The Society is real. That is one of its most attractive and, initially, least obvious features. You do not become a great warrior by rolling dice or by showing up at a meeting and announcing that you just defeated ten vikings, three knights, and a giant. You become a warrior by taking a clumsy sword in your hand, strapping a heavy shield to your arm, and spending many hours getting sweaty, sore, and bruised. Eventually, with reasonable luck, you are a competent fighter-but probably not a great one.
The same is true of everything we honor and respect. A poet or storyteller is judged not by how good he tells us he is but by the poems he composes or the stories he tells. The Society is real; it is not merely a children's game of "I'll tell you how wonderful I am; you tell me how wonderful you are."
This essential feature of the Society is one of the reasons I have reservations about elaborate persona stories. Many, although certainly not all, seem to be attempts to claim credit for deeds the teller has not actually done and skills he does not actually have. The authors of such stories fail to recognize-or attempt to deny-the reality of the Society. To the extent that they succeed they convert it, at least for themselves, into a much less interesting game.
Persona development, to me, is not inventing a story about what you have done but figuring out who you are. To do so, you need to know something about your history, but not a great deal. The difference between one upper-class early twelfth century Berber and another is, in many dimensions, small compared to the difference between either and a late twentieth century American professor. I can figure out most of the differences between myself and my persona without first working out his life story. I have not yet decided exactly where in North Africa my persona was born-and I have not yet run out of unanswered questions about my persona whose answers, if I can find them, will not require that information.
In part, my reservations about elaborate persona stories are a matter of personal preference; there is no reason someone could not have both an elaborate personal history and a well developed persona, and I know a few who I suspect do. One reason it is only a suspicion is that a real medieval (or modern) person is unlikely to tell people his life story. I have in mind a Norman knight I have known for many years. My sole evidence of what I suspect to be a well worked out persona history is that on one occasion, when I was telling William Marshall stories, my friend mentioned that in his youth he had once met the Marshall.
When someone I have just met tells me about his extensive journeys, implausible parentage, and incredible accomplishments, I conclude that he is more interested in being the hero of his own novel than in learning what a real medieval person would be like. My persona, after noticing that the great warrior's performance on the tourney field does not match his war stories, concludes that he (like, no doubt, some real people in the Middle Ages) is better at bragging than at fighting.
Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir