A Review Of Advanced Lovers & Lesbians

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For a variety of reasons, romance is a challenge in many tabletop RPGs. While discussing how a character simultaneously eviscerates and decapitates a Big Bad Evil guy comes naturally to many, fewer people feel comfortable playing out love and romance scenes with their friends. That’s one of the things that made Thirsty Sword Lesbians such a refreshing chance of pace. It put romance and action on equal footing thanks to breezy writing, fabulous art and an embrace of openly discussing romance and consent at the table. The bold title puts it all on the line: if queer romance and RPG safety tools aren’t interesting game subjects, feel free to move along quickly Now the expansion book unlocked in the Kickstarter for the original game is starting to hit game shelves. Evil Hat Productions sent me a review copy of Advanced Lovers & Lesbians for this article. Does the game continue to expand horizons? Let’s play to find out.

Thirsty Sword Lesbians is a Powered By The Apocalypse game designed by April Kit Walsh. The game focuses on a mix of swashbuckling action and flirty battles of wits. The playbooks feature several different types of characters suited for the genre and the rules bring together elements from games like Masks, Monsterhearts and so on. Players can choose to engage each other or NPCs in romance with every choice requiring the consent of all involved parties. These relationships are primed for drama, however. Every playbook comes with a moment after two parties decide to get together that brings into focus how they will mess up said relationship. The settings included in the book riff on obvious inspirations such as She-Ra and the Princesses of Power or Steven Universe but also spicy variations of things like Star Wars.

Advanced Lovers & Lesbians kicks off with more playbooks as PbtA expansions often do. There are 10 more playbooks and, by the general nature of expansion playbooks they are a little more complex and niche driven. The hologoddess, for example, is almost five playbooks in one, requiring a player to choose a form that each have their own benefits and drawbacks. Some of the playbooks were built to support specific settings, but any could be included in a game with a little work from the players. PbtA games imply that there will be some setting building during Session Zero. Iif your table wants to have the Sun Hand with their baking magic in the game, it seems pretty easy to discuss whether or not it fits. Many of these playbooks also revolve around some sort of ticking clock that causes problems whenever the timer fills up. There’s compelling stuff here, but GMs should be mindful of how the playbooks affect their world. New players also tend to gravitate towards the most complex characters and these playbooks may be better suited for players who have played this style of game before.

There are also twenty-one new settings complete with custom moves and backgrounds for each. Many of them continue that feeling of riffing on pre-existing media such as Rocky Horror Picture Show or Game of Thrones. There’s nothing wrong with these of course but the book really pushes the envelope with a few settings that still have flirty duels that aren't necessarily sword fights. Take “Queen Pins Queen” which focuses on a chess tournament or “Hyenas” which moves the action to a nature documentary. The book really leans into queer content with “Gaylords”, a campy satirical fantasy setting that seems like it would be tailor made for a drag show. The setting show a wider range of complexity from a few NPCs to full-on changes to playbooks. Even if none of them hit the table, there’s a lot of inspiration here.

The book closes with some GM tools that I really liked. There are four scenarios that are built to drop into almost any world or even a new world created at the table. PbtA games tend to shy away from pre-built scenarios, so it’s exciting to see some designers explore the space. Each is a collection of set-up questions, locations for scenes and NPCs to become PC lovers and rivals. My favorite out of the four is “Through The Looking Glass” which takes kids who got pulled into a fantasy world back into this strange place as adults to watch how their actions shaped the fantasy land. The book wraps up with charts to inspire adventures including ones specific to each playbook from both the core book and the expansion. Each of these specific tables includes friends, threats and hooks to inspire the next adventure.

Advanced Lovers & Lesbians is a fantastic addition to Thirsty Sword Lesbians and is an absolute must-buy for GMs of the game. Whether you’ve already run it or are looking for that perfect world, there’s a lot of inspiration whether it is worlds, characters or art.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

For casual or new gamers: the cover is a reference to the much-parodied 1st ed Dave Trampier cover of the Players' Handbook, with the idol holding the bowl with fire framed by the archway, the smaller braziers, the party of adventurers, and the trade dress in the upper left corner. Versions of this have been produced as a callback to the earliest days of gaming, usually with changes to highlight the specific features of each game. On the HackMaster version, we see a lot more blood; the Exalted version has a robotic-looking idol.

In this case, the adventurers are the illustrations of the character classes from the core TSL playbook. The composition is a clear homage, with two groups of adventurers in the foreground, with the left group holding a scroll (with the two in the original holding a book), and the two climbing on the idol (here clearly feminine-presenting), who appears to be flirting with two of the adventurers, who appear to be flirting back, and the lizard-person at the base rather than being dead appears to be tied up but smiling, giving a 'consensual kink' subtext.
 


Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
I'm just not a fan of the PbtA system, though I did snag the Thirsty Sword Lesbians RPG because they did such a wonderful job laying it out and with great art work. I wish more books were done in the way that book was. It's easy to read. So to support them I'll snag the book as well.
 


Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
The game have, like, mechanics for romance? How did those work?
Now you made me have to run downstairs to the game library and pull the book out, it's been a bit since I read through it. It's more about high swashbuckling adventure. There are a lot of rules for various situations but it's not meant to be like say Green Ronin's Blue Rose Rpg which has more of a courtly romance sort of vibe to it.

As I said, I'm just not a fan of PbtA really, I also have the Dresden Files rpg that runs on Fate and I'm not fan of those mechanics either. I tend to collect systems I don't use because I'm always curious about various mechanics and rule systems and like to understand them.
 


The game have, like, mechanics for romance? How did those work?

Included with the basic moves are Heartstring moves.

Entice is the flirt move that gets Strings on a character, which can then be spent to try to get them to do what you want in exchange for XP or affect their roles. Yes, you can flirt with a bad guy just to fluster them.

Figure Out A Person asks questions like "What are your feelings towards X" or "How could I get you to Y?" which run the risk of the target asking one of the same questions to the asker because they are emotionally out there.

Smitten lets a player declare their feelings for another character and then immediately answer a question about the trouble such a relationship has to overcome based on their playbook.

The book also makes it clear that any character romance must be consensual between players so no "but I rolled a nat 20, I seduce the dragon!" situations.
 

Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
Leave it Rob to explain! :) FIgured since he's written some stuff for Fate in the past that he get's it. For me reading Fate and PbtA is like reading a second language, I have to translate the meaning to understand it first which drives me batty.
 

pemerton

Legend
I've never read Thirsty Sword Lesbians, but I think the romance/sex-type moves would be broadly similar to those in Apocalypse World. The key AW move is Seduce/Manipulate:

When you try to seduce or manipulate someone, tell them what you want and roll+hot.

For NPCs: on a hit, they ask you to promise something first, and do it if you promise. On a 10+, whether you keep your promise is up to you, later. On a 7–9, they need some concrete assurance right now.

For PCs: on a 10+, both. On a 7–9, choose 1:
• if they do it, they mark experience [the carrot]
• if they refuse, it’s acting under fire [the stick]
What they do then is up to them.​

A hit is a result of 7+. Acting under fire is a little bit like a debuff.

AW also has the Read a Person move:

When you read a person in a charged interaction, roll+sharp. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 1. While you’re interacting with them, spend your hold to ask their player questions, 1 for 1:
• is your character telling the truth?
• what’s your character really feeling?
• what does your character intend to do?
• what does your character wish I’d do?
• how could I get your character to __?​

In both cases, as with all player-side moves in AW, if the roll is 6- then the GM is entitled to make as hard and direct a move as they like. So it's not risk free to try and seduce or read someone.
 

JThursby

Adventurer
I have a sneaking suspicion games like this are designed to be read more than they are to be played. Between both my straight and gay players across multiple groups there’s no interest in a romance based game. It strikes all of us as being just...potentially super awkward, and not as fun as fantasy combat.
 

pemerton

Legend
I have a sneaking suspicion games like this are designed to be read more than they are to be played. Between both my straight and gay players across multiple groups there’s no interest in a romance based game. It strikes all of us as being just...potentially super awkward, and not as fun as fantasy combat.
I've never played Thirsty Sword Lesbians. But romance is a significant part of my Prince Valiant play and a modest part of my Classic Traveller play.

And obviously it is - at least in the presentation - a significant part of Apocalypse World which is a fairly widely played system.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I have a sneaking suspicion games like this are designed to be read more than they are to be played. Between both my straight and gay players across multiple groups there’s no interest in a romance based game. It strikes all of us as being just...potentially super awkward, and not as fun as fantasy combat.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this says more about your own preconceptions than the desirable playability or merits of the game. :unsure:
 

JThursby

Adventurer
I have a sneaking suspicion that this says more about your own preconceptions than the desirable playability or merits of the game. :unsure:
I have lots of RPGs I bought just to read. Eclipse Phase is at the top of that list: it's too obscure to get groups for it with any kind of regularity, but the lore and presentation is phenomenal. Don't Rest Your Head, which is from the same company that made the game in the article, is also like that but with dreamlike horror. So what I mean is that the exact implementation of romance based combat probably doesn't really matter for prospective buyers.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I have lots of RPGs I bought just to read. Eclipse Phase is at the top of that list: it's too obscure to get groups for it with any kind of regularity, but the lore and presentation is phenomenal. Don't Rest Your Head, which is from the same company that made the game in the article, is also like that but with dreamlike horror. So what I mean is that the exact implementation of romance based combat probably doesn't really matter for prospective buyers.
Again, that may be the case for you and your group, but that's still a massive assumption.
 


Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
I have a sneaking suspicion games like this are designed to be read more than they are to be played. Between both my straight and gay players across multiple groups there’s no interest in a romance based game. It strikes all of us as being just...potentially super awkward, and not as fun as fantasy combat.
Honestly in this case, most of the game play looks more like high adventure swashbuckling sort of game play. The romance stuff looked to be a rather small part of it. I'd say that The Blue Rose Rpg or Pendragon rpg has more mechanics in regards to romance, courtly love etc.
 


MGibster

Legend
Honestly in this case, most of the game play looks more like high adventure swashbuckling sort of game play. The romance stuff looked to be a rather small part of it. I'd say that The Blue Rose Rpg or Pendragon rpg has more mechanics in regards to romance, courtly love etc.
My group played exactly one game of Apocalypse World, and other than my character seducing a dolphin, there really wasn't any other romance.
 


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