This one was a request. I oblige requests as I love cutting short my lifespan for my readers.
Once upon a time Mongoose was a publisher of pretty bad D&D third edition books, which is not much of a crime, given that it was once very trendy to be a pretty bad publisher of D&D third edition books, and they’ve moved on from the sophomore years. Every entity makes mistakes in its infancy and grows past them. I feel somewhat conflicted in writing this review because this is practically a dinosaur of a book, although the bloody thing is still for sale so I guess that counts for something.
I’ve said before that there’s a correct way to do sex and romance in RPGs – for a look on that, there’s a series of articles on Geek’s Dream Girl (here, here and here) and an article in an issue of Kobold Quarterly that do it pretty well. Suffice it to say, it is a storytelling and dramatic device that can work brilliance when utilized carefully and correctly. Mongoose, however, decides to dive right into the abyss of all the worst of gamer culture as far as romance and sex are concerned – dive so far it manages to come out the other end. This book is a love letter to the worsts of gamer culture regarding not just portrayal of women in fantasy worlds, but I think women in RPGs period. It is outrageously, hilariously bad.
Some people lacking in the essential brain cells required to tell humour from seriousness, or who excuse their lack of understanding of the joke by accusing humour of perpetuating stereotype and persecution may find something within this book to offend them. Jolly good; enjoy being upset, you know you do. The rest of us will get on with having a jolly good – not to mention harmless – chuckle. – Quintessential Temptress pg. 4.
Thankfully, I’m a manly man’s man who has not even an ounce of sympathy or ability to identify with the unfair sex. So set aside your ball-and-chain, bros, because it’s time for some testosteronal readin’ and some jocktacular laughin’. After all, this humor is completely harmless, everybody’s doin’ it, and it only costs 10 bucks. If you can’t laugh at this then you must be some spineless white knight or retarded or maybe even gay. Let’s crack open this sum’bitch and see what tales of wondrous splendor await.
Wits, steel, muscles and knowledge, these are the things that most bold adventurers use when they seek their fortune in the dungeons and tunnels of the harsh and unforgiving earth. Those with a little more common sense, which is to say – women, know that a flash of thigh and a glimpse of quivering bosom can extract just as much, if not more, gold with a fraction of the effort. From the lowliest barbarian thrall to the royal concubine with the ear of the king, women have always known precisely which bodily organ most men actually think with and have found ways and means to lead him around by it to get what they want. – Quintessential Temptress, pg. 4.
I wonder if the disclaimer refers to laughing at the book and not just with it.
The Temptress “Class”
The Quintessential Temptress opens by telling us that it cannot, in fact, really present a temptress class (which means it does not want to – whether this is more commendable than what it does end up doing, is up for debate). What it will present is a “metaclass” which is flavor and small mechanical benefits that can apply to many different classes. This is divided into packages that more or less all amount to “class x except as a whore.”
Take for example the “Actress” which is basically a character concept that amounts to “a bard that is a slut.” Each of these concepts has a bit of background which serves mostly to explain why you would rampantly engage in sex whenever possible. The Actress, for example, might find herself in a troupe that can’t make ends meet: “this is when the fighters hire out their services, the rogues take to thieving, the wizards to fortune telling and the actresses… well, let’s just say there can be opening nights for their legs and purses as well as the plays.” The humorous thing about this is that the book recommends this actress concept be applied on top of the bard or rogue classes, both of which wouldn’t have a difficult time finding money. But of course, you’re an Actress so that automatically nullifies all your skills except spreading your legs. In fact, on that note, the Actress has a permanent -1 penalty to her Base Attack Bonus. For both of the recommended classes, which start off with 0 base attack bonus, this hilariously bad package puts them in the red as far as combat ability, and what do you get in exchange? A bonus language, the “Nookie” skill and the Craft (Cosmetics) skill. This is some opti-maxed stuff right here.
The book’s humor shines in such exquisite paragraph closers as “and there is nothing so tragic as a washed up actress, save perhaps a washed up boy band member and those do not exist in fantasy… as of yet” and “the spy is supremely confident in her own abilities and will often try to do things for herself, since no-one bar her self can be trusted – again, this is much like any other woman.” If you are wondering why you are not laughing yourself out of bodily fluids and into a state of convulsions yet, it is because these jokes are lamentably bad. Yes, this is the humor that certain people lacking certain brain cells cannot comprehend, and are therefore barred from criticizing it. The depths of its complexity are such only people who have ever touched boobies “for realz” (and can show timestamped evidence of said boobies-touching) can offer comment. And this isn’t just done sparingly. Every other paragraph in this book ends with a groan-worthy witticism of this sort. You cannot escape them – except by avoiding the book. You lucky bastards.
The other meta-class concepts are all on the same basic tier of uselessness as the Actress. The Sex Slave role is of course gloriously represented, ready to be applied to “any class” with the caveat that it “is usually only played by the type of Player with too much fondness for leather and Jon Norman ‘novels’.” Because if any book is fit to sarcastically question the integrity of the Gor series, it can only be the Quintessential bloody Temptress, folks.
The Servant of the Goddess shows us that feminine worship is all about mounting the holy baloney. Using your body as a temple housing the holiness of your goddess means having lots of sex. Wench is oddly enough another concept, and is one of the oddest concepts in the book, since it’s a girl who’s really enthusiast and flirtatious but doesn’t actually jump on anyone’s bones. I know, it puzzles me greatly. You dropped the ball, book. There’s a few concepts that are specific to non-human races, but they’re really nothing special flavorwise (or otherwise). You have an elf (read: drow) dominatrix, you have an orc tribal something, you have a gnome that invents gyrodildos because you know, gnomes invent things, etc.
“The philosophers stone of the tinker’s work is the fabled ‘Orgasmatron’, a sure fire one-size-fits-all device cable of inducing a thunderous orgasm instantly in any living thing capable of such feeling. It is rumoured that such a device has been created, once, and that rumour is enough for many tinkers to waste a fortune trying to replicate the effort.”
There is not a single concept here where the benefits outweigh the penalties, or where either of the two might provoke some actual decent play experience. All of the mechanics are so simple as to be pointless, and feel tacked-on in some attempt to add value to the reams of flavor text that has none to give. The Spy, for all the things it could get, gets a +2 bonus to Bluff and Nookie checks. Joy. In exchange you get a -2 to Climb and Jump checks. A few have decent-looking trade-offs. The Wench gives a +1 bonus to all saving throws made by allies in exchange for some skill points. If you’re already a Fighter or something, you couldn’t give less a crap about that. The Dwarven Matron gives a +1 bonus to Will saves and +2 to Intimidation in exchange for -1 to all other Charisma-based checks. You’re a dwarf, so you were never going to roll other charisma-based checks anyway. But none of it is really mechanically interesting. They really should’ve just made two or three recolors of core classes, like a Rogue with less BAB and a bunch of useless social bonuses or a Wizard that is powered by sex, like the Book of Erotic Fantasy had. That would’ve been bad, but it would have at least been substantial in some way.
She has only the single, however effective, approach to most of the problems that befall adventurers and she must be sure to be damn good at what she does if she hopes to survive and make a living on the strength of her voluminous cleavage and smile alone. – Quintessential Temptress pg. 23
Prestige, Such As It Is
Book of Erotic Fantasy had Appearance and some perform skill functions, spells and a few random tables, and following suit, Quintessential Temptress adds a whole Nookie skill and a bunch of prestige classes and other similar mechanical refuse. If you’re familiar with D&D third edition then you could’ve seen the prestige classes coming a mile away. Every big book has to have some of these and they’re hardly ever really good if they’re coming from the third parties during the D20 boom era, but let’s see what the offerings are.
The Agent is a temptress that has sex with people to get information. Her class features include a past history of tons of people she’s had sex with, which she can spend experience points to call favors from, the ability to extract pillow talk from people, and having really bad saves and attack bonus. She has a lot of skills and can spend 3 hours applying makeup and doing up her hair in such a way that she gains a +3 bonus to her charisma score, that’ll vanish if she undertakes stressful activity. To put this into perspective, unless you have odd-numbered charisma score, you have spent 3 hours gaining a +1 bonus to Charisma-based skills and checks until a strong wind blows your hair pins off.
The Avatar of Love is the evolution of having tons of sex as your sole outlet of goddess worship. She has a sexual aura which forces a will saving throw and if the targets fail they have this wishy-washy vague effect upon them where they have to roleplay having insistent sexual thoughts, and a secondary wishy-washy vague effect upon the Avatar of Love’s party that makes them more sexually active. Among the other features are a bunch of useless low-level handmaidens and 1st level spell-like abilities that are a waste of time.
The Guild Enforcer prestige class is basically a scantily clad chick with a sword who protects the whorehouse. You get a delayed sneak attack progression, ending at +4d6 over 10 levels, 8 BAB (?) over 10 levels (it isn’t 3/4ths nor 1 for 1 for some reason) and a few static damage bonuses that aren’t totally useless. The rest of the abilities are useless. For example, once per game you can produce a weapon from seemingly out of nowhere (read: your pockets) as long as you have the money to pay for it.
The Lady of the House is a joke prestige class that gives you ownership of a brothel and peppers you with exhausting humor and moral posturing. “Nobility really just means the biggest bully or the woman with the loosest morals and widest legs when it comes to sleeping with bullies.” Oh shut up, book, I don’t care about this, I want class features! Is it so difficult for you to create actual features instead of all this wearying pseudo flavor text?
The Romantic Advisor is another non-prestige non-class filled with strikingly specific, mostly worthless “features” that hardly interact with the game at all. The only worthwhile features you possess are basically extremely minor (read: in the +1 to a check range) conditional buffs that you have to spend time setting up beforehand.
Rules, Such As They Are
Temptresses have a great many tricks, techniques and secrets tucked up their sleeve, in their garter belt or in other, more secretive but less comfortable locations. Like any other profession there are things to be learned as a temptress. Things learned by bitter experience in the first case and passed on to others to save them the pain of finding these things out themselves. From knowing how to wear a dress properly to being able to tie cherry stems into knots with your tongue these form the core of the true knowledge that separates a temptress from a simple slut. – Quintessential Temptress, pg. 34
Like other books on sexuality, Quintessential Temptress invents a few new and patently unexciting features for third edition’s many skills. From Craft (sex aid) to Perform (striptease), the imagination does not dare go to any new frontiers. The Nookie skill is best described by its text in the book: “Nookie is the ability to give someone a good time while dancing the mattress mambo, playing hide- the-sausage or examining each other’s underlay.” Thanks, book. This section contains more childish euphemisms and avoidance of the word “sex” than I have ever seen occupy half of a page before. Oddly enough, being male is a -5 circumstance penalty to the Nookie skill.
There are feats in this book, or at least, there is an attempt to include feats in this book. Many of them are merely opportunities for the book to say the word “freak-bag” or otherwise attempt to be humorous. Here’s a major spoiler – the book doesn’t manage to be funny here either. Not only that, but every single feat is preceded by a fat paragraph of flavor text and an extra c-grade joke before you can actually read what it does.
There are a few new weapons in the book that sound interesting at first until you look at the weapons table and realize that none of them do damage over 1d4 except the sap. A good third of them do 1d3 or less damage. You might think that they at least have some decent special combat options to them, but then you read things like the sap paragraph and realize that no, they’re also here to serve as a joke. Along with the rules for armor (allowing such things as chainmail bikinis) and the rules for extra equipment (dildos).
The “Good” Parts
The book’s highlights, some would say, include its ability to help you “realistically portray brothels and bordellos.” There are sections, for example, on possible “sugar daddies” for your poor whore, and on lovers from other races and even on monstrous lovers. None of these are particularly insightful, however, and in essence, like everything else in the book, basically serve as the butt of more bad jokes. “‘Boning’ is not an option and simply not hygienic” is part of the Undead entry, for example. Where the book tries to be legitimately insightful on these sorts of things, such as its examination of having a noble sugar daddy, it never dwells on them enough to say anything inspired before actively undercutting itself.
Perhaps the only legitimately decent portion of the book is where it offers up reams of flavor text explaining the streets and quarters wherein temptresses might be found. Its look at the different districts of a city, while not profound, is serviceable enough, and the humor in this portion is fairly innocuous as opposed to groan-worthy. Its explanation of various laws, environments and authorities at play in the life of a temptress, as well as the duties and operations that a temptress might take on, might actually qualify as informational. The problem with this is that the author pretty much admits to cribbing from the Quintessential Rogue, so at this point, I’m skeptical that any of the “good” material in this book isn’t so in large part because it is inspired by Quintessential Rogue.
A Stunning Conclusion
As far as product quality is concerned, the book is entirely black and white and has a clean layout. The artwork is hit and miss, some of it being passable, others being decent, most being pretty bad. There is one particular piece on page 30 which looks like a quartet of emaciated women experimenting with their sexuality around a man grabbing his crotch in meditation. Whatever powerful meaning we can ascribe to it, it is gruesomely ugly. There’s nothing terribly special by which to judge the book except its content. Even if you wanted a sexual product for your game for some reason, I honestly couldn’t recommend this book. Hell, I’d recommend the Book of Erotic Fantasy over it. Book of Erotic Fantasy actually tries to be thoughtful with things like how different alignments and races view sexuality, and it has substantially less puerile stupidity per page than Quintessential Temptress.
The more important question really is who does have a use for this book? Here are some suggestions. If you are entering puberty and are a fan of D&D, and you find yourself in a position in which you can torrent only a single book about “boobies,” then perhaps this would be a good choice. Better to experience it while the humor is still somewhere around your age level. If you are this guy then you should definitely get this book. The one night your character will last in your current campaign, before you are bodily hurled from the GM’s house by the second floor window, will be glorious indeed. For anyone else, this book isn’t for you. And that is only if we ignore how the book looks down upon customers in defense of its middle school misogyny. But I’m not the one to fight that battle. Maybe someone should head to the top of a nearby police station and shine the D7-signal.
The one nice thing I can say about this book is that if its first 50 or so pages just completely ceased to exist, it might actually be sort of useful. One might argue that this review is many years quite late, but remember – FATAL was from around this time too. Whether they are forgotten or not, if really hilariously bad books exist, I don’t care how old they are.