Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sex and D&D (Part 4)

In Summation...

Hmmm, actually there’s not much I want to “sum up.” I really just wanted to open up a conversation through my usual method of reminiscing about my old D&D (or in this case, AD&D) campaigns. I would like to note that no character EVER received a single XP for a “sexual conquest” (even in my youth, it was understood that adventuring XP was not gained for that type of “adventure”).

Was it important to our games to have “sex” show up in them? Mmm…that’s hard to say. Maybe. Maybe it was necessary. Perhaps it was part of what kept the campaign going into the higher levels. I don’t know this for sure, but it’s possible that high level “ass kicking” would have gotten boring without the additional drama caused by the inclusion of sex and the consequential soap opera that follows it.

I know this: I had a different trio of friends that played an AD&D campaign from 1st level up into the 20s, but first running the T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil super-module and then completing a couple of the Bloodstone Mines series. And while I happily listened to their exploits it felt, well…"tedious" is NOT the word I’d use since they obviously had fun and it sounded like fun. But maybe “superficial?” I don’t know if they included the whole sub-plot with the Baron’s daughter as a love interest, but besides being a railroad-y plot element, I can’t see them doing much more than glossing over it…after all, they had ass-kicking to get to! What’s with this namby-pamby romance stuff?

I don’t know…all I DO know is that my friends and I used sex (and its corollaries) in our AD&D games. To me, it appears this is supported by the rules, by the source material, by the Gygax penned modules and the TSR-published literature. It worked in our games and made for memorable experiences…ones that we wanted to continue to revisit with various twists across different campaigns and through different generations.

Would it work with today’s gamers? Hell, would it work with today’s games? Who knows!

Am I the only one that experienced campaigns like this? Somehow I doubt it. Perhaps it wasn’t as explored in as great o depth by other gamers, but SEX is present in AD&D for those with eyes to see it.

I had this conversation with Kris the other day:

“Hey, Doc, can I ask you a semi-sensitive question?” Um, yeah. “But you may not answer?” Right. “How old were you when you started playing AD&D?” Around middle school. “Was there sex in your games?” What? “Sex, was there SEX in your D&D games…like characters having sex with other characters, even if they were only NPCs?” Yeah. “Ok, thanks…that’s all I needed to know.”

And really, that’s all I do need to know.

A few last, final notes:

While I started conceptualizing this series of posts a week ago (I was considering it for Friday, the day of Venus, but got distracted by the sunny weekend), it wasn’t until a day or two ago that I came across Ron Edwards article Naked Went the Gamer on his Adept Press web site.

[yes, shame on me…I have yet to buy a single copy of Fight On!]

In general, I agree with an awful lot of the stuff Mr. Edwards has to say. In this particular instance, I can’t relate quite the same since my gaming did NOT begin in the 1970s but rather the early 80s. We DID have VCRs, superhero comics were ubiquitous, and my friends and I were all Just Saying No to drugs with Nancy. However we were still playing the Old School, 70’s era AD&D in an admirably visceral style. I agree with the sentiment that somewhere along the way the hobby took a huge wrong turn (the “collective flinch” RE talks about), but I certainly don’t think it’s too late to get back to authenticity in gaming. And that starts with being a little honest about our gaming...what it is, what it was, what it was not.

My intention in sharing my experiences (and my ideas regarding Sex and D&D) has been an attempt to open some honest discussion…that’s about it.

NOT to point to any particular moral high ground. Not to denigrate anyone’s style of play (though I stand by my statement that latter editions of D&D have been “neutered”). Certainly I’m not trying to lead anyone down any particular path.

Well…and maybe I wanted to pry the lid off others’ games…I AM one of those "prying Scorpio types," after all.

Maybe writing about my own experiences will give others the space they need to discuss their own take on the subject of “Sex and D&D.” There are probably some people that have negative feelings on the subject, depending on their own history (especially if there were problems with abuses of power, in-game or out). Perhaps our sharing will help germinate ideas in others’ heads that will allow for a greater depth of role-playing in their games; perhaps it will help us mature a bit…or at least look at the game a little differently.

Okay, that’s enough on the subject for now (at least from me). Thanks for reading folks.

[this link will take you back to Part 1]


  1. Edwards makes a fatal flaw in his argument by casting 1980 as the time when some magic switch was thrown, transforming D&D into some sexless, white-washed, pale imitation of itself.

    You clearly articulate the experience of many of us who learned to game in the early 80s. Jiminy Crickits! Has he ever even seen a Deathstalker flick? haha

    But, this is a common flaw when people try to characterize segments of time into clear watershed moments. It's a fiction of bad historical description.

    As others have noted, the real, clear moment of the white-washing came at around the time of the rise of 2nd edition, which was the *LATE* 80s. Sure, it started before, and progressed throughout the 80s, but all those books and art from the late 70s were readily available in the early 80s by most willing to look.

  2. 'Relationships', 'Romance', 'Sex'—all pretty much mean the same thing in the case of gaming. And you were definitely not alone in including that element. For me, it started early on, when I was 10 or 11 or so, and my only player was my older sister. She developed all sorts of elaborate romantic backstories for an entire NPC community (based on soap operas). From that point, it just seemed a natural thing. But as with your experience, it was always an 'off camera' type of thing. Surprisingly tastefully handled by Immature doofs like me and my early players. In college, Romance (aka 'sex') became a large part of all my campaigns, and many of those run by other GMs as well. To me, it adds depth to a campaign—like you said, its part of the human condition. These were a great series of posts. Had fun reading them! If anyone is interested, I did my take on this in my Star Wars game a while back. The link is here: http://starwarsdakota.blogspot.com/2009/03/star-wars-romance.html

  3. My (A)D&D games have always been very innocent and The Hobbit-like. My players eveb now feel the same way and like the atmosphere, so this works for us. However, when playing a game like Warhammer FRP there isn't a lot of room for this puritan approach, the world is grim, desperate and nihilistic, not to mention one of the major powers of Chaos is overtly sexual in nature.

    All in all these have been an interesting read.

  4. @ A.Vaults: I don't fault someone for keeping one game innocent and using a separate system for more graphic exploration...I'm a firm believer in different game systems being useful for different styles of play (one reason why I feel D20 in general stifles creativity, but whatever). I'm glad you found the posts interesting!

    @ Rolo: I checked out the link and this is great stuff. I never had the chance to play SW with anything other than young(er) male adolescents, and never more than a couple one-off games. If my B/X Star Wars ever gets written up , I definitely need to include something about relationships...space opera being what it is!

    @ Myth: We can't fault Ron for making the occasional mental slip...he's an old fart with a lot on his mind, including gaming in other languages and all that. He's got a point (I think) about the "collective flinch" he just may have missed it by a few years. On the other hand, he's from the midwest and I'm out in the Ring of Fire...maybe it took longer for these changes to drift out to my neck o the woods.

    That being said, I'm glad I'm not the only one that was keeping the "sex alive in '85." If only cocaine had fit into the game world, I'm sure all our characters would have all been blowing their platinum on nose candy...
    ; )

  5. Sex was always present in my games, but always in a sort of background off camera feel. It wasn't that uncommon for characters to get married have have children, but it was never something explored mechanically. I think in our games, it was almost treated as a sort of Meta-Game, wherein we take a moment to stop the story, go over possibilities, and plan for the future of the story (Decide if there is going to be kids or not, that kind of thing).

  6. @ Bujio:

    And that's a pretty mature way to play. I wouldn't fault anyone "toning it down" (the main premise of the game isn't about sexcapades for goodness sake!)...but part of exploring a world through role-playing is getting into real world-type stuff...including the effects of romance and relationships. Lord knows, it's present in the literature from which the game draws inspiration.

  7. I may be 12 years late to the party but this was still an interesting set of articles, nicely done! Though I must admit the (very) few times I've seen this subject come up in play it has been quite juvenile and mostly played for laughs, of course even including some constitution checks to see how well you perform! Still, I'm not that ashamed, it was a different sort of fun, and I suppose it was nice that my dwarf fighter got at least some alternative action to chopping apart orcs and giants and taking their stuff.

    1. Thanks Tipi: I'm glad that my archives are still getting some mileage after all these years!
      : )