reveals that she is a woman. Then again, I subscribe to the notion that if it is a knight, it is a knight. Thus, female knights are treated as knights in the battlefield. You lose no Honor whatsoever for hitting them as hard as you can.

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