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Sunday 10 January 2016

RPGPundit Interviews Venger Satanis: Just What Do We Need Smut in RPG Books For?

I'm a huge fan of smut as a rule, but not so much in my RPG play for reasons I've already outlined before. "Eroticized D&D play" is not something you're likely to ever see at my gaming table.  But it's being increasingly pushed by a certain subsector of the OSR, specifically James Raggi, Geoffrey McKinney, Venger Satanis, and James Desborough.

So I decided to talk to Venger Satanis about it.  He, like me, is a wizard. Unlike me, he worships Cthulhu and the rest of the lovecraftian gods as if they were real. That may or may not be relevant here, but I love reminding people about it.

So, let's get started!


PUNDIT:  you could start by giving a brief description of what Alpha Blue is all about
Second, by answering the question: How does Alpha Blue approach eroticism in a way other rpgs don't?

SATANIS: Alpha Blue is a space station brothel in the 23rd century.  It's a bit like a futuristic Vegas, but everything about Alpha Blue (the setting and game) is meant to be viewed from a 1970's and 80's perspective.  Although, if I had to pick just one year, it would be 1979.  

Mechanically, it's a cross between Crimson Dragon Slayer and The Outer Presence.  Humor-wise, it leans towards CDS.  There are a lot of jokes and referential nods to nostalgic sci-fi packed in there and that's supposed to be half the point of playing it.  

What I've done with Alpha Blue is to just "go for it" with the attitude that I've got nothing to lose.  A larger, "professional" RPG company probably wouldn't include a table for sexual fantasies and fetishes or venereal diseases.  It's fun and sexy like an 80's raunchy lampoon film, but also a bit sick and dark in a 70's exploitation kind of way.


SATANIS: It's quasi-O5R compatible. 

PUNDIT: Why do we need eroticism in RPG products?

SATANIS: Eroticism isn't necessary in RPGs, and I completely understand why most gamers wouldn't want to touch it with a ten foot pole (pun intended).  Listening to some old, bearded guy talk about his character's erection is not my idea of the perfect evening.  But, on the other hand, roleplaying is escapism, a way into a strange, new world that I prefer to the real one (most of the time).  But why escape if there's no chance for a hot and dirty time?

(not all the stuff in Alpha Blue is erotic, apparently; at least, I HOPE Venger doesn't find this erotic):

PUNDIT: You took, intentionally or not, that line about 'listening to an old bearded guy talk about his PC's erection" right out of my review of your previous product "How to Gamemaster Like a Fucking Boss". Given that you admit that 'most gamers' would not want to have this sort of thing in their game, why is this a somewhat repeated theme in your products?

SATANIS: I've heard similar reservations elsewhere (many times, in fact).  But yours was the freshest in my mind.  

There's a certain amount of squeamishness that must be overcome if one is going to pursue eroticism in gaming.  Personally, I think the rewards outweigh the potential gross factor.  Just like if a male friend was telling me about his date with another man.  My first instinct might be to think or say, "Yuck!"... but that's just my own personal preferences I've got to get over.  

Sex is a fundamental aspect of human beings and I think representing sexuality is a vital part of roleplaying games.  And to get even more personal, that's my jam.  Maybe it's because I'm part French or I went so long without a girlfriend (before teaching myself how to become a pick-up artist by reading books - NERD) or perhaps it's just the way I was born.  

Now that I'm married, watching porn, daydreaming fantasies, and roleplaying sex stuff are really my only ways of exploring unknown territory.  The fact that sex in RPG material is under-represented makes it a good business decision, too - at lest from an underground or indie perspective.

PUNDIT: I have to question how much of this is just attention-getting. Because seriously, the only people I see doing this stuff are people who have (even more than me) made a career out of courting controversy: you, James Desborough, and to a lesser extent Jim Raggi. I have to question whether you actually roleplay with these elements in your game. I have to question whether anyone does. I certainly don't. Zak Smith's group is full of porn stars and I'm betting even they have much better things to do than roleplaying out sex scenes.
So if you want to admit that this is all just for promotional value, and that your product has other virtues and you're just using sex to get attention for yourself and court controversy, fine. I'd be totally cool with you doing that, fooling the rubes and all, as a capitalist.  But if you're seriously arguing that that this has merit besides for publicity purposes, I have to ask: what is the merit? Why should it matter? ESPECIALLY if almost no one will ever ever use it, how can you claim that there is a value to having it?

SATANIS: No, it's genuine, alright.  If I wanted to make more money, I'd do something safe and boring.

Yes, I occasionally include various forms of sex in the games I run.  I don't beat anyone over the head with it, but those elements are in there and I'm cool if players want to pick up the potential bones I'm laying down.

Opening up the floor to sex also allows for love, cuddling on the space beanbag, lady and the tramp-ing a space chocolate milkshake, etc.  Just because XXX is ok, doesn't mean that PG13 is off the table.  

As for why it should matter... why should cleaving a person's skull in two matter?  Is it something I like?  Pretend there are two boxes.  One for yes, the other for no.  If I check the "yes" box, then I want to put it into a roleplaying game, campaign setting, or adventure.  One might just as well ask why there's nudity and sex in shows like Game of Thrones?  Because it's what a lot of people like.  

I might have been apprehensive about including naughty things in my games a decade ago, but now I'm like, "Why the fuck not?"

PUNDIT:  But RPGs are not HBO shows. Seeing Daenerys in a nude scene is very different then hearing the semi-autistic 340lb guy in the filthy t-shirt across from you at the table talking about how he's butt-fucking a barely-legal tiefling prostitute. 



"Why the fuck not" is because having make-believe sex roleplayed in a game is awfully close to something like jerking off on the internet, and I wouldn't want to see even my good looking friends doing that.
Now, you have yourself admitted that most people, most gamers, will not be interested in doing this stuff at the table.
If you still want to cling to the notion that you're not doing this for publicity (I'm not denying that you could be doing it out of personal interest, but that doesn't mean you aren't ALSO doing it for attention), are you willing to admit that its likely the people who are buying this are buying it more out of some kind of 'collecting' interest than for actual use at the table?

SATANIS: True, RPGs are not HBO shows.  But, in my opinion, they're closer than any kind of board game, card game, computer game, or cosplay.  Immersion-wise, isn't a show like Game of Thrones what many of us are trying to emulate?  

Using your example of the 340lb semi-autistic filth guy... I would rather not have him describe his character's platemail.  In fact, I'm not sure I want his dice co-mingling with mine on the game table.  Sometimes, a Game Master doesn't have a choice.

If roleplaying sex is like jerking off on the internet, then wouldn't talking about sex with friends also be like jerking off on the internet?  I don't know about you, but I've never gotten an erection from hearing about a friend's hookup or discussing strategies for making a move on the first date.  Sure, roleplaying sex can be uncomfortable or disgusting, but it can just as easily be beautiful or satisfying or rewarding.

I'll admit that the attention doesn't bother me.  Recognition is awesome, so I'm glad to have it in whatever form it comes in.

I hope the majority of purchasers are using my works in some capacity, rather than just taking up room on a bookshelf.  Ultimately, though, that's for the owner to decide.  I can't force him to run a session of The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.

Maybe a paradigm shift is approaching, and 10 years from now sexual content in RPGs will be the norm.

PUNDIT:  Finally, what about those gamers that most definitely DON'T want to add in descriptive RP about erotic encounters to be played out on the table? Does Alpha Blue have anything for them that would make it worthwhile to purchase anyways?  How easy would it be to divorce those things from the smut?

SATANIS: The eroticism and sex can definitely be downplayed.  As in, the diplomat assassin named Qarl needs to get information from an Alpha Blue satisfier named Lyssa.  Instead of going into any detail, the Space Dungeon Master and player can agree that "they hook up".  Afterwards, Qarl searches around Lyssa's pad, looking for clues.

Can Alpha Blue be used for something completely different?  Well, it's not suited for hard sci-fi (no pun intended) because the rules are so light and interpretive - I would describe them as neo-old school.  But if a group simply wants an easy-to-play 70's sci-fi simulator without any kind of sex stuff, emulating Star Trek (even though that was the late 60's), Blake's 7, or Space: 1999, I think there's still a lot of value to be had.  However, Alpha Blue might not fully blossom until you add in stuff like Ice Pirates, Flash Gordon, and The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue.

Alpha Blue is on sale Monday, January 11th at DriveThruRPG.  1/11 is Kort'thalis Publishing Day!


So, this concluded the interview. Satanis said, in a hopeful tone "maybe 10 years from now sexual content in RPGs will be the norm".  

I sure fucking hope not. Is that the "norm" you want to see in this hobby? Do you want us to become like the Furry-fandom hobby, which went from samurai adventures and ninja turtles and sci-fi stories to being best known for illustrations of diaper porn, "cub bondage", nine-penised fox-herms and other fetish stuff that completely swamped and washed away any other theme in (or value to) the genre?

Do we want RPGs to be about going into dungeons to kill orcs, or watching your fellow players describe intimately just how they're engaging in a three-way watersport gang-bang with them? 

What do you think?


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Oversize + H&H Beverwyck


  1. Good interview. I enjoyed it....

    In a strange way this feels like deja vu to me. I loved Mechanations of the Space Princess and lost it with Desborough when he went on to make a Gorean game. Likewise, I love Crimson Dragon Slayer but am not interested in Alpha Blue. I'm sure Venger put his heart and soul into it (or at least somebody's heart and soul ;-) but it's just not for me.

    In both instances it's not the sex or sleaze that attracted me to MotSP or CDS. It's the fact that these are fun and imaginative games to their very core, bursting with many non-pornographic things to love. If anything they both would probably do better without so much sex in them. People would feel more confident recommending them to their friends and word would circulate more widely, but they are what they are.

    RPG's are games played between friends and even between friends there are boundaries you don't cross. It's one thing to point out a hot chick at a bar. It's something totally different to go on and on at length about what you want to do to her. That's just creepy. And done by the 340 pounder in the basement of a convention hall? Even creepier.

    So, I hope this is not the future, but at the same time I do hope that both Des and Venger go on to create more stuff and remain honest to their artistic visions. It's a bit like NIN, they're a great band that does a lot of controversial stuff, but do I want every outfit out there to sound like them? Ah, hell no.

  2. I was also thinking of what happened with the furry fandom, and I also think that would be a terrible thing to happen to RPGs.

    I have no problem with sex as a theme in games per se. I've had players who say their characters visit a brothel during downtime, for example. But that's usually the end of it. And it's not about prudishness, it's simply that it's not part of the game. I've also had players say that their characters are going to eat something. That's also something people do, but there's no need to drag it out. Imagine someone going into detail about breaking off a piece of bread, dipping it in their stew, chewing it, washing it down with ale, etc. I wouldn't want that at my gaming table, even though - unlike with sex - I have no issue with someone doing that right in front of me at a restaurant. It's not that it's "taboo," it's that it's not part of the game.

    But let's say someone does want that much detail about sex in their game, and let's say everyone at the table is on board with it. Fine. What could you possibly need a rulebook for? I don't need a detailed rulebook for sex anymore than I need a rulebook on how to handle PCs who are wine connoisseurs.

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  6. People are complex, and they want a variety of different things from the games they play. That said, sex (or its absence) is generally up to the individual participants and shouldn't require any specific mechanics, so we leave that alone. In Pits & Perils, we reference (briefly) prostitutes as possible informants for thieves who start their own den. Because, on the other hand, these things DO exist. But then, lots of other things do as well...

  7. Really liked this interview. The thinking GMs' take on "sex and D&D." Really.

  8. Thanks for the comments, guys! I appreciate the feedback.

    If one believes virtual reality is synonymous with porn, then the same will be thought of RPGs.

    1. I have no problem with porn. I just don't want my D&D to be porn. There's already something that handles that need: Porn.

  9. Why smut in games? For my part, I'd say it's so we can take on the subject with a little bit of maturity, and start a dialogue so that not talking about it makes immature comments come out. Which is the norm RIGHT NOW.

    And your "Furry-fandom hobby" argument is completely out of line. Aside from me being tired of people using Furry as the punchline to everything, pointing the the extremes of fandoms doesn't tell us anything about the fandom in general.

    If it did, we can say rape porn is softcore porn, all Germans were Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members are run of the road Christians. So...please don't. There are better ways to discuss this. :(

    1. Except in the case of furries, the extreme became the mainstream. If the majority Germans in Germany today still voted National Socialist (and those who didn't want a Nazi government left in disgust), it'd be fair to say that Germany is a Nazi country. But they don't, so it's not.

  10. I've written an extensive article on sexually transmitted diseases (1/2 or more were fictional diseases I created) for my blog. As I explained in an intro to the piece, I did it because I thought there was something adult missing from games that focus so heavily on dangerous situations and making desperate decisions every session. Drugs, alcohol, and sex are components of our contemporary social dangers and I felt they could be used to accentuate the fantasy dangers of RPGs. If nothing else they offer a GM the opportunity to complicate the lives of PCs and increase the impact of in game decision making.

    I wrote STDs as if they were communicable traps that a PC carries around in their body, becoming more threatening the further removed the PC is from the moment the trap was sprung, at least that was how the diseases were conceived to function. Drugs and alcoholism are other traps I want to write about. Imagine how addiction could complicate delicate operations or the stress of withdrawal taking hold of a PC while the party is lost in underground caverns being being stalked. That's a seriously fucked up situation that now just shit all over itself.

    Sex definitely has a place in games, that doesn't mean all games obviously, it all depends on the players. But for fucks sake it IS THEE PRIME MOTIVATOR of humanity why wouldn't it be a huge part of down time for suddenly wealthy, over confident adventurers wanting to unwind whether it's in the Fat Red Dragon Inn or Alpha Blue space station. The adventures to be had within a space brothel sound like outrageous and extreme fun with far reaching consequences that will pop up later in the campaign.

    But hey, this is familiar territory to me. I was reading underground comix at 11 years old and was such a devout fan of Heavy Metal magazine as a young kid that Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius, once joked with me that I was a "very naughty little boy" for reading it. So to me this is just an obvious entertainment avenue to drive my adult RPGs down.

    I'm just curious about how the Pundit came to know so much about the Furry community.

  11. I'm not interested in tattooing babies. Oh wait, you guys are talking about something just as cringe-worthy.

  12. As someone who writes smut (currently as a hobby, but that's to chang) I've given a lot of thought to the topic. In literature combat is less about what happens than what happens afterwards. Specifically what it changes. But in RPGs combat tends to be about the process itself. But in erotic literature it's the process, the sexual event, that the reader is interested in. Specifically who fucks who and how. But in RPGs we're less interested in thep process and more concerned about the results. Such as in Jeff Reints' carousing tables which includess such things as waking up in bed with the inn keeper's daughter and facing an immediate crossbow wedding.

    Sex, when it appears (in literature and RPGs), can be broadlyc classed into three or four levels of expression, depending on where you slice it.
    1) Sex happens but the whole thing is out of shot. The hero makes a pass at the barmaid, she reciprocates and we cut to the following day. This is the level that most people are comfortable with.

    2) Heavy petting. We stay on the hero and barmaid as they flirt and tease one another. We get how into each other they are and how much they plan on getting in to each other. We follow them to the hero's room and the door closes in our faces. Cut to the next morning. Somebody may quip about the noise over breakfast. I've played in games where this was the standard. One campaign in particular where getting laid was part of every PC's motivation.

    3) Full on Smut. We follow the hero and barmaid into the room. We get a blow by blow account of what they get up to. Eventually somebody falls asleep (author, reader or character) and we cut to the morning. While I'd happily write this I don't know of anyone who would want to consistently play this in a party environment.

    Essentially the more important the sex and what follows the more you should focus on the encounter but there's always a cut off point and that point has to be comfortable for everyone at the table.

    Anyway I've rambled enough.

    1. Good typology, though for me #2 is 'Smut', like the 'Carry On' & 'Confessions of a Milkman' films of the 1970s; #3 is 'porn', Most games are #0 (no sex) or your #1. Pundit seems to assume any sexual element means #3, ignoring #2 which is the typical level for eg 1980s Sword & Sorcery films. So my own games are either #1 or (less commonly) #2, and I don't think this means any risk of #3 and a descent into Furry-style madness & perversion!

  13. There is a ton of fantasy in porn. So now there is porn in fantasy. big deal. If you are the DM, then you must know your players. Buy the published stuff or don't. But if you buy it, then you get to decide whether or not to USE it. Remember that the published stuff is just there for the DM to use when the player "goes there". Use it, or don't. The thing about Venger that I like is...he ain't no pussy when it comes to giving you visuals when you need to "Go there" as a DM.

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  15. "Do we want RPGs to be about going into dungeons to kill orcs, or watching your fellow players describe intimately just how they're engaging in a three-way watersport gang-bang with them?"
    And I like Alpha Blue's approach, so I sure wouldn't mind the "coming change of paradigm".
    BTW, the change has already happened if you're into things like Vampire: the Something games (yes, edition doesn't matter here) or similar genres. So no, I didn't buy Alpha Blue because it's the first of it's kind. I bought it because it's the first of its kind in space, and because I wanted a detailed place in a space setting that would offer more opportunities than just "you approach a space station". Or rather, a place that begins with that sentence, and then you get the fine print.
    And if the players don't want to deal with such stuff, they don't have to. Picking up a Satisfier in Alpha Blue is not just voluntary, it requires you to make some effort to persuade her.
    Also, playing a game with sex in it doesn't necessarily include a "blow-by-blow" (pun intended) account of the sexual escapades, unless both the player and the GM are fine with it. And if they are, a setting that includes openly sexual themes is primarily giving them a topic for a conversation - a conversation during which they might realize that the other party is fine with such content, too (if they haven't made it clear, as many RPG players are otherwise loathe to talk about such stuff).
    If people were having a talk about their preferences with new players, they could just add those elements themselves in any setting. Though that's the same as saying you can add dungeons to explore in any setting. Sure you can, but many people would rather have them in the setting book.

  16. Feeling the need to address sex in an RPG seems to me a lot like those activists who use their RPGs to promote their political agendas. Let the game be a game.

    And I have to say, it's really funny when people use the words "adult" and "mature" in this context, because that's not how it comes across.

  17. I for one would welcome the inclusion of sex as a plot-device to my games, as long as the entire group is okay with it and it's handled well within everyone's comfort-zones. That's why the X-card is such a good idea. However, what I wouldn't do is take my cues about how to add sex to roleplaying from a man who worships a fictional pantheon of gods and names himself after an amalgam of the villain from the D&D cartoon and the Latin word for Satan. Something about it feels just a little too desperate-frat-boy for my taste.