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”Elsbeth and Constantin" by fantasio used with permission
From the legends of King Arthur to the action-packed movies of today, we've been entertained by stories of battles and treasure, shot through with powerful veins of lust and romance – and this is not a mistake. While some writers shove love interests where they don't always seem to belong, storytellers understand that even in the midst of blood, romance fits because it is a part of who we are in any situation. Men and women on the street have at least this much in common with their leaders: we are sexual and sensual creatures, driven by the need for companionship and the desire for pleasure. Attraction, competition, and coupling move us, emotionally and physically. Love and lust drive us to do things, sometimes crazy things, and those actions can lead to adventures great and small. Even bystanders will have to get involved when the queen's infidelity is brought to light, and when the dust settles, romantic outcomes reinforce a sense of victory – or the bitterness of defeat. Just ask Lancelot and Guinevere.
What this means for your roleplaying games is ultimately up to you. Some people have played for years without so much as a tavern flirtation, and been just fine. Others, like myself, have never been in a game without some kind of sexual component, and have had just as much fun. Many people fall in between, or are curious about how to weave romance into their games without causing the rest of the action to fall apart. And many games can benefit from adding even small romantic components, not only because we've seen the patterns before and know how to react, but because love and lust add as much unpredictability as they do familiarity. Players might not be expecting romantic motivations when they come around, and dealing with romantic situations can help to better define a character's personality.
The addition of love and lust can round out a world and all of the characters in it by acknowledging some of our key drives. People are people, whether they're in ancient times or in a galaxy far, far away, and we can expect some kind of romance from them. As long as your group is ready and willing to give it a try, even small romantic details can add depth without being embarrassing, graphic, or juvenile. Sex does not have to be ridiculous or take over - and with a bit of thought, it can open up new avenues to gain allies, spite enemies, and create hilarity. How, you might ask? Just keep reading, and take what you can use from this guide one step at a time.
Sex, like death, seems to invite jokes and laughter, even when it's inappropriate. (Sometimes especially when it's inappropriate). Not only is this natural, but it's also completely understandable. There's enough emotional and cultural baggage about sex to keep us laughing for the rest of our lives – and let's face it, the act itself and the things people do about sex can be pretty damn funny. So don't feel discouraged if there's some laughter at your table when romance comes up; chances are, you're still playing with mature, upstanding people – they just couldn't help but chuckle. And don't discourage all levity about sex, or your group might resent its presence outright. Let a few jokes pass and then move on with the scene, because sex will inevitably attract hilarity, but it is too powerful to remain a joke.
Roleplaying games are made for children as well as adults, so RPG companies have had to be careful with sexual content. There have only been a few references to sex in mainstream Dungeons and Dragons products, but there have always been a few. The first edition Dungeon Master's Guide had a random harlot table (which used just about every term for “whore” that the nineteenth century could provide). Every now and then, mating habits and gestation were discussed for different creatures. Alluring artwork can be seen throughout later editions, and birth control methods are listed in the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.
Players have tried to fill the void with house rules and internet resources over the years. Gamers developed rules for things like pregnancy, sexual prowess, and genital size on message boards and in e-books, entirely on their own. Some people laughed at the rules and their presentation, or at the idea of sex in roleplaying in the first place, but the desire for reliable details remained. Then, at the end of 2003, not just one but two books were released in print about sex in tabletop games. Naughty and Dice, a systemless and generic fantasy-oriented manual, came out in a limited release in October. A third party publisher printed The Book of Erotic Fantasy, a manual dedicated to sex-based rules specifically for d20/D&D, in November. It quickly lost the d20 license and drew a lot of criticism (both deserved and undeserved), but what it represented was more important than the finished product.
As the years continue to pass, the books have only become older and more difficult to find, but the subjects they covered come up continually because people want ways to integrate sex with roleplaying. They want to move beyond cybersex and bad jokes toward a systematic approach that blends sexual concerns with fantasy themes and game structure. And folks are curious enough to spend time debating about it, writing about it, and even paying for it. It isn't likely to go away, but it can go beyond what's been done before. The first step is both the simplest and the most difficult.
Gaming, like sex, is best when all parties agree on the terms and are comfortable with the environment. So the first things to consider are the limitations and boundaries that are best for your group. Talking about what you want to add to the game in a friendly and frank manner can give people the chance to add their voice to the process. During early talks, players might take the opportunity to tell the DM about sexual-themed things that they definitely do not want to see or deal with. Topics like rape and miscarriage are common enough, but other things can disturb people. It is wise to listen and respect people's limits, and to take notes on things that are best left out. It is also important for players to know that they can speak up in the future, because you might cross a line without intending to.
Some players are minors and as such, you run the risk of offending them or their parents by introducing outright sexual components. Romantic details might not be out of the question, particularly for NPCs, but sex might not fly. If worse comes to worse, it is better to ask the parents before you start than to get in trouble down the road. I say this knowing that sex was a regular part of my gaming experience when I first started at the age of sixteen. Out of a group of teenagers, none of us brought our parents into our games or were concerned about what they might think of our stories. It is easier to be that way when games are online and parents aren't tech-savvy. As an adult, however, I find that it is better to cover your bases.
Likewise, some groups might not be mature or open enough to handle games with sexual content. If the session grinds to a halt over jokes and comments, and nothing seems to get it back on track, then it doesn't matter that the players are adults – they're not ready. Some players might be hesitant but willing to give some new angles a try, while others have limits that can't be breached. If you try various approaches without much success, you might have to find another group before you can continue with romance in-game.
Introduction: A brief history of sex and love in D&D and a place to begin discussing romance in games.
Consent: A look at how to approach your group and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Techniques: Presenting methods for incorporating romantic scenes and motives into your game.
The Sexual Character: A review of how to develop fantasy characters as sexual and sensual beings.
Attraction: A discussion of flirting in and out of character.
Courtship: Ideas for public and private romance in your game, on the way to marriage.
Marriage: In-depth analysis of the many ways marriage can manifest in fantasy settings.
Divorce: A look at how complicated (or simple) divorce can become in your game.
Adultery: What infidelity can add to the saga of adventurering PCs and NPCs alike.
Pregnancy & Childbirth: Advice on incorporating pregnancy into your world, along with rules, warnings, and more.
Sexual Spells: An overview of how well-known spells can be used for sensual purposes.
Drow Sensuality: A mature discussion of the twisted sexuality of the Drow.