Monday, June 22, 2009

Faerun After Dark

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.


Anonymous said...

If you read Gygax's Gord the Rogue books, you'd see Greyhawk is a fairly bawdy sort of place too. But you're right, that never comes across in the TSR materials for the game. Interesting note about the "festhalls", I had not heard that before.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree but recent venture into Warhammer 40k/Dark Heresy universe and game has made me think about sexuality in AD&D. As opposed to above-mentioned 40k universe AD&D for me at that early and impressionable age was brimming with libidinal energy (in a quite good way I might add) and when you mention it FR was leading the pack, so to speak...

Badmike said...

Wanna ferret out someone you never, ever want to game with? Look for the hypocritical SOB's that sneer and snicker about Ed Greenwood's "pervertedness" and show mock horror at the fact Ed has some pretty open minded views about his character's lives in the FR. Did all those idiots read Howard's Conan tales and figure the brawny barbarian was just going to give all those lovely damsels he rescued a ride home and a handshake at the end of the stories? Sheesh. There is a slew of things to criticize Ed for; being sexually honest in his portrayals of fantasy characters seem a really weird thing to bring up.

It's really too bad Ed was censored as much as he was, he was probably the forefather of the more "realistic" fantasy worlds seen with the release of 3E.

Chris said...

I thought there was something more than a little, let's call it subtextual, about the magical cosmology of the Realms. Spellfire, the Weave, Mystra the goddess of magic; it all gets a little prana-bindu sex magic when you scratch the surface of the bucolic rural fantasy.

@Badmike: Different expectations I'd imagine. You expect priapic demonic idols and sex-as-power in S&S. It's a little unexpected in (what appears to be) RenFair-derived high fantasy.

AndreasDavour said...

Sex in FR because it feels more realistic? From my point of view it's more that Greyhawk seems boorish, dull and lifeless. There, I said it. Grognards can now bash me senseless.

I do agree that FR do have a "immediacy" to it, which might be your "realistic".

jdh417 said...

Phil and Dixie are rolling in their graves.

trollsmyth said...

Chris: Really? I've always associated RenFaire with sex. Maybe it's because I've seen behind the scenes, but all those wenches, Henry VIII clones, and codpieces just kinda point towards sex to me.

But I think I can see where you're writing from. I mean, if your idea of High Fantasy is Tolkien or Sir Walter Scott, sure, sex probably has little place in the story. If your idea of High Fantasy is instead King Arthur (which is chock full of lust, where even Lancelot can forget his love for Guinevere long enough to sire at least one bastard) and C.S. Lewis (yes, I know, Christian allegory, but he stuffed his Narnia full of mermaids, nymphs, dryads, satyrs, centaurs, and minotaurs) it's hard to separate sex from the stories. I always felt the Realms was more King Arthur by way of Lankhmar, myself.

(And of course my word verification is "prone". *facepalms*)