Sex in RPGs has always been a proverbial sticky wicket. While the topic certainly deserves some degree of prominence, actually integrating it into a role-playing game is difficult to implement and tends to end badly. Knowing that, I was thusly quite interested when I saw that John Wick was tackling the subject in his book Sexcraft: A Little Game with a Lot of Sex.
Before we get into it (yes, that was another regrettable pun), let’s take a look at the mechanics of the book. The PDF file is twelve pages long from start to finish, taking into account things like the cover, credits, etc. The book is entirely devoid of illustrations save for periodic silhouettes of various sexy women – the pictures are silhouettes with singular parts in white to highlight certain things, such as the silhouetted woman with a white bra on. In fact, all of these illustrations are of sexy women; a note near the end of the book explains that they simply couldn’t find any “sexy guy” illustrations.
There are no bookmarks, which is a shame, but nothing crippling in a twelve-page PDF. It should also be noted that both eBook and Mac formatting are present, allowing for plentiful options about which platform you enjoy this product on.
But beyond all of that, what is this Sexcraft book all about? As the name suggests, this is its own take on sex-based magic. The opening fiction hints at the basic nature of sexcraft as a dueling sort of magic…that is, two practitioners have sex, which for them is a duel of their respective magic.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Sexcraft explains that it’s meant to be a meta-system; you can take the rules in this book and integrate them into other RPGs seamlessly. In fact, this was where I feel the book fell down, as I didn’t find the new type of magic here to be easily added to most other RPGs, but I’ll get to that in due time.
The introduction then explains that sex is often ignored in RPGs because it has no tangible reward within the framework of the role-playing game itself; hence, giving it mechanics and a metagame framework will help to bring it more fully into RPG gaming. Now, I completely agree with the premise here – most RPGs that I’ve played have emphasized mechanics enough that even the best of role-players wanted the system-based rewards. Hence, you need to make any new aspect of the game part of that. However, I was skeptical of a one-size-fits-all approach…
The book begins to get into the mechanics of sexcraft by first explaining that characters can only learn this particular art by being taught, and that it’s a rare and secretive power only a few know. Beyond that, gaining power via sexcraft requires taking it from others…but those who are uninitiated have very little power to give. The quickest way to “charge up” is to engage in a sexcraft duel and take another practitioners energy.
Sexual energy, we’re told, is measured in points. The uninitiated have only ten points (and in mundane sex – that is, sex between people who can’t use sexcraft – everyone just donates a single point to everyone else, resulting in no net gain), but practitioners can have quite a bit more; the presumption seems to be that however much energy you gain in a duel is how much you retain.
Sexual energy can be freely given by those who know what they’re doing, or practitioners can actively take it. Note that in either case, sharing sexual energy is only possible during consensual sexual acts – forcing yourself on someone gains you nothing.
After some discussion on the effects of loss of energy, we’re then told what sexual energy can be used for. Instead of spells per se, there are a half-dozen different applications, called “roses.” Each rose is a different color, and most cost just a single energy to invoke. The blue rose, for instance, requires a touched target to truthfully reveal the answer to a single question asked, whereas the red rose causes the target to become obsessed with someone or something.
I was surprised at the relative narrowness of each rose’s application, and how few roses there are. Each is certainly colorful in what they can do, but there aren’t that many. Further, the idea that sexcraft is “beyond” other forms of magic (something mentioned earlier in the book) seems bluntly reinforced here, with various roses mentioning how each rose’s power cannot be removed or defeated by anything, short of a reprieve from the sexcraft witch that used it.
The above system of sexcraft magic is where I really took issue with the book. For all its talk about being a meta-system that can be put into any RPG, the fact remains that magic is specific to various role-playing games, and using sexcraft as its presented here can be a poor fit. Consider how well this magic would fit, thematically, with Call of Cthulhu? It’s risk-free to the user and subject, easily recharged, and even enjoyable…it’s against the tone of the game, in other words. Likewise, using this in D&D would bring up problems if you said that sexcraft powers couldn’t be dispelled, removed, or even disjoined. The simple mechanics here don’t mesh with that system’s intricate, technical magic rules.
Magic, no matter what the type, isn’t something you can make into a single-use system to put into any established role-playing game.
Following the list of the roses, the book talks about sexcraft duels between practitioners. Each sexcraft user has a number of six-sided dice equal to their energy, and each turn can decide how many to use, but with the caveat that the loser of each round doesn’t get those dice back. There are also four tactics that can be used – attack, counterattack, feint, and protect. Each can give you an advantage (a single bonus d6) against a certain other type of tactic.
This system isn’t a bad one, but seems to favor using all of your energy dice at once in hopes of simply overwhelming your opponent (especially if they’re conservative with how many dice they use at a time). While you can still lose this way sometimes, the result of “higher number wins” seems to favor making large plays, with the various tactics providing some variance only if the participants both bet a relatively equal number of dice.
The book closes out with a word from the author talking about how, if this seems inappropriate, consider how many pages of how many RPGs are dedicated to killing things. It’s a salient point, but one that ignores the larger question of why sex in RPGs isn’t more prominent. It’s not a question of the appropriate nature of the content described, but rather that for most people it’s an awkward and embarrassing thing, even if you marry it more closely to game mechanics. That’s not an excuse, of course, nor is it a condemnation of either traditional RPGs or this one – it’s just why sexual-based RPG materials aren’t more prominent.
After this there’s a bonus section with the sexcraft witch prestige class for D&D 3.5. A ten-level prestige class, this is fairly decent, but makes some mistakes if you’re a Third Edition aficionado. For one thing, it’s odd that a spellcasting PrC (full arcane spellcasting progression) also requires, and grants, sneak attack dice (particularly with the note that the sexcraft witch can sneak attack someone while having sex with them).
The class abilities are interesting, and notably don’t try to translate the “rose” powers from earlier into d20 terms. Rather, we get things like the sexcraft witch having the ability to put a compulsion on someone else which they have to follow until they sleep with another person, having the power to cause a negative level with a caress (like a succubus), or using a death effect against anyone she’s ever slept with.
These powers are imaginative, but a closer look shows that they have some design problems. Leaving aside issues like requiring the never-before-mentioned Craft (sex) skill, or lacking power tags (such as Ex or Su), the powers aren’t defined thoroughly enough. For example, many lack a range listing, or any sort of limiter on how often they can be invoked. Several are too powerful, such as a power that (with a DC 15 Craft (sex) check) lets the arcane spellcasting sexcraft witch use any of several healing spells (though to be fair, this is limited to once per person per night).
On the last page, there are short notecards for a character’s name, their current energy, and how many roses they know.
Overall, Sexcraft is – like so many other attempts to bring sex into greater prominence in RPGs – a good idea that doesn’t work. In this case, it’s not because the attempt is too prurient (it’s fairly light in the tone of its presentation), but simply because in trying to apply itself to any game system, it renders itself inappropriate for quite a few, if not most, of them. The attempt is laudable, but in order for something to be universally applicable, it helps to cover ground that no one else has touched, and magic, regardless of the theme of the magic, is not such an area.
Ironically, the book seems to know it too. Presenting the sexcraft witch prestige class is a nod towards the fact that sex-magic is an area that can be tailored much more directly towards a given game system (a message which is diluted by the fact that the sexcraft witch needs further system editing).
Like a teenager getting ready to lose his virginity, Sexcraft knows what it wants to do, but what it actually presents leaves room for improvement.