Putting the “Sex” Back in “Contsextual”

Recently, a friend of mine commented on the post I wrote about sexuality in RPG materials. While he agreed with the gist of what I wrote, he did mention that he thought I was too blanket of my condemnation of sexuality in RPGs in general (and Pathfinder in particular) – particularly, he noted, I completely ignored the issue of actually role-playing a character with any sort of sexual dimension.

As such, I wanted to clarify the message that I was making in my previous post. I’ve got nothing against RPGs having a sexual aspect to them. What I don’t care for – and what a lot of people don’t seem to care for – is erotic material that’s utterly without context to it. If it makes sense in the course of the game, if it’s a natural part of the campaign world and the characters, if it’s adding something to the game, then I’m all for it. When it’s out of context, however, and lacks justification for why it’s been included, then it’s just puerile.

(The above statements are made with the understanding that, regardless of context, issues of sex never become so prominent as to become prurient – otherwise you might as well be playing F.A.T.A.L.)

True fact: After appearing in the BoEF, this succubus went on to star in the D&D porno, "Tomb of Whores."

It’s this lack of context, I think, that’s soured people to the ill-fated Book of Erotic Fantasy. Unto itself, it really wasn’t that bad of a book (though it certainly needed another round or two of rules editing, and the experiment with the photoshopped images of real people was interesting, but ultimately no substitute for actual illustrations), but it just dumped a boatload of sex-focused rules on DMs, without any built-in method of adding them into the game world.

To be fair, a lot of the time a theme-based rulebook doesn’t need to trip over itself with methodology for contextualizing its new rules. A sourcebook on deserts will naturally come into play when the game shifts to a desert setting. A sourcebook on new spells will become relevant when new spells are introduced – either obtained by the PCs or used against them by NPCs. A sourcebook on sex…yeah, that’s going to need some more effort to integrate into the game world.

Now, the BoEF did make this effort, but it was brief and half-hearted. Briefly going over the erotica of the alignments, reviewing the sexual habits of various creature types, some new deities, and giving a short overview of a handful of sex-focused organizations is a good start, but it’s just a start. There’s no pre-set way of actually working in the new classes, feats, spells, items, monsters, etc. The DM could do it himself, certainly, but just suddenly adding new sex-themed mechanics – even piecemeal – tends to be difficult at best.

Between that, and the aforementioned photoshopped pictures and need for more editing, it’s little wonder that the BoEF wound up being a failure. The publishers learned the hard way that context, not mechanics, is king.

So when do we get cosplayers of the characters in this book?

Ironically, very few people seem to be aware of a book that I like to think of as the successor to the BoEF: Sisters of Rapture. Written for 3.5 by a little-known third-party publisher called Fantastic Gallery, Sisters of Rapture clearly knows what the BoEFs mistakes were, and avoids making them itself. The rules are solid. The pictures are illustrations instead of photos. And the book focuses on a sexual organization that exists in the game world, with the new rules revolving around that in addition to plenty of flavor text.

And, by making this one not-so-little change in presentation, the book works. The emphasis on erotica is tied to this organization and its members, allowing it be emphasized or de-emphasized by how much these NPCs appear in the game, limiting and defining the subject matter within the scope of the game world rather than awkwardly trying to re-flavor things around new mechanics. Of course, because of that there’s naturally fewer new rules here than in the BoEF, but it’s hardly a loss since those rules all gel with the flavor text so well.

So yeah, I don’t have a problem with sex in RPGs – I just want it, like every other part of the game world, to make sense within the framework of said game world. From differing equipment lists to winged blue goblins, if there’s a sense of internal consistency and interconnectedness in what you’re adding to the game, then it’s something I’m all for.

And if, in addition to all that, the women are topless, then that’s even better.

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12 Responses to “Putting the “Sex” Back in “Contsextual””

  1. mxyzplk Says:

    Interesting, I hadn’t heard of Sisters of Rapture, will have to check it out.

    I agree that the BoEF, while not “objectionable,” was kinda random and hard to understand how to slot into an actual game.

    Good rules support for sex would be nice, though. It’s an important part of life, of fantasy fiction, and of my campaigns. It doesn’t have to be just wish fulfillment, something to “do at the bar” between gigs. In my current Golarion campaign, one PC had sex with a Mami Wata-style voodoo goddess and has her favor as long as he doesn’t sleep with anyone else… One PC is a chaste cleric of Gorum… One is romantically linked to a Calistrian prostitute… It adds a huge amount of motivation and color and realism to a game, as long as everyone there’s of adequate mental balance.

    • alzrius Says:

      Mxy, do check SoR out, it’s a very good book.

      I agree that good rules support for sex would be nice, but I doubt that most people could agree on what “good rules support” for sex constitutes. The BoEF gave us rules for actually having sex (a combination of a skill check for your performance, and Constitution check for how long you lasted), along with pregnancy chances, STDs, etc. Was that good rules support? I’m honestly not sure.

      It sounds like your players are pretty well fleshing out who their characters are; mine are still in the initial stages of that, and I hope they progress beyond just going around and killing things – so far, there’s hope.

      • Will Says:

        The best part of the BoED is definitely the table that shows what creatures can breed with what, which of course reveals that it is entirely possible for Cloud Giants and 1′ tall Sprites to breed.

  2. Kvantum Says:

    Sisters of Rapture is a pretty good book. A bit redundant mechanically now that we have the Oracle (they’re spontaneous divine casters) but still an interesting idea. Prestige classes are also included to focus on each of the main areas the class covers.

    And mxyzplk, a chaste cleric… of Gorum? I suppose he’d expect abstaining the night before a big battle, but as far as in regular life, why? Character choice or actually an order from the god himself?

    • mxyzplk Says:

      Ah, typo, I mean Gozreh.

    • alzrius Says:

      Don’t forget to check out the book’s web enhancements!

      • mxyzplk Says:

        It took me a while to find the page with the WEs – it’s here.

        Seems like this would be good for a priestess of Calistria or maybe even Shelyn. (Or both? A sect dedicated to love and lust in equal measure?)

        As far as “what would good sex rules consist of”… Well, STDs and pregnancy are only semi interesting. How “well you do” isn’t interesting directly but maybe is in terms of relationship development… Not sure if that’s skill and duration or more of a general meeting the other person’s needs affecting their disposition.

        One of the major lacks in d20 is an overall relationship mechanic beyond the very limited “make them friendly with Diplomacy” one. I tend to keep long running NPC attitudes based on CHA checks in most every encounter the PCs have with them… Sexual congress would play into that one would think.

  3. mxyzplk Says:

    Hey, I finally got Sisters of Rapture. On the one hand, it is focused on new prestige class powers and feats and very d20-rulesy stuff that you kinda have to have a character “take,” not general purpose sex/relationship stuff. On the other hand, I like that there’s a kiss-triggered power besides a succubus kiss now! My PCs immediately know to whip out weapons whenever some chick wants to kiss them.

    • alzrius Says:

      I wonder if there was a miscommunication regarding “general purpose” materials.

      I interpreted “general purpose” as being something that was presented without an in-game context to it. Virtually all of the new crunch in the BoEF, for example, was general purpose – it was presented by itself, with no flavor text or fluff writing to help make it feel like an organic (bad pun intended), natural part of the game world. By contrast, the Sisters of Rapture material isn’t general purpose because it’s all presented as being the crunch behind the eponymous organization.

      From what you’re saying, however, you were looking for “general purpose” material in terms of mechanics and rules that characters can utilize without having to take, similar to combat options like trip or bull rush.

      In case of the latter, then you’re right – Sisters of Rapture isn’t what you were originally looking for; my apologies if I misled you there, I thought I was clear in that I was talking about the former definition.

      Beyond that, I agree wholeheartedly regarding now having beautiful women whose kiss triggers a positive effect, instead of a negative one. It can be a great way to turn the PCs’ expectations on their head (particularly if they make immediate violence in response to even an attempted kiss).

      I always thought that one of the best ways to start working Sisters of Rapture into one’s game was to introduce a Sister as an NPC that stays with the party for some time, using her spells and powers to buff the party (quite possibly while in the buff herself).

      Finally, on a side note, I reviewed a recent product that had some general purpose (nobody need take anything) mechanics for progressing in a relationship. I meant to blog about it before now, and may still do so, but in the meantime take a look at For Love or Power.

  4. mxyzplk Says:

    Cool, no worries. I meant “general purpose” in the second sense, but don’t mind the purchase – the SoR p-classes do seem good for clerics of Calistria (the lust ones) and Shelyn (the love ones) in Golarion.

    • Alzrius Says:

      Bear in mind that, as written, the SoR prestige classes can only be taken by someone with Sister of Rapture class levels. Of course, it’s not too hard to change those prerequisites.

      Trying to retrofit the Sisters into Golarion, with its particular cosmology, is a bit more tricky than it seems at first. The SoR are an all-female cult dedicated to love, worshipping only female deities – and apparently only those of good alignment – with some aspect of love as part of their portfolio (including physical love, e.g. sex).

      Looking at Shelyn and Calistria, both seem like a somewhat odd fit for the cult’s dogma. Calistria is a sex goddess, but her lack of goodness and her focus on trickery and revenge seem a tad too dark for a group dedicated primarily to love. That said, prestige classes like the Stormsisters do seem in line with the “revenge” theme. And surely there’d be some aspect of trickery if a Sister needs to go incognito in a repressive area.

      Likewise, Shelyn is a love goddess, which fits with the cult’s theme. Her role as goddess of beauty is also a natural match, but not so much for art and music. Moreover, her description in Gods and Magic makes her sound far less sexual than the Sisters would be. She doesn’t seem like she’d be too happy with their free-love attitude, though not outright disapproving.

      And of course, there’s Bolka, the dwarven love goddess. đŸ˜‰

      My take would be to play them up as a cult that merges the doctrines of Calistria and Shelyn, makes them heretics of the “mainstream” religions for both deities. One or the other is granting them spells and powers, however (likely a point of contention among their orthodoxy, with each thinking it’s the other’s deity), and so they continue to exist.

      It’s interesting to think of a heresy among non-evil religions, since the official churches would likely want them to cease, but not want to resort to violence. Fun stuff to add shades of grey to a campaign.

      • mxyzplk Says:

        Well, absolutely. First, I almost never use stuff “as written,” especially if I’m slotting generic stuff into a specific game world like Golarion. Second, I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes people make to read fantasy god writeups and then decide that the religion must be the same worldwide. It’s a result of “learning by one page article” – if you read a one page article on Christianity, for example, you would not recognize many of its denominations IRL. Heresies, sects, sub-organizations, syncretism, but even just differing interpretations in different places/cultures.

        For Golarion, here’s what I’d do.

        Normal Sisters of Rapture class – remove good/neutral only requirement (seems like a bolt-on anyway, more a political “sex is positive” statement on the writer’s part), otherwise as stated, and usable by priestesses of Calistria and Shelyn.

        (I actually have one balance problem, which is that the CHA bonus to AC makes it a very attractive dip class for sorcerers or monks.)

        Sheyln worshippers would totally go the Inamorare route – they are basically muses, so that fits with the artistic aspect of Shelyn. Stormsister has Calistria written all over it, with both lust and revenge. I’d make this a neutral or evil p-class; good doesn’t fit imo.

        Spellswingers are lame and become one feat, “Sexual Metamagic.”

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