Dungeons and…Sex?

Posted on September 20, 2012 by

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I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post for some time now, because it’s intimidating. But then again, I have to follow my own advice, don’t I? So here goes: In the immortal words of Salt n Pepa, let’s talk about sex.

I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.-G.R.R. Martin, on writing sex scenes in his popular series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

I should start by saying my group, the one I will hopefully play D&D with for as long as I am able and willing to roll polyhedral dice, is a very roleplay heavy group. For us, story, characters, and mythos come first; combat, dungeons, and rules second. This doesn’t mean we  don’t like the occasional dungeon crawl, of course, but it does mean that we are very concerned with characters and interactions.

We like to actually explore complex issues in our group. Issues like guilt, morality, vengeance, love, freedom, and responsibility have all shown up in our games and characters. Our characters have considered suicide, patricide, and martyrdom. And our characters have established relationships, both platonic and romantic.

It should also be noted that our group has traditionally, with one exception, been entirely male. This is, for the most part, unintentional.

My final point before I continue on: I am not seeking with this post to explore the massive and varied issues our culture and media have with sex. It should be noted that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing violence in our media than sex. I will not attempt to address this outside of the sphere of roleplaying games, as to do so would be madness. Madness I say!

1. How does sex appear in our games?

Rarely, and vaguely. Sex has occurred in our games. It has been both in a positive and negative light. It has also never been fully described. I liken to it a scene of a candle: The room goes dark, and the next moment the candle has burned down many inches, suggesting the passage of time.

Hot.

Sex has occurred between a man and a woman. Once, it occurred between two men and a woman, in a very silly instance. It has not yet occurred between two of the same gender, though many of us have played queer characters, and there have been more than a few queer NPCs. Queerness has rarely, if ever, been played for laughs by a DM or player. When it occurs, it has simply been an aspect of the character.

2. How has romance appeared in our games?

Often. It has appeared mostly between a man and a woman, though not always. It has appeared between members of different races. It has always appeared between two male players, more than once. As DM of the Miranda game, I portrayed NPCs with romantic interactions with each of the characters. As an actor, a writer, and a DM, I have tried to make each female NPC I played a unique, fully fleshed character, there for her own reasons and not just a plot point for the player characters. Except for the fact that every aspect of the game is made for the player characters, really.

Characters have gotten married to NPCs, and to each other.

2a. How do we feel about playing romances with each other?

Starting to get to the heart of this whole post. Honestly: It was awkward at first. Telling one of my guy friends, as a woman, that I loved him was interesting. Sexy flirting with my guy friends as a woman was interesting. I consider it an actor thing, though only 3 of the 6 of us have studied theatre.

Why though? All we were trying to do was tell a good story, one that romance happened to be a part of. Were certainly weren’t playing ourselves. And only one of us was at all homophobic (kidding).

 

3. Sex, Romance, and Awkwardness.

So here’s the deal: There are hundred of source books for D&D. Almost every single one of them has supplemental rules for killing your enemies: Classes, powers, items, etc. Most RPGs follow the same path. Roleplaying games, or the majority of them, are games about fighting and killing. There are a few source books in D&D about sex. All of them are 3rd party publications, and generally derided for being immature and tacky.

Pictured: 95% of why we don’t have sex in our games.

I wonder what would happen if Wizards ever published a sourcebook about romance or sex. People who buy hundreds of dollars worth of text on how to best create a killer would probably be outraged. I know I would be immediately suspicious.

As someone who constantly derides our culture’s propensity for celebrating violence and admonishing sex, I find it concerning that I am so much more comfortable describing the disembowelment of an orc than I am a sex scene. Am I simply an unwilling subservient member of our culture’s war on sex? I happen to agree with Martin: I would much rather have sex than stab someone. And yet, in D&D, one of my most criticized actions as a DM was suggesting that two men performed a “Bridge of Erathis” during a sexual encounter with a female Deva. Perhaps it was because the act itself is misogynistic, but still. I have described a character’s weapon entering an enemy’s body a hundred hundred times, and yet I would be terribly hesitant to describe a character’s penis entering an NPC’s vagina.

Beyond sex, I find it infinitely more difficult, and awkward, to have an NPC tell a character “I Love you”, than “I will kill you!!”. I would guess that I am not alone in this. The available text supports me on this.

It should be noted, that many CRPGs in the past decade have supported romances. Recently (Dragon Age), they have even supported non-heteronormative ones, to a certain amount of debate (ie, insane homophobes). I cannot imagine the horror that would follow a fully illustrated sex scene in one of these games, despite the amount of blood and ichor portrayed. But let’s not get too far into video-games, RPG or otherwise.

Basically: Sex in D&D is awkward, weird, and rarely shows its head. Violence is the standard, but why?

4. In defense of Sexlessness.

Well, for one, generally we have sex in our real lives. We rarely kill trolls. There are plenty of other real world stuff that does not make it into our game, because we are too busy doing that in real life, and too busy doing impossible things in a game world. Our characters rarely use the bathroom, wait in lines, pay taxes, or even eat very often. I happen to love food and drink, and it shows up a little in our games, but far less than in real life. While sex is far more fun than most of these things (besides taxes, duh), we have no interest in exploring sex with one another.

So perhaps it is far less nefarious than it appears. None of us are anti-sex, and most of us are fairly pacifistic in real life. And games have more fun rules for killing monsters than doin’ it. In real life, I would rather have sex than swing a sword or shoot someone with a crossbow. But my platform for exploring sex does not include 5 other guys.

5. Conclusions

It comes down to this: I am comfortable portraying romantic relationships with my platonic friends in a RPG setting. I am less comfortable describing a sex act with them in the context of the game than I am a scene of violence. I believe most of them share this. Personal it is because sex is personal, or perhaps because we feel uncomfortable with sex due to our culture. I do not truly know. I wonder if I will change during the course of gaming

6. Questions

How do you feel about graphic sex in RPGs? How does your group handle things like sex and romance? Has the idea of sex in games ever come up for you?

Please comment, as I’m very curious about this.

And there is nothing better to leave you with than this:

 

Posted in: Game Talk