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Close to the Edit

Is Sexuality A Dirty Word In RPGs?

by Ross Winn
Feb 13,2004

 

Is Sexuality A Dirty Word In RPGs?

I have been playing RPGs for the better part of my life, and for all of that time there has been a hole in RPGs. There has been sex, at least Scott Kurtz's "Ale & Whores" kind of sex, but not sexuality. There has been no battle of the sexes. There has never been a weaker sex, or a fairer sex, and we still aren't sure if dwarven maidens have beards, or if there really are any such thing. Sexuality is a huge part of my life, as I would venture to guess is the case with most of humanity. The relationship between man and woman, or between any two people has been the core of humanity's art and culture for a terribly long time. I might even say all of humanity's art and culture, though I am sure someone would disagree.

Sexuality has been a fairly dead issue in RPGs for some time. We do see the occasional game like Ironwood that makes sex an issue, but no games with anything as crass as rules to govern these interactions. Why not? If we agree that sexuality is a huge force in human history and experience, then why has it never been dealt with openly, rationally, or at least maturely?

Suddenly, though, at the end of 2003 it seems a lot of people came up with the same ideas, or at least thought they were business-worthy at the same time. Do any of these new releases fill the bill? Have we finally come to a point where we can simply discuss rules for seduction with the same flatness of tone we regularly use to explain how we rip the the villain's spleen out through his nose using jeet-kun-do? Can we make sex in an RPG as boring as we can make combat? Are we just doomed to learn nothing about ourselves or our games? Let's take a look.

Sex & Sorcery by Ron Edwards (Adept Press) ISBN 0-9709176-3-5 $17.50USD

Sex & Sorcery is a book for the Sorcerer RPG by Ron Edwards. Ron is a leader in the so-called indie game community, and a winner along with his game of the Diana Jones Award. I don't know as I buy the idea that an indie designer is any more pure of spirit than a commercial game designer, but the indie community does seem to come up with some very interesting games. Sorcerer is definitely one of these.

Ron has spent several years building a lexicon for his audience. He has explained many concepts to his players. Some have used definitions common in RPGs, other concepts are used differently than they are used elsewhere. After building his lexicon Ron has a broad language to describe new terms and ideas to his players.

Sex is not a topic for the unwary. I think Ron is immediately aware of this. It is a topic that not everyone will be comfortable with and, not all at the same level, so Ron uses the concepts of lines and veils. Each player, and each game master will draw a line. Beyond that line the other players or GM can not cross. While lines are all but set in stone, veils are a bit more diaphanous. Veils are the translucent curtains we choose to draw over some scenes. We know, as players, what is happening; yet we do not need to describe every whisper or every kiss. With the idea of lines and veils to set our boundaries and limits, Ron seems to have concocted a much more well rounded discussion.

After discussing the boundaries he sets in to discuss the meat of the topic, males and females. Ron postulates both a male and a female story type. Though not all will agree with all of his ideas, he does break out some basics that will be helpful to most GMs, and not just those who play Sorcerer. This is another place that Sex & Sorcery seems to excel beyond other entries we will discuss. Though most designers desire their work to be usable by more than one game, many require the use of charts or tables. Since not all games use these, they are less accessible. Sex & Sorcery is only concerned with a few representational graphs, and general concepts. This makes it much more easily applicable to any game.

Naughty & Dice (Sabledrake Enterprises) ISBN 0-9702189-6-6 $19.95USD

Naughty & Dice started out life as a netbook some years ago. Christine & Tim Morgan are a couple well-versed in gaming and gaming literature. Christine is also a writer of fiction as well.

Naughty & Dice has been called "GURPS Sex" in its internet lifespan. It is by far the most mature document in terms of playtesting of the three. Many players and GMs have contributed to this document. This is a growing trend in RPGs, and I think a good one. After a lot of spit and polish a product goes from netbook to published product. Some of these are better than others, but still it is an excellent vetting process.

The cover is a representation of a "plain brown wrapper"Across it is "stamped" the phrase "for mature eyes only", "censored", and "Not to be sold in..." To be quite honest, on pulling this out of the envelope my heart sank a bit. I was hoping for a mature and real discussion of sexuality. A frank dealing with sexuality, but not a simple discussion of techniques. Not a laundry list of kinks and tricks. Yet this is what I got. An exhaustive listing of -philias, fetishes, and phobias. No real social context, and no real framework for using these abilities in a campaign.

The Book of Erotic Fantasy (The Valar Project) ISBN 0-9742045-0-1 $34.95 USD

Finally we have the Book Of Erotic Fantasy. After a change in the d20 license prompted specifically by the impending publication of this work, the book is being published under the OGL which does not use the same criteria. This is a work chock full of sexual images, and while beautifully photgraphed and digitally enhanced these are images that would disturb me as a parent were my preteen or teenaged youngster bring this home to me. Some of the various photgraphs illustrate concepts of bondage, homosexuality, and body modification.

As a player and GM this book is pretty impressive. This is a crunchy book chock full of rules. These are not simply prurient images for their own sake. There are discussions of basic ideas like alignment in sexuality, skills and their uses in relation to sexuality (both new and existing skills as well), and feats dealing with sexuality. There are discussions of new prestige classes, such as the Dominator and Rake, for adding more concrete benefits to characters who take advantages of these new abilities.

While I have only had the pleasure of inspecting the 32 page preview available at GenCon Indy this year I have come away with a strong feeling for what the book sets out, and largely succeeds to do. While I am impressed by the number of options and the level of detail presented here, I am also strangely bothered by the work in general. I do not think anyone with any experience with me as a person would calll me a prude. However I do think that the messsage of the designers and developers, that sexuality can be well used in a Dungeons & Dragons type game, is overshadowed by the extreme images presented within. Many will just throw the book aside, or simply look at the dirty pictures, rather than really using the wonderful tools presented here. Frankly I think that a book with a slightly less obvious and in-your-face artistic presentation like Naughty & Dice will be much more successful.

Is your game ready for sexuality?

Can your game and your players handle it? This is a decision that each GM will be forced to make individuallly. I would counsel that only after specific discussion with each of the players in their group should a GM even attempt it. Some players will immediately warm to the idea. Other players will be flatly uninterested. As an alternate idea a GM may choose to have romantic plots or subplots.

The difference between romance and romantic is simple. While romance deals with the player characters, romantic deals with only non-player characters. A romance between two players, or even one player and an NPC can be very stressful on an unprepared group. Assisting a lovestruck couple escape from the clutches of their equally evil but diametrically opposed parents is quite simply easier and less stressful on everyone involved.

As an alternative to simply approaching the players 'out of the blue' about adding elements of sexuality to an existing game a GM may choose to add romantic elements over a period of time, slowly introducing the idea of making personal relationships a part of the game. After the players are comfortable dealing with romantic elements, a discussion of romance may be appropriate.

Whatever decision the group collectively chooses to make, the idea of adding sexuality to an RPG is an idea whose time has come. We have been killing each other in excruciating detail for years, now we get to love each other in similar ways.

Summation

Finally I find, after wandering for these few paragraphs, the topic is still wanting and still incomplete. I want a framework as presented in Sex & Sorcery, with the diversity of Naughty & Dice, and the rules availability and complexity of Book of Erotic Fantasy. I think that though Sex & Sorcery is by far the closest to a real discussion of sexuality in RPGs, that none of the products discussed here have filled the void, as it were. As roleplayers we deserve a frank and comprehensive look at sexuality. We deserve for our characters to have relationships at least as complex as the way we handle violence. Frankly, we deserve more.

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What do you think?

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