To write this post, I struggled to find some online version of the story of Parzival as told by the 13th century author Wolfgang von Eschenbach ... but that proved unexpectedly difficult. The original story is written in medieval German. Those translations I could find were either excessively worded poetry (longer than the original text) or children's simplifications. Fact is, because I've never read the German (don't speak German) I've never actually "read" Parzival. At best, I'm familiar with the story.
It's long, and wikipedia covers it fairly well. It's fundamentally misogynistic, but in an odd way; the knight Parzival adores, loves, aches for his lady love, Kondwiramur ... but this intense worship steals him away from the Grail, which is the true adoration of God and all that is good, right and proper. Well, this is the 13th century, and this sort of attitude towards women held a lot of power among males who tried to believe camaraderie with one's fellows and perfect worship of the Supreme Being were higher ideals than raw, unrelenting sex. Not that there is any actual sex in Parzival.
There are many motifs, however, of women controlling or guiding Parzival's 'nature,' however, and the keen eye can see all the erectile symbolism, the collar around the male's throat, the mystical weaving of spells that we know all women possess, etc., etc. You can miss all that if you haven't had extensive training in literary deconstruction - and you're all the better for it, believe me. Deconstruction is only good if you want to write for a living, or if you want to be terribly depressing at parties.
The specific part of Parzival that I want to talk about is a famous passage. Parzival is passing through the woods when a hawk hits a goose above him, and three drops of blood hit the snow next to Parzival's horse. The knight looks at the snow and sees Kondwiramur - her cheeks, her white skin, her beautiful ruby lips ... and Parzival's heart yearns for the woman he's left behind. He aches, his heart beats in his chest, he goes weak in the knees, he can't take his eyes off the snow as he drifts into a 'love trance' thinking of his lady love.
As he does this, his lance dips forward, and he's seen by a retainer in King Arthur's party, who is moving through the same wood. The lance being dipped forward, the retainer rushes back and tells the King's party that there's a knight looking for a fight (the sign of the lance giving the intent). Sir Sagramor puts up his hand (colloquially speaking) and goes Oh, Oh! Let me fight him. Arthur's got other things on his mind, but he says all right, but be back by suppertime (still colloquial).
Sagramor goes and finds Parzival and can't help noticing that he's rather distracted. So Sagramor says, "Come on, have at ye!" and attacks ... and before time takes to tell, with one blow Parzival lays him out, never taking his eyes off the imagined image of Konwiramur in the snow.
Sagramor staggers back with his tail between his legs, and upon hearing the story Arthur's step-brother Kay shouts, Me! Me! So Arthur lets Kay have a try.
Kay is a great blustering self-important asshole, and when he finds Parzival he insults him and cries, "I'll wake you up!" And its the same scene all over again, except that Parzival kills Kay's horse and leaves Kay in a terrible state, so much so that Kay has to stay in his tent in pain after having to walk back. All the while, Parzival never takes his eye off the snow.
The next to have a go is Gawain, who warned by Arthur to be careful, approaches Parzival in a very different manner. Gawain recognizes him, calls out as a comrade (note the 'we are men' angle) and then takes note what's really going on. So he lays a cloak upon the snow, Parzival immediately falls out the trance and says, "What's happened, what's going on?" And Gawain has to explain how he's whacked two knights already, though Parzival has no memory of it.
There are other things going on - the whole Kondwiramur in the snow thing is part of a spell cast by Kondwiramur's mother, to entrap Parzival's heart and make him a slave to love, and so on, getting back to the general theme. For myself, I don't really care about the glory of mythical deities, but I suppose there's something to be said about player characters throwing off the yoke of sex and giving obeisance to Gods and Demi-gods.
Nothing good, but something.
Now, I've gone through the exercise of getting across this story because I want to talk about love in D&D, and especially this whole 'love trance' thing. Love is a powerful force, either for good or bad, as evidenced in the tale above. Yes, it may not be as 'important' as the Holy Grail, which Parzival seeks - depending on how you define importance - but it is a damn sight stronger than a couple of mere knights. There is a spectacular cult of passion that runs through most of human history, the better known since the 12th and 13th centuries (and the rise of romance), in which men of all varieties have rushed around getting themselves hacked to pieces over the erotic expectation of getting a LOT more than a pretty scarf to wrap around their uppers. We may think that that knights and aristocratic ladies did not get it on in the bushes after a joust, but we also know there were a helluva a lot of bastard kings and other unwanted children running about the age, and they didn't pop out of bellies by chance. Outwardly, it may have been for favors, but it takes an idiot to think that favors were as far as it went.
However, none of this is part of D&D. You may be rushing around saving princesses, but after the fact its no touchy touchy. Obviously there's the odd DM promoting the sweaty nasty after a good day's dragon killing, but by and large the consensus is that sex is not the mandate in D&D, and shouldn't get rubbed in the faces of people who are squeamish and all.
We can guess why there's no page about sex, love and the virtues of 14th century rape in the Dungeon Master's compendium of whatever version of the game you will. For one thing, Gygax and Arneson were creatures of the 50s and 60s ... and though publishing their little books in the 1970s, it's pretty clear from the content that we're not talking about a couple of guys dropping into Plato's Retreat or anywhere near Stonewall in New York. There may have been a sexual revolution going on at the time, but the Happy Hooker did not have any D&D questions to answer in her Penthouse column.
Now, I'm 48, and I can tell you that I have loved. I have loved deeply and passionately, and I can certainly attest to the fact that when I am not writing here online or actually working at my job, there's a pretty good chance that I'm in some dark, sweaty place having a very good time without D&D on my mind. I think this has to be true also for all the husbands and wives who read the various blogs about the game. We are none of us ignorant in the ways of love, or the way that it will drive us to doing impossible, frightening things, or the way it keeps us chained happily to the work-desk and the bank mortgage. We are all of us familiar with love. Some of us are still in love with it, some of us are angrily in thrall to it and some of us stare achingly at the snow wondering why we don't have it now.
So IF we're going to talk about magic, and IF we're going to talk about fantasy, isn't it just a little boneheaded to think that none of that has anything to do with LOVE? Or is there a special castration ceremony we've been meant to undergo upon entering a convention or sitting at the gaming table? If there is, then why isn't THAT in the books, hum?
It seems to me the above tale of Parzival gives a hint of what kind of powers love might impart to characters willing to risk all. Giving an opportunity for players to go to that place in the fantasy forum, where reconciling their nerdish nature with the nympholific, might shake loose some of the boundries of your game ... except that ...
Well, you should be able to see the problem at once. THERE ARE NO RULES. Nix, naught, nothing, not a thing to make the least suggestion of how you fall in love, how this love manifests, what should inspire your character or what the effects are. Beyond the silly tropes of television, where every father hates every prospective mate, what real impact does the character's love have upon the family, searching for a really good sire to offspring. Let's face it, player characters would make really good sires ... high ability stats and all that. How about some serious bling for proving love and how about some serious positive consequences for the player willing to act greenly in front of the other players? How about a grown up stance that says, this is my character and he by the bloodstains on Cthulhu's lips wants a goddamn good woman to have sex with.
I'm not saying that the participants should step into yon bedroom for twenty minutes and consummate a player character relationship ... but damn, what a running that would be! Eh? Anyone?
All I'm asking for is a little thought on the matter. A little less digging of toes in the sand. A recognition that you have testicles and genitalia, and that they transform interestingly now and then. Contemplate it. Give it some consideration. Muse upon it.
You can go seek Parzival's sexless grail afterwards.