Monday, May 17, 2010

Sex and D&D (Part 1)

AKA How 2nd Edition Neutered AD&D

I now embark on a journey exploring what is probably a delicate subject…one that I will no doubt probably stomp all over. I can’t recall having ever been described as “gentle” or “delicate,” so I’ll apologize in advance as I crush my way through what will be a three part series of posts.

Mmm…how even to start?

Phil Foglio’s comic strip What’s New With Phil & Dixie ran in Dragon Magazine for several years ending with the April 1984 issue, shortly before I ever started collecting Dragon. As such, while I later knew Foglio’s art from the Robert Aspirin MythAdventure novels (not to mention Buck Godot), it probably wasn’t till the 1990s or later that I had a chance to read some of the old What’s New strips in back issues I picked up here and there. Fortunately, one can get them on-line now, and I’ve had the opportunity to read ‘em all.

Interesting the long-running gag regarding “Sex and D&D” in these comics, only eventually “resolved” long after Foglio’s exodus from Dragon.

Welp, I want to talk about sex and D&D now myself.

Maybe I’m reading the wrong blogs or something, but it just doesn’t seem to be a subject that’s been addressed in any particular depth…hell, not even really in passing. I started thinking about this a couple weeks ago when I read someone’s blog post regarding how surprised he was to hear that “rape” had appeared in some folks’ D&D games.

[no, I do NOT equate sex with rape; they are two extremely different things]

What got me thinking were the comments I saw from other posters that seemed to imply (or from which I inferred) that people had been running games completely devoid of anything intercourse-related (consensual or not)…which got me thinking of the differences between different editions of Dungeons & Dragons…which led me to some interesting thoughts I hadn’t previously considered.

SEX and sexuality is implicit within the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. This, more than anything else, is what has been removed from the 2nd (and later) editions.

I have written before, here and elsewhere, how I feel 2nd edition has “no balls.” I didn’t realize till now how literal that castration was. I’ve said before that I consider earlier editions of D&D to be “more mature.” I did not consider till now a literal lack of maturation (i.e. puberty/adulthood) in the 2nd and later editions of D&D.

And no, I am not just talking about the lack of nipples in illustrations.

There is sexuality implied in the original AD&D manuals. Girdles of masculinity/femininity, philters of love, artifacts and relics that instill individuals with satyriasis (the male equivalent of the better known term “nymphomania”) or kill their sexual desire, diseases to "generative organs," random prostitute encounter tables…and let’s not forget the cutting of the half-orc from the 2nd edition. Oh a half-elf may represent two loving, beautiful people of compatible stock joined in Lawful matrimony…what the hell does a half-orc represent? Someone that wants to get down and dirty with a goblinoid (or giant-kin as the ranger description might call it…shades of Lilith and Biblical naughtiness)? Or, of course, the possibility of rape (orc on human or human on orc…either way it’s a pretty foul way to procreate).

Even the Unearthed Arcana did its part in the name of attraction and (sexual) relationships, in the form of the Comeliness attribute (because apparently, Charisma wasn’t enough) and the random tables to determine not only social class, but MARITAL STATUS of one’s parents.

Because these things MATTER…in a game that is about more than “kick in the door, kill the monster, take the treasure.”

I don’t know how Gygax ran HIS games (I’ve got some guesses), but I can tell you how we (my friends and I) ran OUR games back in the day, and SEX and personal relationships were a big part of it. I’ll delve into that in a bit.

Taken by itself (this is important), 2nd edition AD&D seems to me to be little more than an over-complicated “child’s fantasy adventure game.” And 3rd edition is much the same. And I’m guessing (since I haven’t read it) that 4th edition continues this eunuch tradition. Which perhaps is why these latter editions seem (to me) so childish. Yes, yes describe all the blood-letting you wish…you can get that in any Rated M video game these days. If all you’re doing is defeating challenges and collecting points (XPs, GPs)…well, in my opinion that’s under-utilizing the potential of the RPG medium.

Because one of the beauties of the medium is that it is only limited by one’s imagination. Monopoly pieces don’t unite their empires through marital unions. No one ever pulls a peg out of the plastic car in Life because someone was having an affair with someone else (maybe with an orc!). You might say I’m comparing apples to watermelons and that’s EXACTLY my point: though D&D and Monopoly are both games (really! That’s what it is!), D&D is on a completely different playing field from any board game.

Unless you make it about moving tokens around little squares on a battle mat.

Sex and issues related to sex (family, children, parents, partners, spouses, heredity, inheritance, alliances, trust, betrayal, jealousy, etc.) are part of our human condition. We don’t just get up and go to work and make money and come home and eat a meal with the money we made and sleep and eventually die. There is more to life than that. And Dungeons & Dragons (and role-playing games in general) gives us the ability to model a FANTASY life. To play for a while as a warrior or a wizard or a thief or a king. And incorporating real life issues into one’s fantasy game can make for a richer experience.

At least that’s been my experience.

But I grew up playing AD&D. Oh, I started with B/X as a little kid, but the hardcore play didn’t begin until we got our hands on those 1st edition hardcovers, after which our world was consumed with the soap opera of our fantasy simulation. And it was hella’ fun! AND as far as I’m aware it did not turn any of us into miscreants (I don’t know about my friend Jason after he was removed from our circle of friends due to his mom finding a new religion).

Because if I had to guess, I would imagine that the neutering of AD&D took place in direct response to the outcry against D&D. There is little that I can find in the game that would appear to promote the often-cited “devil worship” danger of Dungeons & Dragons, but there is definitely an implicit sexuality to the game that might offend the puritanical Christian Right.

Welp, I am here to tell you I got straight A’s in school, was an active member of my church (including being an altar boy), ended up going to college (unlike my parents) without trying to jump from a rooftop (thanks, Tom Hanks), and I seem to be successfully living a (moderate) version of the American Dream without a criminal record or illegal drug habit…and I NEVER capitulated in my Dungeons & Dragons play and had gaming sessions before the age of 13 that would burn the ears of most Christian fundamentalists and probably damn me straight to Hell (in their opinion).

Fuck that noise. It’s a game.

Coming up! Part 2 in which I explain our inspiration to get “down and dirty” in Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I wanted to play a half-ogre character…but I wanted my original character to father it himself! Woo-hoo!


  1. I must admit I don't get the common assumption that half-orcs must be the product of rape.

    At least in 3.5, male orcs have a hyper-masculine appearance. There would definitely be women who would be attracted to them (and they're bigger than humans. Does that apply to...their whole bodies?)

    And let's face it, there are people who are into bridges or shoes, orcs isn't a huge stretch.

  2. I'm currently running a Rogue Trader game. This is all about kicking in doors and taking stuff, albeit on the scale of starships and planets, and there's a heady whiff of Cecil Rhodes colonialism. And yet, one of the big threads in the current game is the players trying to arrange it so that their boss keeps running into another Trader at social gatherings, so that they get to like each other, all in the hope that they can marry the two Traders off and ensure the survival of their master's family line. So yeah, while they should be carpet-bombing natives and stripping planets of their resources, they're arranging caterers and working out the seating plans. And we're loving it.

  3. @ Anarchist: I did say SOME might have a taste for the greenskins...
    ; )

    @ Kelvin: man that sounds great if you can swing it. Sidenote: as an artist you must totally dig the RT book!

  4. While my interest in Games Workshop has waxed and waned over the years, their art has always been spectacular, so yeah, RT is nice to look at, even if it doesn't play quite so smoothly!