I’ve played my fair share of prostitutes in roleplaying games. Okay maybe more than my fair share as it’s the sort of talky, seductive, manipulative character I like. So a game where everyone is part of the oldest profession? Gimme gimme! Courtesans is a mature RPG where the characters are part of the Demi Monde, the VictorIan underworld of accepted irrespectability, sharing a house and trading favours for money and influence. Competing for admirers, aiding each other in times of need and perhaps even providing comfort of an intimate nature? These women are complicated creatures, far removed from the street walkers of our popular culture.
Courtesans is a sister game to the previously reviewed Tough Justice RPG. Same period setting, same “Beer and Crisps” mechanics but with a few tweaks. It’s a good system focusing on character description rather than statistics and fits with the game’s ethos of player driven story rather than adventure dished out by passing monsters. Courtesans are divided into broad categories called origins, which act like classes, bestowing positive and negative qualities in line with their beginnings – Actresses, Professionals, Fallen Ladies, Goldenhearts, Schemers and Upstarts. Perhaps here I would introduce rolls to randomise the physical aspects rather than letting the players choose them. I could see how most Courtesans designed by male players could end up top heavy supermodels! The character’s experience is measured by resources in five different categories – Legend, Reputation, Wealth, Influence and Scandal and as play progresses they fluctuate. During a session, or season, Courtesans procure ‘admirers’, complete actions such as conversation, sex and spying, then attend the Cyprian Ball. The ball is a chance for the Courtesan to celebrate their achievements and give a final boost to their resources. The session is run by a Landlady, who is interestingly also a character herself. Thus the gamesmaster can guide the game in a more hands on manner, which is an excellent idea.
Other great aspects of this book are that a typical gaming session is laid out in detail for new players and GMs, the wealth of historical background information including the Royalty as customers and advanced rules for groups that want to delve deeper into the Demi Monde. I especially like the progression system where successful actions are eventually traded for character investments rather than merely improving your dice rolls.
There is one major section of the rules I personally don’t like. Not because of the mechanics but the subject and the all too gritty reality of the situation – pregnancy. Each season the Courtesan must test to see if any of her liaisons ended with a baby on the horizon. I can understand it’s inclusion but rolling for stillbirths, mother deaths and handicapped children is an emotional step too far for me and might also be for other women playing the game. Also where are the sexually transmitted diseases? Surely if you do one the other should be detailed. However this is not the focus of the game and it could be easily written out if desired.
This game is certainly entertaining, interesting and different to most RPGs out there. I would recommend it as reading for any GM wanting to include ‘ladies of the night’ in their game as more than an easy snack, giving them depth and intrigue. Coming soon is an additional setting book, Courtesans: Weird & Wonderful which could turn this game from an rare treat to a regular indulgence. Providing I can persuade the boys to play of course. I’m thinking props….
Publisher: Postmortem Studios