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On Handling RP Romance

Today’s guest article was written by Stacey Thompson, a professional writer, marketer, entrepreneur, eclectic digital and tabletop gamer, and a lover of weird little animals. She has been out of the loop in regards to tabletop gaming since her old college group graduated, but she’s working on getting back into the hobby! She is based in San Diego, California. Thanks, Stacey!

I don’t really have any statistics to show you, but I’m almost sure that every gamemaster and gaming group (yes, even so-called pure swords-and-sorcery gaming monty haul campaigns) has encountered situations in which the topic of courtship, romance, or even (ick) love rears its curly-haired, childlike head.

You think that playing out a romantic encounter with your gaming buddy feels kinda awkward, right?

“The Wood Elven Lady Gwinnowith, with her delicate, sun-kissed features, absently toys with a lock of her golden hair, curiously gazing at you, her almond-shaped eyes limpid pools of emerald…” (Source: fotopedia [1].)

Apparently, this poses no problem to more roleplay-oriented GMs and players (some are even hardcore enough to LARP it, the thespian bastards). However, there isn’t exactly an extensive step-by-step guide for those who are a new to roleplaying, or those who are more inclined to headbutting goblins over courting damsels.

So, here are a few things I learned to make it just as fun (or even more so) as your regular treasure-seeking tromp through the dungeon.

Preset Limits

This is similar to setting an ESRB rating on a game. Discuss with your players the extent in which romantic (or even erotic) encounters will play out in the campaign. A group that was more game-oriented and prioritized hack-and-slash over RP should be eased into this slowly, as there’s no point in pulling them too far away from their comfort zone so abruptly.

For newbies, use “FMV sequences” in which you will just let the encounter go on autopilot and fade to black, giving a tasteful summary of what happened. Of course, you still have to let the player RP a bit, so as to establish just approach he/she plans to execute. Don’t hold back on the die rolls, as it will put the player at ease and remind him/her that he’s still playing a game.


If you and your players are as tense as fully-armored knights in a cave of rust monsters, things will certainly not go well. Do what you have to do to make the atmosphere as relaxed and as conducive to roleplaying. Play some appropriate ambient background sounds or music. Burn some incense. As for other chemical aids to relaxation, I’ll leave that to your judgment.

Avoid Eye Contact

One of the biggest distractions that make romantic RP difficult are the things you see. I’m not saying your GM or players are not nice to look at (that’s your opinion), but in most cases, they won’t look anything like the character they portray. They might not even be the same gender.

The solution is actually rather simple: have participants close their eyes. Visualize the entire encounter with your mind’s eye, and do your best to emulate the proper voices for the characters. Drown out the present reality so you and your players can get into the moment.

Punish Disruptive Entities

It’s hard enough to roleplay a romantic encounter without the other players (or non-player spectators) jeering and causing more embarrassment to the participating players. Tell them to leave the room or stay quiet. It’s almost certain that players who love dishing out ridicule will themselves be inept when it comes to these things.

If All Else Fails, Write it Out

This is my favored method of resolving a heavily romantic encounter. Whip out a couple of laptops and have an instant messaging RP encounter or collaborate on one document file. Bring out drawn images of the characters participating in the encounter (or approximates) for added motivation. Another bonus of this method is that the encounter is automatically documented.

These are techniques I’ve found to work well — what do you do to make roleplaying romantic encounters go easier at the gaming table?

17 Comments (Open | Close)

17 Comments To "On Handling RP Romance"

#1 Comment By shortymonster On August 1, 2012 @ 2:08 am

Might I add, be careful about starting a romantic relationship with a character, when that player’s husband is also in the game. Awkward….

#2 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On August 2, 2012 @ 6:59 am

This sort of thing is easier in an IM-based online game, the ultimate way to not have to look into anybody’s eyes, or listen to their voices. Groups who find the whole thing too awkward for face-to-face can try resolving romantic situations this way, away from the table.

If the other PCs aren’t involved in these private moments, this also keeps their players from twiddling their thumbs while this is going on. An online GM can often carry on a private conversation with a player, without abandoning the others.

And the ESRB conversation needs to include EVERYone at the table, not just the player(s) involved in the subplot. One game I was involved with ended up with a NSFW writeup of a relationship’s consummation, which really bothered one of the other players…

#3 Comment By Lychess On August 2, 2012 @ 9:54 am

I play in a family group that includes my brother, wife, daughter, nephew, and other close friends. There’s no amount of eye-closing to wash that kind of ick away so we don’t RP any kind of romance.

Outside of my current group I’ve been playing for 30+ years and have always used the fade-to-black approach. I like your write-it-out approach which would allow the romantic RP to be conducted privately. I’d add the requirement that only those directly involved should be allowed to read documentation, and that a copy should only be saved if everyone involved in the creation of said document agrees.

Lastly, I worry that you left out an important warning. Some lines crossed in RP cannot be uncrossed. This is most often a problem for DMs who have to run the serial killers, rapists, cannibals, and other unsavory characters in the world.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On August 2, 2012 @ 10:59 am

I had to play out the NPC side of a romance in one game. It was a bit awkward, but it worked out adequately. Taking the romance to paper or IM could have worked really well in that situation. Nice article!

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On August 2, 2012 @ 11:23 am

Set limits… relax… avoid eye contact… punish. Sounds like one of my first dates. 😉

Seriously, this is good stuff. I’ve GMed a few romantic interludes, and with this kind of checklist I could have allowed it to go a bit farther before fading to black or panning to the burning fireplace or whatever.

The picture is awesome, BTW. Everything from the glasses to the excited eyes to the teeth on her lip portrays a really awkward moment.

#6 Comment By staceytsd On August 2, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

Hi guys, thanks so much for weighing in! I agree Lychess, in particularly dark settings and situations, a GM should be careful. Well, some players who also have it in their minds to play disturbed characters can go over the line, and the GM should also regulate that for the sake of the other players (and his/her sanity).

Also, I don’t think I can even run a “serious” campaign that has any first degree relatives of mine participating. >_<; Someone should write a piece (or is there one already?) regarding playing with relatives.

#7 Comment By staceytsd On August 2, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

LOL shortymonster, I wouldn’t dare!

#8 Comment By shortymonster On August 6, 2012 @ 4:34 am

It was actually great once the weirdness passed. My character died saving her life, while she was pregnant with out child. Her character and the son still exist in the game world, and has ended up being a bit of the mythology as the biggest city on the continent was burning around us as I died for her. The player – Claire – even painted a portrait of the two characters in a spicy embrace that still adorns my office wall.

#9 Comment By randite On August 3, 2012 @ 12:10 am

I usually game with my wife and one or two old friends. We’re really comfortable with each other and have had numerous rather frank discussions about sex and sexuality outside of gaming. Anytime sex or romance crops up (and it does fairly often) we tend to roleplaying through it at least long enough to set the tone for the encounter. We by no means engage in a “blow by blow” as it were but due tend fade to black pretty late in the game and only after the probable outcome and the all important tone has been set. The tone of course varies from campaign to campaign, setting to setting, genre to genre.
In one Planescape game I ran, my wife’s and our friend’s Hive ward tiefling characters kept having sex just annoy the cleric they were sharing a tent with. In another game I ran a tragic romance with my wife’s character that made her, my wife and her char., cry. I’ve also played a gothy supernatural detective falling in love with a skinny, nerdy sorceress. Both played by overweight dudes in our mid twenties. The thing is love and sex are a part of life and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. And for my group not playing it through just breaks the immersion we so enjoy.

#10 Pingback By Friday Knight News – Summer Olympics Edition: 3-AUG-2012 | Game Knight Reviews On August 3, 2012 @ 5:02 am

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#11 Comment By Gamerprinter On August 3, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

Possibly in October, Rite Publishing is doing a Kickstarter to develop a stand-alone adventure for PFRPG, based on a storyline similar to Jane Eyre. A post-Elizabethan setting, with female characters as protagonists. We plan to do something both in mechanics and roleplay options for romance in gaming.

I’ve spoken to Christina Stiles about writing this. Not only does Christina have RPG writing experience, but she has also written a small press romance novel.

This is a complete experiment based on my thoughts about doing something like this – we’ll see in October.

#12 Comment By Gamerprinter On August 3, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

I meant Gothic Horror Romance – Jane Eyre, with more ghosts, haunts, and curses.

#13 Comment By KnightErrantJR On August 5, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

The Vigilance Press product Strange Attractors, a supplement for M&M3e, has a fun section on running romance in a supers game:


Interestingly, even before the above came out, I think my DC Adventures game had the most naturally occurring romances in it than any other game.

Maybe it’s just the genre, as super-heroes seem to naturally “fall victim” to romantic entanglements, and the players I had, many of whom being comic geeks, just naturally fell into playing with that aspect of the genre.

#14 Comment By Vinzent On August 7, 2012 @ 2:00 am

I would soooo date that girl in the picture. I like nerdy girls.

As for romance in my games, I have the player in question write it out or describe it in a Dramatic Interlude (via Savage Worlds).

#15 Comment By Throst On August 7, 2012 @ 7:19 am

Here’s better advice for romance in roleplaying games: Don’t try it.

A significantly large percentage of gamers are immature, no matter what age. It’s not worth the giggles and homophobic comments that are guaranteed to come from trying.

#16 Comment By shortymonster On August 7, 2012 @ 7:21 am

I have to disagree with that quite strongly, the same sentiment could be a reason for not discussing certain subjects, or even allowing certain people to play. This hobby is wonderful for the fact that you try anything in it, saying you shouldn’t because of a chance that it might not work flies straight in face of that spirit.

#17 Comment By Nojo On August 8, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

Email/Blog/Forums whatever you use in between games also works well.

No matter the game, I like to use the 3x3x3 NPC allies/contacts/enemies where the players create 9 NPCs each. Most players include at least one lover (or former lover), so I’m always bringing them back for dramatic scenes that may end in romance.

We play it out then fade to black. But the repercussions we tend to handle in our game forums. It gives us time to deal with it without the other players going “wooooo!” around the table.

There’s so much subtext in a good romance scene I find it hard to improv too far.

And a fade to black allows the player to later claim (im)plausible deniability.

#18 Comment By ajb47 On August 10, 2012 @ 6:46 am

My wife and I use paper and email. The writing comes out better than the speaking would. Being able to search for just the right synonym helps me a lot.

#19 Pingback By Friday Knight News – Gaming Edition: 5-OCT-2012 | Game Knight Reviews On October 5, 2012 @ 5:03 am

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