Let’s face it, when it comes to females and fantasy, things have been quite skewed for a very long time. In the beginning, they were damsels in distress needing strong, valiant men to swoop in and deliver them from evil. As things progressed they also became heroines but were often depicted as side-kicks or background characters and more often than not as sexual objects simply there to get more attention with their chainmail bikinis and huge tracts of land. But eventually, and we might only be talking the past thirty years or so, females have begun to take a healthier stance in fantasy. They are now, for the most part, strong and capable people with real characters and real stories. The days of the clueless, scantily clad bimbo following the male hero around are thankfully coming to an end and anyone that thinks that’s a bad thing can, with all due respect, stick it.
(Gets on soap-box) After all, who wants to argue that fantasy was better when intelligent, cunning, and bad-ass characters were limited to males only? Is the male ego that fragile? And isn’t that a little boring? Besides, I personally find strong and capable pop culture characters such as Princess Leia, Katniss Everdeen, Sara Conner, Donna Noble, and Brienne of Tarth to be infinitely sexier than some helpless, clueless underwear model. And yes, I might be a bit biased because I have a teenaged daughter and want her to have positive influences, but I must seriously question any heterosexual male that thinks a meek and un-thinking female is the best companion for him. It’s akin to going out and buying a toy cat rather than adopting or rescuing a real cat because it will be more work. While they might be right, they are also missing out on the rewards that go with that hard work. Rewards that can be life affirming! (Gets off of soap-box)
When it comes to roleplaying fantasy, I see female players getting more involved all the time. As I have mentioned in previous articles, the female roleplaying population is currently booming and will, one day very soon, match the male population 50/50. It might even be fun to see them become the majority. (If that scares you, see my previous “stick it”.) With that in mind, I’d like to offer all of the female players out there, and anyone else that enjoys playing female characters, my top five female fantasy characters to inspire and motivate.
#5 Arya Stark (Game of Thrones)
To look at both the HBO television epic and the Song of Ice and Fire novels, Arya Stark is perhaps the most consistent character in either series. And while I’m sure that many people might argue that Brienne of Tarth, Daenerys, or even Cersei Lannister is the stronger female presence in the mix, it is precisely Arya’s consistency and determined nature that I find makes her the more durable female character. It also doesn’t hurt that she is one of the few Starks left and perhaps in the best position to one day enact true revenge for her family. From a roleplaying point of view, building a character similar to Arya would be a lot of fun and treading that fine line between justified revenge and hateful bloodlust is exactly the kind of character struggle I love to see played out at my table.
#4 Eowyn (The Lord of the Rings)
Perhaps the only female character in the J.R.R. Tolkien epic that stands up as a strong female presence, Eowyn is, in my opinion, one of the very first female fantasy role models. Her first appearance was in The Two Towers (1954) and she was a very forward-thinking character for the time. Borrowing from a device made popular by Shakespeare, Tolkien has Eowyn disguise herself as a man so that she might ride into battle with the rest of her people during the battle of Pelennor Fields. During the height of the battle, she faces off against the Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl and slays him; thus fulfilling the prophecy that the Witch-king would not fall “by the hand of man”. But despite her fighting skills and accomplishments, I feel as though it is her aspiration to be a hero and risk everything for the good of her people that makes her a truly worthy character. She is definitely fighting an uphill battle for most of the story, trying desperately to get the rest of the men to accept her. But, in the end, she defies them all and takes her rightful place as a legend of Middle Earth. It is a theme that we now see quite often in fantasy and in roleplaying, but was quite rare at the time.
#3 Xena (Xena: Warrior Princess)
If you grew up in the 90’s, you most likely watched a fair bit of Xena. Sure it was tacky and corny at times and it definitely had its fair share of titillation, but underlying all of that was a strong, independent female bad-ass who inspired many future female heroines such as Buffy and Beatrix Kiddo. The character was so popular and well-known at the time that even a dwarf planet was nicknamed after her in 2005 and later the orbiting moon was nicknamed Gabrielle. Add all of this on top of the fact that Xena was originally intended to be a one-shot villain for the show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and I think you get the point. To model a roleplaying character on Xena is both a good idea and a challenge. Far too many people view her as just a female version of Conan the Barbarian, but she is so much more than that when you look a little closer. Her violent nature often takes a back seat to her compassion and conscience, with the occasional prodding from Gabrielle. She is also often conflicted between being the hero and doing what’s right and letting her anger get the better of her and treading slightly into villain or bully territory. This would be a character conflict ripe for exploration in roleplaying.
#2 Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series)
Let’s get one thing straight; despite her looks, Hermione is as tough as nails. She is calm, cool, and calculating at all times, especially in combat. She sticks with Harry through the worst of it and during the darkest of days. She never ducks out of a fight, never needs serious saving, and oppositely saves both Harry and Ron on several occasions. And while her arrogance and intelligence might cloud her judgment from time-to-time, she is always ready to back it up with focus, talent, and will. And seriously, who else would have the guts to wipe the memories of her parents to forget she ever existed, just in an effort to keep them safe? That’s what I call sacrifice. In roleplaying, creating a character like Hermione would be a tough gig but ultimately worth it. I would love to see a player character in my game have to make the tough calls that she does or stick it out through thick and thin. Also, I think being a little know-it-all can provide a lot of roleplaying opportunities, provided the other players in the group don’t get tired of it.
#1 Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Buffy was the natural successor to Xena in the late 90’s and I also believe that her character inspired dozens of others and reshaped femininity in fantasy. She had everything we wanted in a hero: strength, wits, intelligence, combat skills, open mindedness, loyalty to her friends, and yet all of this was also offset by a wonderful humor and willingness to make fun of herself. And, unlike many of the female fantasy characters that came before her, she never felt that it was necessary to “act like a man” or be more masculine to be accepted and respected as a female warrior. In my mind, she is the perfect blend of capability and vulnerability, something that many roleplaying characters are severely lacking. Was Buffy ever a perfect hero? No. Did she have her moments of doubt and frustration? Absolutely. But she was still able to pick herself up, dust herself off, and keep fighting. That is the mark of a true hero in my book and something I always want to see in my games.