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Chakats [15 April 05] Sex in D&D, part five.

The wemic's most unusual cousin is surely the Chakat. These creatures are a kind of sci-fi liontaur with a hermaphroditic sexuality. I was very pleased to get an interview with the creator of the chakat, Bernard Doove, also known as Chakat Goldfur. His site, The Chakat's Den, is a fantastic resource. Here's a Q&A I had with him through e-mail, on chakats, wemics, and sexuality. Thanks, Bernard, for the thoughtful answers to my questions!

What's the story of how Chakats came to exist? Were you aware of wemics or liontaurs at the time? Was there an inspiration there, or just coincidence?

Although I have enjoyed anthropomorphics all my life, I had only just become aware of the fledgling "Furry Fandom" and started getting involved more deeply. Rather than using just a generic furry character, I wanted to create something new and distinctive. I was totally unaware of the existence of wemics or liontaurs at the time that I created the Chakat species. However, although I put a great deal of time and effort into their creation, they were not without inspiration from other sources. They were the Kendarii by Mike Higgs, and the Garetta by Roy D. Pounds II, both species being foxtaurs, plus the snowleopardtaurs by Mary Lynn Skirvin. Although these images were few and hard to find, nevertheless they had a profound effect upon me. The very first time that I saw them, I knew that _this_ was the way that I wanted to go with the species that I wanted to create. As I happen to like felines a tad more than foxes, it was inevitably a felitaur that I ended up developing. Only later when people asked me if they were wemics did I learn of the similar species. The similarities were coincidental though because I had designed the chakats with all the features that I thought they should have after careful consideration, whereas the wemics have totally different origin, design and philosophy.

Within the internally consistent context of their story, why are chakats hermaphroditic?

First and foremost, chakats are designed to be survivors. Any trait or ability that could improve their chances of surviving hostile circumstances was considered for inclusion in their genetic design. For example: one of the critical factors for establishing colonies is the number in the population. In normal colonies, only approximately half could actually reproduce. With hermaphrodites though, all members can bear children, and alternating parents also reduces the stress on the body that childbearing incurs. You could either halve the numbers required for a minimum size colony, or double your population growth. In a very extreme case, a single chakat could even self-impregnate to produce offspring. (No one wants it to come down to that though.) So secondly, practicality plays a very large factor.

Thirdly, there was a certain amount of social experimentation involved -- How would a fully hermaphroditic species behave? What sort of social bonds would they make? How would non-herm species regard them? How would the chakats regard non-herms? These questions and many more were answered, or are still in the process of being answered, by the continuing success of the species.

Fourthly, there were a few other trivial reasons. Curiosity was a factor. The challenge to create a fully functional and stable dual-sexed species was also a factor. However, it is the combination of all the reasons, both major and minor, that finalized the decision to proceed on that course.

From a meta viewpoint, why did you create them to be hermaphroditic? If it is (possibly in part) because a dual sexuality let you tell stories that you were interested in recounting, then could you elaborate on the themes you wanted to pursue, and why?

I had the fortune to encounter some good quality realistic herm art (before being bombarded by such things as "hyper-herms") that made me stop and think. Was this practical? Did it have any real advantages? What would other people think of them? And much to my surprise, I also found the realistic herms physically attractive, which came as quite a revelation for someone who was happily heterosexual. At this time, I had no plans to write stories, but I did have every intention to be as elaborate in the design of the new species as was possible. I thought long and hard on the subject, and eventually came up with the current design. However, the original question still needed answering -- how would they behave? Eventually I wrote a story about a chakat and hir mates specifically to start answering that question. I'm still answering it after a couple of dozen stories, and we're still all learning more about the species as new authors add their visions. Amongst the questions that needed asking were -- How do they relate to each other when there aren't specific gender roles? Who gets to be the mother and who gets to be the sire? How does their sexual nature affect their love-making? How does it affect their relationships to other species? How does it affect the way they raise their children? All our lives and the decisions we make are affected by our gender. The chakats have thrown all that out the window. They could either be regarded as a third gender (my preference), or a blending of male and female, but either way they don't fit the dynamics of the traditional male/female roles. In truth, I have been discovering some of this for myself as I have written more and more. I never intended to write anything at all, but each story seems to open up more possibilities. One thing that I have learned from writing the stories though is that they have succeeded not because they are about hermaphrodites, but because they are about _people_!

Have you ever heard of people using chakats as role-play game characters, rather than for art or fiction? What role-play challenges would players face as chakats? How would their sexuality factor in?

I have often heard of people creating chakat characters for the purposes of role-playing, but it's usually within the context of a MUCK or MUD, or simply as an alter-ego. The problem with formal RP games is that they rely on balancing out the abilities of the various characters, so no one is given too much of an advantage or disadvantage that didn't come about as a part of the game-play. Chakats are very big problem because they weren't designed as RP game characters and they have far too many major advantages to comfortably fit within the framework of such games as AD&D. I've seen a couple of attempts to make their stats fit, and neither satisfied me. However, if you fudge the figures or play a less formal game, a chakat has RP potential that others don't. They are stronger, faster, and have more enhanced senses than most species. However, they need to eat more, sleep more, and lone chakats really don't work well for long. Chakats need companions, preferably other chakats. They have a psychological need for frequent company. Their sexuality can both work for and against them in these circumstances. They are naturally tactile, and tend to be overly friendly and trusting. They can be misled and used by clever people. A true chakat would not think of trading sexual favours with someone shi doesn't like, even when it could be vitally important. On the other hand, when encountering allies or potential friends, their affections and willingness for sexual encounters could greatly increase their chances of success. Overall, I would say that this factor mostly balances out with just a slight bias towards being an advantage, but they have a lot more fun in the process!

You've had a tremendous fan response to your creation, with other people joining in. What is the appeal of chakats? How does their sexuality play a part in that appeal?

As I mentioned before, I think it's the fact that I treat them as people, and not just as fanciful creations, that has played a major role in their success. People want to read about other people! However, apart from that major point, I think that because I put so much effort into covering all their aspects in the "Introduction To Chakats", then demonstrating what they are like in my stories, that people have been able to get into the characters. They then can get excited about them, and start thinking of what they can do with them in stories, art or just as their alter-ego. They can then indulge in thoughts and fantasies that would otherwise be impossible. As I mentioned earlier, I discovered that despite never having been attracted males before, I could find a herm very attractive and desirable. Why? Even I haven't figured that one out completely as yet. Perhaps there's a part of all of us that finds our own gender sexually attractive, thus why we have homosexuality and bisexuality. The chakats seem to have the ability to bring this tendency out in people in a controlled and enjoyable fashion. If some people don't play chakats for any other reason than that they are herms, they nevertheless are constrained by what chakats are and how they behave. And if you see someone playing a character that doesn't conform to what I have described in the "Intro" and my stories (or canon stories by other authors), then they aren't chakats, no matter what they say otherwise. I want the fans to continue to enjoy my species without the stigma of such abuses, and to enjoy the sexuality of a species that only uses that to bring mutual pleasure and happiness, and not to hurt or control.

This is the fifth part of a seven part series on sex in role-play games:

Feedback [18 May 05]: I got a letter from Bernard after I posted this interview, in which he recommended two of his stories about Chakats in particular. He wrote, "As for stories, I think that my favourites would be "Goldfur's Story" and "Lessons" -- the first shows an average chakat in a normal relationship situation, while the second has a closer look at what it is like to be a herm.

Thanks again, Bernard!

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