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.