Sunday, January 31, 2016

Karma Awards for Crapsack Totalitarian Sandboxes

In a typical superhero world, it's hard to have a sandbox campaign. The real superhero normally must always pursue the greatest threat they can, not a chosen target from a target-rich environment.

Not so totalitarian worlds: if the heroes are undermining the regime, you're back in a target-rich environment, where weighing chance of survival versus juiciness of target in an overall plan makes sense.

This does rather tend to undercut both the moral and social order the traditional superhero game rewards upholding here in what Hannah Arendt called "the world of the dying, in which men are taught they are superfluous through a way of life in which punishment is meted out without connection with crime, in which exploitation is practiced without profit, and where work is performed without product, is a place where senselessness is daily produced anew" you're gonna be doing less rescuing kittens from trees and more punching cops and taking their stuff.

So for my new Marvel campaign, I had to rewrite the standard Karma and Popularity awards. This should also work for other similarly terrible worlds like Days of Future Past or Darkseid's planet Apokolips. Aside from "crime" no longer being a meaningful category, I also slightly lessened the karma loss for failing to stop atrocities since basically all day it's atrocity.

I also threw in some things that just reward the players for being cool.

Karma awards:

Wear a costume in front of enemies/witnesses (ie represent a counterforce): 20
Be visibly stigmatized in front of enemies/witnesses: 15
Major act of photogenic vandalism: 5
Violence against innocent: Stop/Prevent 40
Violence against the innocent: Stop/Prevent in front of witnesses 15 more
Theft against innocent: Stop/Prevent 10
Theft against innocent: Stop/Prevent in front of witnesses: 5 more
National offense: Commit 15
National offence: Commit in front of witnesses 5 more
Local conspiracy:  Commit: 20
Local conspiracy: Commit in front of witnesses: 5 more
National conspiracy:  Commit: 30
National conspiracy: Commit in front of witnesses: 15 more
Global conspiracy:  Commit: 40
Global conspiracy: Commit in front of witnesses: 25 more
Other significant crimes: Commit: 10
Other crimes: Commit in front of witnesses: 5 more
Rescue: 20
Rescue in front of witnesses: 10 more
Multiple rescues (5+): 100
Multiple rescues in front of witnesses: 20 more
Aid anyone visibly stigmatized in any way: 10
...in front of witnesses: 5 more
Defeating foes:
-Remarkable: 30
-Incredible: 40
-Amazing: 50
-Monstrous: 75
-Unearthly: 100
-Shift X: 150
Commit violence against an innocent: -70
Destroy the property of the innocent: -50
Steal from the innocent: -30
Public defeat: -60
Private defeat: -10
Permit violence against the innocent: -10
Permit destruction of the property of the innocent: -5
Permit theft from the innocent: -2
Permit new nationwide disaster: -20
Permit other crime: -5
Permit death of innocent: -all but 10
Noble death: -50
Mysterious death: -50
Self-destruction: -50
Making a commitment: +10
Failing a commitment: -20
Random acts of aid to the underground: +popularity (max 20)
Role-playing (personality tic): +1 until it gets easy
Role-playing (very in character act): +10
Role-playing (so in character it hurts): +15
Awesome plan/idea: +15
I LOL: +5
I LOL and you're in character: +10
Make up something cool that builds the world: +5
Have a rule handy when another player needs it or otherwise lessening the GM's workload: +5

POPULARITY

Popularity scores work in reverse when dealing with anyone loyal to the Stadt.

Defeated in public -5
Accused of crime +5
General good deeds +1
Rescues +2
Witnessed committing crime +10
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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Everything Is Terrible FASERIP Character Generation Guide

So these are the character generation notes for my worst-of-all-possible-worlds FASERIP campaign.

Ignore it if you're not making a character for that game.

-If you don't have it, download the Marvel player's handbook here. This character gen system is totally different than what's in the book.

-Think up a concept, if you don't have any ideas you can start here, just ignore all the stuff about points.

-You start with 70 points to put into the basic 7 stats:
Fighting
Agility
Strength
Endurance
Reason
Intuition
Psyche

-...and 50 points to put into powers and talents.

-You may also just think of it as having 120 points total, if you want. I figured the less crunch-oriented among you would appreciate me breaking it down a little further though. An easy way to start is to put 10 in each stat and 50 in some power and then adjust from there.

-That's not a lot. If you want more points you've go to take some Disadvantages, see below.

-Popularity starts at 0, Resources start at Poor (4).

-You can pick any powers you want that fit your concept but because ranges are fucked in the original game and everything is fucked in the Ultimate Powers Book so I may alter the precise parameters of a power before play. If you need ideas, the power list is on p 72.

-Powers cost their rank--so Laser Beam: 30 costs 30. The ranks go 2, 4, 6, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 75, 100, so you can't buy like 86 of something. 6 is average, 100 is like the Hulk's strength.

-Talents (p 89) have no rank and cost 5 each. There are some other talents I've added below.

-Any extra points left over go into Karma.

-Roll your home randomly on a d6

1 Queens--Gain a language.
2 Outer Brooklyn--Gain Drive.
3 Hipster Brooklyn--Gain Trivia (subject of choice).
4 Staten Island--Gain a martial art of your choice.
5 Manhattan--Gain Heir To Fortune or a local hook-up (roll below).
6 Bronx--+1 Endurance rank.

Contacts for Manhattanites (roll d6)

1 Upper East Side/Upper West Side or North Tip
2 The General's Labyrinth (formerly Harlem/Spanish Harlem)
3 Little Italy (bigger now, encompassing Bowery and Soho as well)
4 Azocial Zone (formerly East Village/Lower East Side/West Village/Alphabet City)
5 Neo-Tokyo (formerly Chinatown, Tribeca and Lower Manhattan)
6 Joy Division (formerly Chelsea/Midtown/Hell's Kitchen)

-I'm trying this new thing where instead of rolling d100 and looking at the chart, you roll 3d20 and try to hit a target number as many times as possible. So 0 successes=White, 1=Green, 2=Yellow, 3=Red, so write all these target numbers next to the ranks each time they appear:

Shift 0: Target 20
Feeble 2: Target 19
Pr 4: Target 18
Typical 6: Target 17
Good 10: Target 16
Excellent 20: Target 15
Remarkable 30: Target 14
Incredible 40: Target 13
Amazing 50: Target 12
Monstrous 75: Target 11
Unearthly 100: Target 10
Shift X 150: Target 9
Shift Y 250: Target 8
Shift Z 500: Target 7

New Talents (again, these cost 5 each)

Familiarity (specific area)
--This means you know your way around some geographical region. The game starts in New York, now known as Vornheim, so that's a good bet of a place to start. You get a +1 to checks involving finding stuff in the Familiarity place you pick.

Well-travelled--You have been around--you know many places. This works like familiarity only, for the cost of 20 karma (during the game), you can say you're familiar with any one specific normal, populated place on Earth. Like you show up in Boca Raton and spend 20 karma and go "Oh yeah, Boca, I hate this place".

Crime/Insurgency--This is just a catch-all term for a variety of skills like stealing cars and fencing stuff and picking locks and all that. You get a +1 to checks involving these kinds of things when they come up.

Credentials--You still have some official job with the Stadt and, as of the beginning of play, haven't lost it yet.

Drive--You don't need this to just drive unless you're underage but if you've got some Fury Road shit planned, it gives you a +1 to driving stuff.

Pilot mech--You can pilot one of the Automacht's robot war machines. Without this skill you're just pressing buttons and praying.


Disadvantages--You gain points for taking disadvantages


5 pts-- Recognizable: Though not necessarily in trouble yet, you have a distinctive appearance. Any witness would be able to describe you easily. Superceded by Notorious, Visibly Low-Caste, Inhuman-looking, Visibly stigmatized, etc. --don't take those, too, you have to pick one or the other.

5 pts--No papers: You don't have any more major thing that would immediately identify you as an enemy of the Stadt, but if they ask for your papers you don't have them or even a decent forgery. Superceded by Notorious, Inhuman-looking, Visibly stigmatized, etc. --don't take those, too, you have to pick one or the other.

5 Minor Disability--This is a disability serious enough that it might affect some checks. Like missing a finger, bad hearing, blind in one eye, etc.

5 Invisible Stigma -Nobody could tell to look at you, but you fit some category the Stadt considers unfit to live--you're Jewish or gay etc etc. If someone runs your fingerprints, you're immediately caught. Superceded by Notorious, Inhuman-looking, Visibly stigmatized, etc. --don't take those, too, you have to pick one or the other.

5 per thing--Stuff-Based Powers. If you have a power that is based on a piece of equipment extrinsic to you, then you get 5 per each power (or heightened ability) that fits this description. So like if you're ability to see in the dark comes from goggles, well then take 5 points.

Half-price--Pathetic Power. ....and also take half the price off the cost of seeing in the dark, since that's a pretty wimp power. Also fitting this description: water-breathing, don't need to eat, etc. Things that don't really help immediately except in very specific situations.

10, 20, 30 or 40 "Kryptonite"--Your powers are cancelled out by (10) or you start to die if exposed to (20) some substance. If the substance is common, take 10 more. Like Green Lantern would take 20 because his powers are cancelled by yellow and yellow's everywhere. Mon-El would take 30 because he's allergic to lead.

10 Underage. You aren't old enough to go into like bars and if people see you out during school that's like probable cause right there. Can't legally drive.

10 Monolingual. Most people in the Stadt can speak German and English. If you can only speak one of those, take 10.

10 Visibly Low-Caste. You don't look full-on stigmatized, but you look visibly less than the creepy Aryan ideal, meaning Stadt officials will be real dicks to you. Severe acne or just being really short is enough. Superceded by Notorious, Inhuman-looking, Visibly stigmatized, etc. --don't take those, too, you have to pick one or the other.

10 Illiterate. Can't read.

These blue ones overlap, you can't have two of them

15 No Chill. You are extremely traumatized or angry or cowardly or something and so your role-playing awards will tend to be for behaviors that probably are pretty counterproductive, larger-saving-the-world-mission-wise.

15 Zealot. You have a genuine moral or political code you have to live up to ferociously, so your role-playing awards will tend to be for being zealous--perhaps overzealous. Perhaps to the detriment of other priorities.

20 Psychotic. You can't be counted on to make decisions and believe things that make no sense at all.

20 Serious physical disability. Like one arm, in a wheelchair, etc.

20 Visibly Stigmatized--It's obvious on sight you belong to a category of human the Stadt has declared unfit to live. Many people with serious physical disability also have this.

20/30 Notorious-You are a wanted criminal. If the Stadt only knows what you look like in-costume or out of costume that's 20 if they know either way or you wear no regular disguise that's 30.

30 Inhuman-looking. Like The Thing. Any civilian would freak out if they saw you.

40 Catastrophic disability--You're blind, paralyzed, etc.
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As an example I'll use the PC Mandy's playing, a psychic girl...

Fighting: Poor (4)
Agility: Feeble (2)
Strength: Poor (4)
Endurance: Poor (4)
Reason: Excellent (20)
Intuition: Remarkable (30)
Psyche: Incredible (40)

(So that's 104 so far)

Health: (Fighting+Agility+Strength+Endurance=) 14
Karma: (Reason+Intuition+Psyche=) 90 *
Popularity: 0 (You all start at 0)
Resources: RM 30 (Free because Bianca is from the Upper East Side and is an heir)

Powers
Mind reading: Good (10)
Telepathy: Excellent (20)
Mind Control: Remarkable (30)

(So 104+10+20+30=164)

Talents
First Aid (5)
(164+5=169 which means we're 49 pts over the limit)
Heir to Fortune (this one's free because she's from the Upper East Side)

Disadvantages
Underage (12 yrs old) (+10)
Serious physical disability (wheelchair) (+20)
Visibly stigmatized (+20)

(That adds 50 pts which leaves us with 1 extra point left over which goes back into karma, making her new karma score 91.)

(Then we add target numbers, making the final sheet...)

Bianca the Psychic Girl
lives on the Upper East Side

F: Pr (4)       Target 18
A: Fe (2)      Target 19
S: Pr (4)       Target 18
E: Pr (4)       Target 18
R: Ex (20)    Target 15
I: Rm (30)    Target 14
P: In (40)     Target 13

Health: 14
Karma: 91
Popularity: 0
Resources: Rm 30         Target 14

Powers
Mind reading: Gd (10)    Target 16
Telepathy: Ex (20)          Target 15
Mind Control: Rm (30)    Target 14

Talents
First Aid
Heir To Fortune

Disadvantages
Underage (12 yrs old)
Serious physical disability (wheelchair)
Visibly stigmatized
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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Vornheim2016

Abraham Erskine never completed the super soldier formula. 
A patriot named Steve Rogers never became Captain America. 
Allied resistance was annihilated in weeks.
What was once called The United States has been occupied for 70 years.







 The resistance begins Tuesday, February 2nd on Google + at 8pm Pacific and/or 10pm Pacific depending who's in.

If you would like to play, submit a Marvel Superheroes RPG character concept (no stats yet) below or on
Google +. Players for the first game will be chosen by lottery from the
characters I like best.
Pictures are a plus, but only if they're really good.
Characters related to the world concept preferred.

Superhero games tend to turn super-silly so I want you to start with a
low-or-mid-powered character you want to be a special little snowflake.

I'm thinking like:
Earth X
Legion of Super Heroes Vol 4
Aja/Fraction Hawkeye
Watchmen
Dark Knight Returns
Early 80s Spider-Man (with like Cloak & Dagger & Punisher)
Fantastic Four 1234
Days of Future Past
Remender/Pena X-Force
Suicide Squad
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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why Hasn't Anyone Improved On FASERIP?

Ok, I do love the Marvel Superheroes RPG but, seriously: It's 2016. Marvel Superheroes RPG came out some time before the Roman Conquest. Why isn't there a better superhero RPG yet? W. T. eff?

To establish context, let's start with the game's massive flaws:

-Character Generation Is Basically A Big Shrug
The only way to make a character is just make them up and ask the GM "is this ok?" or else roll powers totally randomly. This is fun d10 times and then you start going "Ok, can my fish man have fish powers instead of Blimp Control?" The little bibs and bobs around the edges--Aliens have a 5% chance of being able to lift 75 tons, Robots have a 2% chance, Mutants never can--seem to be aiming at genre conventions only Jeff Grubb could see. In a niche where it's already very hard to get the players to keep a straight face, Marvel's character gen system does not help.

-Low-Powered Heroes Feel Alike:
Well ok Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, he'd have....Martial Arts A, B, C, D, and E, surely? I mean, he's not the fucking Bachelor of Kung Fu. And Captain America has...the same. There's no real way to have Cap be unbelievably hardcore and Shang Chi to be also unbelievably hardcore but in a different style.

-Magic is Half-Assed:
Just like in the comics, really. In the basic set it's just like regular powers except called 'magic', with the special magic book it's suddenly immensely complicated to the point of almost being a whole new game. Plus lots of Michael Golden pictures of Dr Strange.

-Without the Ultimate Powers Book You're Screwed. With It, You're Also Screwed:
In the basic set Energy Absorption just allows you to avoid damage from energy but not to like do anything with it. Which is how energy-absorbing powers work in exactly no comic books ever. But then so you get the Ultimate Powers Book and you can have it work like you expect but then like there are tons of wonkily-written accidental hyperpowers like Temperature Control that basically let you kill anyone instantly.

-Leveling Up Isn't Interesting:
Your stats incrementally go up with experience. Today you're Spider-Man, but tomorrow you'll be...stronger Spider-Man.

-It's from 213 AD:
Elektra's dead, Ice Man's in the closet, Iron Man is red and white with triangles holding his arms on. Also Ronald Reagan is president. This is worse than the Wildstorm universe.


Why Is It The Best Anyway?

-Character Gen Will Not Sap Your Will To Be
Character gen in Marvel may be a mess, but unlike in Champions and its descendants Mutants & Masterminds and Wild Talents, it's not trench warfare. These systems want to help you make new superpowers. which is nice because lots of gamers like to invent new superpowers--but unfortunately only a relative wee few want to sit alone and learn what amounts to a proprietary analog programming language just to make a character. Like I said before: a system that makes a new player choose between Enhanced Disarm and Disarming Finesse is not for anyone I know.

-Combat Is Unpredictable And Kinetic
Damage is standardized in FASERIP--a She-Hulk punch pretty much always does 75 health. But this simplification is made to allow space in the standard combat round for a greater complexity--namely, a degrees-of-success system which means the game tells you whether that punch just hurts, stuns the opponent, or knocks them through a wall. Same goes for every other kind of damage. This is FASERIP's main and indispensible feature: the 4-color chart ably and easily makes every category of comic-book attack from kicking to slicing to setting a mother on fire feel and work a different way--especially once you get the hang of the dodge and evasion mechanics for the weaker, quicker characters. You can have a session that's nothing but one long fight and like it--just like a comic. Compared to FASERIP, everything else is just D&D with shinier clothes on. Except Wild Talents which is just roll roll FUCK WHAT HAPPENED THIS TIME I DON'T KNOW HOLD ME I'M SCARED.  And Marvel Heroic which is just playing Artisanal Yahtzee and then claiming those dice represented something Deadpool did.

-Karma means Hippies and Metalheads can play together:
The FASERIP karma system--basically spendable xp--is neat in itself because it warps combat and risk based on how much a PC has managed to spotlight themself. The nice thing about this is you can get karma for defeating foes or role-playing or just acting heroic and responsible--so the guy who spent all morning properly working out Hawkeye's struggle to get his DVD player plugged in and the player who is worried about whether the Widow's Bite can be used to feed-back through the electrical system and short-circuit the mandroid can easily have fun during the same fight because the former's community theatre aspirations add as many karma points to their attack roll as the latter's tactical chops. Shoepixie loves this game. Proving Ron Edwards was wrong for like the 90th time.

-Actual Good Adventures:
Marvel Superheroes holds the record for RPG with the most official published adventures that do not suck: 2. Nightmares of Future Past and Secret Wars.  And not just because they're inoffensive and based on fondly-remembered storylines: they're genuinely avant-garde even today--with Nightmares being designed around a nifty paranoia mechanic overlaid on your hometown and Secret Wars presenting a hex-war with random events slotted in. These were really good ideas for adventures in that neither-full-railroad-nor-fully-location-based netherzone of module formats nobody ever bothers to follow up on, so far as I know. Plus on top of that, the other adventures aren't terrible, owing perhaps to every RPG writer secretly having a slowly-nursed Marvel pitch in their back pocket for years--Cosmos Cubed has Galactus being split into weird entities named Gal, Ac and Tus.

-It's All Free:

-Nobody Else Is Trying
The major game companies seem to be perfectly happy with slide-rule crunchmonsters that keep all but the most dedicated nerds away and the smaller ones are going for light-and-airy approaches where the players and GM make up all the surprises themselves and the game just tells you who wins. Which is weird, because you'd think in this era where there are live DC and Marvel shows all over tv, the Avengers movies are selling faster than flak jackets in Damascus and even a fucking Suicide Squad movie can afford Will Smith and Jared Leto somebody would see the angle in a fast-paced, newbie-friendly superhero RPG with a rich library of powers to play with and a system that keeps throwing monkeywrenches into any attempt to play boring. And the shame of it is all they'd really have to do is set their targets on the few places where FASERIP falls down and build on what Grubb and company already did.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Children's Pythons

Among the clans of the Black Ocean, the zoological affinities of the Northernkind are reversed, such that the mammal is considered a threat and the reptile an ally.

At birth, each child is assigned a python, for companionship, protection from the depredations of monkeys and to aid in gathering fruit. The child will frolic, sleep and share food with the python and the sight of a child without one triggers the equivalent of an Amber alert.

When the python dies, its skin is read--all snakes are books and all python species of the Black Ocean Isles are biographies. The tale told determines the future caste of the child or--if it belongs to one of the Old Genders--the child's future spouse.

Oh also, check it I'm on TSR's Game School podcast along with Satine.
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Monday, January 25, 2016

To Tim Kask And TotalCon,

(Note: I contacted Kask privately before posting this, just saying I wanted to talk. He didn't answer.) 

Dear Tim,

I'm Zak. I've read a lot of your Dragonsfoot threads over the years about the early hobby and, like everybody else, read a lot of Dragon back in the day.

Since one of the biggest genuine problems in RPGs is men speaking for women I want to limit what I say here as much as possible, and simply use this blog (just because it's one a relatively large number of people in RPGs read) to deliver a message to you and to my readers and then step aside, in the hopes that we have dialogue instead of dueling monologues.

There's been a lot of controversy that all started with this blurb for your For Ladies Only game at TotalCon:

This adventure is written specifically for the wives, girlfriends and daughters of gamers, as well as those females wishing to delve into the field without a lifelong commitment. It has been boiled down to the basics of role-playing as it used to be: A sheet of paper, some dice, a pencil and some numbers on that paper accompanied by an open mind and a sense of adventure. Ladies, come see what all the fuss is about

Let me summarize what I'm pretty sure about--

-There are women who are smart and have done cool things for the RPG scene who found this  language condescending.

-There are women who are smart and have done cool things for the RPG scene who have not found this language condescending.

-You didn't mean to be condescending. (Intent isn't everything.)

-Some of the folks on your Facebook page were incredibly douchey to one of the women who raised the issue even after she had wished you well about your event.

-You wrote a post responding to this controversy which ended with the words: "By the way,  I hold a Master's in Education; I am reasonably certain that I know what I am doing."

-Everyone I've talked to about this finds that sentence deeply condescending.

-I find that sentence condescending. I think it was meant to be condescending by any reasonable use of the word. I know because I'm condescending all the time.

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My bit:

Making people angry online (even accidentally) is something we all do. Who you choose to patch things up with and talk to and who you tell to fuck off reveals which of those people you value.

Everyone in my corner of the DIY RPG community values women who were upset by your handling of this, including, for example, Stacy Dellorfano--the woman who built the best online con in gaming.

They have been through a lot, with a lot of genuinely condescending, genuinely sexist RPG guys telling them what to do.

Whether or not they have judged you for what you wrote in your blurb, or how you handled it, we are now going to judge you on whether you value Stacy and other young women who have been trying to improve life for women in the RPG scene over the years enough to listen and talk this out with them--without pulling rank, without blocking anyone, and without your friends and fans jumping in on the conversation to defend you or plus each other.

If you don't, it will ratify our worst suspicions about what you think of the women who are trying to keep up and spread enthusiasm for the hobby you contributed so much to over the years. You can extend a hand to the next generation of female gamers, or you can slap it aside.

I don't care where you have that conversation, but I think you need to do it. You aren't obliged to care what I think, of course, but that is the point: you are being judged on what part of the RPG community you care about. I do not think you want to or should choose these women as your enemies and if you don't indicate a willingness to continue a dialogue with them, you are doing just that.

Sincerely,
Zak
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Sunday, January 24, 2016

smh sunday


Cam Banks needs to read more Cam Banks.
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Anyway, on to better things:

These maps are neat (though I put Voivodja in a totally different place)

Alex Schroeder on innovation in the OSR--with a ton of links to cool stuff.

The collective folklore of Miami street kids.

There's a new Death & Doom metal thread on G+ and there's some great stuff (LORD MANTIS!!!!), if you're not in my RPG circles, send me a link to your page and ask to be in.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

An Art Lesson From the Late Goblin King


2000something. Miami Beach. Late and everyone's drinking.

The girls are talking about their first crushes, they're all inhuman and inexplicable--cartoon characters, Boba Fett, bears, tigers, aliens.

When it comes around to Sasha Grey's turn she says "David Bowie in Labyrinth," because Sasha has to be stylish all the time.

Then immediately the girls were like Yeah, definitely, David fucking Bowie in Labyrinth.

Last night a young grown-up in the middle-stages of Bowie-grief told me, quite seriously "Jareth formed the basis of my entire sexuality." This is common enough that magazines have whole articles about it...

Labyrinth has sexuality in it the way a Pathfinder book with a boob pirate on the cover does--only by implication. Though there's no actual sex at all in that movie (that story), it would be completely different if you kept the text the same but changed the images so the utterly sexualized Jareth was some gnarly unfuckable goblin dude (Dark Crystal) or an older woman (Wizard of Oz) or something else. It would mean and feel and be something different--the theme of temptation, the whole metaphor about growing up, that twilight alone-in-the-big-house-teenager-feeling, all that would've landed with a different impact. And it was a massive impact--when Bowie died, Labyrinth was trending on Twitter right next to Heroes and Ziggy and Moonage Daydream. 

This all illustrates something often overlooked and difficult to convincingly articulate in the heat of the mercifully-less-common-but-still-depressingly-possible conversations about barbarian biceps and chainmail bikinis in D&D and its cognates: namely, that sexuality in these stories isn't just a detour from the story dropped in to please (or upset) some segment of the audience. It's not the thing the word "fanservice" tries to suggest it is: it's a functional part of what makes worlds we know are fake resonate in the minds of people who only live in the real world. It is part of the fabric of the story--inevitably and every time. It needs to be inasmuch as any other part of the story needs to be if it wants to be that story. 

The fantastic has resonance because it reminds you of something, but transformed, and everyone (everyone) has a time and a place they can go to in their lives when sex was a scary, dark, poorly understood thing.

A great deal of what's in fantastic stories works by accessing the dream- and child- consciousness, by ricocheting around the mind's defenses, and pulling on the mind's strings by coming through a side-door. Sex is not just a thing that's there to bring in the teenagers--it's part of human consciousness and fictions are about fucking with human consciousness, and when any common part of the human experience is too strenuously avoided in a fiction it becomes conspicuous by its absence and the whole thing feels janky and artificial and fails to leave a mark in the mind. How many High Courts full of characters as plausible as Ken dolls do we owe to TSR's mid-80s sexphobia?

It's really easy to point to examples of artists who use sexuality as part of the palette--besides Bowie, there's nearly every other pop musician on the planet, in art there are the Beardsleys and Schieles, in fiction, even the Bible has the Song of Songs--but for some reason people let the geniuses who talk about tabletop games pretend that even in games for adults sexuality is some removable crowd-pleasing genre convention, like katanas or some shit. Can we get over our embarrassment and just point out how frankly fucking immature that is?

Maybe us porn stars are the only people who can say this, since when anyone else does it they're immediately attacked as being some desperate slob whose only glimpse of a boob is the Monster Manual succubus. The succubus is there for the same reason Jareth was: it tries to tell that particular story.  Let he or she who doesn't ever want to look at a stranger's ass cast the first stone. And then pick it up and go away because you're boring.

Sex, like any other thing in a story, can be handled without finesse--it can be done clumsily (Apocalypse World), it can be done tastelessly (Death Love Doom), it can be done naively (Blue Rose), it can be done tediously (Monsterhearts), it can be done hamfistedly (Isle of the Purple-Haunted Putrescence), and it can be and will be done not to your own special snowflake taste and orientation over and over and over and over and over again in a million ways because not everyone is you, but it can't ever be done gratuitously--because these stories are about people and their imaginations and sexuality is not a gratuitous or peripheral part of the human imagination.

If you want more Bowie-sexy and less cleavage-sexy in your game art, ask for it and blame art directors if they don't give it to you--but don't pretend there's something wrong with an artist painting what they want to look at. If the people at your table start getting creepy when sex comes up: kick them out like a goddamn grown-up, put that right there in the rules if you have to. But if you're going to pretend it's only there for horny fourteen-year olds, please fuck right off and leave the world to those who actually live in it.
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