What’s Love Got To Do With It, Part V: Romance As Plot Device

Love is, as we all know, an important and integral part of human existence. It even goes beyond humanity – some animals mate for life, after all. Yes, technically speaking, romance is not essential to procreation and the furthering of the human race, but it certainly makes it all a lot more worthwhile.

The quest to find true love is a common one, and it’s not always easy (if it was, GDG wouldn’t exist!). There can be lots of bumps in the road and obstacles to overcome, be they the opinions of other people or the laws of the land. Sometimes people even stand in their own way of love!

The trials and tribulations of romance have long been the stuff that bodice ripper novels, chick flicks, and soap operas have been made of. It only stands to reason that they could make up part of the plot in your RPG as well. Even if your game is pretty light on the romance, a love-related theme can make an appearance as a chapter or story arc in your campaign. Here are just a few examples of romantic plot lines that can be used in any campaign.

The Runaway Bride

A woman approaches the PCs in a tavern. She overheard them talking about their journey and is headed the same direction that they are, and asks if she can travel with them for increased safety. She has her own horse, and is equipped well enough for adventure, but while she doesn’t appear to be lying, the PCs don’t think she’s telling the whole truth either. If the PCs are hesitant, she may offer payment for the right to travel with them, or may even beg them to let her ride along with them. The PCs sense that she is in some sort of danger, but is afraid to reveal what is haunting –or hunting – her.

The party’s new companion seems torn between keeping to herself and becoming friends with the rest of the travelers. She is very friendly and seems to like everyone in the party, but shuts herself off from them at times. Parts of her story seem off – she claims to be from a certain nation far away, but doesn’t understand that country’s language, for example. When the party stops in the next town along the road to resupply, the sight of some armed men with foreign heraldry sends her hiding in the nearest alleyway, and a short time later a couple party members find her back at the inn, hastily packing her things and clearly preparing to run.

At last the truth comes out: in an attempt to keep her from entering the priesthood of the goddess of sex and pleasure, her father (a down-on-his-luck nobleman) arranged for her to marry a local count, in exchange for a hefty dowry. Her betrothed is, quite literally, a monster of a man, said to have troll blood flowing through his veins and a personality to match. Unwilling to abandon her faith or enter into marriage with a foul creature she doesn’t love, she stole her dowry and ran. She has already escaped her father’s men, but the sentries she ducked from in town are the count’s personal guard – meaning the count himself can’t be far behind. Will the party help her find her freedom?

Unrequited Love

Love left unresolved is the stuff of legend – or fantasy, if you will. From the Legend of Drizzt to Dragonlance to Lord of the Rings, there are enough occurrences of romantic tension to make even the least romantic-minded reader throw the book across the room and cry out, “Would you two just kiss already?!” Whether it’s a matter of two people being deeply in love, but thinking they can’t be, or not realizing they are, or there’s something standing in their way – a duty, a mission, an angry parent – love that should be, but isn’t, can become a plot line all of its own.

If you want something to tug on the emotions even further, love lost is the way to go. Losing one’s true love changes a person. It can leave them bitter, depressed, or utterly driven to find that love again, even if they die trying. Again, we only have to look to fantasy culture for examples of this device. R.A. Salvatore’s Demon Wars series contains one of the most painful stories of love lost forever that I’ve ever read. Don’t want that much angst? How about going for love that’s been lost, but found again? Even the little boy didn’t mind the kissing so much when Westley and Buttercup were reunited in The Princess Bride.

How do you bring an unrequited love plot into your game? There are a number of ways. One is to involve at least one of the PCs, if not two. Look through their character backgrounds – if there’s any mention of leaving a childhood sweetheart behind, the player has just made things easy for you, GM. Or, if the players *gasp* didn’t write character backgrounds, their past is in your hands. Bwahaha!

Want to be a little less evil? Introduce an NPC as a potential love interest for a PC. But perhaps the NPC’s father insists that his son will only court a proper lady, not a common adventurer. Or circumstances might put physical distance between the two. Can love overcome such difficulties?

You also have the option of not involving the PCs in the romance directly. The party escorts a caravan back to its home nation, where they receive thanks from the ailing duke, a man who seems painfully sad and broken. Conversation with others reveals that the duke lost his true love years ago, along with the infant daughter he never met. Just a few cities back, the party encountered a young woman of the right age to be the duke’s daughter, with more than a passing resemblance to him, and she mentioned she was on a quest to find her long lost father. But she was traveling in the opposite direction! Can they track her down and reunite father and daughter?

Fighting The Law…Or The Church

As discussed in my previous article in this series, laws and cultural norms vary from place to place, from group of people to group of people. As the party travels, they’re bound to encounter different attitudes toward love, marriage, and the like. If the party includes a same-sex couple, or an interracial couple, and travel to a city or nation where such a relationship is frowned upon (if not illegal), how will the couple and the rest of the party react? Will they pretend that relationship doesn’t exist, to keep the peace for as long as they’re in the area? Or will they refuse to deny their love, even if it means getting kicked out of every business in town, or even arrested?

Even if the characters don’t have a direct conflict with a law or custom, they might be so incensed by it that they’re tempted to try to make changes. In a town where elves and humans live and work side-by-side, but are not allowed to marry, an elven stable boy may approach the party in a panic, telling them that his human girlfriend is about to give birth, and that if the party doesn’t take the baby away with them, its human grandparents will never let it live. Will the party take the baby, insist that the young parents come with them as well, or make a stand against such atrocities?

Love As A Motivator

Just as we in the real world would do just about anything for the one we loved, so will the characters in your game. The paladin will stop at nothing to rescue his love from the slavers who kidnapped him, and why wouldn’t his party go with him? If the baroness says her daughter may leave town with you, but only if you first retrieve the jewels that were stolen from her by the local thieves’ guild, odds are you’ll be making plans for that break-in before you’ve even finished your tea. You own love doesn’t even have to be at play – you may be hired to rescue the mayor’s wife from her captors, or to guard the princess on her wedding day, protecting her from a jealous ex.

Any of these ideas can be dropped into any campaign, in any setting, no matter how little or how much romance is in your game. Give it a try and watch it add even more fun and intrigue to your game night.

How have you used romance as a plot device in your game?

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.)

Speak Your Mind