"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


"You could fire a machine gun randomly through the pages of Lord of the Rings and never hit any women.”

-Neil Gaiman 

The Tolkien Misreader

Watching Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, TIME magazine's Ruth Davis Konigsberg wanted to know "Why Are There No Women In Tolkien's World?"  She's not alone in her inquiry; for decades people have been taking about the "anti-feminist" streak in his works.  The arguments usually come down to there being a lack of women, to his habit of putting women on pedestals, and to the "fact" that there are no female role-models in his Middle-earth.  All sorts of explanations are offered for this, ranging from his devout Catholicism to the death of his mother when he was twelve.  None of them are satisfactory, however, for one important reason: the fault lies in an assumption made the audience, not in the author's work.

I had a great-grandmother who walked into Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds once thinking it was going to be a documentary about our feathered friends.  Needless to say, she had a rude surprise coming to her.  If you pick up The Lord of the Rings, and expect it to be a modern novel, or mistakenly assume Tolkien was a "novelist," you are in for the same kind of shock.  Tolkien was exactly the opposite of a novelist.  Intentionally.

We need to think about the word a minute here, because as a professional philologist, that is exactly what Tolkien would do.  The word "novel," from the Latin for "new," means something that is "...new and different from what has been known before."  The word becomes associated with "narrative literature" only around 1640, because at the time, the novel was something novel.  

For, centuries, the role of the storyteller had been that of custodian.  The storyteller preserved the language, culture, and ethics of the past by passing them down, generation after generation, in the form of tales and fables.  Traditional literature, whether the Iliad or Odyssey, the Ramayana or Mahabharata, the Kalevala or Mabinogion, was simply oral tradition finally making its way into writing.  Sir Thomas Malory didn't invent Arthurian Romance any more than Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm invented their fairy tales.  They were part of the older tradition, of preserving the past in writing.  In the late Renaissance, by sharp contrast, we see the emergence of modern novel--a new story invented by an author, and frequently as a social criticism meant to initiate change.  This was a complete reversal of previous written literature, and it is not until the 19th century that it rises to dominance.

J.R.R. Tolkien was an academic and a writer, but certainly not a novelist.  His career as a philologist, his groundbreaking work with traditional pieces like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, his academic writings, all make it clear he was dedicated to preserving the kind of literature that the modern novel was trying to supplant.  To read him as you might read Martin or Jordan is to completely miss the point.

Now you might be thinking at this point "but Middle-earth is just fantasy, it's something Tolkien 'made-up.'"  Yes and no.  It is true that Tolkien invented the Elvish tongues, with a smattering of Black Speech and Dwarvish for spice, but otherwise his "invention" was in fact a kind of "imaginative reconstruction."  Looking at the scattered fragments of fairy tales and legends of Northern Europe, especially the old Anglo-Saxon and Germanic bits, Tolkien played a game of trying to imagine where it all might have come from.  Who are the dwarves in Snow White?  Are they the same as the dwarves scattered throughout Arthurian romance?  What about elves? Goblins?  Trolls?  Tolkien sifted through all the pieces and tried to imagine a primordial myth cycle that might have originated them.  

The clearest example of this lies inside The Hobbit.  The dwarves in The Hobbit are all drawn from a section of the Norse Eddas call the "Völuspá," specifically a chapter entitled Dvergatal or "catalogue of the Dwarves." This ancient poetry fragment lists Durin, Kili and Fili, Bifur and Bombur, Thorin, et al.  Nestled among these names was one that to Tolkien would have stood out like a sore thumb...Gandalf.  Not only did it sound different than the others, it meant literally wand elf.  What was an elf doing in a list of dwarves, and what on earth was a wand elf?  Eventually he would conclude a wand elf was a wizard, not really an elf at all but a staff-bearing immortal from the Undying West where the elves lived.  Is he making this up?  Of course he is, but hardly from scratch.  He was trying to imagine what these things might have meant.

And this brings us back to the charges of anti-feminism.  Neil Gaiman is right; you could take a machine gun to The Lord of the Rings and not hit any women.  But the same could be said for Beowulf, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  It would have been impossible for Tolkien, who so clearly and painstakingly tried to emulate traditional literature, to include Peter Jackson's version of Arwen, or the elf maiden Tauriel, in his works.  They would have stood out as obvious anachronisms.

Tolkien himself was aware of this.  Take for example his understanding of fine amor, the medieval tradition of "courtly love."  The idea, essentially, is of a pure and chaste woman who inspires a man to preform great deeds.  Loving her from afar, the hero elevates himself out of a desire to be worthy of her.  This is exactly the kind of relationship Arwen and Aragorn have, because if you are writing an authentic piece of medievalism like The Lord of the Rings then fine amor can't be ignored.  All the same, Tolkien, both as a modern man and especially as a Catholic, rejected the concept;

"Its (fine amor) center was not God but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady.  It still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity - of the old-fashioned 'his divinity' = the woman he loves - the object or reason of noble conduct.  This is, of course, false and at best make-believe....The woman is (just) another fallen human-being with a soul in peril..."

- Letter to Michael Tolkien, 6-8 March 1941

Tolkien then is not the one elevating women to such a status, the genre is.  He recognizes the idea of a perfect, ideal woman as "false" and "make-believe," and that women are human beings just as flawed as men, but there is simply no way he could authentically preserve medieval literary tradition by omitting fine amor, taking Arwen down off her pedestal so she could go out adventuring with Aragorn as a modern writer (or filmmaker) might have preferred him to do.  

The Refusals of Galadriel

While we can agree that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, like the literature they are meant to emulate, have few women characters, and that Tolkien includes the medieval trope of elevating women to paragon status in The Lord of the Rings, the claim he presents us with no feminist role models is simply wrong.  Again, I tend to think this oversight arises from a fundamental misapprehension of his work.  If you read The Lord of the Rings as a self-contained novel, which is in fact to misread it, then you are missing a full understanding of the character of Galadriel.  Only reading the book in the context of Tolkien's greater myth cycle, published in The Silmarilion, does it become possible to see Galadriel as exactly what she is; a role model.  Indeed, in Tolkien's mind she might have been the role model, for reasons we will soon discuss.  As this status does not depend on her gender, and if we accept feminism as being "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes," this makes her a powerful feminist role model by default.

But before we get there, we need to cover a few concepts first.  Most importantly, we are not talking about Galadriel solely as a character in The Lord of the Rings, but as a key figure in a larger myth cycle.  This is crucial to fully understanding her significance. 

Keep in mind that in The Lord of the Rings Tolkien is writing a history, not a novel.  Consider his famous quote from the front matter of The Fellowship of the Ring;

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

Tolkien refers to The Lord of the Rings as a history time and time again, and for him, it was just the tail end of an immense saga stretching back eons, the final chapter of the great history of Middle-earth.  Because he is writing a history, he does things no sane novelist would ever do.  When Galadriel appears in The Fellowship of the Ring, for example, there is no real explanation of who she is or why she matters.  A novelist would never have done this, but a historian would.  Consider, when Sir Gawain's shield is described to us in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (a work I reference again because Tolkien knew it so well and translated it into modern English), we are told the inside of it bears the face of the Virgin Mary.  The anonymous author doesn't stop to tell us who Mary is...he simply expects us to know.  The same is true of Galadriel, who anyone in Middle-earth would presumably know of.  Telling us about her breaks the illusion of Middle-earth being a real world, and Tolkien likely hoped we would go and reference other documents (The Silmarilion) to get those answers.  If we did, our understanding of Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring would completely change.

Galadriel--based solely on her scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring--has been compared to Glinda the Good Witch by some critics, who see her as almost one dimensional in her cartoon goodness.  She is so virtuous and pure that when Frodo offers her the Ring she refuses it.  Then she gives the Fellowship some nifty parting gifts and sends them on their way.  And oh, how cute that she gives the dwarf Gimli three strands of her pretty hair.  It is easy to see her as little more than the goody two-shoes fairy queen, or--as others have more flatteringly hypothesized based on Tolkien's devout Catholic faith--some sort of reflection of the Virgin Mary. 

But if you read The Silmarillion, or Tolkien's notes and other writings about her, these scenes look completely different.  Galadriel is anything but sweetness and light, and she is certainly not the Virgin Mary.  In some ways she has more in common with Lucifer than the Mother of God.  She is an exceedingly complex character and central to one of the author's themes.

Let's get the Marian comparisons out of the way first.  Mary, in Catholic doctrine, is revered because of her submission to the Divine Will;

By her complete adherence to the Father's will, to his Son's redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church's model of faith and charity.

- The Catechism of the Catholic Church

But "complete adherence to the Father's will" is hardly how you would describe Galadriel, who is defined primarily by her refusals, rather than obedience.  Galadriel is half Noldor, a race of elves that once dwelled in timeless Paradise by the grace of the Creator and his emissaries, the archangelic Valar.  Rebelling against the Divine Will, Galadriel and her brethren became exiles from Paradise, driven by pride and anger.  They were banned from these lands of bliss.  Later, given a second chance to return to grace, Galadriel was among those who refused again, too proud to surrender the queenly status she had attained in the fallen world of Middle-earth for the role of servant in the Undying Lands.  As Tolkien summed up the Marian comparisons;

I think it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching about Mary, but actually Galadriel was a penitent; in her youth a leader in the rebellion against the Valar (the angelic guardians). At the end of the First Age she proudly refused forgiveness or permission to return...

Letters, p. 407

Tolkien reiterated her position more strongly elsewhere;

(Galadriel) joined the rebellion against the Valar who commanded them to stay; and once she had set foot upon that road of exile, she would not relent . . . Her pride was unwilling to return, a defeated suppliant for pardon...Pride still moved her when, at the end of the Elder Days after the final overthrow of Morgoth, she refused the pardon of the Valar for all who had fought against him, and remained in Middle-earth...

-The People's of Middle-earth, p. 338

Again, this idea of "Fallen elves" is not something Tolkien was just "making up."  Elves, in pre-Christian mythologies, were a class of intermediary spirits between gods and men.  In medieval tradition they were reinterpreted in light of the new religion.  Folklore had it that after Lucifer's rebellion in Heaven, the third of the Angels who sided with him fell and became demons, the third that fought with Michael stayed in Heaven, and the third that remained neutral were cast down to Earth to become elves.  Tolkien's Noldor reflect that tradition; they are not strictly evil, but they are angelic immortals banished from Paradise.

But what does this have to do with Galadriel being a role model, let alone a feminist one? 

For starters, Galadriel is significant in her total equality.  When we meet her in The Fellowship of the Ring, she is the co-ruler of Lothlórien, described as equal in everything (including physical stature) to her husband, Lord Celeborn.  Tolkien calls her not only the "greatest of elven women," but also the "mightiest and fairest of all the Elves that remained in Middle-earth." She is second to no one, male or female.  Indeed, even her name implies a kind of transcendence of gender stereotypes; not "Galadriel," the name she has come to be called in Middle-earth, but "Nerwen," a name she bore in the Undying Lands that means "man maiden," given to her by her mother because she was as tall and strong as any male elf.  

This must not be taken as meaning her "mannishness" is what defines her.  Galadriel's feminine attributes are key as well;

...and she grew to be tall beyond the measure even of the women of the Noldor; she was strong of body, mind, and will [...] Even among the Eldar she was accounted beautiful, and her hair was held a marvel unmatched. It was golden like the hair of her father and of her foremother Indis, but richer and more radiant, for its gold was touched by some memory of the starlike silver of her mother; and the Eldar said that the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, had been snared in her tresses...

—Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn

The significance of her femininity is also reflected in the importance of being a mother, and in fact a grandmother to Arwen, the elf maid Aragorn loves.  

Thus, just as her beautiful hair combines the golden and silver light of the two divine trees, Galadriel combines qualities we might see as both masculine and feminine, but what really distinguishes Galadriel is her complexity.  In a cycle of tales often criticized for their "black and white morality," Galadriel stands out as very grey.  She is not, like Morgoth or Sauron, evil, but neither is she as loyal and obedient as Gandalf.  Galadriel knows her own mind.  And again, we come back to her refusals.  Not only did she refuse the command of the Valar to remain in the Blessed Lands, not only did she refuse to return, it was her refusal that started--indirectly--the fall of her entire race.  It was Fëanor, her kinsman, who fashioned the three Silmarils, enchanted jewels that captured the golden and silver light of the two trees that lit the Undying Lands.  The fallen angel Morgoth poisoned the trees and stole these gems, taking them to Middle-earth, and this is why the Noldor went into exile; against the wishes of the Valar they decided to go after Morgoth and the stones.  But Fëanor forged those jewels because of Galadriel's refusals.  For it is said her beautiful hair also captured the light of those trees, and Fëanor asked her three times for a strand of it.  Three times she refused, and so he made the jewels instead.

And here, her gift to the dwarf Gimli takes on special significance.  Reading only The Lord of the Rings we may think nothing of it, but it was a monumental act;

Her parting gift to Gimli is highly significant. He asks for a single hair from her head, which he intends to enshrine within imperishable crystal. In the elder days Fëanor had asked the same, and been refused three times, for her tresses were famed for seeming to contain the light of the Two Trees. . . . Now she gives Gimli three hairs, one for each of the ancient refusals, which were bound up with so much grief for the Elves. Galadriel's gift heals the long rift between her people and the Dwarves. It implies that she now repents of any part her pride may have played in the long tragedy. 

The Power of the Ring, p. 54

Here again is Tolkien's excellence as a mythographer and historian and "failure" as a novelist.  We cannot grasp the immense significance of Galadriel's gift by reading The Fellowship of the Ring alone.

Which brings us at last to the act that makes Galadriel heroic, and absolutely central to Tolkien's work as a role model to us all.  

Tolkien succinctly summed up his themes in a letter later published in The Silmarillion. "Anway, all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine" (The Silmarillion, p. xvii).  The Fall in particular haunts his tales, from the Fall of the Dark Lord and the Fall of the Elves to the Fall of the proud Men of the West.  As we have seen, Galadriel is bound tightly to the theme, and the Fall of the Elves.  But she does something amazing in The Fellowship of the Ring.  When Frodo Baggins offers her the One Ring, she refuses it;

"And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night!" . . . She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. . . . Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a simple elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

"I pass the test," she said. "I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel." 

Fellowship, p. 381.

This is not, as critics would have it, because she is one dimensional and too good to take it.  As we have seen, Galadriel has twice refused the Divine Will already, and chosen to "rule in Middle-earth rather than serve in Paradise," to paraphrase Milton. The One Ring signifies rulership of the world, and Galadriel is a fallen immortal who refused forgiveness because she desired to rule in Middle-earth.  Offering her the Ring is to tempt her with everything she ever wanted.  But unlike Lucifer, or Sauron or Morgoth for that matter, Galadriel refuses this.  It is this last of Galadriel's refusals that changes her destiny.  

It was not until two long ages more had passed, when at last all that she had desired in her youth came to her hand, the Ring of Power and the dominion of Middle-earth of which she had dreamed, that her wisdom was full grown and she rejected it, and passing the last test departed from Middle-earth forever. 

The Peoples of Middle-Earth, p. 338

Here at last we come to Galadriel the role model.  Tolkien famously said, "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work," and we have seen some of this in the many "Falls" that happen in the  mythology.  Morgoth falls.  Sauron falls.  Saruman falls.  The Men of the West fall.  And most of the Noldor elves fall.  Likewise, there are many who resist temptation and do not fall; Tom Bombadil, Gandalf, Samwise, Faramir, etc.  But Galadriel is very nearly unique in that she falls and is then redeemed, in a sense representing the whole of the human condition as Tolkien understood it.  There may be a shortage of women in Tolkien's quasi-medieval fiction, but we cannot simply dismiss the fact that the character that best embodies Tolkien's faith--that it is possible to sin and be forgiven--is a woman.  And a proud, self-possessed, regal woman at that.  

You don't have to be a Catholic or a a Christian to appreciate this; I am certainly neither.  But you are on very shaky ground when you accuse Tolkien of anti-feminist tendencies when one of the most important figures in his work is a woman.  Galadriel doesn't swing a sword or wear armor, but the strength she demonstrates in resisting temptation far exceeds any action-heroine antics.  The author clearly meant her to be a role model for us all, male or female.  Galadriel is neither Eve nor Mary, but an "every person" meant to represent us all.  If we are looking for feminist role models, and quality is to outweigh quantity, then Tolkien was perhaps a feminist after all.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

IDEAS FOR A PROGENY "SLARP" (Second Life Action Role Play)

I mentioned yesterday I might be teaming up Lachiel and his team to help initiate a "live action role-play" in Second Life a little bit more structured than the free form one we have been playing.  This is my first shot at the rules, based on White Wolf's "Mind's Eye Theatre" game.  This is far from the final version--Lachiel and his committee will need to review them and may reject or radically change them--but I thought I would share the process with all of you.  So for gamers and Progeny fans, enjoy! 


Creating your Character

1. Step One: Archetype
No matter what kind of character you are playing, Vampire, Human, or other, start with your Archetype.  This is your general character concept, the kind of person you are.

Sample Archetypes
• Architect—You seek to create something of lasting value, a legacy.
• Bravo—You are something of a bully; you like to be feared.
• Caregiver—You seek to nurture others.
• Child—You never really grew up, and you want someone to take care of you.
• Conformist—A follower at heart, you find it easy to adapt, adjust and comply.
  • Conniver—There's always an easier way, one that usually involves someone else doing your work.
• Daredevil—You love taking risks and will seize any opportunity to do so.
• Dark Pioneer—You can't change the traditions of the past, but you'll do everything you can to create the traditions of the future.
• Dark Poet—You want to share the beauty of darkness with the rest of the world.
• Deviant—You're just not like everyone else.
  • Director—You're accustomed to taking charge of a situation.
• Drunk Uncle—When things are going well, you're everyone's best friend. When things are going poorly, you're their worst nightmare.
• Fanatic—You have a cause and it gives your life meaning.
• Gallant—You are as flamboyant as you are amoral.
  • Hedonist—Life is meaningless, so enjoy it as long as it lasts.
• Interrogator—It's not the answers that matter, it's the pleasure you get asking the questions.
• Jester—Always the clown, you can't take life, or death, seriously.
• Judge—You seek justice and reconciliation.
• Loner—You are forever alone, even in a crowd.
• Martyr—You need to be needed, and enjoy being morally superior.
  • Rebel—No need for a cause; you rebel out of habit and passion.
• Recruiter—It makes sense to build your side up before trying to tear theirs down.
  • Shamanist—You see your killer's role as part of the supernatural order.
• Sorority Sister—You do whatever the in-crowd does, and do it better.
• Stalker—The chase is all; the capture and feeding almost anticlimactic.
• Survivor—You struggle to survive, no matter what the odds.
• Torturer—Pain isn't a profession for you, it's a calling.
• Traditionalist—You prefer the orthodox and conservative ways.
• Visionary—Wisdom is your quest, insight your key.

2. Step Two: Traits
Traits are the heart of the Progeny: SLARP system.  They are arranged into three categories; Physical, Social, and Mental. 

Beginning characters must first prioritise which category is most important to the character.  Are you primarily cerebral, with high social skills and weaker physical traits?  Or are you a charismatic charmer, with good physical attributes and less smarts?  However your choose, your Primary Category starts with 7 Traits, your Secondary starts with 5, and your Tertiary gets only 3.

Primary: 7 Traits
Secondary: 5 Traits
Tertiary: 3 Traits.

The Traits are as follows (you may notice a great deal of overlap, which is intentional, see “Playing the Game” below);

Physical Traits

Athletic: You have conditioned your body to respond well in full-body movements, especially in competitive events.
Uses: Sports, duels, running, acrobatics, grappling.

Brawny: Bulky muscular strength.
Uses: Punching, kicking or grappling in combat when your goal is to inflict damage. Power lifting. All feats of strength.

Brutal: You are capable of taking nearly any action in order to survive.
Uses: Fighting an obviously superior enemy.

Dexterous: General adroitness and skill involving the use of one's hands.
Uses: Weapon-oriented combat (Melee or Firearms). Pickpocketing. Punching.

Enduring: A persistent sturdiness against physical opposition.
Uses: When your survival is at stake, this is a good Trait to risk as a second, or successive, bid.
Energetic: A powerful force of spirit. A strong internal drive propels you and, in physical situations, you can draw on a deep reservoir of enthusiasm and zeal.
Uses: Combat.  Speed.

Ferocious: Possession of brutal intensity and extreme physical determination.
Uses: Any time that you intend to do serious harm.

Graceful: Control and balance in the motion and use of the entire body.
Uses: Combat defense. Whenever you might lose your balance (stepping on a banana peel, fighting on four-inch-thick rafters).

Lithe: Characterized by flexibility and suppleness.
Uses: Acrobatics, gymnastics, dodging, dancing.

Nimble: Light and skillful; able to make agile movements.
Uses: Dodging, jumping, rolling, acrobatics. Hand-to-hand combat.

Quick: Speedy, with fast reaction time.
Uses: Defending against a surprise attack. Running, dodging, attacking.

Resilient: Characterized by strength of health; able to recover quickly from bodily harm.
Uses: Resisting adverse environments. Defending against damage in an attack.

Robust: Resistant to physical harm and damage.
Uses: Defending against damage in an attack. Endurance related actions that could take place over a period of time.

Rugged: Hardy, rough and brutally healthy. Able to shrug off wounds and pain to continue struggling.
Uses: When resisting damage, any challenge that you enter while injured.

Stalwart: Physically strong and uncompromising against opposition.
Uses: Resisting damage, or when standing your ground against overwhelming odds or a superior foe.

Steady: More than simply physically dependable: controlled, unfaltering and balanced. You have firm mastery over your efforts.
Uses: Weapon attacks. Fighting in exotic locations. Piloting oil tankers.
Tenacious: Physically determined through force of will. You often prolong physical confrontations, even when it might not be wise to do so.
Uses: Second or subsequent Physical Challenge.

Tireless: You have a runner's stamina—you are less taxed by physical efforts than ordinary people.
Uses: Any endurance related challenge, second or subsequent Physical Challenge with the same foe or foes.

Tough: A harsh, aggressive attitude and a reluctance e ver to submit.
Uses: Whenever you're wounded or winded.

Vigorous: A combination of energy, power, intensity and resistance to harm.
Uses: Combat and athletic challenges when you're on the defensive.

Wiry: Tight, streamlined, muscular strength.
Uses: Punching, kicking or grappling in combat. Acrobatic movements. Endurance lifting.   

Social Traits

Alluring: An attractive and appealing presence that inspires desire in others.
Uses: Seduction. Convincing others.

Beguiling: The skill of deception and illusion. You can twist the perceptions of others and lead them to belie ve what suits you.
Uses: Tricking others. Lying under duress.

Charismatic: The talent of inspiration and motivation, the sign of a strong leader.
Uses: In a situation involving leadership or the achievement of leadership. Awe contests.

Charming: Your speech and actions make you appear attractive and appealing to others.
Uses: Convincing. Persuading. Entrancement Challenges.

Commanding: Impressive delivery of orders and suggestions. This implies skill in the control and direction of others.
Uses: When you are seen as a leader. Presence.

Compassionate: Deep feelings of care or pity for others.
Uses: Defending the weak or downtrodden. Defeating major obstacles while pursuing an altruistic end.

Dignified: Something about your posture and body carriage appears honorable and aesthetically pleasing. You carry yourself well.
Uses: Presence Challenges. Defending against Social Disciplines.

Diplomatic: Tactful, careful and thoughtful in speech and deed. Few are displeased with what you say or do.
Uses: Very important in intrigue. Leadership situations.

Elegant: Refined tastefulness. Even though you don't need money to be elegant, you exude an air of richness and high society.
Uses: High society. Might be important in some clans for advancement. Defending against Social Disciplines.

Eloquent: The ability to speak in an interesting and convincing manner.
Uses: Convincing others. Swaying emotions. Public speaking.

Empathetic: Able to identify and under stand the emotions and moods of people with whom you come in contact.
Uses: Gauging the feelings of others.

Expressive: Able to articulate thoughts in interesting, significant, meaningful ways.
Uses: Producing art, acting, per forming. Any social situation in which you want someone to understand your meaning.

Friendly: Able to fit in with everyone you meet. Even after a short conversation, most find it dif ficult to dislike you.
Uses: Entrancement Challenges. Convincing others.

Genial: Cordial, kindly, warm and pleasant. You are pleasing to be around.
Uses: Mingling at parties. Starting an Entrancement Challenge. Generally used in a second or later Social Challenge with someone.

Gorgeous: Beautiful or handsome. You were born with a face and body that is good looking to most people you meet.
Uses: Modeling, posing. Entrancement Challenges.

Ingratiating: Able to gain the favor of people who know you.
Uses: Dealing with elders in a social situation. Entrancement Challenges. Defending against Social Disciplines.

Intimidating: A frightening or awesome presence that causes others to feel timid. This Trait is particularly useful when attempting to cow opponents.
Uses: Inspiring common fear. Ordering others.

Magnetic: People feel drawn to you; those around you are interested in your speech and actions.
Uses: Presence Challenges. Seduction.

Persuasive: Able to propose believable, convincing and correct arguments and requests. Very useful when someone else is undecided on an issue.
Uses: Persuading or convincing others.

Seductive: Able to entice and tempt. You can use your good looks and your body to get what you want from o thers.
Uses: Subterfuge, Entrancement, Summoning and Seduction.

Witty: Cleverly humorous. Jokes and jests come easily to you, and you are perceived as a funny person when you want to be.
Uses: At parties. Entertaining someone. Goading or insulting someone.

Mental Traits

Alert: Mentally prepared for danger and able to react quickly when it occurs.
Uses: Preventing surprise attacks. Defending against Dominate Challenges.

Attentive: You pay attention to everyday occurrences around you. When something extraordinary happens, you are usually ready for it.
Uses: Preventing surprise attacks. Seeing through Obfuscate when you don't expect it. Preventing Dominate.

Calm: Able to withstand an extraordinary level of disturbance without becoming agitated or upset. A wellspring of self-control.
Uses: Resisting frenzy or commands that provoke violence. Whenever a mental attack might upset you. Primarily for defense.

Clever: Quick-witted resourcefulness. You think well on your feet.
Uses: Using a Mental Discipline against another.

Creative: Your ideas are original and imaginative. This implies an ability to produce unusual solutions to your difficulties. You can create artistic pieces. A requirement for any true artist.
Uses: Defending against aura readings. Creating anything.

Cunning: Crafty and sl y, possessing a great deal of ingenuity.
Uses: Tricking others. Command Challenges.

Dedicated: You give yourself over totally to your belief. When one of your causes is at stake, you stop at nothing to succeed.
Uses: Useful in any Mental Challenge when your beliefs are at stake. Defense against mental attack.

Determined: When it comes to mental endeavors, you are fully committed. Nothing can divert your intentions to succeed once you have made up your mind.
Uses: Facedowns. Useful in a normal Mental Challenge.

Discerning: Discriminating, able to pick out details, subtleties and idiosyncrasies. You have clarity of vision.
Uses: Sensory-related challenges.

Disciplined: Your mind is structured and controlled. This rigidity gives you an edge in battles of will.
Uses: Facedowns. Useful in a Mental Discipline contest.

Insightful: The power of looking at a situation and gaining an understanding of it.
Uses: Investigation (but not defense against it). Using Heightened Senses. Seeing through Obfuscate when you expect it.

Intuitive: Knowledge and understanding somehow come to you without conscious reasoning, as if by instinct.
Uses: Reading auras. Seeing through Obfuscate.

Knowledgeable: You know copious and detailed information about a wide variety of topics. This represents "book-learning."
Uses: Forgetful Mind contests. Remembering information your character might know.

Observant: Depth of vision, the power to look at something and notice the important aspects of it.
Uses: Heightened Senses. Picking up on subtitles that others might overlook.

Patient: Tolerant spersevenng and steadfast. You can wait out extended delays with composure.
Uses: Facedowns or other mental battles after another Trait has been bid.

Rational: You believe in logic, reason, sanity and sobriety. Your ability to reduce concepts to a mathematical level helps you analyze the world.
Uses: Defending against emotion oriented mental attacks. Defending against an aura reading. Not used as an initial bid.

Reflective: Meditative self-recollection and deep thought. The Trait of the serious thinker, Reflective enables you to consider all aspects of a conundrum.
Uses: Meditation. Remembering information. Defending against most Mental attacks.

Shrewd: Astute and artful, able to keep your wits about you and accomplish mental feats with efficiency and finesse.
Uses: Defending against a Mental Discipline.

Vigilant: Alertly watchful. You have the disposition of a guard dog; your attention misses little.
Uses: Defending against investigation, Forgetful Mind and Command. Seeing through Obfuscate. More appropriate for mental defense than for attack.

Wily: Sly and full of guile. Because you are wily, you can trick and deceive easily.
Uses: Tricking others. Lying under duress. Confusing mental situations.

Wise: An overall understanding of the workings of the world.
Uses: Giving advice. Dispensing snippets of Zen. Defending against Dominate Challenges.

3. Step Three: Abilities
Abilities are areas of expertise that your character is trained in.  They work with your Traits to help you perform tasks in the game.  Staring characters will select 3 Abilities from this list.

NOTE: Vampire Abilities are treated differently.  See section Seven below.

Animal Ken
The ability to train and work with animals.  

The art of using the body as a weapon in unarmed combat.

Knowledge of manipulating and governing hierarchies and power structures.

Use, repair, and programming of computers and electronic devices.

Use of land, air, or sea vehicles.

Knowledge and manipulation of financial systems, banking systems, investment, etc.

Knowledge and use of guns, rifles, and projectile weapons.

Knowledge and use of investigative techniques, espionage, and forensics.

Knowledge and manipulation of legal and judicial systems.

Skill and knowledge in and of leadership techniqueues and strategies.

Knowledge and mastery of multiple languages and the study of languages.

Knowledge and practice of human medicine and biology, first aid, surgery, etc.

The knowledge and use of all physically powered arms, armour, and weapons.

Knowledge of magic, folklore, and the supernatural.  

Knowledge and skill in one or more of the artistic or performing arts.

Knowledge of repair and maintenance of all machines.

Knowledge and experiences of the sciences; biology, chemistry, physics, etc.

The knowledge and ability to come up with money, resources, and shelter in the city streets. 

Knowledge and manipulation of locks, safes, and security systems.

Knowledge and ability to get by and thrive in the urban jungle. 

The art of deceit, manipulation, conniving, and conning.

The art of finding food, shelter, and direction in the wilderness.

Character Creation So Far, an Example

Name: Amelia Greene
Archetype: Sorority Sister
Primary (Social): Alluring, Charming, Persuasive, Ingratiating, Gorgeous, Magnetic, Seductive 
Secondary (Physical): Athletic, Energetic, Graceful, Lithe, Quick 
Tertiary (Mental): Alert, Cunning, Intuitive
Abilities: Bureaucracy, Performance, Subterfuge

Amelia is a spoiled rich girl at a prominent East Coast Ivy League school.  She got in on charm and Daddy’s money.  She is a devious little snake who uses charm and great looks to manipulate the boys and claw her way to the top of the sorority scene.

4. Part Four: Playing the Game
Playing Progeny: SLARP is easy.  Most of the time it can be done without the presence of a Narrator, though sometimes a N3P (Neutral Third Party) can help make challenges run smoother.

Rather than dice, the basic engine of the game is rock-scissors-paper.  Unfortunately, this is harder to do in Second Life than in the real world, because to work both sides have to throw down simultaneously.  Lag can sometimes make this a problem.  The best way around it I have found is to get a HUD like the totally free and transferable “Huddles” Rock-Scissors-Paper HUD

This HUD allows you to target someone else near you wearing the HUD and play R-S-P with them.  Just push the button and your choices are revealed in Local chat at the same time.

Whenever you try to do something import ant in the game, and it can’t be handled by role-play alone, it’s a Challenge.  There are five steps;

  1. In the presence of another player, decide what Ability and what Trait are suitable for the Challenge.
  2. If the action is not opposed by another character, engage in R-S-P with another player (this player is not actually challenging you, just providing the in-world “difficulty” and witnessing the result.
  3. If you have the correct Ability, you win the Challenge with either a “win” or a “tie.”
  4. If you don’t have the Ability, but you have the Trait, you need a “win” to defeat the Challenge.
  5. If you win, you succeed in the Challenge.  If you lose, you cannot use that Trait again for the rest of the play session.  It is considered “defeated.” 

Example: Amelia wants to plant a bag of pot in the dorm room of a rival, and call the floor monitor to frame her for drug possession.  Amelia’s player finds another avatar to act as the N3P.  They decide Amelia must use her “Subterfuge” Ability and “Cunning” Trait.  They throw down.  Amelia throws a Rock, and so does the N3P.  A tie.  She succeeds though because she has the correct ability.  If she didn’t have “Subterfuge,” and used only the Trait, she would have lost on the tie.  In any case, if she had lost, she wouldn’t be able to use Cunning the rest of the evening.

Opposed Challenges
If two characters are actively engaged against each other, the rules are a little different.

  1. The challenger declares which Ability and/or Trait she will use.  The defender selects an appropriate Ability and/or Trait.
  2. Both sides throw down.  If one side has only an appropriate Trait, and not an Ability, that side loses on a “lose” or a “tie.”  If both sides have appropriate Abilities and Traits, a clear “win” is needed for victory.  NOTE: You automatically lose a Challenge if you don’t have an appropriate Trait.
  3. The losing side is defeated, and suffers the logical consequences.  In addition, the Trait they bid cannot be used the rest of the night, UNLESS…
  4. The defeated side may declare an “Overbid.”  This is a dangerous ploy where he or she bids one or more additional Traits.  The opposite side may refuse, and his win then becomes a “tie.”  Or he may agree, and match the wager or even counter with a higher bid.  This continues until one side backs down or both agree.  If one side backs down they lose only their initial bid.  If a second throw down occurs, this time the losing side loses all the Traits it bid. 

Example: Amelia is and her beau have run into the beautiful new History lecturer at a bar and he is all over her.  Amelia wants to show the woman who is boss and scare her off.  She uses her “Subterfuge” again and bids her “Gorgeous” Trait to keep her man’s attention on her.  Amused, the new professor counters with “Subterfuge” and bids “Alluring.”

They throw down, and Amelia wins with a Rock to the professor’s Scissors.  “Not so fast,” says the professor’ player.  She demands a re-throw, with Subterfuge and three additional Traits “Persuasive,” “Witty,” and “Seductive” (she can’t rebid “Alluring” because she lost the first round).  Amelia scoffs—no old hag is going to outbid her—and counters with  “Alluring,” “Charming,” “Persuasive,” “Gorgeous,” “Magnetic,” and “Seductive.”  Six Traits to the older bitch’s three.  Ha!  

Then smiling, the professor counters again with “Charming,” “Persuasive,” “Gorgeous,” “Magnetic,” “Seductive,” “Persuasive,” “Witty,” and “Elegant.”  There is no way Amelia can beat this.  She backs out and loses the Challenge, along with the initial Trait she bid (“Gorgeous”).  If she had been able to match the professor’s bid and lost, she would have lost all her traits.

The “Why” of Overbidding
Overbidding exists for two reasons.  One, it allows the character to initially conceal how many Traits he or she actually has.  Second, it makes older, experienced characters far more powerful than younger ones.  This is why Fledgling vampires, for example, are wise not to Challenge their Elders…

5. Part Five: Consequences
Congratulations, you have lost.  What happens now?

You are defeated and you lose the use of that(those) Trait(s) for the rest of the session.  If it was physical combat, you may be injured.  If it was social or mental, you may be humiliated or fatigued.

If your Traits are reduced to zero in a category, the winner gets to declare your fate.  For example, if your physical traits are zeroed after combat, the victor may decide to capture you, leave you unconscious, or even kill you (but for this a Narrator must first approve).

6. Improvement
When you create a human character, write the date on the character notecard.  Every fifty days of play you may add a new Trait or Ability.  Progeny vampires who enter play, get to start with additional Traits and Abilities right away.  Simply look at the character’s Age and give an additional Trait or Ability for every fifty days.

Example: Justinian is a thousand days old.  He gets 20 additional Traits and/or Abilities.  Don’t screw with Elders!

7. Vampire Abilities
Progeny characters start with 3 additional Abilities, chosen from the list below. These are the vampiric powers of myth and legend.  Option: Narrators may restrict the choices a character can make based on his Bloodline and/or Clan.  In addition, new Abilities may be added specific to a certain Clan.

Vampire Abilities work a little differently than other Abilities.  First, they can be resisted with only a Trait and NOT automatically win on a tie.  Second, each comes in five “levels,” and those levels count as “Traits” for Challenges and bidding purposes. 

Example:  Justinian attempts to use Dominate (One) against a younger Outcast vampire.  The younger vampire resists with his Trait “Disciplined.”  Justinian needs to throw a “win” to defeat the younger vampire.  If it is a “tie,” the power doesn’t work but Justinian doesn’t lose his level of Dominate.  If it is a “loss,” Justinian loses that level and can’t use Dominate again that session…

…but wait.  Let’s say the younger vamp loses and decides to overbid, wagering “Determined,” “Attentive” and “Alert” to resist.  Justinian then reveals he actually has four levels of Dominate and bids them.  This counts as a bid of four Traits.  The younger vampire is forced to back down.   Note that Justinian could also keep his strength to himself and bid Dominate (One) plus three other Traits (like “Persuasive,” “Magnetic,” and “Intimidating”) instead.

Starting characters may take level one in three Abilities, two levels in one and one level in another, or all three levels in one Ability. 

Animalism: The power to summon, communicate with, and control animals and beasts.

Auspex: Heightened senses, the ability to see the unseen and communicate telepathically.

Celerity: The ability to move with blinding speed and grace.

Dominate: The ability to command and control the minds of others.

Fortitude: Superhuman strength and endurance.

Obfuscate: The ability to move unrecognized, unseen, and unnoticed.

Potence: Superhuman strength and physical power.

Presence: The ability to enchant, enthral, and enrapture others.

Protean: The ability to shape shift, growing animals features, changing into an animal or mist, or meld with the earth.

Thaumaturgy: Blood magic, the ability to cast sorcerous rituals and spells.