Monday, August 16, 2010

NPC Gallery: The Spoiled Queen

"If his Majesty thought me frivolous, then why did he marry me?"
- Katherine Howard, The Tudors

We don't often deal much with queens in our roleplaying games.  We sometimes see kings, distantly, on the far side of the throne room engaged in rather ceremonial roles.  He signs laws.  He waves at people.  He gives the adventurers a reward for bringing back his beautiful daughter and offers them her hand in marriage.  Occasionally, the king gains more character.  He might be the naive, heroic figure of King Cailan of Dragon Age, or a brooding, one-eyed veteran of wars, or perhaps a more human figure in a more politically driven game (say, a typical game of 7th Sea), where he becomes not just a figure head, but a personality people deal with every day.  But you don't often hear much about his wife. Most queens I've seen in games, if they're present at all, are unimportant figures, a woman who sits upon the throne beside the king.  The players have no real reason to interact with her (she's not rewarding them, they can't marry her, and she has no reason to try to tangle them in her plots like the vizier might... uh, right?).  When she's given a personality, she's generally matronly and wise, the mother of the nation, a neat and tidy creature who remains properly in her place.

But why could a queen not have as much, or even more, personality than her king?  After all, there's a reason he married her, and if a king is sufficiently powerful that he doesn't need to make an alliance, he might marry her for relatively base reasons: she is beautiful, athletic, buxom, and air-headed.  In the character of Katherine Howard, we have a vapid, self-important, indulgent queen who does as she pleases "because she can" (in her own words).  If she wants a man, she crooks her finger and has him, the inevitable consequences (including her own execution and yours, if you are so unlucky as to catch her attention) be damned.  Tamzin Merchant's portrayal of Katherine Howard was nothing short of genius.  I swear, that's as close to a Valley girl as a British woman can get.

So the next time you ponder a king, perhaps ponder the queen.  And instead of making her a matronly, wise companion for the king, what if she was his decadent plaything, a bored and venomous creature who spies our brawny heroes (who have just rescued her similarly aged step-daughter from the grips of a dragon, necromancer or whatever) and hungers for them.  She's bored, without anything in her life but empty formality and pretty dresses and yearns for a little adventure, and if you attempt to prevent that, she has nothing but time to be as spiteful and petty as she wishes.  After all, she has the ear of the king, and you've just been mean to her.  Thus, if she wants you and you reject her, she'll have you executed.  If she wants you and you accept her advances, the king will find out and have you executed.  Suddenly the court becomes a very dangerous place filled with lascivious, lethal delights, virtue and vice, the potential for great reward and sudden condemnation.  Courts of power should be a dangerous place, and few show just how dangerous it can be for the unprepared quite like Katherine Howard.

Of course, there are many other possibilities than just a spoiled, gold-digging brat for a queen.  In the very least, I hope this entry encourages you to ponder other possibilities.  RPG games, especially adventure games, tend to focus on a "man's world" of hunting, travelling and war.  They sometimes forget a "woman's world" of harem politics, gossip and emotional blackmail, which can also be rich fodder for great stories.
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