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

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.
Depends on the group. One extended group of gamers (say 12-14 of us) would have soap opera campaigns no matter what system we were playing in back then. Romance, dating, love triangles, marriage, lover's spats, you name it. PCs & NPCs and PCs & PCs. We could be playing D&D where we had a paladin have to prove to her god that the cleric of the goddess of good luck was worthy, to superheroes where everyone had a stable of characters and half the threats were in PC on PC action, half caused by jealousy, breakup, or other romantic entanglement. Same group also was very flexible about playing genders and orientations that did not match their own, and the players were a mix of genders and orientations.

In one of the groups I play with now it's all couples, and it feels odd to flirt with someone with their spouse there - it just never comes up.

Varies by the table, comfort level, and what type of game they were interested in playing.
 

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Depends on the group. One extended group of gamers (say 12-14 of us) would have soap opera campaigns no matter what system we were playing in back then. Romance, dating, love triangles, marriage, lover's spats, you name it. PCs & NPCs and PCs & PCs. We could be playing D&D where we had a paladin have to prove to her god that the cleric of the goddess of good luck was worthy, to superheroes where everyone had a stable of characters and half the threats were in PC on PC action, half caused by jealousy, breakup, or other romantic entanglement. Same group also was very flexible about playing genders and orientations that did not match their own, and the players were a mix of genders and orientations.

In one of the groups I play with now it's all couples, and it feels odd to flirt with someone with their spouse there - it just never comes up.

Varies by the table, comfort level, and what type of game they were interested in playing.

Stealing an old saw about postmodernists, there are as many D&Ds as there are D&D gaming groups. Extends even more so when you have different tabletop RPGs in the mix.

I'm trying to find the old issue of Dragon where they talked about wargame-influenced play in the Upper Midwest where the game started versus extended theatrical roleplaying on the West Coast. It'd be several decades old, so hardly relevant now, but it does suggest people have always taken their own approaches to the game. The advantage of having a single game is so anyone can pull up to your table and roll up a character. The disadvantage of having a single game is the system may not do what you want...so people make their own.

I am curious to see if there are any attempts at applying these romance rules outside of the original customer base--i.e., could you play a non-queer romance game using the rules. Are there any complications when, say, half your characters are now off-limits? (Though it says romance has to be mutually consensual, so perhaps not--it would probably become less frequent.)

(And I have to chuckle at 'Ardor Class'--well done.)
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I am curious to see if there are any attempts at applying these romance rules outside of the original customer base--i.e., could you play a non-queer romance game using the rules. Are there any complications when, say, half your characters are now off-limits? (Though it says romance has to be mutually consensual, so perhaps not--it would probably become less frequent.)
This is a good question.

My secondhand understanding is that the basis of the Heartstrings moves, whihc is the mechanical aspects of romance, have been taken from a long established Monsterhearts PbtA game. The first edition of that was back in 2012, and a second edition in 2017. So this already is an expansion of existing romance rules.

PbtA games are known for being heavily targeted for particular play experience, verses so-called "big tent" games. So both Monsterhearts and Thirsty Sword Lesbians having a well defined and somewhat narrow target audience is part and parcel of the PbtA experience, above and beyond how that does help make sure everyone is on the same page for being receptive to potential romantic play.

Another facet of this we have RPGs like Blue Rose which explores courtly love and all the politics and intrigue that come with it. That was originally a slimmed down d20, then Green Ronin's True20, and now Green Ronin AGE. That originally came out in 2005, so has 17 years and multiple editions showing there is a large enough market for it to make it worth updating and republishing.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Another facet of this we have RPGs like Blue Rose which explores courtly love and all the politics and intrigue that come with it. That was originally a slimmed down d20, then Green Ronin's True20, and now Green Ronin AGE. That originally came out in 2005, so has 17 years and multiple editions showing there is a large enough market for it to make it worth updating and republishing.
...which was co-written by THE Jeremy Crawford. He also wrote the Foreward in the updated Blue Rose AGE.
 


robowieland

Adventurer
Another facet of this we have RPGs like Blue Rose which explores courtly love and all the politics and intrigue that come with it. That was originally a slimmed down d20, then Green Ronin's True20, and now Green Ronin AGE. That originally came out in 2005, so has 17 years and multiple editions showing there is a large enough market for it to make it worth updating and republishing.

Between the original Thirsty Sword Lesbians Kickstarter and the one for Advanced Lovers & Lesbians, Evil Hat raised about 395k for these books. The AL&L Kickstarter number is even more impressive because everyone who backed the original already had the PDF. That's nearly 100k of folks who came back for print or who wanted in because they missed the first KS.

That tells me that there's a market out there for games like this and not everyone is buying them just to read.
 
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Ixal

Adventurer
So how does romance work? Is it just DM advice how to role play? A condition track? Quest chain? Romance combat?
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
So how does romance work? Is it just DM advice how to role play? A condition track? Quest chain? Romance combat?
It was explained higher in the thread. In short, in PbtA mechanics follow the fiction. So there are moves for flirting and such, and they can put Heartstrings on others. They do a better job explaining above.
 

pemerton

Legend
So how does romance work? Is it just DM advice how to role play? A condition track? Quest chain? Romance combat?
Probably like this:
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.
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.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Probably like this:
I had to look up what Strings are but ok.
Not really sure if having tokens for influencing other characters is really specific or required for romance but I guess one can make it work if one wants to.

But that reminded me, I would really like a system independent book about romance and courting rituals in various historic and fantasy settings (representing the most common ones like pirate swashbuckling, etc.)
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I had to look up what Strings are but ok.
Not really sure if having tokens for influencing other characters is really specific or required for romance but I guess one can make it work if one wants to.
I haven't played Monsterhearts, where Heartstrings is taken from, but I have played Masks: A New Generation, one of the other sited PbtA inspirations. It's about teen supers teams, and finding out who you are and your place in the world when everyone has an opinion about it. It uses Influence to show who can make you change the way you see yourself (unless you resist it), and it's a very useful tool. Whom you give influence to, whom takes it, whom you take it away from. The villain that calls you a freak of nature and a menace to society is just as much affecting you as your teammate, your mentor, or your mom.

Now Influence is rather you have it or not, while in TSL you can get up to four Heartstrings on the same person. It's an interesting mechanic. And they unashamedly put it to good use, including playbook specific unique uses. Like The Beast has a way when they are acting flirt of just having Big Energy in that direction and also putting an Heartstring on someone in the scene who considers you their enemy.
 

robowieland

Adventurer
I had to look up what Strings are but ok.
Not really sure if having tokens for influencing other characters is really specific or required for romance but I guess one can make it work if one wants to.

But that reminded me, I would really like a system independent book about romance and courting rituals in various historic and fantasy settings (representing the most common ones like pirate swashbuckling, etc.)
The key is the carrot vs. the stick approach. If you do the thing the person wants by spending a string, you get XP. You can still refuse if you are not into the idea of flirting with that character.
 


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