Design notes

You do not need to read this page to play the larp, it’s just personal ramblings!

“Where I’m from, we believe in all sorts of things that aren’t true… we call it history.”

-Wizard of Oz, Wicked

This is mostly a page for things we found interesting in the process of writing this, or to capture ideas that we thought were adjacent or relevant. It’s kind of a design blog.

Historical notes

Tudor bias in mainstream English historiography

The history we’re taught

The view of English history is institutionally pro-Tudor. When I was at school, I forget how many times we studied ‘Tudors and Stuarts’, usually not even getting on to the Stuarts. In fact the only time I had a break was History GCSE which was largely the World Wars of the 20th Century. Students who went on to A-level history were surely relieved to get back to some Tudors as quickly as possible.
Anyway, the Tudors are often portrayed as a golden age in English History – and there are some things that seriously improve – for example Henry VII passing power peacefully to Henry VIII after the Wars of the Roses which killed basically every noble house present when it started. In fact a lot of Henry VIII’s troubles portrayed in RR come from him wanting to pass power on peacefully, under the shadow of the Civil War – an admirable objective. Humanism and the Renaissance are hugely important features of the period, these lead to a huge amount of cultural and academic development which includes the education of women becoming more common.
The Tudors (typically Henry VII) mark the change in period from the Late Middle Ages to the Early Modern period. Of course nobody at the time noticed, because history doesn’t work like that – this is a modern historiographical view of those periods. The English Reformation and the rise of Protestantism is also a huge factor on European history at the time. It’s easy to characterise it simply as the world progressing towards the England, UK and Europe that we know today with a focus on secular liberal democracies with each citizen having a right to their own private spirituality. However, it’s easy to lose sight of damage done to achieve this, especially to the lower classes. The Dissolution of the monasteries caricatures the Church of England and Parliament casting down greedy and corrupt Catholic monks to save the poor from their exploitation at the hands of idolaters. However, particularly in the North of England, the monasteries were the entirety of the welfare state. They provided education, healthcare and spiritual nourishment to much of the population. The Pilgrimage of Grace isn’t something we’ve examined in great detail within the scope of the game as it’s around 10 years in the past, but around 40,000 Northerners march South in uprising against the Protestant reforms and the rebellion is brutally put down by the South and the leader is hung, drawn and quartered.
I’ve got family up in Ripon near to the ruins of Fountains Abbey, my aunt would go there as a child to get some peace from challenging family circumstances, and she still visits it now. It’s important to realise the role these played in the communities in pre-Reformation times and the impact their removal and asset-stripping had on the average person. It’s not a straight line from Henry VIII to a modern secular liberal democracy.

Tudor fiction is also very prone to valorise the period and the monarchy, especially with shows like the Tudors (which we do recommend to get an idea of the period’s feel) and Wolf Hall. This is a good article I’d noticed a while ago which mentions some similar issues:

The Tudor era and the beginnings of settler colonialism and exploitation

More briefly, while Henry VIII’s reign mostly predates this, Elizabeth Tudor’s reign sees the beginning of brutal English colonialism. Brutal Catholic/Spanish colonialism is already well underway since Columbus’ voyages from 1492 onwards. In time this is supported by all major European powers including England and it leads to widespread global atrocities including genocides of indigenous peoples and the transatlantic slave trade which still shapes the world we live in. This is usually glossed over in English history, portraying it purely as an ‘age of discovery’. It’s not something the game is engaging with, largely because it has not started in earnest yet in 1545, at least out of England, but it’s worth bearing it mind its relation to the period.

Henry as a comedy figure… or as an abusive tyrant

Henry is often portrayed in media as a popular and jolly or amorous monarch, almost as a comedic figure with his many wives and excessive lifestyle. However, it’s as well to think of him as a man who treats his subjects and his wives poorly – often imprisoning them on a whim or even ordering their execution if they displease him. He takes in more tax income than all English monarchs combined in all of history, only to spend all of it, leaving his heirs a bankrupt treasury and barely anything to show for it (in fact a reasonable historical view of Elizabeth is that she becomes very competent with finance precisely because she inherits a bankrupt treasury). He creates a new religion he doesn’t really believe in because he can’t bear having anything other than ultimate power. Our version of Henry is a desparate tyrant near the end of his reign, realising that he’s not really achieved the main things he wanted despite all the power he took. By the way does anybody remember Prime Minister Johnson?

Undoubtedly the Tudor era and their monarchs have some excellent stories to tell – this is partly why it’s so compelling as a backdrop. However it’s worth being aware of the cultural bias that surrounds this.

Gender roles in the game

Gender roles in games should be like Chekhov’s Gun, if you put them in, there should be a clear reason why they’re central to the story.

-Muriel Algayres, writer of Harem Son Saat, from her lightning talk at The Smoke (paraphrased)

We felt an exploration of Tudor gender roles was essential to the story we wanted to tell. Our previous alt-history larp, Pride Without Prejudice, specifically removed gender roles, heteronormativity and gender and sexuality based discrimination from a Regency setting because the point was to let everybody play the protagonists in a Jane Austen novel.

In RR, we wanted to find a way to tell the fantastic stories of Henry’s six Queens along with other historical women (which is why it’s called Reginae Regis, rather than Regis Reginae), and it’s why Henry is an NPC. We felt this wasn’t possible without making gender roles a strong part of the story. A key question at the time is how a woman can become head of state and the head of the Church of England while it is illegal for women to discuss theology it public.

Key to our design is that we aren’t saying that men can do anything, and women are a restricted version of a man. Essentially the men have ‘hard power’ and women have ‘soft power’. The male gender roles are also intended to be very restrictive, just differently so, because we feel that’s a more accurate interpretation of how gender roles work in life. It’s fair to say that our interpretation of gender roles may tend towards the exaggerated compared to modern day, but it’s hard for us to know for sure how gender roles exactly worked in Tudor times and after point we need to write a larp instead of start a PhD in the subject.

From a pure game design perspective, we also feel that Restrictions Make Fun.

We realise our approach won’t be perfect for all potential players – for one thing, nonbinary players won’t be able to play their own real-world gender which may be uncomfortable for them, and we’re sorry if that’s means some people can’t play. A benefit we hope to see is that owing to the strong binary gender roles and visual signifiers, there should be very little room for characters to be misgendered during the game.

From a perspective of getting comfortable playing the characters, our favourite ways to look at it is that everybody at the game is in drag.