The Priapic Elegies, in stylish German, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe about sodomizing people who don’t like sex. They would be a suitable introduction to the subject at hand, a review of the Book of Elf Fannies.
(Ahem) I mean a review of the Book of Erotic Fantasy.
The Valar Project published Erotic Fantasy in November of 2003 and is 192 pages long, hardback in glossy format. Gwendolyn F. M. Kestrel and Duncan Scott served as writers and Anthony Valterra, formally brand manager at Wizards of the Coast, as the creative director for the project and the boss man at Valar.
Sex, Virginia… (Ahem) Yes, Virginia, there are rules to cover when your character engages in sex. At least there are 3.5 D&D rules for most any situation involving your characters being all naked, sweaty and sexual. As compared to all the other occasions that your character is all naked and sweaty. There really are all kinds of role playing experiences.
This book on fake sex possesses a somewhat silly tone, but then sex itself is somewhat silly, even if at its best it is fun and life affirming. Hell, so are pie fights. Come to it, pie fights and sex involves people working up a sweat, lots of noise and usually ends with the participants messy. Treating sex with too much seriousness sucks the fun out of it. No pun intended.
Okay, I meant the pun.
Anyway, on to the particulars.
Art and Composition
Erotic Fantasy is a visually striking book, with excellent composition, easy to read text and quality graphic design. Even aside from the erotica, most third party publisher can only dream of this level of overall quality in a printed product.
Art in Erotic Fantasy consists of photographs with Photoshop effects and features real people in stage makeup and costumes – or completely out of costumes. The images are better than usual fantasy art by way of computer-edited photographs, with some of the better images being the goblin goddess on page 146, the satyr on page 34 and the elf on page 39. Some of the weaker images include an unappealing pleasure golem on page 168 and the man on page 21, with the failure of the page 21 image being the model, a skinny pale dude chained by his nipples to a candle - he is too homely to qualify as bishonen.
As for the pornographic content, the images do show breasts, moderate full nudity but for all of that it is only somewhat more explicit than the usual art in many fantasy RPGs and comic books, which usually feature sexualized women and men. To put it another way, being in 1911 in Europe might isolate me from decent tequila, but is allows me to consult with Dr. Freud. He said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. However, a sword in art is usually a stand in for a penis, especially if a strapping chick is using it on an ugly motherfucker.”
That is a quote from the doctor by the way. So, there is phallic art and then there is phallic art, but that said the penis content in this book is only slightly above the usual level in a fantasy RPG accessory. Further, the depiction of nude and nearly nude women in this book is, at its worst, less dumb and offensive than it usually is in other, mainstream, RPG works. It would require stretching, or a low sexual boiling point, to call the art content in Erotic Fantasy pornographic stroke material, if not being an outright. Speaking of phallic, there are photos of magic dildos in the back of the book. Whips too, come to that.
An amusing Phil Folio comic ends the book.
Text and Mechanics
To clarify something right away, there are no rules for determining the size of a male character’s penis or a female character’s breasts. Erotic Fantasy might be somewhat silly, but it is not stupid. Equality important, it is not juvenile book and avoids childish terms. As Dumbledore observed to Harry, fear of a name increase the fear of a thing itself, so use correct term for something and the correct terms are penis and vagina, not wang or bearded clam… or cock and cunt for that matter. Nor does the book use the phrase “naughty bits” which is appropriate because I am not aware of any genitalia that are naughty. The owners are a different matter.
A standard “what-to except” section opens the book by describing what the rest of the book will cover. Following this is a section pitching the idea of including sexuality in a tabletop role-playing game. While not redundant, it is arguably unnecessary or at least it feels like it is preaching to the choir, as far as the people purchasing the book probably already agree with the idea.
Chapter one provides a discussion of the sexual mores of the standard D&D races and sexual behavior by alignment, among other subjects. The section on elf sexuality is good at least in part because it is a long ways from the Catholic elves of Tolkeen and the chapter’s discussion of pornography in a fantasy world is amusing. The first chapter also provides rules for marriage in the fantasy setting. Over all, the first chapter is better than you might expect, given its preference of fluff over crunch because the fluff is well thought-out and well executed.
The second chapter starts with rules, discipline and safety words. Okay, that is a lie. There are not any safety words ‘cause safety words are for sissies. Anyway, the second chapter does turn the focus from fluff to mechanical crunch with rules, skills and feats. A seventh ability score is introduced, Appearance, in arguably the books biggest misstep in terms of game mechanics. The book discusses why to include this seventh ability score, but it is poorly integrated and unnecessary. Charisma is good enough to get the job done. There are also rules for sustaining sex, which are fun and pertinent to the rules presented later in the book. There were more skills in 3.5 than there are in 4E and Erotic Fantasy discusses sexual uses of several skills and add Perform: Sexual Techniques to the roster. It also provides rules for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and conception in terms of actual game mechanics, fetishes and cross breeding between the fantasy races. A section of feats concludes the chapter, and as with most lists of feats it is a mixed bag, with some good, some useless and many mediocre.
Chapter three provides new bases classes and prestige classes. Most new classes are useless and increasingly repetitive as the life span of any particular edition goes on. However, the classes in this book are intriguing, largely due to thematic issues. The basis class Tantrist draws it power from how often the character engages in sex and Rake prestige class would be a lot of fun on a sex friendly gaming table. The Metaphysical Spellshaper, however, is an odd inclusion as it has no sexual connotation and is a weak prestige class as well.
Magic spells appear in chapter four, the strongest part of the book. This includes four new domains and spell lists for bards, clerics, imagists (one of the new bases classes introduced in this book), paladins, rangers, sorcerers and wizards. New spells include ale goggles, disrobe and orgasmic vibrations. That spell, orgasmic vibrations, becomes particularly devastating if it follows the cursed orgasm spell, which causes debilitating pain and actual physical damage the next time the target orgasms. Not all of the spells directly relate to sex, such as mirror walk, which allows a caster to travel from one large mirror to another by walking through them as through a portal.
Chapter five covers items, such as an assortment of rods, potions, lotions, belts, whips, leather and lace and other such paraphernalia the characters may want to get their hands on to take a situation to the next level. It also provides rules and costs for sexual services. The sixth chapter provides information on the gods and monsters of sex. Among other entries, this includes a memorable description the goblin goddess of fertility and cherubs, both celestial and the frightening fallen cherub. The demonbred and devilblooded races are be a great deal like the tieflings, though they were published before tieflings became a player race.
The seventh chapter provides three NPC organizations, which amount to an escort service, a private sex club and an equal opportunity brothel. Reading the brothel entry takes me back to all those naked pie fights I was a part of back at the University of Gilead... the things a man will do to get into a good sorority. In any event, this chapter also provides 100 adventure ideas. It feels unnecessary but some participants in the fun and games really need to be taken in hand to get the job done.
Wrapping up the book are a pair of appendixes, which detail the generally useless Appearance score and various creature’s by their Appearance score and then finally an excellent index.
With any accessory you purchase there is always a question of how much use it provides, be it a role-playing game accessory or a role-playing accessory.
How much use can you get from Erotic Fantasy, the RPG accessory? Can someone expect to use most of it, or will people mine it for ideas and various items? By comparison, how many gamers use everything in the Book of Psionics or even everything in a setting campaign guide? As compared to using what they need when they need it and generally just mining the work for ideas. In theory, the book is a rich vein of ideas, tools, rules and the like just waiting to be used in the right game. It would be a prerequisite if someone wanted to run a game in the world of Oglaf, for example.
Candidly, I have rarely used anything in Erotic Fantasy, though this is owing to a lack of opportunity rather than a philosophical problem. One occasion that does standout in my memory was when I, as a game master, used a fallen cherub as the henchman of a lich. However, recently when I was discussing playing the guitar with Nicholas, Wilhelm and Ferdinand, Wilhelm and Ferdinand kept giggling when I used the phrase “fingering the cords.” As such, no matter how intriguing the Rake prestige class is, and no matter how useful the spells cursed orgasm and orgasmic vibrations might be, none will be incorporated into my current game, for reasons other than having to adapt the rules from 3.5 to 4E.
Speaking of the rules, the rules in Erotic Fantasy are 3.5, making them reasonably close to the Pathfinder mechanical system. People using that mechanical system who are interested in the opportunities presented in this book will have an easier time adapting the material to that system than interested groups using other systems or editions of Dungeons and Dragons.
Something to Think About
Now I am going to take it down a notch.
In terms of books like this and others carrying a Mature Audiences Onlylabel, some may say… why won’t someone think about the children? I am – I am thinking about them staying the hell away from my books. Why should I lead a childish life because others do?
Valterra and friends published Erotic Fantasy in the early days of the d20 license phenomena. Valterra had already left Wizards of the Coast at the time and when Wizards learned about this impending publication from the Valar Project, they released a statement distancing themselves from the work and altered the existing license by adding a "quality standards" provision that required publishers comply with "community standards of decency." This subsequently prevented the book's publication under the D20STL. Valterra and Valar still released Erotic Fantasy under the 3.5 system, the changes meant they were unable to use an official d20 logo on the book, which probably would have helped sales.
This is worth mentioning because the year before the release of Erotic Fantasy Wizards had published the Book of Vile Darkness. That book included rules for using torture to gain power, drug addiction, evil feats and generally was a grab bag of grotesqueries. The art was suitable for the text and included an image of a dwarf torturing and murdering an angel.
So Wizards was stating that a book of angel murdering, drugs and depravity was acceptable, but a book of frolicking naked with woody elves was unacceptable.
To judge from the gamer backlash and response, a response from many who never saw the Erotic Fantasy, the RPG fans agreed. This was akin to people approving of and embracing the Hostel movies but stridently protesting the making and release of the Red Shoe Diaries, loudly arguing against their appearance in the marketplace at all. Taking from this, torture porn is good, mutually consensual orgasms are bad.
Doctor Freud wants to know what the fuck is wrong with you.
In any event, someone making strident demands about a game in which they are not a part of is so asinine it can serve as its own metaphor for the asinine, which unfortunately does not stop the haters.
The corollary to this generally positive review of Erotic Fantasy, the cold fact as compared to the warm theory, is a need to be terribly careful about introducing any such material into a game or group. Gamers are people and the majority of people are no damn good at all. Individual people may possess a sex positive philosophy, but life itself does not. Sexuality is another proverbial chink in a person’s armor, something others will inevitably use to exploit and inflict harm on others, regardless of the orientation or the degree of appetite expressed. Make a realistic assessment of what will happen to you if you try to introduce any of this material in a game, do not simply tell yourself the rosy lies you want to hear. People being people, even broaching the subject will likely open you to all kinds of ongoing vituperative attacks.
To be clear and to clarify something I have discussed already, Wilhelm and Ferdinand are not haters and are good people, I would not game with them otherwise. My dour skepticism comes from awareness of life in general and people over all.
Anyway, the issue has not changed in the ensuing years. Since the publication of the Erotic Fantasy and Vile Darkness books, Wizard’s has since reprinted or adapted much of the content of Vile Darkness in subsequent source books without a Mature Audiences Only label.
The Valar Project dissolved and no one has reprinted or adapted the silly fun and sex positive material from Erotic Fantasy.
The book of Erotic Fantasy gets a 15 on a d20 roll.
[4 of 5 Stars!]