Monday, February 14, 2011

Eros in the Dungeon

While I'm going to keep the tone of this post as clinical as possible, the subject matter may be unsuitable for the kids (who should get offa mah lawn!). Of course, I was exposed to the bulk of this material as a pre-teen... uh, KEEP OUT KIDDIES!!

This being the Solemn Feast of St. Valentine, a discussion of the topic of amatory content in gaming may be fun. While "Sex Appeal" was a "talent" in The Fantasy Trip, it wasn't really elaborated on. Having a core customer base composed mainly of adult wargamers and college students, D&D didn't shy away from "adult" content until the hobby base expanded, and the game was marketed to younger consumers, leading to such buzz-killing policies as the Code of Conduct discussed by James M.

Early on, such images of the nude on the cover of and the succubus/type V demon illustrations in the body of 1976's Eldritch Wizardry were an element of gaming literature. The cover image (painted by a woman), is more suggestive of ritualistic violence than of eroticism. While the succubus is clearly a temptress, her fellow female demon is also more of a destroyer than a seductress.

Perhaps the height of the salacious content in D&D was in the "D" section of the GDQ series of modules. The first hint of some slightly provacative content in GDQ is the depiction of Jarl Grugnir of G2 as a ham-fisted lothario, trying to force a captive storm giantess to be his "leman". The "adult" content is ramped up with the introduction of the drow in G3.

The drow, especially the "slender and shapely" females, are portrayed as creatures with extensive, though deviant, sexual appetites. Eclavdra, the "strangely attractive" evil genius behind the giants' depredations, stays in an inner sanctum decorated with tapestries of "suggestive (or lewd) nature". In D2, the devout Kuo-Toans possess a religious tract which denounces the Drow patroness as the "Mother of Lusts". In D3, the lusty nature of the drow is hammered home repeatedly in the short text of the module. The bailiff of the tower defending the cavern home of the drow "has a few lewd and erotic statuettes and tapestries decorating" his room, and the female commander of the temple guard has "several lewd statuettes" in her quarters. The high priestess of the fane has a lounge "decorated with innumerable perverted and lewd paintings, tapestries, statues, etc. Even the carpets are obscene." To amuse herself, the high priestess has a captive- "an insane human of great strength kept by Charinda for whatever purposes please her at the time. There are several whips, and torture instruments on one wall, and near them is a gag and a ring of invisibility." The clinical detatchment with which Gary Gygax describes these depravities does nothing to diminish the kinkiness.

The salacious content of 1978's D3 reaches a crescendo in the description of the City in which the bulk of the drow reside:

Beggars of all sorts are seen, and half-Drow thieves, pimps and harlots are as common as the enslaved human and elven prostitutes displayed before certain esstablishments.


The tiers and dungeons of Erelhei-Cinlu reek of debauchery and decadence, and the city's inhabitants are degenerate and effete. (Those with any promise and ability are brought out of the place to serve in the fighting societies, merchant clans or nobel houses. The rest are left to wallow in the sinkhole of absolute depravity which is Erelhei-Cinlu.) The most popular places in the city are the gambling dens, bordellos, taverns, drug saloons, and even less savory shops along the two main streets. The back streets and alleyways too boast of brothels, poison shops, bars, and torture parlors. Unspeakable things transpire where the evil and jaded creatures seek pleasure, pain, excitement, or arcane knowledge, and sometimes these seekers find they are victims. All visitors are warned that they enter the back streets of the city at their peril.

Clearly, the place described makes the Times Square of the late 70's/early 80's look like Disney World. The best models for the "average" drow of the city would seem to be the drug-addled, casually violent Sid and Nancy. D3 also has drug references that would never have passed muster a decade later- "There are various containers for wine and spirits scattered about, and several sorts of drugs (mushroom powder, poppy juice, lotus dust) are contained in gold and crystal dishes..."

To my knowledge, D3 represents the greatest extent of "adult" content in official D&D materials. The infamous Random Harlot Table of the Dungeon Master's Guide, while giggle-inducing to an eleven-year-old, is presented with the cool detachment of a naturalist compiling a list of finches.

As far as non-official D&D material, October 1977's The Dragon 10 has a article titled Orgies, Inc. by Jon Pickens, accompanied by a whimsical Trampier cartoon of goblins carousing with nymphs. The article suggests various means of separating PC's from their monetary gains, with the following suggestion for orgies:

Lusty indulgence in wine, women, and song. Maximum expenditure is 500 GP per level per night (250 GP if recuperating and under 50%). A player may orgy continuously for as many days as he has constitution points, but then must rest for as many days as he orgied.

Uh, what about the ladies? The default assumption of male readership may explain the presence of this article in the first place. A later issue of The Dragon (1980's issue 36) has an editorial by Larry DiTillio titled Painted Ladies and Potted Monks, in which the author decribes a gaming session in which he DM's for some teenage players who are stymied by the inclusion of a brothel/house o' hedonism in a dungeon, and goes on to discuss how issues of sexual matters, drug-use, and racial intolerance can be explored using RPGs (in the interest of full disclosure, I pretty much agree with this guy when it comes to issues of sexual identity/civil liberties.

The last bit of suggstive content I can recall in an official product is a brief aside in 1981's A2: Secret of the Slavers' Stockade, in which the utterly depraved Markessa has a bodyguard/boytoy whose exercise room features "a goose down matress for exercise sessions with Markessa." Hmmm... what's with those evil elf girls, anyway?

Of course, with the fan base for the game expanding to younger players, the suggestive content disappeared pretty quickly from the game. It was up to players to come up with the really depraved content (not gonna link that stuff, it's infamous enough as is).

Postscript: For an overview of the visual depictions of drow, James' post is invaluable. I think Willingham's illustrations are the best, with Erol Otus' D3 cover being excellent as well. In my mind, though, the best indication of what a female drow would look like is Man Ray's glorious, surreal image of Jacqueline Goddard:

1 comment:

  1. A nice evocative piece. Found you looking for reflections on the DiTillio op-ed but this puts it in a wider, better context. And in one Man Ray you made the drow interesting again! Thanks. Hope you write more.