Numenera: Love and Sex in the Ninth World
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Page Count: 13
Release Date: 02/10/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Sex and Love and Roleplaying Games always seems to be an interesting concept on paper but one that tends to be pretty awkward in practice. As a pre-pubescent boy, there was no time for romance in my Marvel Super Heroes or Dungeons & Dragons game as there were evil villains to thwart. It wasn’t until I read the comic antics of Phil and Dixie in Dragon Magazine that it even occurred to me that a character might have romance or sexual liaisons. As a teenager, I saw the usual misogyny that was typical for the industry. You know what I’m talking about. Male gamers playing a female character as a horny slutty nymphomaniac or male players sexually harassing a female character in a way they would never talk to the actual female PLAYER. I saw relationships strained when a girl’s character ended up with a character played by someone other than her boyfriend. Then there are games like Vampire: The Masquerade that revel in sexuality and have copious amounts of content devoted to it. Yet even has someone who has written, edited and played that game, there is something inherently sophomoric and surreal that occurs when someone talks about “spending a blood point to have an erection” or times when you can’t help but laugh when two people are trying to act out a serious moment (but failing miserably) of seduction, sex or romance in front of their fellow players. Basically, love and sex are two concepts that are rarely pulled off well, either by the mechanics writer or by the players.
So it’s interesting to me that one of the early supplements for Numenera would be about love and sex. The last time two times I read anything devoted to these two concepts in a strictly gaming manner were the lackluster Strange, Dead Love for Vampire: The Requiem and the unintentionally hilariously awful Book of Erotic Fantasy for d20 games. I’m happy to say that Love and Sex in the Ninth World manages to have a mature discussion on romance without it degenerating into something Beavis and Butthead would “Uh huh huh huh” over or by turning the concept into nothing but mechanics and rules. You won’t find specific stats for a Level 5 Mega Syphilis or told that you must roll a d20 every day to see if you develop anal warts. You also won’t find pictures of an eight breasted female life form, if that is what you are looking for. That made me exceedingly happy because anytime you bog down concepts like lust or love with mechanics, it loses a lot. As embarrassing or awkward as it may be to role-play out provocative acts, it’s a huge disservice to make it a straight forward roll-based action.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are a few mentions of mechanics in this piece. For example, seducing a character is a Level X act based on what level the character is (plus or minus any other factors). However this brief mention in surrounding by a litany of telling you to roleplay the act. You are also given two example STDs that do have a slight bit of mechanics side to them, but the dice rolling is more akin to how you roll for a poison when it takes effect. The core of the experience, however bizarre, still revolves around the GM and player role-playing it out. There are also two pages of items (eight in all) that can be applied towards romantic situations. The Impulse Collar is like a mood ring, the Blood Boiler is the equivalent of both Viagra and the aforementioned V:TM blood point spending. There’s a cipher to help increase fertility (but not one to prevent it?) and the very odd Sexual Alteration Device which can act as anything from a girdle of gender swapping to transforming a characters sexual preference.
So while there are pieces of mechanics in Love and Sex in the Ninth World, there are very sparsely used, which is the wise decision. Still, the vast majority of gamers will still end up cracking wise about a Level 3 STD or rolling to get pregnant, and well they should. It’s an absurd concept that can’t translate perfectly from the real world to the tabletop no matter how hard one tries. The key is knowing your gaming group. If they make one or a few dry cracks about sex mechanics and leave it at that, they’re probably mature enough to handle these themes and concepts. If however, they constantly make jokes, or worse, seem uncomfortable with the idea of role-playing sexual activity or romantic liaisons, then the GM needs to backpedal their idea of including this type of content IMMEDIATELY. The game needs to be fun for everyone after all.
Content-wise you’ll see a lot of frank discussion on sexuality in the Ninth World. Sexual orientation and ideas of what constitutes gender are pretty out the window compared to our own 21st Century modern Earth. After all, in the Ninth World, you have alien life forms who may have genitalia more akin to a swarm of bees or copulate through headbutting. Male humans might have the ability to become impregnated or pregnancy itself might be replace by instantaneously generating a new life through SCIENCE. Like every other aspect of Numenera, the only limitation the game world has is the GM’s imagination. So if you want something akin to traditional gender roles or a matriarchal Amazonian society, you can have that. If instead, you want a society where there are forty-six different genders or where traditional sex has been replaced by events on the psychic or astral plane – GO FOR IT. It’s your game and this supplement encourages that type of thinking.
Primarily, the text continually points out common sense bits, like that sexual attraction is unique to each individual and how different cultures/regions/tribes/time periods find different things sexually appealing. There’s also a mention of what acts are potentially legal or illegal in Numenera, Rape of course is right out, which is a smart move. More controversial is the fact that things like prostitution, necrophilia, bestiality and pedophilia are potentially okay in Numenera, based on the cultural and people. Now that does not mean that Monte Cook Games supports NAMBLA. It simply means that due to being set a billion years in the future, things may be different. You might have a race that ages in reverse, so what looks like a nine year old girl might be a fully sexual adult. You might have a race that can only breed with the corpses of their kind. Who knows? However the fact this door is left open is a potentially dangerous one and if you are acting as GM, for Cthulhu’s sake KNOW YOUR PLAYERS, before doing anything that might turn out to be a sensitive trigger for them. If you have a player that was molested as a child, PLEASE think twice about running a society where adult on child sexual activity is acceptable. Again, common sense prevails here, but unfortunately common sense isn’t very common.
Perhaps most importantly is a three page guide for GMs on how and when to put sex into your game. The entire supplement sums up exactly what needs to be said in the first two sentences of this section. “Why do you need to have sex in your Numenera game? The most obvious answer is: you don’t.” That is spot on. If your adventure or campaign doesn’t need sex or romance to make it work, don’t force it on players. If however, a key part of the adventure you have designed does revolve in some time of emotional or physical entanglement, then by all means use it. So if your adventure doesn’t need a player to be kidnapped and used as a BDSM experiment by an alien race, don’t do it. If however, your adventure involves a NPC following in love with a PC after their dramatic rescue even though they already had a potential paramour who know swears revenge on the players for stealing their intended away – run with it. At no point does Love and Sex in the Ninth World endorse sexual content for every play session of Numenera. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Use love and sex as something special. Character development, motivation, a dramatic game changing moment, or as a plot thread when the randy Nano is caught with the wife of their employer. If you bog down a game with constant bits of sex, you’re going to come off as a creepy pervert to the other people in your gaming troupe. I really enjoy the fact that Love and Sex in the Ninth World not only takes the topics it broaches seriously, but also repeatedly mentions that they should be used sparingly and for moments of quality role-playing that help flesh out and further define PCs.
Sex and love can be really important aspects of a role-playing session. Perhaps a Glaive is on a mission to save her husband from a disease or an unscrupulous Jack has taken over a town via a pheromone spray that makes everyone asexual, thus ensuring the town will due out in a few decades lest they obey his or her every whim. Love and Sex in the Ninth World is an exceptionally well written piece that is a frank discussion on how these themes should be treated or used, not just in Numenera but gaming in general. It’s the best take on the topics I’ve ever seen because it doesn’t reduce everything to die rolls or mechanics and it’s also worded in such a way that it won’t become the butt of juvenile jokes. This supplement is basically, “Look, sex and love happens in role-playing games. Here’s how to do it right without potentially creeping someone out– if you chose to do it at all.” It’s a great piece, but definitely a very niche one. It’s not a must buy by any means due to the subject matter. You’re going to want to be comfortable with sexual discussions in general and also know your audience to make sure this supplement is suitable for your fellow gamers. Would I give this to a GM who is playing Numenera with single digit aged children? God, no. Would I give it to a bunch of middle aged virgins with Madonna/Whore complexes? God, no. Would I recommend Love and Sex in the Ninth World to be I know are mature capable people who can discuss or role-play sex/love without it degenerating into embarrassment or juvenilian jokes as a defense mechanism? Certainly. Unfortunately, those gamers probably don’t NEED to pick up this supplement. So while this supplement is very well written and the critic in me appreciates it for what it is, it’s hard to think of a large audience that will need or appreciate this. Like all RPG releases that are love and/or sex based, this is a highly niche product. Unlike most that have come before it however, Love and Sex in the Ninth World is well written and actually treats the subject matter like it should be.
Tags: cypher system, Numenera