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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
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Is your question limited to consensual sex between members of the same race? –  RobertF Apr 24 at 17:46
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@RobertF Given the frame of the question, I reckon that depends on how people have dealt with sexuality in their games and whether nonconsensual and/or cross-racial pairing has come up. –  mxyzplk Apr 26 at 3:15
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Everyone should take a few moments to downvote the various appalling answers to this question, because My God. –  Jack Lesnie Apr 27 at 7:59

19 Answers 19

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

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 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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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

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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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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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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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

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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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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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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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

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

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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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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+1: Short but actually useful. –  Jack Lesnie Apr 27 at 7:56

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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In general I think it should be quickly fade-to-black for a very practical reason: The DM should avoid long interactions with one player and sex scenes are normally with only one player.

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This is a really trivial answer to a sub-part of the question, and it's also one that's already been given. –  mxyzplk Apr 25 at 16:39
    
@mxyzplk I don't see who else addressed this aspect of it. –  Loren Pechtel Apr 25 at 16:42
    
The top one? Really, your entire answer to "how to use sexuality in a game" is "fade to black?" That's not very insightful IMO. –  mxyzplk Apr 26 at 21:33

I think you can turn sexuality into a plot. My players once had an idea to steal some money. One of the PCs will gamble. The other will be flirting with the one who is winning most. At the end of the night, the flirty PC will try to have sex with the guy who earned most from gambling and try to steal the money after having sex. If the gambler PC earns the most, they call it a good night's work and simply leave. It's not difficult to create quests about things that may go wrong during this scenerio.

Also, sometimes PCs develop romantic relationships with each other. You should think about that too. In the campaign I witnessed, the players just skipped the description of how the sex was, and the relationship was mostly dramatic because of how PCs were different from each other. One wanted a simple life in a forest, the other wanted to be famous and rich. Creates a lot of opportunities for roleplaying.

I think it can fit into DnD and easily and it's not difficult to come up with a plot about it too. For setting up rules about it, you should definitely take a look at Book of Erotic Fantasy. It is for DnD, not WoTC. It gives roleplaying tips for different alignments, pregnancy and sex mechanics for different races (even races like Centaurs, Dryads, Kobolds and Undead), Prestige Classes like Dominator, Adventure Ideas about sexuality, Deities about sexuality, etc. Practically, all you can thing about when it comes to sexuality in DnD is written in that book.

If you are not going read it, I suggest you come up with rules on your own, which will be very difficult. The thing is, there isn't much explanation in the book about rules, to be honest. But it will give you an idea.

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You might want to know, WoTC means Wizards of the Coast, current publisher of DnD. –  kravaros Apr 27 at 21:42
    
Heh, I don't know what I was on but I confused it for World of Darkness for a minute there. –  OnlyD20CanJudgeMe Apr 27 at 23:33

Gah, I can't believe how cursory most of these answers are. OK, I'll answer this myself.

Why Include Sexuality?

In many of the campaigns I GM and play in, my gaming group includes romantic and sexual content. Some people think RPGs should be bowdlerized like comics were under the old Comics Code and not include those subjects. Well, I disagree; even most classic literature revolves around "adult" real world concepts about sex, infidelity, temptation, moral reaction to "perversion," et cetera. I believe RPGs are a serious art form and don’t have to be just escapist power fantasy – if you disagree, you’re welcome to your own game, but to me it’s like Hamlet vs. Donald Duck comics – you can enjoy the latter, but if you claim they’re as high quality literature as the former... Well, I don't find that credible.

Depicting Sexuality In Game

Essentially, we agree on the general "movie rating" of a campaign when we start it. (Here in the US that's G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17). This dictates how graphic and/or idealized we expect it to be. Even a G might have romance, but more of the Disney variety, while NC-17 would be more of the Game of Thrones variety. I've also experimented with doing session by session ratings. This establishes expectations which largely avoids offense. If any group member has any specific hangups, they could mention them for omission, but I haven't had that come up in my gaming groups. Depending on the rating, we either don't allude to sex (G) or fade to black at appropriate times (PG, PG-13). Above that, there's a stronger sexual content to romance.

I run one campaign currently that's at the HBO Original Series/NC-17 level. In that game, sex scenes occur and are even depicted graphically when it is part of the plot. For example, one PC slept with a woman who turned out to be a voodoo goddess (Mami Wata). Instead of fading to black, we faded to what was basically the sex scene from Angel Heart. Bleeding walls, snakes on the floor, whole deal. Why? Well that was a inflection point for his character. Does he freak out and run out the door? Or does he push on through and become a consort of the goddess? (He chose the latter. She is the jealous type.) Similarly, one other PC ended up being recruited by a succubus in the service of Nocticula. I wanted to be graphic to make it clear what he was getting himself into (tempting with evil is an always great GM tactic) - aligning with her and getting her profane gift isn't going to be some fantasy wish fulfillment "oh yay I get some sex," it's going to get pretty messed up. That foreshadows later potential consequences. Again, none of this is revolutionary, it's what many of the TV series, movies, graphic novels, and novels we read include. Heck, even video games have gotten comfortable with it (Skyrim, Fallout, Mass Effect...)

Even in a NC-17 game, we fade to black when there's not a relevant plot point that's going to happen as part of the scene. Like when one PC got married, they swam out to a magic rock for their wedding night (more on that below), but once they got there and did the deed there wasn't a reason to describe it, we don't do it for pure prurience's sake. But even sex scenes can be an active part of the story.

Promoting Sexuality

Romance is similar to horror in many ways, but the most relevant similarity here is that it requires a certain amount of investment in the game and immersion in one's character to make effective and not simply a parody. I tend to run high-sim, high-immersion games, which provide an environment in which romance, as a natural human impulse, more easily come from PCs. In return, when they engage in such things, it adds to the realism of the game for everyone else. I try to provide opportunities and to depict an ideally realistic level of romance going on amongst NPCs, and then when PCs feel "safe" doing so, they get into it as well.

In that same campaign, some of the PCs have had one girlfriend or another. One actually decided to get married, and then wanted to have a child. This was actually a lot more complicated than it could have been, as the wife in question was a serpentfolk that just stayed disguised as human most of the time; I had not initially expected her to be a romantic interest past the flirt-and-talk phase for that reason, but one of the PCs decided to become a serpent shaman, have a snake animal companion, and otherwise be all snakey. In one of those things you just can't plan because it is too awesome, he did all that before he knew she was a serpentfolk, and when her disguise was revealed she expected him to be revolted and/or want to kill her, but he was like "Hey, I'm all about the snakes, my nickname is Serpent even" and they went from there. The rest of the party has been oddly supportive; I'm the only one with a kid IRL but they came up with "hey, you two should have a child" out of thin air one day and he was like "yeah, we should" and went and talked to the wife about it. Since then, while engaged in various adventures, the whole group has treated with seriousness and depth the process, including spending half a session designing and procuring a sea-trunk that will keep the resultant egg safe on their pirate ship. Romantic relationships and their adjuncts (sex, kids) end up automatically generating story and player investment for you.

Rule Support For Sexuality

I have found I don't really need rules support all that much for sex per se. "Roll d20 to see how that worked out for you" is as much as I've really used. Now, it does expose an underlying weakness in poor relationship mechanics; answering questions about attraction and level of relationship are easier when you have some semi-realistic tracking mechanics wrapped around them. I asked for ideas on this here previously: Relationship Mechanics for D&D/Pathfinder?

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Dealing with sensitive material as a group

Certain topics may be offensive, uncomfortable, emotionally difficult, or just plain not fun for certain players. The best way to handle "mature" subject matter is to get in the habit of talking to your group members about your play experience in an honest and straightforward fashion.

Establish some limits ahead of time. The character/campaign creation session is a great time to talk about the big issues that are likely to come up in play. Just like you should all know what kind of playstyle to expect from the game, you should also figure out some basic expectations about its subject matter and how you're going to handle sensitive topics.

More importantly, though, you should be ready and willing to communicate about issues as they arise in play. In particular, be attentive to your friends' reactions; you can usually tell when someone has a problem with what's going on in the game even when they don't articulate it right away.

I recommend a technique called "lines & veils," which you can use to help you think about and talk about how you handle sensitive subjects. Basically:

  • A line is, well, a line — a hard limit, something we do not want to cross. Lines represent places we don't want to go in roleplaying. Our lines define the limits that we all agree to respect.

  • A veil is a "pan away" or "fade to black" moment. When we veil something, we're making it a part of the story, but keeping it out of the spotlight. Think of it as a way to still deal with certain themes while avoiding having to describe them in graphic detail.

See our lines-and-veils topic for more information.

Since you mentioned Game of Thrones as an example, I think it's worth pointing out that you can have this discussion about more than just sex — you probably want to address how your game will deal with violence, torture, rape, misogyny, and slavery, for example.

Now, none of this is GM-centric advice. The GM can take the lead in initiating this discussion, but it's about what everybody wants and is comfortable with. All of the players at the table are responsible for each other's fun.

Sexuality in games

How you represent sex is about more than just defining what you're comfortable with at the table, though. There's also the question of what role sex and sexuality play in the fiction as a whole.

For example:

  • In romantic comedies and light romantic dramas, sex is often a reflection of the characters' relationship hitting a particular stage (sometimes an intermediate "getting to know each other better," sometimes the end goal of a stable and satisfying relationship). Characters tend to have destined partners — it's a foregone conclusion who'll end up together, we're just playing out the challenges they face along the way.

    • Adventure stories often use the same approach, just contained within a side plot that develops concurrently with the main procedural plot.
  • Tragedies and romantic dramas are similar in many ways. They also tend to use sex to indicate the growth of a relationship — but now that growth can have all kinds of sorrowful or conflicted dimensions. They tend to also have "destined" pairings, but put them under serious threat; you really don't know whether everything will work out or not. Many romantic dramas are about discovering loving sexuality as a way to deal with some trauma in a character's past.

  • Going "darker" without using the standard romantic-drama template lets you explore sides of sexuality that don't fit into conventional story framework. Often you'll see this in dark comedies like Secretary or Harold and Maude — comedic absurdity allows you to talk frankly about sex and desire, while the dark tone makes it okay to delve into "heavy" or unusual stuff, the parts of sex and love that we often feel conflicted about as a culture.

  • Horror fiction tends to play up the transgressive and dangerous aspects of sexuality. A lot of monsters have a sexual dimension to them. Sometimes this makes them captivating tempter (vampires, like, everywhere). Other times, it makes the monsters seem feral and uncontrollable in a familiar human way (Ginger Snaps, for instance). Often it's both together!

    • Of course, part of sex being dangerous is that sometimes it does just actually destroy you; some horror makes this particularly egregious by punishing all of the characters for their sexual availability until only the pure "final girl" is left. I'd find it hard to play out this one in an RPG as anything other than genre-aware slapstick comedy, to be honest.
  • When you go full-on "dark and gritty," there's a tendency for sex to be represented kinda shallowly: it's exploitative, it's aggressive, it's a perk of power, it's the product of selfish desires, the end. That's because deeply pessimistic fiction is about as constrained as deeply optimistic fiction, when you come down to it — keeping a very consistent tone tends to wash away nuance a bit. (Be wary of doing this at the table because it tends to lead to pervasive emotional abuse and rape.)

  • Generally the most nuanced portrayals of relationships are in works that don't really focus so much on how they begin. Instead, you see a fully-developed relationship, with deep connections between the characters, that's evolving over time. When you free yourself from the need to laboriously justify and establish deep connections between the characters, you can explore those connections with greater depth and variety. Some examples of this in action are Amour, Sid and Nancy, or The Americans. Scandinavian LARPers have a "six months rule" that's all about making this happen in play (not just for romantic relationships but in general):

    Anyone in a scene with you, you had known for at least six months. The basic principle behind this is that it's much more interesting to see the middle of a relationship than its beginning.

So, as you can see, you've got lots and lots of options for what you do with sexuality in play! One good way to talk about this is to reference books, films, and shows that have a similar tone to what you want to see in play. (Make sure people have actually experienced the works in question, though — sometimes folks think they know what something is like from hearsay, but it turns out to be entirely different; the "texture" of a work is harder to communicate than its overall plot and theme.)

Be mindful of the difference between other media and RPGs, though. Nearly all commercial media is, well, mass media. Even if it's targeting a niche audience it has to appeal to a fairly broad audience. Whereas what happens in an RPG is just for you and your friends at the table. You've got tons of leeway to approach things from a novel angle or depict aspects of sex and relationships that you don't see much of on TV.

Sexual violence

Particularly with "darker" portrayals of sexuality, you can end up with situations where sex is mixed with coercion or violence — rape, assault, domestic abuse, &c. This is, like, why lines and veils exist, right here.

Please never assume that just because sex happens in your game, rape should, too. (And never, ever, EVER assume that just because female characters are present in a game, rape should be, too.) It's totally reasonable to have stories that feature even deeply problematic sexuality — self-destructive sex, emotionally tense dysfunctional relationships, manipulative seduction, &c. — without ever mentioning rape.

If your group's game is going to incorporate sexual violence or the threat of sexual violence, spend some time talking about how and why. Also, be mindful of the fact that this is one of the "lines" where people are most likely to change their mind in the moment — you think "Oh, yeah, that'll be fine," but then you experience it in game and decide "No, I want to stop." If that happens at the table, then do just stop.

Because sexual violence in an RPG can be so uncomfortable, I recommend avoiding the theme altogether unless you as a group have something serious to say about it. That means going beyond the tropes you encounter in media (for example, in reality, rape isn't a thing that just happens to women).

Some practical concerns

These are some basic practical points that might come up, especially in D&D.

  • Sex and "race:" Fantasy RPGs often feature a variety of human-like species ("races"), some of whom are sexually compatible enough to produce offspring. They also tend to feature unfortunate subtext, like the implication that half-orcs are the children of rape, or fantasy genetics that's basically a literal version of the "one-drop rule." I lean towards excising this stuff when possible.

  • STIs and pregnancy: In the real world, sex carries the risk of sexually-transmitted infections, as well as unintended pregnancy. But, in the real world, getting stabbed through the side with a longsword is much more unpleasant than it proves to be in many RPGs. So, if the annoying or troublesome aspects of sex don't add anything to the game, it's okay to ignore them. I promise you it won't ruin anything if characters can only get pregnant on purpose. You could justify it by saying they have access to herbal contraception, or contraceptive magic, or just say it's a story thing (like how you never see anyone poop in dungeons) and not justify it at all. Likewise, it's usually more fun to merely joke about a character getting an STI than to actually give them one.

  • Sex and magic: Whether your fantasy setting depicts magic as something similar to the magic of historical real-world belief systems or something more akin to an alternative kind of technology, it makes sense that people would use magic for sexual pleasure and procreation. I don't think trying to integrate sex-themed spells into D&D's existing framework will give you a satisfying result, just like there's not really a particularly satisfying mechanic for using D&D magic to make crops grow or divine the future. So, in general, don't worry about it. You don't need detailed rules for every single thing anyone ever does in the setting, especially if it's an activity reserved for NPCs or mainly background stuff.

  • Sex magic: Another theme is straight-up sex magic: magic that's powered and mediated by sex. Really this is all about the symbolic power of sex, so I'd approach this the same way I'd approach defining the role of sex in your game in general.

Fan works like the Book of Erotic Fantasy try to cover these topics, but generally they strike out because they don't lay down the core thematic groundwork first. So everything just kinda comes off as a sex joke by default — and shoehorning a sex joke into D&D mechanics just renders it overlong and unfunny.

Game-mechanical inspiration

If you're looking for game-mechanical bits to draw on, consider some of these:

  • Sex and intimacy: Apocalypse World and Monsterhearts have "sex moves," which are mechanics that trigger when you have sex. These are used to reflect the effects of personal intimacy upon the characters. The idea is that, narratively, sex is a concrete reflection of the connection between two characters. You can react positively or negatively afterward, you can have sex with your closest friend or a stranger, but what you can't do is have sex that doesn't matter (unless you are the battlebabe, who is too cool to be affected by sex).

  • Romantic attraction: Breaking the Ice is a full game about romantic interaction between two people. The game has mechanics modeling attraction and compatibility, but its real focus is using those mechanics to encourage you to talk about the characters and how they relate to each other. It's also got some good discussion about the different kinds of love stories and how they can fit into a larger work.

  • Marriage and children: Pendragon is a game about Arthurian knights, designed for long-arc play where the characters manage their estates and raise children between adventures. It's a good — albeit gender-essentialist — reference for ideas about getting married and growing a family. Sagas of the Icelanders is less structured but has a few moves you can use for inspiration as well.

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There are two more sections I want to add, one on queer sexuality and one on historicity, that I haven't gotten around to writing yet. But I think the answer as I have it stands on its own, so here's the first crack at meeting Mxy's bounty criteria. –  Alex P Apr 26 at 21:09
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+1 thanks for an actually engaged response. –  mxyzplk Apr 27 at 5:02

protected by BESW Mar 30 at 4:45

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