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I think it's a matter of fact that since the first moment a player realizes that he or she can interact with someone of the opposite sex romantically within the game, things get hairy. I had my fair amount of dealing with sex and sexuality brought up by PCs in my games, including coming up with rules for flirting and mating, fertility and pregnancy, etc. These are often specifically initiated by the players, who want to bring those topics into the game.

My question is:

  • How do you deal with in-game PC-instigated sexuality, and what are the benefits and pitfalls you've seen of your approach? Please note that I am not referring to useless sexually-oriented discussion "just for laughs". I am referring to romance and sexual encounters that change and develop the character, eventually providing him a family, marriage, frustration, or personal strategic gain. How do you incorporate this effectively into a game, without offending people, but benefiting from the drama that romantic relationships bring to the story in the game?

There is a book, non official from WoTC as far as I understand, the Book of Erotic Fantasy specifically made to deal with sex and sexuality, but I never had the chance to take a look at it.

P.S. "Don't do that" is not an answer to this question - some groups prefer to play games without it, but we prefer game content more on the "Game of Thrones" end of the scale.

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I don't think sex has a place at the table. It tends to mess up the map, make all the other players uncomfortable...oh, you mean roleplaying it out. Right right, carry on! –  Brisbe42 Aug 22 '10 at 18:16
    
Is your question limited to consensual sex between members of the same race? –  RobertF 5 hours ago
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16 Answers

I think handling it like they do in James Bond movies is the best thing. The romance leads to the beginning of the event and then fade to black...

I would definitely follow up within the story. Obviously, these two characters now have strong feelings for each other. They will now have emotional entanglements and all that. Jealousy, protective instincts, fear for the other character's safety, etc. There were two characters in one of my campaigns that were intimate (offscreen) and they roleplayed these issues as you might expect.

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ok, but do you follow up this romance event within the story ? –  Stefano Borini Aug 21 '10 at 11:18
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I would. Obviously, these two characters now have strong feelings for each other. They will now have emotional entanglements and all that. Jealousy, protective instincts, fear for the other character's safety, etc. There were two characters in one of my campaigns that were intimate (offscreen) and they roleplayed these issues as you might expect. –  Wilmanric Aug 21 '10 at 16:09
    
This is what I do, cut away, let the players fill it in with their imagination (it is roleplaying after all). @Wilmanric - I think this is spot on. The more interesting outcome of sex in RPGs is how it influences the ongoing story and the impact on player characters over the details of who and what... –  RPG Plotter Nov 10 '10 at 12:48
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I think that one of the best aspects of RPG's is that you are free to explore whatever themes you desire-- be they sexual or not.

Games that I have run always include elements of sexuality and romance, because I personally believe that it's simply an unrealistic game environment if romance or sex does not come up at all. Who, in their real life, has never had a crush, or flirted, or had an unusual and powerful connection to another? If you neglect to include things like this in your games, you are cheating yourself out of some of the best aspects of roleplaying.

One of the best, most engaging sub-plots you can weave into a game is a love drama, and it can be done in a million different ways. You can use rules to determine seduction success, or you can just free-form rp, and let the player move the story. It's important to keep in mind the comfort level and maturity of your players, though. If someone cannot distinguish between an in-game romance and an out-of-game romance, you are going to have problems. Likewise, if you are trying to run a serious romantic plot, and a player is taking it lightly, it is not a good fit.

I once played a character who was extremely sexual. I always asked other players what their comfort level was before running any scene with them, and if they were not comfortable discussing "adult" themes, then I steered it away from them.

Like with most things, honesty is the best policy in these situations.

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It's incredible how sexuality is an issue to be discussed, but lopping the king's head off with a vorpal sword isn't :) –  Stefano Borini Aug 27 '10 at 11:41
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Fantastic answer. When players rail against sexuality in games, I ask them to name a movie (especially a fantasy movie) that doesn't have romance or sex in it. Why don't our games explore these themes more often? –  Adam Dray Aug 28 '10 at 18:30
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Probably because there aren't any mechanics for it in D&D and you don't get XP by default :-P –  Julix Jan 21 at 6:29
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In my games, there were some flirtations and a few sexual relationships, but we generally didn't roleplay this very far - though I have fond memories of playing a male NPC flirting madly with a female PC (both players being female); we went for the romantic-comedy version, and the group seemed to find it very amusing. More serious romances tended to be played with a fade-to-black, followed by much quippage from fellow PCs as to how tired and/or pleased the lover seemed next day.

I don't think there were house rules about this in any of the groups I played with, other than a rather basic one supplying some kind of unspecified but effective contraceptive - none of my DMs wanted to deal with player-character pregnancies or paternity suits {wry grin}, nor did any of us want to role-play the details of contraception or after-effects, so there was some hand-waving about "well-known herbal preparations" or some such thing. Obviously that removes a whole bunch of potential drama, but one can easily tune it for specific campaigns or situations - the herbs can run out or go bad, newly-met characters may find it ineffective (or may be allergic to it - hilarity ensues?).

[I've read The Book of Erotic Fantasy and didn't find it that helpful, FWIW. But I did enjoy Naughty & Dice: An Adult Gamer's Guide to Sexual Situations. It was more entertaining to read, and had what I felt were more practical suggestions for handling sexual situations in a gaming context. The book includes lists of skills as well as turn-ons and other sexual traits that could be added to the character-generation process. (I'm not quite sure I want to think of, say, kissing as a possible combat move, but then again in some tavern-brawl scenes it could make sense.) And the authors took the concept even farther - there's a chapter on pregnancy that opens with a sample scene featuring a character who had a sex change (magical) and is now pregnant. There's even a section suggesting a possible sex-based religion (which has some things in common with some real-world religions) - that might liven up a campaign...]

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Why is sexuality inappropriate in role-playing games when many of our games glorify (or at least explore the boundaries of) violence? There is a terrible double standard concerning sexuality.

Sexuality is a very important part of human existence. If used to strong effect, and not cheapened or trivialized, it can add a lot to a game. Yes, of course, the players have to be mature enough to handle it, but they have to be mature enough to handle violence, alternate religions, genocidal dungeon crawling, and so on.

I suspect that some people in the game subculture have a slightly dysfunctional relationship with sexuality--in their personal lives, I mean--and this bleeds into their gaming.

Like anything sensitive, handle it carefully and with respect for the people at the table, and it shouldn't be a problem. Communication is key.

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I suspect that some people in the game subculture have a slightly dysfunctional relationship with sexuality--in their personal lives, I mean--and this bleeds into their gaming. ... I'm not sure that amateur psychotherapy is exactly a good way to answer this question. By which I mean it's entirely inappropriate and says more, I think, about your perception of the world than it says about the people you're judging. –  JUST MY correct OPINION Oct 25 '10 at 10:39
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I threw enough caveats into that sentence ("some people," "slightly dysfunctional") that I'm comfortable standing by it. Also love that you critique my armchair psychology with some of your own. ;) –  Adam Dray Oct 25 '10 at 13:00
    
It's inappropriate because members at the table (should) have no violent will towards each other. Sexual tension can and does happen very often and roleplaying this can make people at the table uncomfortable. –  Muz 7 hours ago
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Because D&D, by default, doesn't have any rules or guidelines for dealing with sex, you basically have to make it up yourselves.

There are a lot of games, however, that do explicitly deal with sex. Apocalypse World characters have class-based special moves that occur when characters have sex. That sounds a bit silly, but actually works really well in play. For example, here's the "sex move" of the Driver, which emphasizes that they don't want to be tied down:

If you and another character have sex, roll+cool [roll 2d6 and add your Cool stat]. On a 10+, it's cool, no big deal. On a 7-9, give them +1 to their Hx [History trait] with you on their sheet but give yourself -1 to your Hx with them on yours. On a miss [a 6 or less], you gotta go: take -1 ongoing [on all rolls] until you prove that it's not like they own you or nothing.

There's no reason you couldn't have "sex moves" like that in D&D too, for the various classes.

Other games that deal explicitly with romance and sex, though in very different ways, include Bliss Stage, Breaking the Ice, and How We Came to Live Here.

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Hoo-boy, that's a big one. For the most part, people assume it won't come up, and that may be for the best in most groups. Some games, however, require you to worry about that sort of thing. Specifically, I'm thinking of the full campaign of Pendragon, and other games where you're expected to marry and start another generation of characters. Sexuality is also pretty central to games set in Tekumal (Empire of the Petal Throne) and I can't imagine running a game of Vampire without it coming up at least a few times.

How I've handled that issue has changed over the years. Your solution should be heavily dependent on your group, their maturity, and their interests. I think it can add a lot to almost any RPG, but it can also drive folks away from your campaign or really derail an evening. I've also used rules for fertility and pregnancy, as well as some fairly ad-hoc rules for seduction, what it means if your character is transformed to another gender, and sex magic.

I own the Book of Erotic Fantasy and, frankly, find it disappointing. It's fairly heavy on things like feats and prestige classes (some of which are interesting, but not really my cup of tea) and light on cultural issues or advice for including that sort of thing in a campaign.

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It all depends on the players you have in your game and their maturity levels, expressed interest in said topic, etc. Honestly as a female player, I find the D30 a little overboard. I have enough to deal with in my real life in that regard, I sure don't want to be penalized in my gaming just for playing a girl.

That being said, I am in a WOD game where my character has at least a modicum of control over her fertility. At the moment, she's "in heat" and deeply involved with another character. The other player and I have talked about the reality that pregnancy is possible and ways to avoid or explore it. The ST is on board as well and is looking forward to messing with our heads.

Other games, it's just been "fade to black" and things like sexual relations are left unsaid. It's dependent on tone, players, ST/GM and the nature of the game.

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I try to limit it at a maximum, and roleplay it only for laughs. My players can have sex, even between characters, but I don't enter into the details, as it can quickly become a bit weird.

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Yeah. Imagine a group of dudes sitting in a darkened room listening to a guy describing "aparticular event" to everybody... That's not healthy :D –  naugtur Aug 20 '10 at 18:32
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@naugtur That's a pretty narrow view, really. You're assuming that there's some prurient interest here. Maybe the sex is appropriate for the storyline and is handled respectfully. One could make the argument that a bunch of people sitting around describing violent acts is not healthy. It fails for the same reason your sexuality argument does. It spotlights the special backwardness with which people treat sex, a core component of human existence. –  Adam Dray Aug 28 '10 at 18:28
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Last time I had to deal with that kind of situation was between my character and my then-girlfriend's, so it's not exactly "dudes sitting in a darkened room" –  Valentin Rocher Aug 28 '10 at 21:44
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I've played a character that had a dalliance, and my DM kept the calendar regarding possible pregnancy. No penalties during "that time" though. Speaking as a female, you could almost use cramps as a random encounter. With a lot of people, they're just not that predictable.

I have nothing against sex in a campaign, but I don't want to hear details of anyone's sexual encounters. It can be good for laughs, it can be good for a plot device (I convinced a pirate to help out my party, for example).

The minute people start taking it too seriously, it ceases being fun.

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Whether its religion, sex, or violence in a RPG, there are certain levels of forbearance and restraint that I believe most gamers expect.

Most people expect a certain level of abstract violence in gaming. Just as it can be jarring when someone breaks some of the extraction to describe in gory detail how they are dismembering or ritually slaughtering a foe, when a player begins to vividly describe sex, it can cause a great deal of awkwardness, embarrassment, discomfort, or in a case when sexual assault or rape is not taken as seriously as it should be, anger.

You play to the level of your group; if you have some 10 year-olds at the table, you’re going to want to abstract some of the more graphic parts, obviously. It’s enough to say that Rothgar got married, and that Hrothgar Rothgarson will be a fine warrior like his father. More adult groups should be able to handle less abstracted discussion about marriage and sex, but like politics and religion, sex is one of those topics that will be forever touchy. It’s not a topic to force, and telling someone to “lighten up” might be a good sign either you or they are perhaps not in the right gaming group situation.

Is the sex talk just part of the plot, and then you move on? Or are you or a player lingering on it, going into hyper-detail at the cost of other parts of the game? These are good questions to ask of the situation.

If someone is really getting into sexual descriptions, at the discomfort of some of the other players, then it’s time for the Game Master to do his thing and have a polite talk with him, or to have a group discussion, depending on how your group handles issues.

The quick ruling? You abstract it to the comfort level necessary for all your group to be comfortable with it.

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Of course it really depends on the people I am gaming with...how well I know them and how comfortable they are with the subject matter.

To my mind, if something can occur in a movie I would enjoy watching, it can occur and be the subject of a solid night of gaming as long as the other players are on that same page.

What is interesting to me, the thing to think about is how uncomfortable we are in having sexual subjects occur at the table but slaughter, violence and torture can occur without anyone blinking an eye.

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It doesn't normally come up as an explicitly noted thing. When it does, it rises naturally out of in-fiction relationships and has some role to play in the ongoing game that one of the players values.

I think the only problem with in-game sexuality is a juvenile treatment.

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I think that, tastefully done, it can fit into some settings. If we're talking baseline D&D, then it fits poorly, if at all.

The problem is that different people have different levels of acceptance with sexuality. Some people are fine with discussing in surgical detail the differences between sexual positions, and some are uncomfortable with even the mentioning that sex happens.

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discussing the mating ritual is clearly useless, but the fact that romance happens between characters is development –  Stefano Borini Aug 20 '10 at 7:44
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In our group games it tends not to come up on a regular basis and those times hand full of times it has come up, details were kept PG-13. When it's just the wife and I playing and then it may sometimes run more towards an R. In any case other than perhaps asking for a seduction roll, I don't really bother with mechanics in my games.

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Very funny question :)

Using a lot of fantasy and humor (without getting in the details or it would became pornographic and it would bee a very sad thing) the players enjoy the situation rolling theri dice and imaging things for them self. I give you a quick example. A male /bisexual drow worked in a brothel to earn money so I created a special skill "Sexual Power" based on his constitution and Charisma bonuses multiplied x 10 (the result was 70) The Drow roll a 1d100 dice and if scores below 70 the sexual activity goes well and he lose only 10 points of his sexual power meter. If he score more than 70 means that something went wrong (you can really be nasty there) :D and he will lose 1d100 +10 Sexual Power.

The meter regenerates every day. But you can introduce some special tonic to boost it up :D :D In this way you can describe it as you like and enjoy the session.

This system works pretty well (I tested it on many players and they liked it).

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You could try with Love and Sex in the Ninth World. While it's written for Numenera, comments I've read about it say that it's easily applicable to most RPGs.

Description:

Love, courtship, and sexual practices in the Ninth World.

Love and Sex in the Ninth World is a guide to integrating elements of love and sex into any Numenera story or adventure. In addition to details on Ninth World relationships, courtship rituals, commitment ceremonies, and sexual practices, it provides game master advice on how, when, and why to add love and sex to your game; tips for sex- and love-driven storylines; and ways in which to handle sensitive topics at the table.

This supplement contains adult content. Recommended for mature readers only.

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