Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sexuality and D&D

(No, this isn't a long, drawn-out thing. Don't worry.)

I find's posting population to generally be quite left-wing politically. I don't usually have so much a problem with that except that the attitude seems to bleed into things where it doesn't make any sense...

But sometimes, that place does inspire some thought. The LGBT in Fantasy thread was one such thread.

While D&D is very much a social game, I usually don't play it as a social game, if you take my meaning. So the idea of romance and the problems thereof really don't enter into my games. Usually.

But the players can introduce such things. "My character is gay." Hell, it's hard-coded into the rules. The existence of gender-swapping magical items and traps means that transgendered characters absolutely exist if you're going by the book. If you go by the charisma notes in OD&D or dryad descriptions in 1E, you're going to see that sexual situations aren't supposed to be nonexistent either.

But I see a lot of odd attitudes towards this sort of thing out in gamerdom, from both extreme angles. On one hand, I see people who are uncomfortable with players playing a gender not their own, and an attitude that wishing to play out an interpersonal relationship in-game is somehow weird in and of itself. On the other side, I see people insisting that not only will their characters be gay/bi/trans, but that the game world should accomodate it as well.

(I mention that last bit as an "extreme angle" due to my own preference of having medievalistic campaign worlds, including monotheistic Dark Ages religion, and I don't do romance-as-plot as a general rule to begin with, so what's generally the point?)

Now I've realized a few things gaming here in Finland. People are generally a lot less uptight about many things, and that's put me at a disadvantage a time or two (especially since I'm the one used to being completely inappropriate... :P).

I've realized that I have this campaign world I've used since 1990 or thereabouts, and both campaigns I've run in Finland using this world has been set in the same geographic area... because that's the area that's generally like "here" as far as general social attitudes. Elsewhere are more brutal feudal systems, oppressive dictatorships, and basically a bunch of environments that aren't so suited for your regular D&D game PCs and activities. So when a player wanted her character to be a gay man, it wasn't so much a problem. In the cities you can find most anything, and nobody has to make a big deal of it. (if they went elsewhere, I would turn it into an issue though)

But I do my best to keep all the romance and "I hit on the barmaid/stable boy" stuff very shallow and lighthearted and keep all the results off-camera. It makes me very uncomfortable to deal with this stuff in detail, and especially in-character, in my games because... well, wordplay and such is (or was, when I lived in the US... you should have seen my phone bills, and no, not to 900 lines. :P) such a major part of my real-life "courting" techniques. I don't want to have to make the distinction between doing it for real and for fake. Especially with some of the players I have, ya know? I need to behave when running games.

And I have no idea if any of my current players are anything other than straight-arrows, but I was gaming with a pre-op transsexual during my final days in Atlanta, so the experience isn't foreign to me.

But anyway...

Informal poll...

Referees, how do you change your approach to your game if one of your players is not straight? Or if all of them are?

What if one of your male players wants to play a female character, or vice versa? Transgender?

What if one of your players wants to role-play a romantic relationship in-game?

Players, do you ever play the opposite gender as a character? Pursue in-game romances?


  1. I find that sexuality doesn't tend to enter the game much at all, regardless of the orientation of the participants (which definitely varies, pulling players from a pool of college students).

    I suppose we were too busy trying to kill stuff to worry about such themes. That's what out-of-game conversation is for.


  2. Aside from the usual teen-age boy hormone-fueled Kenny-fights-for-Boobage type of fantasy back when, it's never really come up in the games I've played or run.

    It did in a bizarre Champions campaign that I played in, but that was ultra-realistic/plot-heavy.

  3. I don't think I've ever ran a game for anything other than heterosexuals. If I knew someone was gay, I don't think I would change how I run things.

    I had both male and female gamers run characters of the opposite sex, it never bothered anyone.

    As far as in-game romances, I keep things in 3rd person, as I don't feel comfortable pretending to react to romance as either gender in 1st Person.

    As a player I have ran a few characters of the opposite gender, all heterosexual. I have used sexual charms as both genders to get items/favors/information but never really pursued romantic interests as a character.

    I think this is because as an adventurer, I wouldn't have time for exploring deep relationships. I'm too busy saving the world (or my treasure horde).

  4. I don't care what players want re: sexuality. In some games it will never surface, mostly because the setting/genre/group doesn't allow for it... "Your hobbit is gay? Fascinating, now on to Dunland!"

    Other games allow for more, Pendragon/Lot5R... Has more scope for such elements, romance, marriage play a part of the game so why not?

    MY big problem is referees who disallow players from playing other genders because of bad past experience, but will let people play elves, dwarves, so on... That ticks me off, simply because its an annoying double-standard.

  5. It's interesting that many of us won't bat an eye at playing a character that's an entirely different species, and possibly evil, but feel unease at the idea of a gender mismatch.

    Light-hearted and off-screen is definitely the way to go, especially in an adventure game. If people can't handle that, in my experience it's a good indication that they don't belong in the group (or, I don't...).

  6. I had a gay player for a while. Whether his half elf was gay never came up. We don't deal with any sex stuff, mostly because we are 5 guys in a basement, and that would be creepy to role play.

    It's for the same reason that I discourage male players playing female characters. (I don't discouarge it the other way, but it's really not a problem because I have never had a female player.)

  7. Sexual orientation in a game is about as important as secondary skills such as pottery or shoemaking.

    Romance on stage would probably only be productive in a game if our two lovers are an existing or prospective couple. Otherwise it smacks too much of someone learning the ropes and may lead to players bringing along their favourite porno clips.

    As for playing the opposite gender, this immediately reveals how deep and seriously role-playing is taken in a game. Unless you want cliched cartoon characters in your game gender swapping is unlikely to be interesting.

    The point is well made that such a stricture should then also apply to elf and dwarf characters. This is true. It is likely that anyone successfully playing a dwarf or elf in some campaign is actually playing a very human character with an extravagant costume and a few quirky mannerisms who is friendly only with people of a certain height.

  8. We have some cross-gender play in our groups, and it never bothers anybody. My current female paladin has a romantic entanglement with a smuggler in Cauldron. The romantic aspect at the table usually involves me visiting him, praising Pelor for a few sentences, describing the dinner we're having in a few more sentences, and that's it.

  9. I've only been in one game where romance and sexuality ever went beyond the usual sophomoric advances at the large-busted barmaid. The "relating" never really went beyond courting and (in the case of two particular characters) a whole helluva lot of sugary sappy fawning that oft drove the rest of of to distraction but was otherwise harmless...but I digress.

    One of the players in our game was a transexual lesbian..and one of the best PbP roleplayers I've ever known. Well, over the course of two years of gaming, her female character and my female character, who was considerably younger than hers in game-terms, sparked a rather intense "friendship", but never really went past just that because my poor character (half-orc girlie and not the sharpest tool in the shed) just could not seem to get her feelings sorted out.

    Nevertheless, the character friendship actually offended another player, who told me so in person later on. i honestly think that he was convinced that i (me, myself, not my character) was getting involved in a homosexual and in my case, extramarital, affair.

    Ever since then,I've just decided to play cautiously and keep any such interests, no matter how subtle or innocent, between my own character and harmless NPCs.

    Personally, I like romantic sorts of character interaction when it is handled maturely and responsibly. The same goes for cross-gender roleplaying. I only start having a problem with it when the drama becomes more important than the game, and I sure won't be a part of a group that cannot sort out the difference between "acting" and what is real. I don't care for that sort of tension or drama in anything else I do, and would certainly not want that sort of thing ruining game-night.

  10. Sex rarely enters my games, but romance, marriage, even pregnancy has. But I leave it entirely up to the players. I have both male and female players in my game and only once has any of the above been part of the interactions between players. It was more humorous than anything, since they decided to be a couple in the game who were on the verge of breaking up. It was fun to watch them interact their quickly fading relationship while adventuring into a dungeon.

    The comfort level of the group determines what aspects are brought into the game. It's easier as a DM to have players play their own genders but it's not necessary. I'm able to adapt. If the game requires social interactions with NPCs on a less than formal level, then it's up to the group as a whole how the game should proceed. Some of the players enjoy that while others don't.

    To say that a game that involves murder and theft should exclude gender roles and relationships is just funny. But each group should decide it's own play preference and respect each other as individuals. The depth of any moral situation in an RPG is always left to the group and not to the DM.

  11. Generally, I'm not comfortable expressing sexuality to my players. Except my wife, of course, but nobody else at the table needs to be subjected to that. :)

    So this sort of thing is handled in a decidedly PG "kiss and fade to black" fashion.

    For the record, I've gamed happily with straight, gay, bi, and trans people. My fundamental approach is the same.

  12. Romance and sex rarely happen in my games, but when they do it's entirely player initiated; I don't force NPC suitors on them. Most of it is the proverbial fade to black. I treat it like I do any player initiated event: if it happens, it happens. The main group I play with consists of people who are good friends and pretty comfortable with one another (my wife's one of the players, I might add), and in fact some of them have commented on how rpg characters often don't seem to have any "real" feelings or desires besides killing and looting.

  13. Well, as a referee the most I've done is to note - "Are you being a woman again?" - to a male player who was playing a female character. When I have played, I've done either way.

    As far as in-game sexual mores, I generally don't have it come up. If I did, I'd probably have the society be painfully patriarchal, to the point where the idea that love and marriage are anything more than casually related is laughable, but with the other stuff going on under the surface.

  14. I think the most healthy way of relating to sexuality in games is the one which can be observed among high school male kids. It was a joke. You could devise anything, from straight to gay, bdsm, trans, alien, shit, whatever, no one took it seriously, it was a joke. Sexuality was for the laughs. At least it was thus in our games even when we played more "serious" ones, like Vampire for example.

  15. When I was in high school, sex was as dangerous and thrilling as any dungeon romp, and we played it that way in our D&D and Shadowrun games. It was mostly guys, one gal. The encounter started with an opposed roll (usually Charisma vs. Wisdom) for seduction. If you were succesful, things usually went downhill from there. Random rolls determined if she got knocked up, if the PC caught a disease, and if the NPC vanished before dawn with all the PC's coinage. And that's if you were lucky and the object of your affections wasn't a demon or vampire.

    Only the DM crossed the gender barier in those days. Things changed in college. In my first group I was a player. One of the others was a guy playing a female character, but you'd hardly have known it from the bog-standard, kick-in-the-door-and-mug-the-monsters type game we were playing. At least one of the group was gay also, but that didn't seem to factor much into the game.

    I didn't last long in that game, and soon started my own. In that group, the ladies outnumbered the guys and most of them were already quite familiar with D&D. And they were steeped in the sort of fiction that Blue Rose was written to emulate: lots of Mercedes Lackey, Barbara Hambly and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Sex and romance loomed large in that game, and the sorts of sexual deviancy that came up in that game probably would have caused Jack Chick to burst into flame or something. Fun times...

    Since this response is already so long, I'll probably give the subject of sex in RPGs a longer treatment over at Trollsmyth. Thanks for the idea.

    - Brian

  16. I was at my most sexually active between 17-21 years old (like most dudes), and this was probably my most prolific gaming period, so it would have been hard for me not to link the two. I even had a couple of girlfriends at that time playing who sometimes wanted to spend the evening as our characters from the games. Candle lit bedrooms, soft music, maybe a litte alchohol and weed. Gaming and sex during those nights were two great tastes that went great together.

    So well into my adult life, I was always comfortable with sexual situations in my games, and they often came up and still do. I mean, on at least a subconcious level, sex is the reason people get up in the morning to do the things in life they gotta do, so they can "git some" at least at some point in the future. So I have to approach my gameworld as a sexually charged place, just like life.

    So I always tend to think of my games as a "soft R." I don't describe the sex in detail, nor do I want it described between players, but hooking up on the game board happens and I like it. In the early 90's I had a group of all girls for a couple of years, 5-6 of them at a time around the table, and all most of them wanted to do was shop, and hook up with NPC's. D&D, Cthulhu, Champions - in all the games I ran, almost all the ladies character's were portrayed with a certain amount of sexual energy, from the 1920's speakeasy singer, to the cosmic powered supergirl from Alphi Centuri.

    Going back to childhood again, I think a lot of us old schoolers were faced with a lot of sexuality in the artwork of D&D. In the late 70's, breasts and booties, often splayed out on altars and full of implied sexual violence, were all over the books. I actually recently started my gaming blog to go more into the baser elements of my gaming over the intellectual, but so far I have mostly chickend out. Still, you can read about my shameful post-pubescent relationship with Eldritch Wizardry at "Eldritch Wizardry was my first porno"

    Yeah, I still feel the shame...

  17. Oh, sorry James, I was too busy ranting about myself having had sex (hnh hnh hnh) to actually have tried being constructive about the questions you posed:

    >What if one of your players wants to role-play a romantic relationship in-game?<

    As I said before, hooking up between PCs/NPC's goes down in my games. It almost always happens with real life couples, but has occured between non-dating singles. It usually seems very natural, and at the most there is usually just slight humor about what they get up to at night, but no details (which I would actually like played out a little bit, but I never push. I'm a gentle perv).

    >What if one of your male players wants to play a female character, or vice versa? Transgender?<

    More often girls have wanted to run males, and although I eventually allow it, I try to talk them out of it. I've always felt blessed to have girls at games, and I want them to be girls, dammit! I like the adventuring party to be diverse just like the game session itself.

    In my current campaign, a new player, a big guy from South Africa, is running a female drow. That's fine, and I don't think he is gay, but it does remove some of the sexual tension I might imbue into encounters with NPC's of the opposite sex. I mean, I'm not homophobic by any means, but I would just feel strange role playing pick up lines to a big African dude.

    Hey, he probably just wanted a female because they are the more powerful drow, but my preference is for people to run their own gender.

  18. "I find's posting population to generally be quite left-wing politically..."

    Yes - normally RPGers tend more libertarian in my experience, but rpgnet has a very strong left-wing ethos of the sort parodied by South Park. What Americans call 'left-liberal'. When I mentioned this to an rpgnet mod, she agreed - it was only natural since all decent civilised folk think like that, apparently. It can really annoy me at times.

  19. The ethos is I think due more to the moderation than to the balance of rpgnet members. Basically, if you express a non-left-liberal opinion you are skating on thin ice, because the lefty shark pack will then slam you freely, and any response to them will get you warned or banned by the mods. The mods effectively enforce a partiular political POV, and punish deviation - in the RPG forums,not just tangency. It can make it an unpleasant place to be compared to eg ENW (no politics) or therpgsite (no modding).

  20. "Referees, how do you change your approach to your game if one of your players is not straight? Or if all of them are?"

    Never had the latter experience, it'd probably make me uncomfortable. For the former, I haven't changed my approach. The only gay player I can think of, was very discrete and played a female PC, which was cool and worked well. I don't think a flaming queer type PC would have worked well.

    "What if one of your male players wants to play a female character, or vice versa? Transgender?"

    I often play female PCs. They often wear men's clothing and would have been considered transvestites a century ago. "Transgendered" seems like a 21st century concept that makes no sense in most settings, unless there are temple eunuchs who dress as women or somesuch.

    "What if one of your players wants to role-play a romantic relationship in-game?"

    Cool, I love that stuff.

    "Players, do you ever play the opposite gender as a character? Pursue in-game romances?"

    I often play female PCs if I trust the GM. I have not had the chance to play a romance in a table game but I'd love to do so.

  21. That stuff in general does not pop up too much in my games. For the most part, guys play male characters, with one or two exceptions, and the gals have played a mix of male and female chracters. I tend to keep the sex and romance stuff very light hearted, with any action happening off screen and a fast forward to the morning. One could say that my gaming style is very vanilla in this area, and it does not stray too much from the center, as it is not the focus of the game.

    I would liken my games now days to poker night with the guys, with jokes, food, drink, and a lot of light hearted fun.