Somehow, it doesn’t seem honest to talk about the Forgotten Realms without talking about sex. On some level, the two will always be intertwined for me. That association may not be a common one amongst role-players, but I think it might not be unique to myself, making it worthy of discussion. I will allow the possibility that I might be the only freak in this show but it’s a chance I’m willing to take to discover if there’s anyone else out there hiding.
By Ed Greenwood’s own admission, the Forgotten Realms is a pretty bawdy place. Knowing librarians the way I do, this doesn’t surprise me. Some of the meekest-looking librarians reveal a very different persona when out of the public eye and being comfortable in their sexuality is often the mildest of these hidden quirks. The fact that lust, sex, and physical satisfaction is part of Ed’s game world seems as natural as skinny-dipping on a hot summer’s night.
While the published version of the Forgotten Realms had much of the overt sexual color stripped from the world in order to satisfy TSR (see the oft-repeated anecdote about brothels on Ed’s city maps being replaced with the vague “festhall”), the Realms always struck me as a rather lusty place. My initial impression were largely formed by Ed Greenwood’s novel, Spellfire. For TSR game fiction, that novel features, as my friend Chris might say, “a whole lot of schtupping.” More so than anything else TSR had put out previously (no pun intended). Although earlier novels features sexual situations that occurred largely off-camera, which is also how Spellfire handles such events, it occurs much more frequently in Ed’s book.
To both the book and Ed’s credit, such scenes don’t smack of gratuity. Instead, they seem to be natural human responses that occur when people regularly place their lives in danger. The omnipresent spectre of Death heightens the appetite for more earthly pleasures and Ed’s characters regularly satisfy those hungers. After being exposed to the Greenwood’s own vision of the Realms through the novel, it seemed natural to include sexual themes and encounters in my own campaign.
Deciding to incorporate sex in a game is a decision that can have either the wonderful result of adding a previously unplumbed depth and complexity to the shared world or it can reduce the game to blushing faces and rampant snickering. To this day it’s not something I do often or lightly, and the composition of the players and what they’re looking for in a game experience large determine whether we’re going to address the subject directly or gloss it over.
Sex became a no-longer taboo topic in our Forgotten Realms campaign for two reasons. The primary reason was that our gaming group was the first regular mixed-gender group I had that met on a regular basis. I’d run games with mixed groups before for one-shot or short campaigns, but the Forgotten Realms players were the first male/female group that met every weekend on a regular basis. The ratio was also 1:1 between the genders. Additionally and more importantly, all of us were in our mid-teens at the time and going through our own initial experiences with sexual relationships. While we were still struggling with coming to terms with the new facet of adulthood, the idea of sexual encounters and the consequences of such were no longer imagined events but part of our real lives. To deal with this aspect of our characters’ lives seemed natural.
The second reason sex seemed a natural topic for games set in the Realms was that the setting, despite its reputation for being a high-magical world, seemed more realistic to me than any of TSR previous boxed campaigns. There’s something very pagan to the Forgotten Realms, by which I mean it seems to be a place whose inhabitants are much more in touch with nature and all the natural urges that define humanity. Perhaps this is because of richness of Greenwood’s elves or the vividness of Realms’ vast forests, rugged mountains, and tempestuous storms. Regardless, the Realms were more alive to me than Greyhawk or Krynn were, so sex was not out of place. In the Realms, a couple wandering down to a river’s edge to make love under a brilliant full moon seemed more appropriate than the same act occurring in Krynn – a world which, despite Kitiara’s sexual appetites, I’ve always associated more with courtly love than the physical.
Because of these elements – this period of my life, the naturalness of the Realms, and the people I shared it with – I’ll always associate the Forgotten Realms with the pleasures of sex. While that might seems strange to some people, it’s really no different than making the same association with a particular song, a model of car, a fragrance, or even the way sunlight falls at a certain part of the day. It’s with little wonder then that I’ll always look back on the Forgotten Realms with a sense of nostalgia and sweetness, no matter how many years go by.