I’m bringing sexy back… Ok, I won’t subject you to any more of that song. It’s one of my guilty pleasures.
So, using sex and romance in your games. First, bear in mind that the two are not necessarily the same thing. You can have sex without romance (my early 20s) and romance without sex (or so I’ve heard).
Quick guidelines: Romance involves flowers, hand-holding, sweetly chaste kisses, tender moments, and all that. Very Hallmark. Sex is, well, sex. And you can get there either via the romantic route, or not. But that is entirely up to personal choice. And we were talking about games.
As in all things, please discuss what your players are comfortable with, first. Do not just spring an orgy scene on them thinking, “Hey, he taps more ass than a muleskinner, he’ll be ok with this!” Honestly, some of the people I’ve known who were the most uncomfortable with sex in games were “players.” Let’s face it, they may just not be comfortable talking about sex, even imagined sex, with you and everyone else at the table. I, the person who will discuss anything about sex, anytime, any where, was real squeamish about including sex in games for the longest time. Granted, part of that was who I was gaming with at the time. Which is a valid concern.
However, once we started gaming with people I felt more comfortable with, that changed. Primarily among a group of us playing Prime Time Adventures. We’d decided we wanted to play “Hogwarts 90210,” and were trying to sort out how far we could go. Would this be made by Fox, FX or HBO? The five of us sat around the table and looked around at each other, and decided that we were adults and could get as raunchy as we wanted. So, um, yeah, I think “Hogwarts 90210” was actually made by Bob Guccione productions, or the Spice Channel. Possibly Hustler. We had sex, cross-species sex, shrubbery on high school teacher violence, a porn company, and a philandering Dad with an eye for his daughter’s classmates. It was brilliant and totally broken.
And you don’t have to get Hustler pic graphic to include sex. You can fade to black the minute trou hit the floor. Or you can get as gynecological about it, if you so desire (or proctological, if, you know…).
NOTE: This is in no way an endorsement of Rapey McRapeypants the character. Seriously. What we are talking about here is consensual. Yes, you can include rape in these games, with the consent of everyone involved, but this is NOT giving you carte blanche to include a rapist character because “you want to explore” that, at least not without everyone else being all right with it. Granted, they’ll probably all give you a big case of the side-eye for wanting to explore that, so procede at your own risk.
Now, on to Romance. Yes, I know that seems a bit backwards to many of you, it’s how my brain works.
Karrin and I ran a Romance game at Ambercon this last year, called “Shadow of His Desire.” In it, we asked the players to each pick an elder Amberite, and we would give them a romance novel happy ending. Yes, a few scenes did make it to the “empassioned kisses” and “heaving bosoms” stages, but most faded to black long before. The goal of that game was not the sex, but the courtships. My friend Corey still comes to mind as the standout player. His portrayal of Benedict, the grizzled warrior come home from war, his home tended by the wounded men who returned with him, courting Deirde with gentle words and poems brought tears to both me and Karrin’s eyes. Granted, so did Andi’s reunion with his mermaid princess who had renounced her kingdom for him. Ben’s “virgin” Julian pursued by the evil Mandor, and his quiet passion for Flora were excellent, too. Hell, everyone in that game was on. And Karrin, who performed most of the NPCs was on fire.
Now, this was the game where I got a little uncomfortable. Deep emotion, even just playing at it scares me, so running this game was a kind of pushing it for me. But it was good, in a lot of ways. The characters and NPCs exchanged many meaningful looks, and tender caresses, and very little actual sex. Small gifts, meaningful gifts, unexpected meetings, all of these play a part in a successful romance game. Think along the lines of the idealized romance of chivalry.
Honestly, if you’re going to run a romance heavy game, do some research. Read a couple of historical romances. Harlequins are a good bet, because they are cheap, short, and fade to black fairly early on in the sexy times. Also, used bookstores are FULL of them. If you want good romance, check out the reviews at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Not all romances are created equal. My favorite, Bertrice Small, tends to be relatively, ok, excessively explicit even with the flowery language. And if you want to combine historical research with romance research, I recommend either Johanna Lindsey or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Vampire Saint Germain books. The Geek Husband What Rules recommends the Patrick O’Brien Master and Commander novels.
Hopefully this gives you a little bit of a clue as to how to incorporate these into your games. As in all things, remember, that it boils down to communicating with your players and/or GM and not crossing hard boundaries. If you like these people, why would you want to piss them off? And if you don’t, then why are you gaming with them?