Spring is for Lovers

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 16 April 2010

I admitted it on Twitter and I'm more than willing to admit it here. The mention of sex and romance in RPGs on the cover of Kobold Quarterly 13 is why I finally subscribed. I've been flirting with this topic since I started playing, in large part because I often become bored with stories that don't feature at least some degree of romance. And since I play, in part, as a creative outlet for things I keep bottled up most of the time, there is no chance that a little of both isn't going to make it into my games. In my campaign, we've had a smattering of suggestive scenes, a satyr playing for dancing wood nymphs, a female halfling in a bar with a twinkle in her eye, two young Lizardfolk sneaking into a back room, but pretty standard and relatively low key stuff.

But the truth is I'm just one person at a table of 6-7 and bringing up the subject can be awkward for both sides of the conversation. In addition, the only previous source I had on the subject was the Book of Erotic Fantasy and, well, people often think of the more extreme parts of that book instead of the PG-13 stuff. Now that this article is out, it will be much easier to approach the table and say, "So, I've been reading this great article from Kobold Quarterly and I want your thoughts on the subject."

In addition to making it easier to mention the topic, the article itself is full of great advice. I will definitely use the "boots" story mechanic, lest the game become a challenge of how much my players can make me blush. Also, while I'm willing to be open about a ton of things, the dynamic can get a bit strange when having a mostly male table and a female DM. Since one player has already expressed interest in having a love interest, at least now I have a better idea of how to frame that discussion. But enough about me. What about you guys? Have you brought sex and romance to your tables and, if so, how?


It's something I've certainly considered, but not something I could ever get integrated into my group. For starters, one of my players is my 14 year old cousin so, well, no more need be said :P Secondly, while we're mates, I don't know everyone else around my table -that- well. It -is- something I had great success with in...(not sure if I should say this here *is wary of shunning*) WoW. There was some great romantic roleplay in that game, and I made some great e-friends though just those storylines. It was a great way to get connected to your character and really feel like part of something in game.

As for FtF games, well, I'm afraid any portents of romance will be sitting in my own copy of the Book of Erotic Fantasy for some time to come yet...

Good luck with your own exploits! Let us know how it turns out.

My group's DM (call him Bob) and one of the other players (call him Steve) have been playing together for years, while the rest of us were acquired about eight months back. Steve is playing a dashing, swashbuckling Rogue. In our first few sessions, Bob gave Steve some chances to roleplay this part of his character by letting him flirt with and seduce various barmaids and NPCs. Bob is a great DM who does voices and accents and really gets into character, so these conversations were very... authentic.

Bob and Steve seemed quite at home doing this kind of thing (as I said, they've been RPing together for years), but everyone else in the room felt REALLY uncomfortable while it was going on. Having two bearded STRAIGHT guys whisper sweet nothings at each other in a basement is a very awkward thing to watch. The other three people present would just clam up and stare wide-eyed while it was going on.

I'm not sure exactly where the squick factor comes from... it's not homophobia, at least. I think a big part of it is that that kind of interaction just doesn't feel right in a fantasy RPG. Our DM doesn't make us roleplay the "everyday life" moments like sleeping, eating, long travel, etc. Our sessions focus on the parts where we're actively advancing the plot-- questioning NPCs, exploring mysterious locations, and fighting/chasing bad guys. What we do at the bar later on is an unnecessary detail for me-- it doesn't impact the story, so why are we wasting time on it?

The only answer I could think of to that question was "Hey, this is fantasy. People roleplay things they can't do in real life." But that just made me even more uncomfortable. Is it now the DM's job to let players with zero social skills pretend they're smooth-talking ladykillers? That's an incredibly depressing thought...

So, yeah. It was a very uncomfortable situation for most of us, and after we pointed that out jokingly the next week ("I honestly thought you were going to lunge off the sofa and make out."), romance/seduction has mostly been dropped from our games. It's creepy to watch, and in certain cases it doesn't seem like a healthy thing from a psychological perspective. People that desperate for affection and social interaction really need to find a more fulfilling outlet for it than rolling dice on graph paper.

Just something to keep in mind-- the players in your group who "didn't express interest" may not simply "not be interested". They may actively find it detrimental to the game, like we did.

The smooching is often my favorite part in a story, too. I always squee a little when the two main characters finally get together and kick ass. Still, I have no idea how to introduce love interests into a DnD game that doesn't feel forced. How am I supposed to play matchmaker as a DM when I would never DARE to do so in real life?

Fortunately, my players sort of solved that one for me. Two of the characters have a mad crush on each other (and are role-playing as teenagers), and are having a grand time playing through all the awkward romance of "I hate you, go away, but when you're not looking I'm totally going to ogle you from over here."

I did want to arrange a marriage in-game for another character, but everyone objected so strongly that I had to scrap that plot. Apparently forced marriages and political intrigue are not suited to this group. Buncha hopeless romantics.

Sorry you had such a bad experience with it. Each group is different and the DM should try to match up what is going on in the game with the interests of the group. If you're not into it, that's totally fine. I did a lot of summary text when one of my NPCs finally had her baby because I didn't really want to get into the details of the matter.

Most, if not all, of my players follow this blog now, so they are free to pipe up with their thoughts, but I don't think most of them are all that disinterested in a little humor and light-hearted references. To me, love and lust aren't just everyday minutea, but rather very important driving forces behind our actions and decisions. So yeah, an incredibly intimate conversation between two characters can make things pretty awkward at the table for some groups, but that doesn't mean these topics have to be completely absent from the table. For instance, I don't think I've said more than a few words on the subject in game, but our half-elf bard leaves a trail of infatuated women in his wake, our halfling rogue caught the eye of at least one young woman in a bar, and, as a player, I wouldn't let my character Sarah sleep in the same room as a certain wizard in our party.

These elements can help move along the plot as well. Perhaps a particular admirer of the bard has some information she is willing to share with him and only him in hopes that doing so will make her special. Or the flirtations of a particular wizard gets them kicked out of a bar just in time to overhear a tense conversation outside or kicked out before an important event takes place. Maybe the local lord likes to dress as a commoner and find a pretty lady every once and awhile. When his wife finds out, she sends assassins to deal with her newest rival. These are all common plot tools that are slightly changed to fit a different motivation.

Romance can add to a campaign but it certainly does not fit in every game. I like having at least the hint of romance in my games as I try to run a fairly roleplaying intensive game but sometimes, and certainly for some groups, there is just no place for it.

I've handled it mostly by running the "romance" by post in-between the face-to-face sessions. I encourage my players to use email or the campaign wiki (listed as my "homepage") to do one-on-one exchanges between their PCs and NPCs. One player decided that his character fell for a particular NPC ... but then spent two years adventuring without trying to advance the relationship, and when he finally got back to her (the Big Bad threatened her), he found out she had gotten married and had a baby in the interim. It was a bittersweet and fun scene that was actually played out at the table.

Another character had the NPC put the moves on him -- she's very direct about what she wants and doesn't waste time. We played out the initial approach (via email), and just lowered the curtains when she made her move. He is only now getting around to a real courtship with her.

Another player (my spouse) liked a particular NPC and decided he wanted his character to fall for her. Since the campaign is currently on hiatus while other members of the group take their turns as GM, we've done their story by exchanging emails. We could play it out, but then I would write it up again for the campaign wiki and, odd as it may seem, we both found it easier to develop the relationship by email. That relationship has moved along the furthest, and they've just become engaged.

Two other players have their characters interested in NPCs, but in-story obstacles prevent them from moving forward. Again, this is the sort of thing I would generally run in-between, simply because the other players -- though not uncomfortable with the PG-13 exchanges that occur at the table -- do get bored when their own characters have been sidelined. And that happens with any sort of extended exchange that focuses upon only one PC.

I'm trying to remember if I've ever pulled Romance Plot off as a DM before. But I've had some good experiences with it as a player. Once I was playing a female character in a game with a female player who was playing a real cad of a male character and hit on me constantly to the entertainment of all. And of course there was the courtly romance between my Paladin and his true love, betrothed to another whom he barely trusted. That plot really drove a lot of the character's motivations.

As for your game, I know who Anka's got a little crush on, even if she hasn't figured it out yet (Readers: Anka was raised by Kenku. She is still getting used to the whole "live birth" scenario; mammalian reproduction, never mind romance, is something that fascinates and disgusts her. When she falls, she's going to fall hard and have no idea what's happening to her.)

But I have to say, with reference to your game specifically, that I don't hold out a lot of hope that romance plot is going to fly in a group that can't even keep their gender pronouns straight when referring to my character.

I've definitely used plenty of romance in my gaming. In our last big game, my husband's character's relationship with one of the only other members of his species became a big plot line. Two of the PCs, played by a married couple, found love with each other, over time. Another character, the bard, had a chaste, courtly romance with an NPC noblewoman, which led to adventure when she was kidnapped! Another PC, a rogue-shaddowdancer, found a soulmate, which led to tragedy when the two ended up enemies on the opposite sides of a cosmic struggle.

Romance can be a strong plot device and an enjoyable change of pace. If your players are mature, it shouldn't be an issue. It's best to start small...see how your players feel about it. Try to get an idea of if they think it would add to the game, or if they'd find it uncomfortable. If they're open to it, do a little trial run, and see what happens.

I strongly recommend looking through some of the old Pendragon mods, as romance was a regular part of that game's diet.

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