Sex at the RPG Table: A Dicey Proposition

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Romeo & Juliet

Dating work colleagues, asking a woman her weight, talking politics and/or religion at Thanksgiving dinner and, most importantly to us, sex in your RPG. All of these topics are usually considered taboo.

Personally, I find the idea of inserting sex or romance into a D&D adventure intriguing. However, there are obstacles to achieving that, obstacles that I’m not sure I want tackle. For starters, my fiancée is one of the players at our table, the lone woman at a table full of my guy friends. As Jon Stewart would say: “Aw-kward!”

I’m sure you can see why having my PC’s involved in a romantic tryst within our group could be considered off-limits. How about introducing an NPC who falls in love with one of my PC’s? Ixnay on the possibility of having my NPC’s (i.e. me) flirt with my fiancée, since that could get a little uncomfortable (not to mention redundant!) for the other players. The next option is obviously having a beautiful female NPC seduce one of my male PC’s. Yet again, however, that puts me in a squeamish position of having to play a girl flirting with my male friend.

“But,” you could certainly argue, “what’s the point of role-playing if you can’t suspend your sense of self and fully embrace the situation?” Fair point, but I don’t think that level of comfort in role-playing yet exists with my group. It’s not homophobia—I just don’t see the fun in playing some saucy wench (although I envy you if you can). I’m secure in my heterosexuality, but preening around the table trying to seduce one of my male friends holds zero appeal for me. I’m quite certain they concur.

What about if you theoretically remove my fiancée from the table and have me DM for strangers? Furthermore, what if there are a couple of female players, thereby removing any gender bias? I still think it could create some discomfort. Call it table-top RPGs version of the Uncanny Valley. Sexual lust is such a primal desire that if you get it even a little bit wrong, the whole enterprise feels hokey. You know – the difference between Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” and Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” is a fine line, after all.

You also have to take into account the understandable human emotional reactions that can occur with the other players at the table; jealousy, envy, disgust. “Why does that player get such a fun side-venture, while I’m stuck picking locks trying to find the sorcerer’s magical underpants?” (wait, that might be the seed to an epic D&D sex’venture!) Mostly, you don’t want to cultivate a sense that you’ve come to the table to try and hook up with a female gamer.

I’m obviously not the first person to touch on this subject. Kismet’s Dungeons and Dragons has an exhaustive guide on introducing sex and romance into your adventures. That guide references a 3rd party sex rule-set that is still available at DriveThruRPG.com, but was so controversial that it was stripped of its D20 license after it was released.

It’s not all doom and gloom, mind you. I’ve personally never tried testing my DM skills with a sexual or romantic hook, but I imagine that if you do and get it right, it adds a layer that players forever remember as an epic story line. You’d have to find the same ingredients that make the greatest on-screen romances work, like Jack and Rose, Han and Leia or Bogie and Ingrid. It’s an endeavor that would take careful planning, a deep understanding of your PC’s, and a delicate touch.

Sex is a thorny issue in any social context. It’s not difficult to see why introducing it in our role-playing fantasies can evoke such strong reactions. Thoughts on what is acceptable sexual content varies from person to person, sometimes with extreme differences between people who otherwise appear completely in sync. Sex wrecks friendships, relationships, and football teams. It can also wreck your gaming table, so tread carefully.

In the interest of avoiding disaster when incorporating sex and romance into your TTRPG group, what are some of the tips and tricks? Have you experienced great romantic experiences while playing? What about a sex calamity? Let us know in the comments section!

9 thoughts on “Sex at the RPG Table: A Dicey Proposition

  1. I should mention that the “3rd party sex ruleset” is still available as a pay-for-download at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG; there’s no reason to refer people to pirate it at Scribd.

  2. Yeah, it would be cool to roleplay romance or set up romantic relationships at a game if you have a gaming group that looks like they came from the set of Glee! or 90210, but try to rp that shit at a table of a bunch of redneck fat slobs belching out their chips and soda from their food-stained shirts. It kills the ability the suspend disbelief and makes one look like a retarded dork instead of a roleplayer.

  3. It’s an interesting post but I don’t understand why it would be so difficult to do. You can always roll play if it’s so uncomfortable, let the dice handle it. Don’t speak in character while you can speak in the third person, and watch you raunchy level for those who get easily offended.

  4. I have not played Apocalypse World yet, but I have been reading it and rereading it for a review. It makes use of sex as the game is mostly about character relationships, and sex is part of that, though arguably too upbeat in such a downbeat game.

  5. I’ve been cast into a sex/romance scenario a couple of times and, from my experience, the deciding element is the “social intelligence” of the GM (for the lack of a better word :) ). Basically their ability to see when they pushing a bit too far, the same as in any non-roleplaying conversation.

    I thought I’d share two stories from a female gamer’s point of view, so the post might be a little longer :) I usually end up as the only girl at the table and always play a female PC.

    For instance, once my character had to seduce a university professor in order to gain info about an insane doctor our party was investigating. A RPG date happened, was acted out, and then, when the situation got a bit too uncomfortable, everything faded into black and dice were used. It was great. The GM pinpointed exactly the line at which I stopped feeling OK about things and acted accordingly, and I didn’t have to resolve to the somewhat embarassing and atmosphere-breaking, if necessary, line: “uh, guys, you mind if we stop here?”. What more, it was a game at a convention, so the people were almost strangers – some pretty amazing GMing happened there.

    On the contrary, once two PCs were trapped in a fallout-style military base, and this was with a group I have been playing with for about two years. After several unsuccesfull attempts to get out, which all failed, it was starting to look as if the only way was for the girl, once again, to get it on with one of the officers. I didn’t want to engage in any romance scenes with this group and GM, because the level of comfort was just not that high, and I tried to indicate so without just saying it out loud. The GM either chose to ignore it or didn’t catch on, and although I drew a line a few minutes later, I felt so upset – almost, as if I was being pushed to do the real thing! Very odd, how emotions work with roleplaying.

    So, anyway, that’s my two pennies. I have resolved, when GMing myself, to only use romance/sex when playing a comedial game, because I know that I am rather bad at catching hints :) On the other hand, when a womanizing investigator from Arkham used a Charm skill last month (under a non-DND system) on an unsuspecting woman from Innsmouth and rolled very, very high – well, there’s romance for the fish-woman, if not for the PC himself :)

  6. Pingback: Haste Podcast w/ Guest Host Jeff Dee: Sex at the Gaming Table, Dragon Age Set 3, School Daze | Words in the Dark

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