Preview: Thirsty Sword Lesbians
If you hadn’t already guessed from the title, Thirsty Sword Lesbians looks to be – as the folks in my Twitter feed would put it – a mood. Exactly what mood that might be is a little hard to pin down, but it’s certainly one packed with charm and ripe for romantic entanglements.
On a very basic level it’s a game about playing a band of heroic lesbians as they search for adventure and affection – usually both at the same time. This might take the form of a sci-fi romp where the swords crackle with red lightning or a fantasy epic where all grievances are settled with ritualised duels, but the details all take a rather distant second place to attitude.
That attitude is one where a good quip is as important to a fight as a solid thrust, where all but the most irredeemable foes are just one conversation away from starring in an enemies-to-lovers plot and the mid-battle kiss is the pinnacle of gameplay. Every emotion and conflict is heightened to the moon and back, and the greatest injury most characters can suffer isn’t the loss of a limb, but the loss of a friend.
This maelstrom of sexually-charged drama is wrapped in the shell of a ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ ruleset, which has been used in a whole slew of indie (or, at least, indie-adjacent) RPGs ranging from Dungeon World to Monster of the Week. Like most PbtA games Thirsty Sword Lesbians has fairly lightweight rules and places a heavy emphasis on storytelling, though it makes sure to add its own twists to the regular systems.
For example, characters don’t take any physical harm or quantified damage when they fail rolls or get trapped in a sticky situation. Instead, they suffer conditions like ‘Angry’ or ‘Hopeless’, all of which come with their own mechanical penalties.
There are special moves designed to banish these conditions with the power of emotional support, but there are also moves for enticing characters – both PCs and NPCs – and rules that come into play when one of them becomes smitten with another. I wasn’t joking about the mid-fight kiss, either. One of those is worth a +1 to every roll for the rest of the battle.
If this all sounds like a big, horny mess to you then you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Honestly, ‘big, horny mess’ seems to be exactly the kind of situation Thirsty Sword Lesbians sets out to achieve, and it gently demands that the players get on-board with that plan from the moment they sit down and start rolling.
It seems that if you try to play a game of Thirsty Sword Lesbians like D&D with optional flirting rules tacked on the side, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, you want the table to embrace the chance to smooch their foes instead of stabbing them and clicks into the game’s mad-cap energy. That’s where things find its soul, and what makes it feel special.
Appropriately enough, the biggest stumble I’ve run ino with the preview ruleset has actually been trying to keep track of all the relationships. That sounds silly, but in a game where affection is tied so tightly to the rules, your complex shipping diagrams are just as vital as noting HP values or spell slots in more traditional titles.
Still, even in its preview form Thirsty Sword Lesbians looks to be fun, flirty and gay as all hell.
Not everybody is going to be comfortable with bringing sexual tension to the tabletop, no matter how safely it’s handled, and doubtless some out there will be put off by its unabashedly progressive values. However, if you can put together a table full of people who smile knowingly at the title alone you should keep a keen eye out for the full release.
You can find out more about Thirsty Sword Lesbians and join the playtest here.