What’s Love Got To Do With It, Part IX: When Love Fades

Original art by Robin Bielefeld, owned by C and her husband.

As much as everyone loves “happily ever after”, we all know that not all love affairs end that way. Love is complicated, relationships even more so, and sometimes things just don’t work out. Whether the once-raging fire of passion burns itself out too quickly, is doused by an outside force, or just slowly runs out of fuel and isn’t replenished, not all loves are forever. Sad.

Relationships in your RPG don’t always last, either. There’s an added level of complication: there are more than two people involved in each relationship. I don’t mean threesomes or polyamory (though that may be the case in some situations!). Aside from the two characters, there are also the players involved. And the GM and the other players are all there watching. Awkward.

Just as starting a relationship between characters shouldn’t be taken lightly, neither should ending that relationship. If characters are hooking up and breaking up week in and week out, before long your game will start to feel more like a soap opera than an RPG. That doesn’t mean characters should stay together forever just to avoid conflict, either. As with any major game element, there are a lot of things to consider.

It’s Not You, It’s Me. OK, Maybe It Is You.

Why would a relationship between characters end? There are both out-of-game and in-game reasons.

A common and non-dramatic out-of-game reason is one of the players involved leaving the game and his character being removed from play. Unless the GM or another player is going to take over the character, it’s difficult for that relationship to continue. Another common reason? One (or both) of the players involved doesn’t want to continue the characters’ relationship anymore. Whether they’re bored with it, uncomfortable with it, or just don’t like it any longer, one or both of them wants out. If both players involved agree it to end it, that makes it an amicable split. If one player desperately wants to hold on to that in-game relationship, it can make for an ugly breakup.

The in-game reasons come down to character and story development. As the players create the story for their characters, sometimes there comes a point when it just doesn’t fit the way things are going for the romance to continue. Maybe the characters have changed and grown apart, or perhaps one of them has duties to fulfill that preclude having a romantic relationship (can the paladin save the world and still have time for her husband?). No matter how much the players involved may want the relationship to continue, any writer knows that sometimes the characters don’t do or act as you expected. And ultimately, that’s what we’re doing when we play. We’re writing a story.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Handling the breakup itself in-game can be tricky. As I’ve already mentioned, you have the GM and all the other players sitting at the table, watching everything unfold. Think long and hard about how much you want played out in front of everyone. Anyone who has ever witnessed a fight between lovers, much less a full-out “It’s OVER!” can tell you, it’s usually quite unpleasant to witness.

Ask yourself if it really helps the game or further the story to play out the breakup in the open. Many times, I would say it doesn’t. If the characters wouldn’t break up in front of all their friends, there’s no need for the players to hash it out at the table. The players in question can play it out away from the table, and just like in real life, can pick and choose which details of the breakup they share with their companions.

After the romance ends, the now-split couple has to carry on, and their friends have to adjust to the two of them no longer being together. Life is forever changed. That’s the silver lining to the breakup: lots of opportunities for roleplaying and character development.

But Where Are The Rules, C?

There aren’t rules for breakups in real life, and there aren’t any for breakups in your game, either. It all comes down to roleplaying, no dice involved. A big, drama-llama fight with lots of name-calling and insult-hurling is, in most situations, a bad idea, but if it fits the characters and the game, go for it. If a quiet, dignified split is more up the characters’ alley, do that. And if a breakup wasn’t really in the plans, but everything comes to a head and it seems like the only appropriate solution, do what you have to do.

But will they ever find love again? Of course they will. You’re writing their story, remember?

How have you or others in your game group handled character breakups 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.)

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