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.)
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.
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.