What’s the best romantic tale you’ve heard? Favourite Romantic Couple? Romeo & Juliet? Ross & Rachel? Ianto & Jack? Harry & Sally? My favourite is a couple you won’t of heard of – Cenn & Wendy. Wendy was a baker in Gwynned, Cenn was an amnesiac half-elf. They met due to an ad lib, courted through downtime and bonded when Cenn’s past as an assassin caught up with him, worried when Wendy became impregnated (by a Xzil egg) and finally settled down, moved to Palanthas and raised a new PC for the next generation. I watched in awe as our DM and another Player crafted a tale of love that transcended the game.
And it spurred me to action. It gave value to our game in a way we didn’t expect. Soon everyone was trying to add relationship details – inter-party romances, jealous love triangles, badly articulated will they/won’t they things. It gave those characters a rich life beyond the adventures they took part in. It made me rethink what RPGs could be. Like, I know Esper Rhee & Dante Valentos are a human monk & Elven wizard but I’m more interested in the fact that they are married, bicker like they have been that way for years and Esper has a slowly dawning sense of dread that unless she someone discovers a monk technique or magic item that stops her aging and dying then she’s gonna leave Dante all alone one day. Similarly, Rell & Jaz could never be together because he’s gay but loves she him all the same and when she died, it broke him forever. It all makes the motivations of the game richer.
But a lot of games leave it out. I can see why, it’s not something that everyone is comfortable with approaching. Despite this, I still consider games that lack this sort of interaction to have missed a component needed to make it to the highest tier. So we’re going to break format a little bit for this article, we are going to do away with the historical section (it’s long but largely unchanging) mention a couple of games you might consider and then move into a collection of longer tricks you might have regarding games that feature this romance that will help to resolve some elements.
Speed dating: Examples in RPG
Here’s a few games you might want to try in order to flex your romance muscles…
Romance Trilogy: a relatively new compilation of indie games, this represents a good ‘In’ with people who don’t play RPGs and want to do something different.
Good Society: Set in ‘The World Of Jane Austen’, this attempts to replicate the feel of Victorian Era romance novels and succeeds in examining not only love but status and personhood in the face of rigid societal roles, being an intriguing take on the genre.
EnGarde!: Old school game of swashbuckling action that has its own courting rules! If you can find this early gem it’s really quite the revelation.
Fog Of Love: Not technically an RPG, instead a tabletop board game, this absolutely morphs into an RPG if you play it with any degree of imagination. More of a ‘modern romcom’ type endeavour where you struggle to maintain a relationship while trying to come out on top by the end, sometimes the relationship splits up -which is maybe better for the characters involved. Two player but a hell of a game to watch.
Two Become One
Here’s my advice for getting over those first date jitters.
Safe Words, Safe Boundaries
Make sure that before you begin introducing relationships, you’ve define how far your group want to go. Some people are ok with describing and roleplaying flirting, some people would rather just roll dice and have it described. Some people want to draw veil as soon as people kiss, other stop at the bedroom door. Most romance novels go a few steps further than we’re even going to go in the game unless you’re really comfortable with your play group. It’s not really important how far you go – what’s important is that everyone is on the same page and anyone can stop anything at any point and request the GM move the plot forward. Because it’s not really about the steamy stuff after all.
As the GM you need to follow an arc when it comes to romance. The romance needs to change the people involved in it. Maybe they don’t really get along but grow to love each other. Maybe they fall quickly in love but eventually are bad for each other and break up. Maybe the relationship is tested in some way and changes, moving into a different phase of understanding. Maybe the love dies but the relationship continues as a matter of necessity. Planning at least three ‘phases’ or ‘challenges’ to a relationship allow you to make the connection between the two feel like it’s an evolving partnership. That said…
Avoid The Refrigerator
Plots in which someone loved by a hero is threatened are classic and fine to do, but maybe only do it once. It’s easy to see this love as a weakness a player has that can be threatened but that goes against every instinct of the romance genre, which is interested in overcoming flaws so that the relationship can blossom. You threaten the relationship with death constantly, players will decide it isn’t worth having that connection. This is especially important when a PC is in a relationship with an NPC as it is easy to make that NPC just ‘the love interest’ and leave them lacking any real depth.
Keep It Natural
Let’s for a minute go back to my first example of a couple at the top of the article. That relationship happened because the player kept leaving scenes in the party’s shared townhouse by saying he was ‘going to get the bread’. After a while the group sort of assumed he was dating someone at the bakery, so the DM developed an NPC. That lead to them dating and the stories spiralled out. The lesson here is quite simple: don’t force things. If a PC clicks with an NPC maybe consider it but introducing someone as a ‘love interest’ barely ever works.
If you have two players who are interested in playing out a romance, it can be both awkward at the table and time consuming to play out any more than a couple of dates. In big groups, sitting around while two other people play out a date is a very acquired taste. Consider instead having a notepad called the ‘datebook’ in which the two players can take time to take the book home with them and write down a date that happened between the two characters. It removes awkwardness but allows people to paint a picture of a developing relationship.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips to romantic RPG play and that you get a chance to try some of them out. In the next session, we’re gonna do something different and investigate the works of a very specific creator and see what kind of RPG stuff we could make based on their work. It could be a multi-part series but I’m sure that’s Much Ado About Nothing…