Monday, May 17, 2010

Sex and D&D (Part 2)

AKA “Did Gary Make You Touch Yourself?”

Full disclosure alert: I have NEVER masturbated to a single nude (or semi-nude) illustration in an RPG book or supplement, Dungeons & Dragons or otherwise.

I’m just being honest here, and wanted to get that out of the way, in case anyone was wondering. There was plenty of other “fantasy related inspiration” to be found outside of officially licensed game product in the early 1980s.

I’m sure that some people will find this whole subject more than a little distasteful. What kind of pervert would want to include sex or sexual situations (or sexual scenarios) in a game about kicking in doors, killing monsters, and looting treasure? JB must be one those gamers that helped play-test Erotic D20 or something.

Hey, people, I’m just going with the literary inspirations here.

I stopped reading TSR published novels prior to the release of 2nd edition AD&D, so I’ve never read a Forgotten Realms tale or any of the adventures of Drizzit the Drow (or however you spell his name)…so I really can’t say what those books are like. However, I DID read the first six Dragon Lance books (Chronicles and Legends) and the first two Greyhawk novels (featuring Gord the Gutless…er, the Rogue).

Anyone that read those first few novels by Weiss and Hickman will see an interesting (to me) phenomenon…they get dramatically better over time. Really, I have to say that the first book (Dragons of an Autumn Twilight) is almost un-readably bad (in my opinion), but the quality becomes noticeably better as the series continues. The way I look at it is this: Weiss and Hickman started their careers as adventure module writers, and it shows. Things in that 1st book sound like they’re straight out of an AD&D module (right down to detailed equipment lists)…albeit one with an interesting premise (hey, good modules have interesting premises, too!). The second half of the book is better than the first half as the authors depart more and more from standard D&Disms and simply work on writing a novel and the following two books (Dragons of a Winter Night and Dragons of a Spring Dawning) are much better even as they radically depart from D&D and “the rules of the game,” instead becoming real fantasy stories. But of course the books are better for it…because literature is a different artistic medium than role-playing.

And, man, do those books have a lot of sex in ‘em!

Certainly not in the softcore, romance novel type way (what my old friend Jocelyn liked to call “smut books”)…there are no passages regarding Caramon’s “quivering, purple-headed warrior” or anything. But there is plenty of literal sex and sexual conflict that occurs that is integral to the plot…especially the love triangle of Tanis and Laurana and Kitiara, but also the relationship between Gilthanas and the (polymorphed) silver dragon, Sturm and the Silvanesti elf woman, Caramon and Tika, and Kitiara and her various Dragon Lord lovers.

The second trilogy almost completely revolves around the romance of Raistlin and Crysania and, although they never consummate the relationship, it drives most of the story. Also Kitiara (again) and Dalmar have plenty of steamy moments, under-lacing their eventual conflict with heightened tension and meaning.

To my friends and I, this kind of thing only made sense…after all, we were already playing D&D like this. Love triangles, sexual tension, unrequited love…these things were part of the fabric of the campaign: the relationships between player characters as well as important (and not so important) non-player characters. Dragon Lance was only modeling what we were already doing.

At least, what we were doing by 1985 or so; certainly prior to the release of Gary Gygax’s first Gord novel, Saga of Old City, which I bought as soon as I saw it at the local B. Dalton’s. Hell, having the word Greyhawk on the cover was exciting enough, but being authored by The Great One himself? Oh, boy!

No one could have been more surprised than me when I opened the book and the first line of dialogue on page 1 was “Shiteater!”

I know I felt a bit weird about THAT. Mainly due to the disjointedness of a modern, thoroughly American expletive in what (one might assume) would still contain the pseudo-medieval fantasy tone of Dragon Lance, or even Tolkien. But no, there is plenty of choice expletives sprinkled throughout the text (phrases one won’t find in the DMG, that’s for sure!), which I suppose simply emboldened the way we played D&D. After all, if The Master was using such terminology in his own campaign world, who were we to not do so?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Likewise, there was plenty of sex, sexual scenarios, and sexually driven conflicts/tensions in Mr. Gygax’s book as well. Perhaps not as steamy as the Dragon Lance novels (themselves, as I said, merely lukewarm) , but definitely present, definitely integral to what made the protagonist tick, something that drove the character Gord towards adventure at least as regularly as the lure of easy treasure.

Which is as it should be. As I said in my last post, the human condition is more than just the acquisition of wealth (well, for the average person), and Dungeons & Dragons allows you to explore that human condition in a fantasy setting. That’s the potential anyway…I don’t know that people are still doing it that much anymore.

But let’s get back to “sexual inspiration.”

Even if one isn’t reading these early published novels specifically referencing Dungeons & Dragons, certainly the “inspirational reading lists” of the DMG's Appendix N (even the bibliography in Moldvay's basic set!) are rife with "adult" (i.e. sexual) situations.

But even without fantasy literature (game inspired or not)…which we recognize as a different medium than role-playing…even without books with “characters” and “plots,” and whatnot…look at the early adventure modules.

The Drow…from their first appearance in G3 up through Q1 in 1981...are sleazy, sexual creatures. Sex and its ramifications are deeply imperative to the Drow culture, right down to in-game effectiveness based on gender-specific attributes. A matriarchal society, the Drow are most often encountered in male-female (mated?) pairs, working in combination.

And every depiction of NPC Drow dwellings and quarters are uniformly described as lurid, lewd, and obscenely decorated. There’s no way I’m inclined to interpret that besides being “sexual” in nature. Drow like sex! With each other, with other races (review the D3 description of half-Drow), with demons (the vamp Drow and his succubus consort, also in D3)…probably all manner of other critters.

Not to mention Igwilvv and Graz’zt and Iuz and cambion demons in general. You don’t get half-demons except by having sex with a demon.

I wrote earlier that AD&D has an implied, specific setting, with setting specific classes, spells, magic items, and monsters. Well, that implied, specific setting has an implied sexuality to it as well: creatures mate with each other and form half-human monsters that found kingdoms and stir up trouble. If that kind of deviancy ain’t to your taste, you may want to be playing something other than AD&D.

My friends and I wanted to play AD&D…and our games had sex in ‘em. Coming up in Part 3, I’ll try to give y’all some examples of the hot and heavy!


  1. The spectre that hangs over sex and D&D is only one part prudishness. The other part is a certain horror of the mouth-breathing, sweaty male DM squeaking come-ons to his buddies in his elf princess voice. "Now roll for orgasm, pregnancy, and chlamydia."

    I'm just not confident enough the average roleplayer can handle these kinds of topics tastefully, or within the comfort zone of everyone at the table.

    The more general problem is that D&D has no way of rewarding the exercise of the characters' passions - sex, love, intoxication, whatever - other than the intrinsic enjoyment the player may derive from role-playing them out. The Model Adventuring Puppet is an eternally vigilant ascetic who would sleep in his armor if he can get away with it. Carousing rules definitely help in this direction. I strongly advise against any more specific rules approach.

  2. @ Roger: the scene you describe is certainly one I'd view with horror (enough to make me prudish myself), but it wasn't my experience.

    I'm not sure though that the "average role-player" doesn't have the maturity to stomach something more than a suped-up WoW quest. Maybe we aren't challenging ourselves enough?

    As far as reward...yeah, that can be the sticky point all right...different people, different "creative agendas" and all that. But that doesn't mean there's no in-game reward for wooing the heir to the throne (male or female)...or uniting your village with the local demihuman (elf or orc) tribe through ties of love and/or procreation.