If you wanted to build a character like Milady de Winter what sort of Lifepath would you use? She’s part seductress and part spy. Might we see a Lifepath like this in 1648?
There’s a lot to unpack in your post. If you don’t mind, I’m going to dig in.
First, Anne de Breuil, aka Comtesse de la Fère, aka Baroness Sheffield, aka Milady de Winter is not a prostitute or a courtesan. She is a young woman escaped from a Benedictine monastery who uses guile, cunning and ambition to rise in French society, ultimately becoming an agent for Cardinal Richelieu. And while she does use seduction as a weapon, this does not make her a prostitute. Nor does it separate her from the mores of the day. Many characters in Dumas’ canon use sex to further their aims, D’Artagnan included.
I think she would make an excellent player character in Miseries & Misfortunes. I already have a Benedictine lifepath in the works in 1648. Will I have a “seductress” lifepath? Definitely not. Will I have a “spy” lifepath? No, spies are usually roles of convenience, nearly any lifepath could become one. Will I have a prostitute or courtesan lifepath? Probably not.
It’s worth noting that finding historical women to design lifepaths around has proven challenging, because women’s stories have been largely erased despite their obvious contributions to politics, literature, art, science and warfare. But I have done my best to find them and include them. For example, if you examine the soldier lifepath you’ll find it contains many women’s names—these are actual soldiers from the period.
One of my goals in Miseries & Misfortunes is to challenge the dominant historical narratives we have adopted around the 17th century. History is often written by the villains who have enforced the idea that a single historical narrative was inevitable and justified. I want to show that the world of that day was cosmopolitan, sophisticated and complicated. That many cultures interacted, traded and, yes, collided. That both men and women strode across the world’s stage with equal importance.
Seeing the title of your post makes me sad. I imagine a woman coming to this forum to check out the game. She sees that the first forum topic about women isn’t “Tell me about these lady soldiers, Luke!” it’s “What about some prostitutes?!” It would be quite easy for a prospective player to see that and walk away thinking this game and this community isn’t for her.
To me, this says that I have work to do on my end to paint a more accurate, more nuanced history. For you, I would ask you to be bit more thoughtful in your posts.
Luke and all:
While I did call out Milady de Winter as a character archtype, and she is a female, I did not state or say that prostitution is only limited to those who identify as female. The “Cicisbeo” is a male courtsean from Italy. The topic isn’t about women. It is about something in history. Something included and mentioned in the game. Since PCs can begin on the bottom rung of French society I thought it might prove to be an interesting topic. I guess not. Did I write my post trying to be controversial, sexist or offensive? No. Seriously no.
I am sorry if someone who identifies as a woman comes to this forum as a prospective player or GM and sees my post and finds it offensive. Not my intention in the least. I too would love to see you post more about “lady soldiers”. I know something of Mary Reed but she won’t appear until the War of Spanish Succession. As a lover of history and a fan of table top RPGs this is something I crave.
My goal wasn’t to chase someone, anyone, away from YOUR game. I like your game! I backed it on kickstarter. I hungrily have been devouring the text and thinking about running the game with my table top crew (which includes female players). I would love to see this game grow and the community around it expand. If this topic is too rough and the forum of a more gentle nature I am deeply sorry.
History is an interesting thing. Something considered wrong today might have a different narrative 400 years ago. Maybe there are topics that shouldn’t be discussed or included in Miseries and Misfortunes and 1648 (or the forums) despite the fact they occurred?
Moving forward: You asked me to be more thoughtful in my posts. I ask you to forgive my blunder. I remembered Milady being branded or tatooed as a prostitute (but maybe it was as a murderer) and Athos discovering it after a riding accident. She covered it with a ribbon. Now I’ve read the novel and seen several movie versions so I might be confusing things. Again I apologize. Honestly I’d like to play a version of Milady in a Miseries and Misfortunes campaign.
Luke if you feel that my post saddened you too greatly and has thus ruined any future dialogue we might share here on the forums or at some point face-to-face, please PM me and let me know and I shall simply remove myself from the forums. Either way I like your game. I am fine not sharing things about Miseries and Misfortunes online here or elsewhere.
As a history teacher eternally trying to create a space where we can discuss things openly in the classroom, this was given to me by our diversity and inclusion director. I think as we navigate complex topics - like the evolution of morality (or whatever we may call it) and a sensitivity to that change and how we can work with historical topics, it’s something nice to keep in mind. I hope this doesn’t come across as patronizing or anything, but it’s something I’ve really tried to internalize as best I can in a political climate where I feel increasingly sad, frustrated, and quite angry at times. Maybe others will find it useful as they consider how to explore complex topics in discussion here, or around the game table…
Engaging Across Differences
- Be willing to sit in the gray areas
- Be willing to be uncomfortable
- Be willing to be vulnerable
- Be willing to extend trust and earn trust
- Be willing to listen fully
- Be willing to continue the conversation
- Be willing to believe we need each other
Good stuff Connor
Thank you for responding and for keeping an open mind. I assure you that my goal with my response was to encourage your continued participation in the forums, not to see you off.
I am here to learn. I think you are too.
So while I don’t seek to avoid any aspect of the era in which the game is set, it’s about the framing. We must challenge our given assumptions—we must counter-act our biases—if we are to avoid the frames of the dominant historical narrative.
I assure you that I have read through the darkest moments of the age. And it is not that we avoid them, but that we will examine them. We won’t simply repeat the dominant narrative or insert unexamined assumptions. To do so is to side with the oppressors.
To return to the example at hand, it is Milady herself who beguiles us. In her seduction of Felton (which is hardly sexual), she recounts the tale of her branding. But in this version that she tells, the executioner of Bethune is English and allied with the Duke of Buckingham! After describing a lurid scene in which Buckingham tortures and rapes her, and then tries to buy her silence, she tells the naive Felton how Buckingham threatened her:
“‘You are a prostitute,’ said he, in a voice of thunder, ‘and you shall undergo the punishment of prostitutes! Branded in the eyes of the world you invoke, try to prove to that world that you are neither guilty nor mad!’
“Then, addressing the man who accompanied him, ‘Executioner,’ said he, ‘do your duty.’”
In this version of her tale, her villainous Buckingham accuses her of being a prostitute and brands her thusly to cover up the crimes of kidnap, torture and rape.
She plays on Felton’s own biases—on the reader’s own preconceptions!—in order to make her lie all the more powerful so as to motivate Felton to murder through his puritanical religious zeal. And we know now that women who suffer sexual assault are often blamed for the actions of their attackers. It’s a brilliant ploy from Dumas, believable because it cuts so close to so much ugly truth.
I hope you can see, like a historical text, the text of The Three Musketeers is worth reexamining. In his own way, Dumas joins us in this.
There’s a curious comment in Athos’s retelling of his actions against Milady: “He took her to his chateau, and made her the first lady in the province; and in justice it must be allowed that she supported her rank becomingly.” Athos admits that she made a good partner and a worthy countess, but when he discovers her mark, rather than forgiving her or even questioning her, he flies into a rage and attempts to murder her.
Athos spends all of Twenty Years After wracked with guilt over his actions. Even risking his life to attempt to make amends with de Winter’s son, Mordaunt. Which supports perhaps an alternate reading of the narrative—not a wicked woman justly punished, but an ambitious actor of the age cruelly set upon by violent men driven to revenge.
Milady is an incredible villain. Iconic, really. But she is also an archetype, the femme fatale: beautiful, cruel and doomed. One of the goals of Miseries & Misfortunes is to reexamine those archetypes. Look at them in light of a more nuanced perspective and give players the chance to play perhaps a bit closer to the truth than the history tells.
I hope you will continue with us on that journey.
Luke you are correct. I am here to learn. I can see Miseries and Misfortunes as both a role playing game and a learning narrative. Its one of the greatest things in the game, you can have fun while learning about a unique period in history.
Some players and DMs who were introduced to Dungeons and Dragons sought out more information about the history that framed the fantasy. Is it possible to say that a role playing game could led one into a deeper knowledge of historical events? Can a role playing game also introduce us to different cultures and challenge us to look beyond our own experiences? I think so.
My desire is to run a game that is both fun (very important) and set realistically in a period in time. Since I don’t have any players with a PHD in French history of the 1600’s I, and GMs like me, have to act as a storytelling teacher. Some elements of the dominate historical narrative are bound to be addressed.
Back to Milady. It is obvious that Athos feels deeply he wronged Milady. In a way it’s his flaw. He knew her intimately and judged her way too harshly withouot allowing her to explain. He tries to make amends after her death and fails miserably. Perhaps Athos uses his love of drink to drown out his failure and the memories he has of Milady. Does Athos suspect that his actions might have made her as she is? Mavbe only in the depths of his heart.
What I wonder is did Dumas create Milady to be a sympathic vilain (for some reason I keep thinking of the Netflix vision of “Kingpin” in the Daredevil series)? Or was she always a chameleon and a liar? I suppose the reader gets to decide… It seems most of Dumas’s characters are truly neither good nor evil but simply human trying to survive in a hostile world.
If we tried to make a PC (even an NPC) based on a Milady how would you build her? What lifepath(s) would she take? She was a noble but she became something else. While living in and around the French aristocracy can give her those social skills she uses so adeptly she appears to have other skills ladies of the court wouldn’t have. What do you?
Lastly, thank for understanding that my goal wasn’t to be the Zak Smith (Sabbath) of Miseries and Misfortunes. I just want to run a good game.
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