Some thoughts about love and sex in Earthdawn
I’ll admit it’s not very “high fantasy” and kind of high school, but I wonder about this stuff. I also have a personal interest in how certain things might exist or be perceived in the lands of Barsaive and elsewhere in the world of Earthdawn. This article looks at some questions of sex and sexuality in Earthdawn. Keep it out of the hands of the young’uns.
When folks like film director Spike Lee address the topic of “interracial relationships” all they have to worry about is people of different colors. In Earthdawn we’re talking about people of different species (or at least different sub-species of homo sapiens). What are the problems and dynamics of a romantic relationship between members of two different Name-Giver races?
It would seem at Earthdawn’s point on the mana curve that the various races cannot interbreed with each other. While metahumans in Shadowrun can, the differences between the races seem to become more pronounced with the higher magic level, until they are truly separate races for reproductive purposes.
Now it seems physically possible for most of the “metahuman” races (i.e. Elves, Dwarves, Humans, Orks and Trolls) to have sexual relations, but it is doubtful it is considered socially acceptable by any of the cultures in Barsaive (most of which are very xenophobic and race-centered). Sexual relations with the radically different name-givers like the T’Skrang or Windings is pretty much right out.
All of this, however, doesn’t change the fact that the name-givers are all sentient, emotional beings, regardless of their physical equipment. It would not be entirely unbelievable for two members of incompatible races to fall in love with each other. What would become of such a doomed romance? Would the couple be capable of overcoming the vast obstacles to their relationship or would it eventually have to end in tragedy? Would Astendar and her questors take interest in such a tradgic love affair? (almost certainly, I would say). Could some magical means be found for the two to share their passion in some way? Could children be produced?
The possibilities take on the proportions of a true Legendary tale. For example consider the legend of the Windling Flowers of Love.
Okay, let’s be honest, the Horrors are going to use love and sex as weapons against Name-Givers. They are two of our most powerful drives and the Horrors know enough about such strong emotions to manipulate them.
There are the obvious manifestations, like legends of succubi and other “sexual demons,” horrors that feed off of kinky and perverted sex with or by the name-givers, but there could also be horrors that require love to feed on (especially interesting if the horror requires genuine love, like a black widow that must draw in a mate and then kill it in the process of mating). What of the unpleasant possibility of horror/name-giver crossbreeds (if such as thing is possible at all) or of infants whose development is affected by a horror?
No, I’m not talking about the Elves here. What is the status of homosexual and bisexual relations in Barsaive and the rest of the Earthdawn world? What is the place of “gay” people in Barsaivian culture?
FASA products have declined to say, so we must speculate. The only thing close to an official mention is in the description of the Seduction skill, which is described as useful for the characters “prefered sex” (rather than a term such as “opposite sex”). While it is possible that gay people are totally accepted and not discriminated against, I find that fairly unlikely (and to be honest, lacking in dramatic story potential).
In a culture struggling to recover from an event like the Scourge, it is likely Barsaivian society tends to stress the values of the family and perpetuating the species. On the other hand, confined in enclosed kaers for generations, many cultures likely resorted to some amount of homosexual relations to relieve sexual tension while keeping the population under control (theTalisman anthology reveals that birth control was used as well). In the aftermath of leaving the kaers, there might be a counterreaction against same-sex relations (or greater acceptance, or both, depending on the culture).
Given their highly literate, fairly hedonistic culture, the Therans are probably more accepting and open about homosexuality than the Barsaivians, seen as another strike against the practice by the people of Barsaive, who might see homosexuality as a “Theran perversion.”
What “gay culture” there is in the world most likely began with the Elves (stereotypical, I know, but there’s a reason for most of those stereotypes). Elves are long-lived enough to try everything at least once, and their concept of love and mating seems to suggest same-sex relationships would not be unusual. In one Earthdawn campaign I played in, the common term for gay people was lossel, a derivative of a Sperethiel term that loosely translates as “one who’s lover is like one’s self.”
The Oldest Profession
Prostitution may not be the stuff of legend, but it is fairly likely it exists in the world of Earthdawn. Aside from the normal urban evolution that tends to lead to prostitution there again is the unique pressure of people living in confined kaers for generations while they waited out the Scourge. Sex is likely to end up as a major recreational activity, and some kind of system of “prostitution” or “free love” could evolve. A good example of this is the practices of the followers of Astendar in one of the short stories in the Talisman anthology, akin to the “temple prostitutes” of many ancient religions.
There is also no doubt that sexual wiles are used by the heroes and villains of legend to acheive their goals. Some of the talents and abilities of the Troubador discipline and the questors of Astendar make that matter fairly clear.
The role of the family in Barsaivian culture is an interesting question. Generally nuclear families (parents and children, along with possibly grandparents) seem the norm, but the Trolls of the Twlight Peaks have line marriage and a more clannish society. The T’Skrang have a matriarchal culture with the communal raising of young and the Obsidimen… well, their social structure is quite unlike anything the other Name-Givers would really recognize as a “family” at all, but more of an association like a Brotherhood or even a secret society.
The power of love has been acknowleged in legends for as long as humans have told them. In times of need, love is a force that can move mountains, defeat any evil, even conquer Death itself.
The power of Love (capital “L”) should not be overlooked in Earthdawn, where thought and passion often equal deed in the real world. The magic of Earthdawn responds to the thoughts and feelings of Name-Givers and True Love is a powerful focus for such magical energies.
I don’t suggest any game mechanics for this, but it is a rich theme for an Earthdawn gamemaster to use as a basis for adventures or even entire campaigns. What of an adventure based around the forbidden young couple (ala Romeo and Juliet) who call upon Astendar to allow them to flee their oppressive families to a place of safety where they can be together. Who knows? Perhaps the Passion’s aid will take the form of a group of player characters…