It’s been six months since I blogged at KittyKittyBoomBoom. I do miss writing on this blog, but I really don’t have much to say about recent games. We haven’t had any big releases that I’ve been interested in. Some will be coming soon. Here is a game writing post that I’m cross-posting from my new main blog.
I used to be fascinated by romance in fantasy RPG’s. I played through Baldur’s Gate 2 multiple times to experience the different romance arcs with Aerie, Jaheira, and Viconia. I’m happy that the upcoming Baldur’s Gate 3 is continuing in that tradition.
I was very disappointed when SWTOR pulled some romance out of their game at launch. I was disappointed more recently that Planescape: Tides offered no romance arcs, especially since the lead writer was an erotica writer.
Recently I’ve considered taking my game project in a more R-rated direction, so I researched the Book of Erotic Fantasy. It is a very old D&D supplement under the OGL v1.0a. Here are my notes and reactions from the reading. Another, more exhaustive treatment is found here.
Basically, much of this text doesn’t merit a deep analysis, so let’s look mostly at the gems.
Review of the Book of Erotic Fantasy
The BoEF is broken into seven chapters: Love, Sex, and Roleplaying, Rules, Skills, and Feats, Base and Prestige Classes, Magic, Items, and Adventures and Organizations.
Most of the book consists of lists of spells, classes, creatures, and magical items for your adventure campaign. There is a list of 100 “Adventure Ideas”, but a lot of these ideas boil down to just “something happened”. The something is often: “it happened, good to know”, or “someone is raping and must be stopped.”
A few ideas were cute and doable, however, like the band of halflings that challenge the adventurers to a game of sexual endurance.
Humor was one of the main takeaways from this elder tome. Sex has always gone hand in hand with humor, and therein lies its most valuable asset, since we do play these games to have fun. So why isn’t sex more prominent in RPG’s? Here is my take on the problems.
- Sex and romance offer poor gameplay. (Roll dice to see whether you have an orgasm, etc. is just lame.)
- It doesn’t advance the main story.
- It often doesn’t develop character unless done very well.
- If used as a final reward to a story arc, it loses its ability to advance a story arc.
If we don’t boil sex down to just a reward, like banging the prince after you save him, then there are good reasons to have it: develop a character (NPC or PC), and advance a plot. Romantic titillation and roleplay in themselves are also valid, but not as powerful.
The BoEF touches on these issues in a few actually insightful paragraphs sprinkled into the text. Plot, character, and humor. I was disappointed in the “adventure ideas”, so I wrote some of my own, broken down into the categories where sex can actually be best used. Here are my starter lists that I brainstormed in an hour.
Ideas to develop a non-player character. The NPC:
- Reveals something about the racial sexual customs in an interracial experience, possibly amusing.
- Reveals poor character, i.e. implies it’s free, but now wants money, has a boss to threaten the PC with.
- Reveals they are surprisingly the opposite personality in bed.
- Reveals they are deeply vulnerable in some way, emotionally needy for some reason.
- Reveals they have secrets on the pillow, i.e. this was the point of seducing the PC.
- Reveals tattoos that tell a story about past deeds, exploits, beliefs, mottos.
- Reveals tattoos or marks that indicate of a gang, a cult, physical abuse, sex work.
- Reveals a prosthetic limb, an implant, a welded cuff or a collar suggesting wounds or an owner.
- Reveals deformities, fur, or other evidence of non-human crossbreeding in family.
- Reveals they are a shapeshifter or have an enchanted form, i.e. a dragon or someone really hideous.
- Reveals they have a husband/wife/someone else really jealous.
- Reveals they have a fetish, must have something specific to become aroused.
- Reveals they have an STD. Sexual transmitted diseases are just not fun, unless you’re using them just to whimsically punish a player for fun. It could be used as a consequence of a failed saving roll, however.
- Reveals they are conflicted about sex, they were trying to be chaste, etc.
- Reveals they were a virgin, and now you’re in big trouble with someone or something.
Ideas to develop the player character. The PC:
- Is allowed an actual love romance that leads to a long term relationship.
- Is then allowed to recruit a henchman or henchwoman that provides perks in a relationship, or even bring them along on adventures.
- Is allowed to feel powerful.
- Is allowed to feel powerful by submitting.
- Is allowed to be a prostitute for money, themselves.
- Is allowed to use character skills in new and creative ways, if the sex scene is gameplayed.
- In forming a relationship, creates conflict in terms of faithfulness, promises, and infidelity.
- Offers a roleplay path to retiring a character to the married life in a castle, and possibly children which can form a new adventuring party.
Ideas to advance a plot through the NPC. The NPC:
- Sleeps with the PC, but then falls more for another member of the party.
- Is trying to use sex because they want something from the PC.
- Is using the PC as an alibi for something.
- Actually dies in the PC’s arms, leading to accusations of murder, or demonic possession.
- Incapacitates the PC to steal a map, a book, treasure, horse, sword, etc.
- Reveals a quest on the pillow. PC can offer help, or can try to get to the treasure first.
- Insists that according to their cultural laws, they are now married to the PC (Firefly, etc.)
- Reveals a life-threatening situation they are in, and their desperation for help.
- Is trying to persuade the PC to join a cult, sex club, etc.. This leads to quests.
In many of these cases, the primary question becomes: what does the NPC want? If you establish powerful wants on the part of the NPC who the PC is having sex with, good writing naturally flows from it. This is hard though, and I’ve failed at this to some extent.
It may also help to ask, if the NPC is a possible romantic interest, then who or what are the attracted to, and why? This can also reveal a lot of character.
A big sticking point to incorporating all of these ideas is the gender-locked nature of the gameplay. To incorporate romantic encounters at important points in your plot, you would almost need to have a gender locked protagonist.
Or you would have to “cheat” and change the gender of the NPC to the opposite of your PC, and then assume the PC is straight. What a mess. Maybe that in itself is a big reason why romance isn’t used much in a meaningful way in RPG’s, and why the Witcher franchise seems to stand so tall in this capacity. (I haven’t played the Witcher games personally due to not liking to play male protagonists.)
The BoEF also touched on the idea of “ratings”. I’ve been grappling with that lately myself. Here are the proposed ratings, which are the American scale of course:
PG-13 – Deals with mature subjects including sex, but without explicit scenes or descriptions. Love, flirting, and seduction are all acceptable, but the actual sex occurs offstage.
R – Nudity and sexual situations are common, although level of detail stops at gratuitous details that could be described as pornographic.
Other useful points from the Book of Erotic Fantasy:
BDSM is now mainstream, not a fetish or taboo. Clubs have BDSM nights, it’s a fixture in the fashion industry. Love between Human and non-human (Vampires and Werewolves) is also mainstream.
Assigning an alignment to a type of lover is interesting to help a player to play their character.
Assigning an alignment to an entire society is also useful. The alignment becomes a sort of shorthand for thinking about sex norms in different societies and regions of the game setting.
Not so useful points:
Some things in the book are just silly. A “masterwork” condom, for example.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of the photos, but they’re OK. Consistent, quality artwork throughout would have been very expensive and time-consuming most likely.
Tantrist, Kundalini. I strongly disagree with using real-world Earth terms like this in a D&D setting. These come from Hindu and Tibetan religions. Maybe the authors were trying to be non-specific in terms of campaign setting, but this is just worse.
I skimmed the ‘bestiary’ in the BoEF, which did not really interest me, as my campaign setting is well-developed, for better or worse. Some interesting entries, however, were the half-devil, half-giant, and pleasure golem.
That’s about all for my reactions and notes on this thick, lengthy tome of erotic treasures. It’s well-worth a perusal, and I find myself curious about trying to design some erotic gameplay. The sections of the book dedicated to gameplay, like the mini-scenario at the end, seemed very short of practical examples.
The book lists play-testers in the credits page. I’d like to hear their feedback. Because honestly a lot of this could boil down to the vanilla D&D rules, but spiced up with adventures in brothels. And how do you ‘succeed’ at a sexual encounter? How would this work?
1. Simply getting the NPC naked and/or into a compromising situation is enough to complete many character developments or plot advancements.
2. Physical success (Agility, Toughness, Romance (techniques), Engineering (toys, ropes, who knows)): pleased your lover X times, resulting in advancement or quest success.
3. Emotional success: (Empathy, Psychic) need to achieve some kind of intimacy to solve the puzzle and advance. Physical skills don’t matter.
4. The opposite of #1, the NPC getting the PC naked and into a compromising situation is enough to slip the PC a pill or wake up tied to the bed, etc. and move the plot forward.
If your plot hinges on this encounter, the design concept of “Failure with Consequences” might be useful. You moved the plot and achieved your goals, but failure on your rolls means the success is only partial, or you received no extra reward or treasure, or something bad happened, but you still moved forward on a technicality.
That’s all for my reactions to this book. Good luck, and happy gaming.