Part 2 of 3, by Patrick Weekes
I’ve been involved in romances in tabletop games, both from behind the GM screen and in front of it. The short version of what I’ve learned is that it varies from group to group and from person to person within any one group, but that doesn’t attract legions of commenters arguing that I’m full of it, so… here, yell at these:
In my longest-running campaign, I had a guy who was actively interested in an in-game relationship, a few players who liked the idea of their character having a significant other but weren’t comfortable with the idea of having to roleplay falling in love with a pasty bearded white guy (me), and others who were not only uninterested but actively thought that it was a stupid idea to waste time on someone else’s love scene when everyone was really here to eat pizza, roll dice, and hit monsters.
To balance these varying levels of interest and comfort, I kept most of the interested guy’s love story in e-mails exchanged between sessions. (This avoided the “two straight guys trying to roleplay a romance between a man and a woman” bit, and it also let us refer to those events in game without explicitly playing out the whole romance.) The camera moved in and out (or panned to the lamp) as was comfortable for us in those e-mails, and in-game, the two characters were an established couple talking with easy familiarity.
The players who thought that their character ought to be with somebody but didn’t want to roleplay it could just describe, in extremely vague detail, what was going on. Their characters got both the advantages and disadvantages of being in a relationship: the cleric in love with the captain of the guard could get classified information about the state of an important diplomatic matter, while the wizard had to watch as an attack aimed at her hit her boyfriend instead, killing him and leaving her grief stricken. Their relationships were just as valid in-game as the one with more detail – we just left the specifics up to implication and inference.
If you’ve got an NPC love interest, they’re probably going to be onscreen a fair amount of the time. For this NPC, as with anybody who’s onscreen a lot and doesn’t have a pizza-eating dice-rolling player behind them, it’s really really helpful to walk the line between “Great, another one to Protect” and “Why are We Even Here?”
For the player in my campaign who was comfortable with an onscreen girlfriend, the girlfriend in question was a fairly standard Third Edition D&D Rogue. Since the party lacked a straight-class rogue, this let her show up and occasionally help with lockpicking or device-disabling, making her useful without letting her overshadow an actual player. She was also an information gatherer by trade (okay, assassin, but information-gathering was often involved), so whenever I’d gotten the players halfway through the plot, leading up to the betrayal by the Ironkeep only to realize that I’d forgotten to actually foreshadow said betrayal, I could have her toss in a bit of information she’d picked up on a job.
On the flip side, I screwed up by making her too useful in combat. (She was originally an antagonist who then fell in like with the party bard. I thought that they’d gained enough levels that she wouldn’t outshine anyone. Sadly, I forgot to take away her overpowered loot, which is understandable since all the PCs had overpowered loot as well, because I’m horrible about that kind of thing, and wow this is not the point of this blog post.) When it became clear that she was out-damage-dishing the party ranger, she lost her overpowered combat items in a hurry.
I also found that the character worked better when used sparingly. When I tried to turn her into an effective party member, with the default assumption being that she’d be along for any mission, she got less fun, and was instead one more thing I had to plan for.
This one was minor for me, since I tended to run games with a completely ahistoric assumption of gender equality. As a rule, if it comes down to historical accuracy of gender roles or people having fun, fun wins. Speaking of which…
Again, as a GM/DM/Storyteller/Narrator, it’s always important to observe the moods of your players and get the tone that matches what they want from a game. Romance is no different. Some groups are going to want overwrought emo-angst. Some groups are going to want goofy flirtation and then a “The next morning, you roll out of bed, kiss the barmaid goodbye, and head for the hills” lighthearted segue. Some groups will want to roleplay the first kiss, while others will want to fast-forward from flirtation in one session to “these two are established as a couple” in the next.
Part 3 wraps it up with Patrick’s thoughts on ‘screen time’ and player comfort
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.