If you’re relatively well-versed in Internet, you know who Chuck Tingle is. If you don’t, uh, buckle up. And maybe don’t read this in public.
//Content Warning: This post is about erotica. So, y’know. Erotica stuff incoming. Actually, lemme just put a page break here if you’re scrolling at work.
Chuck Tingle is an enigmatic figure on the internet, possibly going by a pseudonym if not an invented character entirely, who is renown for posting what I can only describe as “oddly specific gay erotica”. While his topics vary wildly, Tingle’s bibliography of books (“Tinglers”) can generally be sorted into three categories:
- Anthropomorphized Animals/Objects With Weird Professions (as featured in Gay T-Rex Law Firm: Executive Boner, Wereplane Butt Party, and Sentient Phantom Tow Truck Pounds My Butt)
- Thinly Veiled References To Current Events, and I’m Talking The Thinnest of Veils (as featured in Revengers Buttgame: Antguy Gets Small To Go Into Thamos’ Butt And Then Gets Big And Hard as well as Pounded In The Butt By The Fact That It Took Less Time For This Book To Be Written And Published Than The Entire Length Of Tony Scarymoochy’s Term As White House Communications Director)
- Erotica Parodies Of Things That Do Not Seem To Lend Themselves To Erotica Parodies (The Tell-Tale Butt, This American Butt Hosted By Ira Ass)
Tingle has a throughput that most authors can only dream of, with no fewer than 243 books associated with his name on Amazon at time of writing (admittedly including compilations). His covers show a mastery of Photoshop few can claim to wield, and he was even nominated for a Hugo.
Perhaps most surprising of all is how unfathomably wholesome Tingle’s writing is. While he does write almost exclusively about sex, it’s always written in a remarkably tender, careful, loving way. Tingle himself declares his goal is to Prove Love Is Real, and is, obviously, very accepting of all manner of non-heteronormative relationships. He even put out a compilation of stories about platonic and non-sexual love (such as Not Pounded By The Physical Manifestation Of My Need To Please Everyone Because Sometimes It’s Okay To Give Back To Yourself).
In case my, pardon the pun, intimate knowledge of Tingle’s work isn’t clue enough, I love Chuck Tingle’s work. It’s simply unlike anything else out there, and is simultaneously hilarious in its absurdity, and extremely comforting and wholesome, easily a more earnest description of romance than a thousand vampire novels or saccharine Hallmark movies.
So imagine my surprise when Chuck Tingle came out with a tabletop RPG! Amazed by the collision of two of my very niche interests, I popped on Amazon the second it was out (at work, which, in hindsight, bad call), and ordered a copy of The Tingleverse: The Official Chuck Tingle Role-Playing Game. It’s, uh, not what I expected.
To pivot hard from niche internet celebrities to niche gaming terminology, The Tingleverse is what is frequently referred to as an Old School Revival or OSR game. To avoid descending deep into a Matryoshka doll of definitions, OSR games are ones which attempt to capture the minimalist vibe of old dungeon-crawling tabletop RPGs, most notably older editions of Dungeons and Dragons.
The Tingleverse has a fairly strong line of connection to Dungeons and Dragons, bafflingly. The classes (“trots”) map pretty cleanly to D&D tropes, from the Bad Boy (Fighter), Charmer (Bard), Sneak (Rogue), True Buckaroo (Cleric/Paladin), and Wizard (Wizard). Characters have a limit of spells (sorry, Cool Moves) per day, there are saving throws, and a lot of classic D&D spells have made their way into the spell list, albeit under different names.
The… weird thing about this is that Dungeons and Dragons, and by extension The Tingleverse, is a game mostly about fighting and killing things. Characters have stats for how well they can fight things and throw fireballs and have magic swords. Which, like, cool, but that’s not really what Chuck Tingle stories are about. Rarely if ever do Chuck Tingle characters kill each other. Quite the opposite, actually.
Which brings me to the other interesting thing about this RPG. It is, at its absolute raunchiest, a mild PG. I don’t even remember reading the word “butt” anywhere in the book, which is normal for most RPGs, but you read those titles up there. There are oblique references to the nature of the source material (all player characters are, by default, 18 and up) but there’s no mention of, y’know, the feature presentation.
I did not write this game nor did I consult with Mr. Tingle so I cannot for the life of me speculate why this is the case. Chuck Tingle’s work, while wholesome and very good, is wildly inappropriate for children, so it’s hard to imagine gathering the family up to play this RPG based on everyone’s favorite erotica author.
There’s a common piece of game design wisdom that gets passed around originally from Jared Sorenson, a storied RPG designer. These are collectively known as the Three Questions, and they are things you ask to describe what a tabletop RPG is.
- What is your game about?
- How does your game do this?
- How does your game encourage / reward this?
I think Tingleverse positions itself as a game about love. The book has this statement of purpose early on:
Ultimately, the Tingleverse is a place that thrives on love. All players are limited to the good alignment (which will be discussed later on), and will find the most success on their journey if they find healthy, positive ways of solving problems. While this can sometimes means [sic] a head-to-head battle with Void worms, players should always be encouraged to move through their world in a way that proves love is real.
So, this is the text’s answer to Question 1, but Questions 2 and 3 are concerned with how, the ways in which a game brings its statement of identity into being, first with mechanics which embody that identity, and then with incentive structures that encourage players to cooperate with this identity. And this is where Tingleverse misses the mark for me.
Tingleverse characters have stat blocks featuring Strength, Dexterity, Fortitude, Book Smarts, Street Smarts, and Charm. They also have Attack Scores, Ranged Scores, and Defense Scores for resisting damage. They have health, which is reduced by taking damage. They have weapon and armor proficiencies. These characters are fundamentally defined by their ability to fight. You can say your game is about love, but when your game has a 12 page Combat chapter and no Love chapter, and every monster provided in the book has a “Combat” section, and the book has a list of magic weapons that can be found and wielded, it makes me think your game is actually about Fighting. Sure, there’s no rules stopping me from loving, but there’s no rules about loving either.
I think the idea of a Chuck Tingle RPG is genius. RPGs in general are too frequently about murder and violence, and a wholesome game about love and sex, set in a world so crazy and farcical that you alleviate any awkward tension around the table, is an excellent idea. I would shell out a remarkable amount of money for an RPG that actually had mechanics that tried to gamify eroticism.
And there are some good ideas in this RPG! There’s an enemy that is a Void-corrupted rabbit, poisoned by too many trips across the multiverse by magicians pulling them out of hats. The Cool Move that removes fear effects is called “Soothe Bud”. That’s a good name!
But it just isn’t the game I want. While this is ostensibly a game about Tingle’s worlds, the rules in it still belong to a world about killing monsters and taking their stuff. What the game says it’s about, and the way it acts, the way it attempts the “How”, just falls flat.
I’ll still buy a Second Edition though.