Pitfalls of RP: Inappropriate Sexy

When the hell did so much online RP become erotic roleplay (ERP)? When I started running games in a public forum, when I opened up a campaign to include people I’d never met, I began to encounter a style of play I had never seen before. Players contriving reasons to have their characters be naked, or falling all over each other dramatically. Literally rolling around on the ground screaming about their feelings while other PCs or NPCs were standing around with question marks over their heads. Breathing into other people’s faces with “kiss me you fool” and the like.

I was running a post-apocalyptic zombie game. There were dead people all over the place, fresh memories of headsplosions and terror in the background, and I had a few players running their characters like that – or edging in that direction like creepers feeling out boundaries for the trespass. Why?

There’s a culture clash at work here. Apparently a lot of RP on these sundry intertubes is entirely focused on romance &/or fuckin’. I’m from the era before that came to pass, so I never saw it coming. OK, wherever there’s a culture clash, there may be room for learning about each other, coming to a comfortable middle ground, right?

I’m not so sure that’s even possible. For someone who sees the entire point of RPGs as a way to get their rocks off, doing anything else has to be maddening. They certainly seemed immune to taking hints, and the one time it did blow up into a confrontation, acted incredulous that anyone would be bothered by their characters wallowing in physical PDA.

Maybe we should just recognize these are wholly incompatible ways of doing RP and part ways, but – and I don’t know if this is just because I’m the kewlest GM evar – some of these guys tried to hang on and steer things ERPy, way past the point of reason. At minimum, people with a very erotic or romantic RP style need to check their mental boners at the door, because even a tiny amount of that in the wrong place is a giant problem for the rest of us.

The main problem? Inappropriately sexual or even romantic RP can become real deal sexual harassment in a heartbeat. Even the most prudent players are going to emotionally identify with their characters at least somewhat. Forcing intimacy with them is like trying to trick or harangue women on dating sites into participating in your fetishes. The behaviors are so similar, I have no doubt that ERPers have sent unsolicited dick pics to other players before. Maybe that’s being a bit harsh, but fucking A, man. Stop sleazing on my d20.

I keep bringing up romantic RP as a separate but similar problem because it is. The “kiss me you fool” was directed at a character whose player was broadcasting discomfort all over the place and being dangerously ignored. Don’t force intimacy. Find a player who is into the same shit if you must, and do it in a private channel.

Romantic and Erotic RP can both break a scene. They are often ludicrously unrealistic, stepping outside of the scene as written to force a narrative that no other players or GMs signed up for. Like when you have characters screaming about love and rolling shirtless on the ground, when the scene as described is a filthy bathroom with five more realistically portrayed PCs and NPCs standing around watching ’em go uncomfortably.

Like when you have characters making bedroom eyes or having romantic conversations with people they met a few hours ago, when the zombies started tearing heads off. Like when you have players literally wanting to RP bonin’ in a room described as being full of the stench of death and rolly maggots.  This stuff almost always involves willful ignorance of everything and everybody in the world as described, complete disregard of scene and story.

Since the ERPers I’ve encountered are fantastically oblivious, here are some hints that you might be playing a character as inappropriately romantic or intimate:  Pretty much the same as when you make people uncomfortable in real life.  The harassed character may simply leave the room, with or without an excuse.

If they can’t get away, they may try to treat your character as if they are joking, punch ’em in the arm and say stuff like “you go, champ.”  They may drop heavy hints in-character, like reminding you of the situation (“Man, can ya believe we saw so many people turned into slime an hour ago?”) or your level of familiarity (“Funny, we hardly know each other.  What’s your grandma like?”).

If for you, RP is all about playing intense romantic or sexual relationships, recognize that it is completely incompatible with a more conventional campaign.  Everyone has to be on your page.  If anyone isn’t, they have to go, or the rest of you have to change.  Anything else is – for you – embarrassing at best, abusive and arguably criminal at worst.

I’m for real.  I know someone on the ace spectrum who is tied by social obligation to a campaign that involves other players doing ERP, and we make fun of those players sooo hard.  You’re a joke, ERPers, unless you leave normies out of your business.  It isn’t for everyone.  Drop the coercion.


  1. Golgafrinchan Captain says

    Romantic and Erotic RP can both break a scene. They are often ludicrously unrealistic, stepping outside of the scene as written to force a narrative that no other players or GMs signed up for.

    Yes. Even if they do manage to find another player who is interested in engaging, that kind of behaviour is incredibly selfish outside of a specifically ERP game. Why should other players have to wait around while they derail the campaign for their own amusement/arousal?

  2. silverfeather says

    I love this, and don’t have much to add to it but my own personal experiences.

    First, I am totally down with ERP – when it’s my husband and I playing one on one! That can actually be quite fun and intimate, and wow, I cannot imagine taking it into a general game with more people. That’s just me though, and I think it’s great if you have a whole group of people who signed up for the ERP experience. However, if even one of them just expects a “regular” game it would get unpleasant fast. Anyone assuming this behavior is okay without prior discussion is telling me quite a bit about them in the form of a giant waving red flag.

    I recently had a bad experience with this type of behavior on an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game, for those of you non-gamers ^.^) called The Secret World. The setting in the game is grim – kind of apocalyptic and Cthulhu-esque… people dying and going crazy and transforming into monsters, invasions of evil from the darkness beyond, all the good stuff.
    I met up with another player at an abandoned theme park filled with monsters and possessed rides, and we had some light RP and teamed up to defeat the evil in the park. Everything was great till we got back to “inn” to turn in the quest. Suddenly this other player’s (male avatar) emotes and RP turned very… touchy grabby. I tried to gently hint that I was not interested in this by turning my discussion back to the game’s story, but they were “oblivious” and continued trying to turn our meeting into hot sexytimes. They then emoted what they (and I am being charitable here) may have assumed was a “passionate” kiss, and what to me was a forced kiss – and I was out. I dropped all pretense at roleplaying and told them that I was in no way interested in a romantic RP session and it was time to part ways.
    They called me a bitch before I blocked their ass.

  3. lanir says

    I used to run into some degree of this occasionally a couple decades ago when I was roleplaying online more. At the time that was on text-only interfaces to MUDs (and similar software that focused more on roleplaying than killing monsters). Usually it took a little bit of work to get into those sorts of games (maybe an afternoon at most) and there were plenty of places you could run off to if you wanted to do more private or erotic roleplay. To keep things sane, there were guidelines posted about what was expected in public spaces. If someone ignored them they were usually kicked out, which wasn’t necessarily all bad for them. There were other games that catered to their style.

    The underlying problem with the behavior you’ve described has nothing to do with sex or romance though. It’s a basic lack of respect for why other people are playing. Roleplaying games are a cooperative thing. If you aren’t acknowledging what other people want out of it then you’re just trying to hijack the experience and turn the other players into props in your game. While sex ties into much more complex real world issues, you’d have the same basic problem if you told everyone you were running a comedy game and then halfway through reveal it’s really a slasher horror scenario. It’s not an impossible thing to do but it would take work to get the buy-in from the other people playing. If you just ignore them and switch as it suits you, your game is rather likely to end for lack of players.

  4. Great American Satan says

    Golgafrinch @1 – Very much so. Similar could be said of the game grinding to a halt around any kind of individual endeavor. Shadowrun had a lot of types of play like that – decking has a bad reputation.

    silverfeath @2 – Likewise! I didn’t mention I’m cool with private ERP of a more personal nature because A) I didn’t want to dilute my point and B) I felt like being mean to public ERPers because they have gotten my goat. I have no goat left. Yes! I have done that with my partner and it makes me feel even more like why the hell would anyone want to do that in front of a crowd? As for the MMO situation, that’s the kind I was imagining would be the most likely to result in standard internet sexual harassment. Imagining confirmed. Ugh.

    lanir @3 – You tell no lies. I was no doubt being a wee bit unfair with ERP people because I’ve met too many crappy ones (a few, which is too many). It’s a little sex negative of me, so I feel like a naughty boy. But for real. Agreed.

  5. Goblinman says

    Having been a part of a number of online RP communities where ERP became very prominent, I’ve come to this conclusion: ERPers are poison. That’s not to say it’s impossible to do romantic or sexual RP well, but people who focus on ERP primarily are disastrous not just for RP scenes, but for the community as a whole. Their behavior has a tendency to push out people who don’t want to have to deal with nasty kinks being shoved in their faces every time they’re trying to RP, creating a vicious cycle that leaves behind only the worst of the worst.

    I think there’s an instinct by people who value sex positivity ignore this kind of behavior, because they don’t want to come off as prudish. But when ERPers start taking over, the issue increasingly becomes one of consent. Namely, the consent of RPers who don’t want to be subjected to the ERPers kinks.

    It’s not so much that ERP is incompatible with ordinary RP: ERP is barely compatible with itself. Everyone has different things they’re going to want out of romantic or sexual RP. Unless the RP is set up specifically to address certain erotic themes, with the consent of all players involved, that kind of stuff should be strongly forbidden. Take it private, or don’t do it.

  6. Great American Satan says

    Very well said, Goblin! Fortunately enough of the players in my online games were in the NO THX camp that the ERPers ended up feeling more alienated. I think we’re mostly sorted out now.

  7. Rick Pikul says

    There’s a culture clash at work here. Apparently a lot of RP on these sundry intertubes is entirely focused on romance &/or fuckin’.

    That’s pretty much exactly what it is. There has long been a mostly independent line of RP development online that is about social and described physical interaction rather than the conflict found in tabletop RPGs. This ranges from the basic bits of describing what one would do if they were face to face with someone in RL, (e.g. “I’m so sorry that happened to you {gives a hug}”), to detailed scenes done with characters and a chat system that supports posing and actions, (such as a MUCK[1]).

    [1] Yes, some of them are still around.

  8. Great American Satan says

    Posing and actions? I’m reminded of people who mod the Sims to have giant wangs and eliminate the pixel censorship. I’m also wondering now what kinks Goblinman was referring to. No… Don’t tell me. :-[

  9. dianne says

    Romance and/or sex can work in games, in the right context. I played in an Ars Magica campaign where a major subplot was two PCs (neither played by me) falling in love, getting married, and having more living children than is really plausible in a medieval setting. (That last bit was my fault: my wedding gift was a magic ring that assured that their children would be born strong and healthy.) This all worked because the game has “then life as usual goes on” component where you explain what you’re doing when you’re not adventuring.

    I’ve also played TFOS, which essentially revolves around the attempts and failures of, well, teenagers from outer space to get it on with humans. They always fail because sex is dramatic, failure to have sex is comedy.

    I think the critical elements to making it work were having everyone be on board with whether sex was a part of the game or not and leaving the explicit details out. Except when they were necessary, like it’s important to know that you’ve finally found a secluded spot together and are about to kiss when Kirk and Spock beam down right between the two of you…

  10. Great American Satan says

    I’m gonna pretend the kink Goblinman referred to was K/S so I can sleep at night.

  11. Goblinman says

    As far as kinks go, it’s not any specific kink, per se, as it is characters that have been obviously designed to service one or more kinks. They tend to be such an integral part of the character’s design that it’s impossible to interact with them without acknowledging it in some way. (For a fairly tame example, I knew one guy who could barely go a sentence without referencing how fat his characters were.)

    The “really nasty” ones are… really nasty. I’m not going to go into details unless someone here asks me to.

    Oy. I have far more knowledge on this topic than I would like.

  12. dianne says

    Excuse my ignorance, but what’s K/S? And how dumb am I going to feel when you give me the obvious answer?

  13. Siobhan says

    Sex-positive kinkster as well as roleplayer here:

    Sex-positivity insists that consent is necessary for voyeurism/exhibitionism to be ethical. In other words, actually sex-positive people don’t put their stuff on display on front of people who haven’t agreed to see it. From that lens, I also condemn sexy RP times in open chatrooms or in group games where that hasn’t been established as the focus. So no, I don’t think sex-positive people are blind to this behaviour. It’s not about being prudish, it’s about acknowledging that even for the folks who can enjoy watching sex acts, its usually a headspace that doesn’t lend itself to other activities being multitasked.

  14. freemage says

    dianne: Most likely, he was referring to the Kirk/Spock pairing in the prior post.

    GAS: There’s nothing sex-negative about wanting folks to respect boundaries of others, and that’s what you’re calling for.

    I’ve done a lot of online RP. Particularly the text-based variety allows for a lot of ‘getting inside the character’s head’, and that can very easily mean exploring the romantic and sexual habits of the character. Just as a well-done romantic scene in a movie can illuminate the characters, so too can ERP be a powerful and immersive experience, even if all you’re doing is chaste scenes of courtly longing. None of that, however, justifies violating the core rule of RPGs, which is, “Everyone is there to have fun, so if what you’re doing wrecks someone else’s fun, you’re the asshole.” It’s just as true of PvP combat as it is ERP, really.

    That said, GAS, I suspect that you’re dealing with a self-selecting sample of ERPers. The non-crappy ones? Yeah, they are barely noticed by people not into ERP, because one of the first things you do if that’s what you’re looking for is send out feelers, both IC and OOC, to figure out where the person and their character are both at. A typical sequence might start with IC flirting of a very mild sort, which is best followed by a PM of, “Hey, Grothnar seemed to be flirting back with Agneis. Would you be interested in doing a romantic plotline?” And then, ONLY if that gets an affirmative response, you also talk a bit more about what sort of expectations/interests you both have on that front. This invariably includes an agreement on where the “Fade to black” mark comes in, and participants are expected to adhere to that.

    And when in public play zones, you never get beyond what people generally consider acceptable in public behavior–a hug or quick kiss before getting down to the business of killing things and taking their stuff. Anything else is handled in private RP. Even if your desire is to play a couple that flouts such conventions, you still take it to private, then indulge in describing NPC passerby reactions to their inappropriate behavior, if you want to go there.

    So, really, the good ERPers? Yeah, they’d realize you weren’t into that right away, and would opt not to go there with you. This unfortunately leaves you with the crappy ones as your sample.

  15. qwints says

    Good article. I can think of three elements at play here –

    1) Consent – Siobhan’s exactly right – sex play of any kind requires consent. I’ve seen ERP which is essentially flashing the other players, someone unexpectedly and without warning exposing others to a sexual situation for their own erotic gratification. Equally unacceptable are the scenarios you brought up where someone continuously makes unwelcome romantic or sexual advances.

    2) Selfish players – regardless of content, we’ve all encountered players who prioritize their fun over other players – the combat focused player who wants to rush everything but their own battle scene, the social focused player who wants every social interaction to be a novel about their character, the GM who railroads players through their prized plot.

    3) Varying norms – one of the hardest parts of public RP is that there often aren’t very clear norms for what makes something an ‘explicit’ or ‘adults only’ game (and the corollary that many ‘adults only’ ratings basically entail pornography) I don’t enjoy hardcore gore, but I’ve played with lots of people who think nothing of extensively and graphically describing the injuries they’re inflicting. I’ve also known players who are uncomfortable with the slightest mention of a character’s romantic/sexual relationships (e.g. ‘I miss my boyfriend’).

  16. Rick Pikul says

    Posing and actions are things that a chat system can have that goes beyond the simple bit of saying things. In a text-based system it could work like this[1], (using “>” to indicate what I type):

    >”hi there!
    Chakat Firepaw says “hi there!”
    >:hugs GAS
    Chakat Firepaw hugs GAS
    Chakat Firepaw leaves for the West Corner of the Park.

    [1] Using MUCK commands, because I still remember them from my days on FurryMUCK[2]

    [2]Which is still around, amazingly enough, although my character will have long since been toaded.

  17. Great American Satan says

    Dianne – Nice comic! And yes, I was referring to Kirk/Spock, which I’m told is where the word “slash” in “slashfic” came from.

    Rick @16 – Oh, I’ve seen some of that before. Gotcha.

    Qwints @15 – In any future games I run, I’m gonna spell out what’s expected pretty damn clearly to get past the norms thing. No such thing as a universal human way of doing biz, I think.

    Freemage @14 – I should have mentioned “fade to black.” That’s a term my people came up with as well for the practice of keeping a scene reasonable to most people’s standards. Total agreement on the rest of your comment as well.

    Siobhan @13 – and all who clarified how consent is the numero uno aspect of this whole situation, good calls & Siobhan in particular thanks for your perspective.

    Goblin @11 – Yep. Ugh. I’m so glad I didn’t have an experience like yours. I’m even one of those people who favors the non-skinny, but making a fetish scene of it? Argh. Offensive. I don’t think we need to read about the rest either. We get the idea.

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