I think romance is a wonderful part of storytelling that we see in just about every form of media. Thing is, in RPGs I feel it often gets the short end of the stick. Why is this?
First, I think we’re uncomfortable having romantic moments with our friends in games. It can feel weird, strange, abnormal – pick an adjective. Emotions and even pretending to have intimate and sappy moments can be awkward.
Second, that might not be the kind of game you’re looking to play or story to collaboratively tell together. Understandable, whatever your reasons.
Third, and where I’m going to focus on with this article, is while we’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of love stories play out on the small and large screens, in our books and audio dramas, and on stage from the bard himself Shakespeare, we might not understand what goes into setting the stage for a love story. So lets get into it.
Since we’re playing an RPG and not writing a story, it’s important to understand you don’t want to, and probably can’t, force a romance. I mean you could, but I imagine it goes poorly most of the time. Besides, who likes to be forced to do anything. With that said, what you’re doing as a GM, or player, is providing an opportunity for romance to happen. To do that you need to know what pieces you need to have in place.
You can’t have a romance without at least two participants, unless you’re doing something existential and self involved. If you are, I want to hear about that, by the way. That part’s simple: two or more entities to fall in love.
This is a moment when the Lovers realize there’s something more between them than just friendship or existence. This thing could be physical or emotional, but often it’s best to have both if possible. This attraction is at times one sided and other times it is mutual. It can happen at the same time in a lust or interest at first sight or first conversation situation, or it can happen for one lover later than another. In the end, this attraction is opening the door for an opportunity.
Before we get to opportunity, I want to talk about physical attraction in RPGs. I always felt physical attraction was tricky because RPG’s are often a spoken medium. This is where pictures can come in handy of NPCs to help visualize what people look like, but I tend to go more with descriptions, not just of physical looks, but the feel and tone of personas. A conversation with an NPC to get the feel of them and putting a flirtatious, kind, welcoming, or some other positive adjective tone in their voice can go pretty far. If you know your fellow players, you’d actually be aware of what their interests, likes, and enjoyments are and can play to them. That’s a little inside baseball but we should use all the tools at our disposal to create the best possible experience for all of the players, including ourselves, at the table. Let’s move on.
So let’s review. You need two or more lovers and then some attraction between those lovers. How that happens is anyone’s guess. You could have two PCs who decide outside of game they want to have a romance in play. You could have the situation spontaneously show up during play between any characters, be they PC/PC or PC/NPC. The thing is that once attraction is there, opportunities need to be presented in order to allow the lovers to create connections. These opportunities could be a moment in a hallway of the space ship they’re on together to have a conversation, a chance where one of them can save the other one from a burning building, or an opportunity a lover creates for themselves where they do something kind or sweet for the other lover, like bringing them the pendant of their father they’ve been searching for these past ten years.
Connections are those moments when the lovers realize they have something in common, have a shared belief or ideal, want the same things out of life, or whatever it is that takes their attraction and deepens it. Without those connections, those moments which deepen the bonds between the lovers, there isn’t a way to progress the romance. Opportunities are one kind of moment that create a connection, but there are others.
These are internal struggles or personal challenges which keep the romance from progressing. They can come in the form of trust issues, having been hurt by lovers before, obligations to other parts of the lovers life, such as work or family. They are stronger and often more emotional struggles because of their personal nature, but overcoming them can create deep connections between the lovers.
Threats are active and external forces that may or may not be trying to thwart the romance. Some examples of threats would be the police hunting one of the lovers, a gunshot wound causing one of the lovers to bleed out, or a sun about to go super nova and the lovers are on a ship in the same system. I mean death is a pretty solid threat, as is incarceration.
The outcome is a good piece to have when love is either young and it hasn’t set in yet, or it’s love on the rocks and you need that moment to see if the romance will continue on or if it will end. These are the moments in stories where one or both of the lovers decide to carry on or go their separate ways. This could be the moment where one of the lovers confronts the other with the truth they know about, and want to hear the other’s answer before they make a decision. It could be the moment where they profess their love for the first time. It could be the gesture or apology to help start healing what has been broken. This is that moment that answers the question “What is the current fate of this romance?“
Tying Things Up
So those are the parts of a romance. I’ll be back in a few weeks to talk about what an arc of a romance can look like and provide an example. If you’re looking for more on romance in your games right now you can check out The Misdirected Mark Podcast Episode 247 – The Love Arc and Panda’s Talking Games Episode XX – Romance Is In The Air. Thanks for reading and before you go, let me know if you’ve ever used romance in your games, how it went, and the story. I love a good romantic story.