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Role-Playing Inspiration For Women: Part 1

John Hutton looks at women who played pivotal roles in history and who provide a good foundation for character creation!



Happy International Women’s Month!  At least it’s International Women’s Month at the time I’m writing this article.  And it got me thinking about women and women characters.  As a male, it’s hard for me to imagine what life is like to be a woman nor am I going to try.  Instead, I want to celebrate women and hopefully give some inspiration to TTRPG gamers to include them in their games. 

One of the best places to get ideas for characters is from history.  The question isn’t what women to choose, but when looking through history, which ones do I exclude?  There are so many brave, smart, and straight-up badass women who don’t get nearly as much respect as they deserve.  So here’s a list of some women from history and I hope they make it into your game.

Milunka Savic – The Lady in the Dark

Milunka Savić: 1892 – 1973

When I first heard about this woman, I felt ashamed that I hadn’t heard of her sooner.  Milunka Savic is a Serbian war hero who fought in the Balkan Wars and World War I.  She disguised herself as a man, impersonated her brother, and during her time as a soldier became the most decorated woman in history.  She earned the Legion of Honor twice, the Karađorđe star twice, the Milos Obilic medal, the Russian Cross of St. George, the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael, and is to this day the only woman to be awarded the Croix de Guerre. 

This woman was a modern-day Hua Mulan.  They never knew she was a woman until she took shrapnel in the chest.  Even then, her commanders didn’t want her punished.  They wanted to transfer her to the nurse’s corps.  Savic refused and the Serbs were in no position to throw away good soldiers.  And she was a very good soldier.  Once she even managed to capture 23 Bulgarians single-handed.  Her years after the army was unfortunately not as glamorous.  She took whatever jobs she could get.  Everything from a postal worker to a janitor just to make ends meet.  She died in 1973 almost penniless.  Very recently here in 2022, the band Sabaton wrote a song called “Lady in the Dark” and it’s easily one of my favorite songs now.

Suggested D&D classes: Assassin, Artificer

Tomoe Gozen – Legendary Samurai

Tomoe Gozen: 12th Century

A renowned archer, swordswoman, horsewoman, and one of the first women samurai.  She was a master general and led 300 against 2,000 and won.  In 1184, she fought 6,000 with only 300 in the Battle of Uchide no Hama.  Accounts say she was one of only five to survive the battle.  She is credited for taking the heads of seven mounted warriors at the Battle of Yokotagawara.  She was the lover of Minamoto no Yoshinaka and was his greatest general.  When Minamoto ordered her to retreat from battle, she turned her horse around and rode directly into combat. 

Because she lived about 1,000 years ago, deciphering fact from fiction is a bit difficult.  Needless to say, her reputation as a warrior is unmatched.  When Minamoto died, the story goes that Tomoe Gozen carried his severed head into the ocean and drowned herself so the two lovers could be together in the afterlife.  There’s also stories of her living to 91 as a Buddhist priest pining for her lost love.  No matter Tomoe Gozen’s ultimate fate, her legacy lives on.  She is a major cultural figure in Japan and is in many books and video games.  Next time you play Ghost of Tsushima, give a salute to Tomoe.

Suggested D&D classes: fighter, ranger

Zenobia – Rebel Queen

Queen Zenobia: c. 240 – 272

The famed rebel queen of modern-day Syria.  She challenged the Roman Empire during the 3rd Century Crisis.  During this time, the Roman Empire, while officially still one Empire, split into three: The Gallic Empire, The Roman Empire, and the Palmyrene Empire.  She was married to Lucius Septimus Odaenthus.  Odaenthus later died along with his son in a hunting accident.  There are still questions if Zenobia had the assassination orchestrated or not.  But after Odaenthus’s death, Zenobia quickly became regent.  That’s when Zenobia invaded Egypt.  This was a problem for Emperor Aurelian because Zenobia now controlled the grain from Egypt and could starve the empire if Aurelian moved against her. 

Zenobia would increasingly compare herself to another Queen and thorn in the side of Rome, Cleopatra.  This made Zenobia an enemy of Aurelian and when Zenobia declared independence, her days in power were numbered.  Aurelian had Zenobia captured and brought back to Rome in golden chains.  She was paraded through the streets with Tetricus of the Gallic Empire as Aurelian was given the title of Restorer of the World.

Suggested D&D classes: rogue, scholar

Stay tuned for part 2 of Role-Playing Inspiration For Women!

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