Dang it, I just keep making work for myself.
As readers of this blog should be well aware, I’ve spent most of the last year developing a setting called The King is Dead with an eye toward marketing it for Savage Worlds. It takes place in a quasi-18th century world where the middle and lower clases are rising up to overthrow a literally vampiric aristocracy. All of the player characters belong to secret societies -- inspired by such examples as the Bavarian Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, and the Sons of Liberty – that are conspiring together to stage the revolution.
Early on, I decided that one of the societies should be explicitly feminist. While the Bavarian Illuminati believed in equal rights and education for women, they were still a male organization and their in-game equivalent was always going to wind up looking like a bunch of white guys in periwigs sitting around talking a bigger game than they actually played. It always seemed important to me that there be a secret society by women for women in order to keep women’s rights front and center in the game’s themes.
Unfortunately, writing that society has always given me trouble.
Since the Freemasons and Illuminati are popularly associated with Hermetic magic, it made sense to me to contrast the feminist society with the Illuminati stand-ins by associating them with an “opposing” kind of magic. In tabletop RPGs, the opposite of wizardly magic has almost always been clerical magic, so I decided the feminist group would be defined in terms of religion.
It seemed like a good idea, but it’s led to revision after revision of the group and their name. They were originally the Sorority of Belquis (after the Queen of Sheba, described in Islamic texts as a wise and powerful woman), then the Circle of Isis (because explaining how a quasi-English cabal came to be named after a Middle Eastern figure seemed overly complex, but referring back to the popularity of the Isis cult in Roman times seemed much easier), and then the Society of Minerva (in reference to both the goddess and the 18th century publishing house, Minerva Press). Throughout these revisions, I’ve always had to shoehorn in explanations for why these thoroughly modern women were looking to the goddesses of the past.
I don’t hate the concept – in fact, I’d really prefer that I didn’t have to throw it out and rewrite 4 or 5 pages of text – but I just haven't felt confident it. It's always felt off. I've always worried that – for lack of a better word – it’s too witchy.
I recently realized that the Blue Stocking Society – an honest-to-goodness early feminist organization – existed in the mid-18th century. I’m used to the term “bluestocking” from Regency romance novels (where it is invariably an insult, and, yes, I read Regency romance novels) and never really thought about where it originated. It occurred to me that modeling the feminist society more specifically on this historical original would be a good idea.
Savage Worlds offers five core types of “magic:” wizardly magic, clerical miracles, psionics or psychic powers, super powers, and weird science. Throughout the development of The King is Dead, I’ve always had psychic powers assigned to a Fenian/Jacobite Celtic society in homage to the Highlander films and the tradition of the second sight amongst the Celts. It has, honestly, always been an awkward fit because of the way psionics work in Savage Worlds, and I’ve often considered ditching that connection in order to link the pseudo-Celts to a pseudo-Druidism in order to emphasize the religious divisions that have long existed in the British Isles.
(Just to clarify for those coming in late, the state religion of the vampire-dominated society is a Satanic high church comparable to Anglicanism or Catholicism.)
If I change the psedo-Celts to pseudo-Druids, then that would free up psionics for use by the Bluestocking Society. This appeals to me because psychic powers have long been framed as at least a pseudo-science; this then makes the Bluestocking Society scientists. It makes them innovators. It makes them dedicated to progress.
It makes them (literally) self-empowered.
As much extra work as it causes me, I feel better about this already. A society dedicated to teaching women to overcome their problems through the force of their own minds and wills? That's a metaphor that works!
(And, yeah, it's a bit Golden Age Wonder Woman and a little bit Bene Gesserit, but those are comparisons I am way more happy to make.)