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Roleplaying is the perfect medium for stories of sex and romance – so why is the genre so underserved on the tabletop?

Roll for romance.

A screenshot from Bridgerton Season One.
Image credit: Netflix

Romance and sexual fiction has yet to carve out a solid space in the tabletop roleplaying game world. Fantasy, sci-fi and horror have all secured their place as essential examples of tabletop RPG genres, but romance and sex remains an incredibly elusive option when it comes to TRPGs with an intended setting or theme.

Romance and sex stands side-by-side with its fellow genre fiction categories in other areas, like novels, films and video games. However, it struggles when it comes to the tabletop industry. Whilst crafting a board game around romance without making it another shallow party game is difficult - though there are exceptions like Fog of Love - there’s no excuse when it comes to tabletop RPGs.

The tabletop roleplaying game feels like the perfect landscape for romance and sex stories to thrive within - especially when it comes to more modern TRPGs, where the goal is often to develop bonds between characters rather than win battles. We’ve seen some examples of romances between characters in actual play shows, such as Vex and Percy or Beau and Yasha within Critical Role. Nevertheless, they’re often romantic and/or sexual entanglements taking place within a wider narrative and using gameplay systems intended for combat and adventure, rather than heated encounters or hidden desires.

Star Crossed roleplaying game art 2
Star Crossed is a great tabletop RPG that combines intense romantic encounters with Jenga. Image: Bully Pulpit Games.

There are some tabletop roleplaying games that do put a focus on romantic and/or sexual relationships – such as the fantastic, and incredibly queer, Thirsty Sword Lesbians and Monster Hearts – yet they're usually just one feature within the game, rather than the purpose of playing. There’s even a TRPG in which players create and act out their own telenovela, Pasión de las Pasiones, which is incredibly campy and horny in its presentation, but is still more designed around enabling the creation of melodramatic telenovela-esque storylines over specifically romantic and/or sexual plotlines.

Romance and/or sexual stories can enable us to explore some incredibly deep topics, but they can also just be a trashy.

Tabletop RPGs that are solely dedicated to allowing players to immerse themselves in fictional romantic and/or sexual storylines are far too rare. Besides one or two outliers like the anthology collection Honey & Hot Wax, the Star Crossed RPG or solo RPG, The Beast, it’s disappointing how underserved a market romantic and sexual tabletop roleplaying is. As a regular consumer of romantic and sexual fiction – whether that be books, films, video games or television – I think it’s about time more publishers stepped up and released more TRPGs for players who enjoy this genre.

This hypothetical romance and sex-focused tabletop roleplaying game wouldn’t necessarily need to take direct inspiration from anywhere in particular when it comes to setting. I like the idea of a gameplay system that’s designed around telling stories about sex and romance that also comes with a variety of potential settings, with guidance around how to run and play each one. For example, a section about running and playing a Bridgerton-esque period drama, or a section on stories taking place in fantasy worlds like the A Court of Thorns and Roses book series by Sarah J Maas.

The collection of A Court of Thorns and Roses books.
A Court of Thorns and Roses could provide inspiration for a setting for a romance and sex-focused TRPG. Image: Sarah J Maas, Juniper Books.

Every type of romantic and sexual story has its own identifiable components that make it unique, with each one offering a different kind of flavour. Some players and game masters may want to centre their storylines around an epic event that somehow pushes a cast of unlikely characters together, while others might be more interested in a complicated love triangle between friends, or some still might want to tell a story about a group of people who are looking for connection in a world that they struggle to find meaning in.

Romance and/or sexual stories can enable us to explore some incredibly deep topics like personal tragedy or identity, but they can also just be a trashy, yet highly entertaining way to smash together some characters, sexual and/or romantic tension and a heavily splash of melodrama within a story.

Putting the pen in the players’ hands gives them the opportunity to create the kinds of romantic and/or sexual narratives that they haven’t found elsewhere.

It’s often the case that we’re let down by fictional romantic and/or sexual storylines, whether they’re just badly written or portrayed, or if they enforce unhealthy stereotypes. From the depiction of certain sexual kinks in Fifty Shades of Grey or the numerous examples of stalking behaviour being rewarded in various romantic comedies such as Say Anything, there are so many ways that romantic and/or sexual narratives found in other areas of popular culture have sucked. Not to mention the regular erasure, ignorance and mistreatment of queer romantic and/or sexual storylines.

Watch on YouTube
Liv, Meehan, Maddie and Wheels play Thirsty Sword lesbians.

Putting the pen in the players’ hands gives them the opportunity to create the kinds of romantic and/or sexual narratives that they haven’t found elsewhere. Being able to play out those fictional stories themselves, without the looming creative dampener of a film executive or video game publisher, could be extremely liberating for players. Or it could just be an excuse to create your own playable White Lotus fan fiction.

Either way, as long as every player is comfortable with the experience and safety tools are being rigorously employed, it’s about time for more tabletop RPGs purely centred on sex and romance – whether destined for happiness or despair.

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Alex Meehan avatar
Alex Meehan: After writing for Kotaku UK, Waypoint and Official Xbox Magazine, Alex became a member of the Dicebreaker editorial family. Having been producing news, features, previews and opinion pieces for Dicebreaker for the past three years, Alex has had plenty of opportunity to indulge in her love of meaty strategy board games and gothic RPGS. Besides writing, Alex appears in Dicebreaker’s D&D actual play series Storybreakers and haunts the occasional stream on the Dicebreaker YouTube channel.
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