What’s Love Got To Do With It, Part II: Bringing In The Lovin’

So after reading the column I posted last week, maybe you’re thinking about adding a little love and emotion to your RPG. That’s great! But now that the decision’s been made, how do you go about it? And how much romance should you bring in to the game? You didn’t really think I’d leave you hanging without answers to those questions, did you?

Two of the main things you should consider are the intensity level you want for your game, and what style of play you plan to use for the romantic elements. (You can easily use this same methodology for violence or other mature elements in your game.)

Some Like It Hot

The intensity is how much of a role you want romance to play in your game. This assumes that you want a game in your regular setting and system that just has a little love in it, not a sex game (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). Think of it as you would movie ratings:

PG: Some flirting and kissing occur, but they’re pretty tame. Sex happens, but it’s acknowledged more than it’s detailed (“The rogue and the cleric disappear from the ball for a while, and when they return, appear flushed and breathless”). Romance has only a bit part in the game. Most gamers I’ve encountered have no issues with this level of intensity.

PG-13: Romance becomes more adventurous, and plays a supporting role. There’s more detail, more openness, more nudity.

R (or higher): Pretty much anything goes. The characters are sexual, sensual creatures and romance is definitely a key member of the ensemble cast of your game, if not one of the leads.

All The World’s A Stage

Once you’ve selected an intensity level, choose the playstyle that will best fit your game and your gamers.

Passive: All romantic play is discussed OOC (“My character asks the guard if he would like to come to the tavern for an ale after his shift”) or through passing notes to the GM. This style works great in groups where the players are a little shy, or struggle a bit with interactive roleplaying.

Involved: The romance is played out IC (“You must be hot, stuck in that armor all day. Can I buy you an ale after your shift?”) to a certain point, then the scene “fades to black”. This style works well in most groups I’ve gamed with, because it’s very fluid and adaptable, and you can adjust it within the group to suit each player. It also gives some great roleplaying opportunities.

RP Everything: Every bit of the romance is played out IC. Every bit. Kisses are described in detail. Marriage vows are recited. The bedroom door could just as well be wide open. This style of play is clearly not for every group, though it can work well in a one-on-one private session, or with a small group of people who are very comfortable with each other. But depending on how emotional or sexy things get, this can be awkward for even the best of roleplayers. Also, in a large gaming group, a drawn-out scene between just two or three characters leaves the rest of the players bored and feeling left out. In my experience, I’ve found this style works best in a PbP game, where the players aren’t actually face-to-face.

Find A Happy Medium

When the time comes to add romance to your game, determine the lowest common denominator among your players. If that math reference brought back horrible memories of high school algebra, take a deep breath and relax. There’s no actual math involved – you just want to find the lowest level of intensity or playstyle that your players are all good with, and go with that. For example, if you have 5 players, and they’re all in agreement that they like the R intensity, but only 3 are comfortable with roleplaying everything, drop down to the involved style. If there’s still one player uncomfortable with that, drop down again to the passive style. Now everyone is within their comfort zone.

I’m not a huge fan of detailing every bit of your game with your players before you start, because it takes away a lot of the fun and spontaneity. With gamers you know and have a feel for their playing styles, I would just go for it if you’re considering either PG or PG-13 intensity, paired with a passive or involved play style. With players that are new to your table, either talk to them about it first, or play a few sessions to get to know them before you start introducing romantic elements. If you want an R-rated game, roleplayed to every single detail, I would clear that with your players first, whether you’ve known them for years or just met them at the game club.

Regardless of the intensity or style of play, strive to integrate the romance into your game so that it’s as much a part of each session as the spell-slinging and sword-swinging. In real life, romance is part of who we are every day, not some side activity we pick up when there’s nothing on TV. Make it so for the characters in your game. If it feels natural, and like it’s meant to be there, even the sexiest encounters won’t seem gratuitous.

I’m not done yet! Next week I’ll discuss one of the more controversial elements of romance in RPGs: whether or not rules are required.

How much romance do you bring into your game? What style of play do you use?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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