Part 3 of 3, by Patrick Weekes
As a simple rule of thumb, go with the comfort zone of the least comfortable person who has to be there at the time. If the fighter’s player isn’t comfortable even talking about romance, and the fighter’s character has to be present and active in this scene, then the romance should be glossed. (If the fighter’s character should be there but doesn’t have to be active, and everyone else in the group is comfortable, then you can tell the fighter’s player to go hunt down more chips in the other room while everyone else deals with the flirtation or romance or whatever, and promise him a chance to hit something later in the evening.)
In addition to comfort, an important aspect of fun is prioritizing your screen time. Unless I got the sense that people were going to enjoy the roleplaying aspect of purchasing 50 feet of rope and a light warhorse more than they’d enjoy fighting some wyverns, I tended to err on the side of wyvern-whacking. Same deal for romance. I got the feeling that my players enjoyed the goofy flirtation and the exchange of bad pickup lines. I got the feeling that they enjoyed the comfort of being in a relationship. I didn’t feel like they wanted the “So, uh, do you like me?” scenes. Even if they were comfortable, they didn’t feel fun, and if it wasn’t fun, it shouldn’t be something we spent time on.
In the end, I don’t really treat my game treatment of romance as any different from my game treatment of puzzles, negotiations, grappling, or the rules for Use Rope (Dex): like all of that stuff, the degree to which I use anything like that always depends on the interest and comfort levels of the people I’m playing with, and the introduction of that element should never dramatically change the tone of the game to something your pizza-and-chips buddies didn’t sign up for.
You thought I was going somewhere dirty with Use Rope and grapple, didn’t you? Shame on you.
Patrick Weekes has been gaming since he saw some cool kid flipping through the AD&D Monster Manual on the bus in fourth grade, and he is all about the d20s (with no disrespect intended to the White Wolf d10 or Steve Jackson d6 folks). He’s been working at BioWare since 2005 and was a writer on Mass Effect. Both of his sons have their own large and non-swallowable dice, so that they will stop trying to steal his pretty sparkly ones.