My first review of the Book of Erotic Fantasy was written in April 2004, not long after the book was released. I'd eagerly awaited its appearance in my local gaming store, only to find it firmly shrinkwrapped (and the store insisted it stay that way). Since the few reviews I could find seemed quite biased, if I wanted to know what was inside, I'd have to pony up $40 on faith. That's not how I tend to buy my books, but I took a chance and have only become more pleased with the Book of Erotic Fantasy ever since. I introduced it into my games right away and my whole group found different things to like and use in its pages. My first review was based on my initial impressions more than experience, but I now have the perspective to back my enthusiasm with detailed observations.
And perspective is something that I've found sorely lacking in most reviews of the Book of Erotic Fantasy over the years. It has been dismaying to see reviews posted by people who were quite biased against sex in gaming in the first place, and who were unwilling to be swayed before they even opened the book. Some reviewers have gone on about how the whole idea is stupid and unnecessary, and their pre-conceived judgments contaminate their criticisms. But the worst thing about most reviews is that they arrive untested, because the reviewers didn't try at least a few of the features in their games. So, while I enjoy a sexual controversy as much as the next American, I have reworked my review because I hope to offer something you won't find in most other places.
"Oh No! Boobies!": A Disclaimer About Me
I have to start off by saying that I'm an adult who runs games for adults, and none of us are shy people. On top of that, I've had a lot of exposure to different aspects of sexuality and can be difficult to shock. That being said, I do not find anything about the Book of Erotic Fantasy to be shocking or particularly disturbing, and I find the squeamish reactions of other readers to be generally perplexing. The first thing that other readers complain about, it seems, are the pictures in the Book of Erotic Fantasy, which are based on photos of real people but often Photoshopped to fit the fantasy milieu. As one of my players puts it, some viewers have an "Oh no! Boobies!" knee-jerk reaction to such pictures - they're not used to seeing photos of real people invading their fantasy space, and the nudity embarrasses them. Why? Because naked people are - wait for it - exciting! And we're not supposed to be sexually excited by D&D, are we? Now I did have to adjust myself to seeing flesh-and-blood people illustrating D&D concepts just because I was so used to drawings, but over time I've come to really appreciate the pictures. I mean, just look at the cover:
That erinyes is based on a real person, but she looks damned cool in my opinion. And the pictures run the gamut from being quite tame and real-looking, to showing a lot of fantasy elements. I know that some people were disturbed by the "kinkier" pictures but there's a whole world of kink out there, and the Book of Erotic Fantasy barely skimmed the top of a very deep iceberg. Most of the pictures are intended to be interesting, different from the normal D&D fare, and a little stimulating (a little sex can help sales). When all is said and done, I'm far more disturbed and frightened by the art in first edition D&D books.
Blue Balls? You've Got To Be Kidding!
Some folks have consistently complained about some of the sillier things that can be found in the book, but I've always wondered if they actually read the opening section. The authors show their appreciation for humor early on so it's not surprising to see an STD called "Azure Balls" later. Is it silly? Yes. Is the entire book silly? No. Might you use "Azure Balls" in your game but name it something else? Yes. The point is that the authors forge a path between the serious and the ridiculous; they pay homage to both but are faithful to neither. This approach makes the book more readable and brings the reader back down to earth when seriousness threatens to overwhelm. The Book of Erotic Fantasy is a resource for a game and the authors never forget to include a sense of play in their work.
The Benefits of Specialization
The authors also continually refer back to d20 materials since the Book of Erotic Fantasy was produced for the d20 system, but it is not just a d20 book. The sheer fact of the matter is that the book aims to attract D&D players. The Book of Erotic Fantasy makes constant reference to the core classes and medieval setting that make D&D so distinctive; there are no references to sex in a sci-fi environment, or a Western environment, or in any other major genre outside of D&D. This is not a mistake (especially considering D&D's wide fan base) nor is it a weakness. It is a matter of specialization that a lot of people are in the position to enjoy. D&D players can pick up the Book of Erotic Fantasy and use elements from it easily - like buying clothes that fit right off the rack instead of making them yourself. Other folks will find things they can use with some adjustment. But no single book can cover every aspect of sex in gaming, so the Book of Erotic Fantasy sticks to its focus in order to cover as much useful material as it can.
Gamers who prefer more general information about sex and tabletop roleplaying games can pick up Naughty & Dice, which takes an entirely systemless approach overall, with a brief OGL section at the end. You can now find my review of Naughty & Dice here.
Chapter 1 - Social Stuff
The first chapter starts with a basic overview of how things like marriage, virginity, and sexual taboos might be used in games. The chapter also has a decent section on how the different alignments might approach sex. Given that alignment is a perennial, heated topic amongst D&D players, this should be of some interest even to those who disagree with the authors' assertions. There's a portion of the chapter dedicated to the ways that various races deal with sex (including general information about pregnancy, which can be very useful). The point of this chapter is to provide food for thought, and I know that for me, it has. All you have to do is choose one idea and expand upon it for an NPC or an adventure. The list of taboos on page 13 is a good place to start. I considered a number of taboos when writing about the drow and used different ones in our games. In my evil campaign, for instance, legal contracts govern lineage and inheritance; if you produce a child outside of a contract, you receive negative stigma and the child has no official place in the family (often resulting in banishment).
Chapter 2 - Rules Stuff
The Book of Erotic Fantasy adds an Appearance score to the character sheet to represent how pleasant-looking a character is. This move makes sense, honestly, and other games use Charisma and Appearance because force of personality and outward beauty do not necessarily go hand in hand. Nonetheless, I've found that we haven't used the trait, probably because it's too much of a pain to alter the character sheets we have. (The book does not provide an updated character sheet.) The Appearance trait is given more of an introduction than full support, but skills are given more in-depth attention. Yes, the book does designate a skill roll to determine sexual performance, but most of that has to do with feats and classes that come later. There are updates to familiar skills to account for sex-related uses. Thankfully, there are no juvenile rolls for penis or breast dimensions.
This chapter gives further and more detailed attention to pregnancy than Chapter 1 and we've used this portion of the book consistently for crossbreeding rules and for the charts provided. One chart breaks down the percentage chances that selected races have for getting pregnant, and how long gestation periods tend to be. We've used this a lot, more often for NPCs but on one occasion for a PC. We've also used the large chart they have for crossbreeding, and I've heard a lot of speculation about this issue over the years. Can kobolds breed with other lizardfolk? The Book of Erotic Fantasy does a decent job in swiftly answering such questions. Their work isn't comprehensive - there are too many types for that - but it's a great reference anyway. More importantly, the book does not offer charts for mood swings and other possible annoyances of pregnancy. While some gamers might feel that such rules would be more "realistic," they are not very friendly to player characters. Effects that interfere with a player's portrayal of their character's personality (like charm person and possession) should only be used infrequently, since they trap players in uncomfortable situations. The same can be said of rules that enforce mood swings and the like.
And now, feats. Yes, the Book of Erotic Fantasy, like other d20 sources, offers a selection of feats. I'm of the opinion that most books offer pages of rather useless feats with only a few gems. A good portion of the feats in this case are roleplaying oriented and many operate along a few themes. We haven't really cared much for the themes so for the most part we haven't bothered with the feats.
Chapter 3 - Classes
This chapter introduces three new base classes that I love to use for NPCs. The imagist is something like a cleric but also like a sorcerer, and with differences that grant flavor. I think it's a perfect class for worshippers of gods that preside over beauty, like Sune of the Forgotten Realms. The kundala is an alternate version of the monk but it does not make use of any of the new features given in the rest of the book. There are also major bits of information that were left out at printing, such as the types of weapons and armor a kundala is allowed. I feel that this is the weakest of the three base classes; it could have used more flavor and polish. The tantrist class is a neat idea and an interesting blend of arcane and divine magic, but seems more suited to NPCs than PCs. Though we like the class for NPCs, I still don't think my players are interested in their characters being forced to have sex in order to replenish their spells. Actually, that's the problem with a good portion of the feats, too: they force characters to engage in sex daily to gain benefits. Most PCs are fine with some nookie along the road but every day? They've got more important things to do.
Unlike a lot of other books, however, the Book of Erotic Fantasy actually provides some downright useful prestige classes. In case you don't know, I find most prestige classes to be the same sort of dreck as most feats; they're just not worth the paper they're printed on. A good portion of the prestige classes in the Book of Erotic Fantasy will work for NPCs and some will work for PCs as well. The Disciple of Aaluran will work for adherents of gods of love and passion (Sune!). The Dominator would work for adherents of pain and power exchange (or adherents of Loviatar in Forgotten Realms). The Frenzied Disciple would work for Lliranites. The Metaphysical Spellshaper is a short but helpful prestige class for spellcasters that actually makes metamagic feats more feasible to use. The Pierced Mystic is just a neat class that would fit right into a Planescape campaign. It has that exotic quality. The Sacred Prostitute is an excellent prestige class for NPCs and perhaps cohorts as well.
Chapter 4 - Magic, And Not Just the Sexual Kind
First of all, I love the domains given in this book and they will work as additional domains for many deities. Give players the option to take the Joining domain if they want to play a cleric of Berronar Truesilver or some other deity of marriage and/or protection. All sorts of evil powers would offer the Perversion domain, and some (like Sune! Sune! Sune! Sune! She just keeps coming up, and in a book about sex, imagine that!) would offer the Pleasure domain. What's best about this chapter though is the utility of many of the spells. While some of the spells are more sexually oriented, that doesn't mean they're not useful. The disrobe spell can actually provide an advantage on the battlefield when suddenly all of an enemy's nonmagical clothing goes flying off - including potion belts and bandoleers. Many of the spells do not involve sex but they do provide useful effects, and I have noticed a number of these spells reprinted in other books. We always check the Book of Erotic Fantasy when we're looking for a spell to give a particular effect and we've often found what we've needed in this book. The chapter also gives advice on how classic spells might be used for more sexual purposes, and those ideas can be fun.
Chapter 5 - Stuff You Can Buy
The nonmagical and alchemical items haven't been that helpful to us, mostly because we don't detail sex enough for them to be useful. My PCs wear holy symbols, not chastity belts or collars, and we use herbs out of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book for birth control. For those who wonder what a prostitute's services might cost in a D&D-style setting, however, the book provides a write-up and a quick reference chart that I rather like. We haven't done much with the magical items but some of them are obviously useful.
Chapter 6 - Gods and Creatures
I like the gods that they present in this book and I've used some of them as lesser gods in Faerun. I especially appreciate the write-up of the goblin goddess Vershnat, since monster gods don't tend to get as much play in major published works now of days. The creatures given in this chapter can be fun to use, especially if your players haven't encountered them before. The section really stands out for its templates, though. The +0 templates give a character just a few little things extra as far as rules are concerned but offer a chance to stand out and to be a bit exotic. The +1 templates are interesting, especially the feykissed. The book also tries to give variety to the different types of creatures that can result from mating with devils and demons, which can offer nice changes.
Chapter 7 - Adventures and Organizations
The chapter gives 100 adventure ideas just in case you didn't already gain tons of ideas from the rest of the book, and this is a nice feature. The chapter also talks about some sexual groups and details one in particular, a "companionship service" that you can drop into a metropolitan environment. I like the map provided and always have.
The Book of Erotic Fantasy has an appendix to list Appearance scores for all kinds of creatures, giving a bit more support to the mechanic. There are also characters and creatures with full stats given as examples in various parts of the book; they have their own appendix at the end for quick reference. Better still, the book actually has an index. I can't tell you how much I've wished that more gaming books would bother to provide a good index; during a game you can only do so much page-flipping before the mood is totally lost. And since I didn't mention it before, I should say that the book itself is very attractive, with a hard cover, glossy pages, and an orderly layout. We've never had trouble navigating the book; chances are, the information will be where you expect it to be.
I hope this review is helpful to someone but at the very least it offers experienced evaluation rather than repeating common complaints. In the end, you really should check out a book for yourself before giving up on it; it might just offer something you can use.