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Basic Information

A prostitute is one who engages in sexual activity (and related behaviours) with a client1 for hire or reward. Unsurprisingly this is a line of work which is not typically accorded high status and is often the subject of prohibition and/or cultural taboos … and which still somehow persists in almost all cultures to some degree, usually as a last refuge source of income for the desperately poor. As a pretty much universal institution subject to taboo there are a wide range of alternative and often euphemistic names for the role, from the earthy Anglo-Saxon whore (generally pejorative) to such decorous epithets as lady of the evening.

As usual, this is subject to subversion.

At the most basic level, a very expensive prostitute can be a person of remarkably high status2 and almost 'respectable' in some circles. They will generally then be called a courtesan or something similar. Note, however that some specific kinds of courtesan - such as the Japanese Geisha - are a lot more complicated than that.

State controlled prostitution (often provided for the benefit of public employees) is also a possibility - and can get very dystopic indeed in the wrong circumstances.

And then we get "sacred prostitution". Something of a translation artifact, this relates to the phenomenon of some religions employing people to reside in or around the temples of a specific deity and engage in sexual activity with the worshippers as a proxy for that deity. In a spiritualist religion where it is normal for the spirits to possess those that worship them, the "proxy" relationship may be a little more direct. This is marginal at best as a form of prostitution, but since the term exists, it is included here.

Often called "the world's oldest profession" … except for the fact that that distinction properly belongs to management consultancy3.

Culturally the prostitute can be seen as the distaff counterpart of the mercenary - doing for hire and reward that which is generally expected to be performed on a relational basis.

Someone who "manages" prostitutes may be referred to (in technical terms at least) as a pimp if male or a madam if female, or more generally as a panderer or procurer/procuress (if they are also involved in recruiting people into prostitution). Other terms exist dependant on language and culture.

See Also:


Game and Story Use

  • The PCs just killed the dragon and have returned to town with a cart-load of gold. They can't spend it all on ale.
    • This is the point where this arcanist usually says something like "…this would be an interesting NPC for the players to meet…" except I'm not sure if "interesting" is exactly the adjective I want.
    • Massively prevalent in traditional sword-and-sorcery fantasy like Conan - "doxies" are frequent and significant NPCs in a lot of stories.
    • An early edition of "that RPG" had a whole random encounter subtable for prostitutes.
  • Apart from the obvious reasons for visiting one, a prostitute can be a useful source of information.
    • Or even an ally, as in the Biblical story of Rahab.
  • A high-status prostitute might even be a patron
  • A PC might possibly have been a prostitute before becoming an adventurer
    • Or might still be a prostitute if you're running that type of campaign.
      • Sort of like Firefly perhaps?
  • Potentially a method for an assassin or serial killer, since victims are likely to be unarmored, surprised, and otherwise not in a condition to defend themselves.
    • Also a common target for serial killers, since whether or not they're "society offenders", they're still unlikely to be missed.
    • For a less lethal example, MKULTRA used them to carry out experiments on johns.
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