In DnD and other RPGs, horny bards are almost as common as murder hobos! And even if your party is relatively straight-laced, the issue of sex and romance may appear in your RPG campaign. And as The Great GM himself says,
“One of the most overlooked components of RPG games and one of the greatest tools in our arsenal is… love and sex!”
So how do you handle these issues? How do you deal with the embarrassment of DnD sex? And how much should you “show” before your Epic campaign turns into an erotic sideshow? These 5 tips should help you manage DnD sex and romantic encounters!
1. DnD Sex – what’s appropriate for your game?!
So, is DnD sex right for your game? And how far should you go? That’s a great question to start with, when you’re planning this. It’ll help you understand what you need to be ready for. AND what you need to get your players ready for too!
Start by considering the mood and genre of your campaign setting, as well as its “rating”. If it were a movie, would it be U or PG, 15 or strongly adult? And are there other adult themes, like gore and violence? If not, then sex – if not romance – may not be an issue you have to deal with. For example, Vampire the Masquerade or the Game of Thrones RPG are very adult-themed. And so they’re WAY more likely to have all-out sexual encounters – even explicit ones – than something like Tales of Equestria, the My Little Pony RPG… At least, I hope so…
So first of all, think about whether sexual encounters are even appropriate for your setting. And if they are, how explicit should they be to live up to genre expectations. After all, you can absolutely have romance in an RPG without anything explicit. And if it’s out of genre, an explicit encounter can be really problematic. At best, it’ll come across as awkwardly funny. At worst, it’ll alienate your players, and they won’t want to come back to the table. But, more than likely, it’ll just come across as really weird and out of place. And it’ll destroy the mood you’ve spent so long trying to create!
Rather watch a video than read? Check out my video for the TL:DR then read the blog for more details!
2. CONSENT! CONSENT! CONSENT!
The moment we’re talking about romance and sex, of course, we’re talking CONSENT! This has become a very public problem in the past few years, both in streamed games and convention games. I’m sure there have been issues in private games too. My two personal mantras are:
Player agency is sacred — your players should never feel “forced” to do anything out of their control
Consent is paramount!
I’ve found these to be really good guides. After all, if you violate your players’ ability to choose, you’re kind of nerfing your own game. Players come to my table to be intrigued and entertained. But mainly they come to inhabit characters and make choices. Removing player agency – in my opinion at least – is shooting your RPG campaign in the foot!
Preparing your players for Sexual themes in a game
Of course, you should check with the group if you’re planning on including romantic or sexual themes in your RPG campaign. And then check in periodically after that. Here’s what I recommend:
- BE CLEAR IN SESSION ZERO about what themes might come up. This honestly goes for anything. If it’s a horror game, be sure they know what they’re in for. If it’s going to be 90% spiders, be upfront about it. (And don’t invite me – I HATE SPIDERS!) You might want to double-check this with your players in private too. Many people will feel awkward admitting discomfort in a public forum, for fear of stigma. And the whole point is to have fun.
- IF you have a player who’s not on board with what you’re offering, this might not be the right campaign for them. And there’s no shame in that. No book is written for all readers, no movie for all viewers. Our entertainment is personal, and no one’s at fault if they decline the invitation at session 0 and find a campaign more suited to them.
- Once you get closer to the moment you want to bring in the first romantic or sexual theme, check in again. This might be one or two sessions
- If in doubt check out what safety tools are available. I found this article to be an excellent rundown, with links to resources too! I’ve never had to pull an X card, but I’m always happy to know they’re there. Especially if I’m playing with a group I don’t know!
At the end of the day, it’s your game, so if you’re fuming while you’re reading this, please don’t. You may think I’m over-cautious, but I’d rather be that way than make someone feel uncomfortable or unwelcome at my table. And it certainly depends who’s at my table with how rigorously I follow these steps, too. If I were running a game with people I didn’t know very well, I’d probably leave out any DnD sex altogether! For my home game, I know my players well. So I know their limits better. But even more, I can trust them to tell me if they’re feeling uncomfortable. A lot of strangers wouldn’t feel comfortable admitting outright that they’re not comfortable. And that, really, is why safety tools are so valuable.
3. What to do when DnD sex feels awkward?
So let’s assume you’ve figured out your party. They’ve all comfortable with romance and light sexual themes. And now, the time has come.
The charming Bartender turns to the PC and says…. <oh crap… what do they say>?
It’s a question I’ve been asked many times before. Just how do you deal with these flirty moments as a GM, especially if you feel awkward roleplaying them? After all, it’s one thing to flirt with your spouse, but another to roleplay a scene with someone you don’t know well, or have weird chemistry with. In these moments, if you feel awkward, I have two tips.
The first is to RELY ON THE SYSTEM! Whether you’re playing Dungeons and Dragons 5e, Pathfinder 2, or Fate, there’ll be some kind of mechanics to help you. A dice roll. A contested check. USE THEM. They are there to help you.
The second tip is to swap out of first-person. Instead of trying to act out the character, to inhabit them, switch it to “he says, she says”. This gives you some distance from the NPC and the exchange. It allows you to be a narrator rather than an actor. And that’s really helpful if you feel awkward about playing out a flirty or sexual scene in your RPG game.
Obviously flirty moments can be dramatic, manipulative, intoxicating, or hilarious, depending on the situation. But if you’re going for the more serious or dramatic, remember that the way you behave as a Game Master – even out of character – affects the way your players will react too. If you roll the dice and start giggling, the whole scene will descend into hilarity and silliness. So make sure you keep your composure if you’re going for something more serious.
4. When things get story inappropriate, fade to black
Again, it’s a question both writers and Dungeon masters struggle with. How much should I show before I fade to black?
We’ve already discussed in point one what the tone and baseline of your campaign setting and your RPG game is. How adult is it? How emotionally intense? This is a good guide for figuring out where to fade to black. For a light-hearted or PG game, you might have a few flirty remarks or some witty banter, and then the fade to black. In a more adult game, the emotional intensity – and possibly the intimacy – might go just a bit further. You can read the room to see how your other players are reacting. (And again, those safety cards will help you too!)
If the player in question wants to go into more detail and others are uncomfortable, there are ways to handle that too. For example, you can ask for a player to write a journal about how they think the encounter went. That’s a great way to understand a bit more how their character feels about the NPC. And that can give you, the GM, a lot of leverage for great story moments. If the “moment of truth” is absolutely critical for the story, you can also play a solo session. Again, this is especially good if the other players around the table are feeling awkward. And even better, the other PCs don’t know what went on behind closed doors either. So it introduces secrets and mystery within the party too.
And most importantly – definitely more important than the technicalities of the birds and the bees – is WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?! Using an epilogue of the “after” scene to set the mood for the true impact of the encounter is a great way to launch more plot and story elements. For example, if you’re going for light-hearted, a bit of witty banter might be part of the epilogue. There might be a wink, and a “see you later”… but there may not. For a more serious entanglement, think of the emotional ramifications of what’s just happened. Is someone in love? Is this the start of something bigger? Or has someone crossed a line that cannot be backtracked….? Which leads us beautifully to the final tip!
5. Consequences make for a GREAT story!
There are so many interesting consequences from sexual encounters!
I think one that many people consider is conditions like STDs. And they’re a great place to start. But what about magical conditions, too? For example, what if that brothel was actually run by vampires. Surprise! You’re a vampire now. Obviously, if you pull something massively character-changing, it’s a good idea to ask your players first. If you think they might object to something like this, it’s better to know in advance. But for every player who doesn’t want it, another one is absolutely game. And it’s a great way to shake up the status quo, drive character development and encourage new goals for the party too!
Another question, particularly for tabletop RPGs like Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons is a question of faith. If your character worships a deity – or even more, is divine powered, like a cleric or a paladin – how does this affect them? And if they did the naughty with someone of an opposite faith… how might their deity react?
Or what about the oldest consequence in the book – pregnancy? The PC now has a child on the way. Does this galvanize their need to make the world a better place? Does it bring up feelings of their own orphan status or tragic backstory? These are great ways to have player characters evaluate their characters, develop further. It’s a good way to present them with interesting choices and options.
And of course, my favorite consequence: what if it was a honey trap? Perhaps the person slept with the PC just to get more information? If they’re a spy or secret agent, maybe this encounter will lead to a more complicated plot twist. Or maybe it was even the big bad themselves, in disguise? These are great ways to give more plot depth to a simple romantic encounter. Plus, your players will think you’re a machiavellian genius when they turn up for the big finale and “Meg the Barmaid” is suddenly “MEGARA THE INVINCIBLE LICH OF DOOM”. The possibilities are endless here!
If the PC gets attached to someone, they’ll make an excellent “damsel in distress”! You can use them in a later adventure as a quest giver, or even have the PCs go to their rescue!
The Challenge: DnD sex and romance on World Anvil!
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is:
Create a love interest NPC for one of your PCs… and add consequences!
Follow this link to submit your worldbuilding prompt AND to see other answers if people have chosen to make them public! You’ll need to use the Character article template to create about this NPC, which is packed full of inspirational prompts to help you further flesh out your character, and breathe life into them?. And make sure you check out World Anvil’s other GMing features and create a free account now! Our Campaign Manager helps you build your homebrew world and run your campaign in over 30 major systems!
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