You Don’t Have to be Shakespeare: Playing a Romance Well in your RPG

Romance happens in games— when we let it. We’ve all seen romances done poorly in table-top campaigns or during a live-action chronicle. But romance doesn’t have to be an exiled storyline; done well, romances can build and destroy kingdoms, take people to war, or lead to a cascade of passionate, unforeseen consequences.


Don’t violate their personal space

When chemistry starts sizzling between your character and someone else’s, there’s a lifetime of instinct to reach out and touch someone else. You need to learn to place a filter between that habit and execution of that habit. Even among good friends, keep their personal space in mind. Some players will have no problem with an arm around their waist, a hand holding theirs or a touch of their cheek. Others are going to feel pressured and upset, and look at you like you’ve lost your damn mind. When a serious romantic storyline starts developing, take some time before or after game to talk about how intact your personal space bubble needs to be. Doing it away from game minimizes the need to have to make decisions about comfort in the moment, and removes the sense of limited time that being ‘on the clock’ at game brings.

Remember: You don’t have to physically touch someone to have a successful romantic plotline rolling.

Don’t monopolize their time

It can be tempting to sneak away often for private scenes with your partner in crime, but always keep the importance of their time in mind. Most players have more irons in the fire than their plotline with you; the hostile takeover of a city court, or the pursuit of knowledge man wasn’t meant to have, takes a lot of time. Games only last a few hours. Never box a fellow player into having to spend an entire session with you, unless they actively say they want to spend the entire night making googly eyes with you.

Trust your story telling instincts

Sometimes your PC clicks with someone else’s, and you notice the spark. Don’t follow the urge to force investigating that every session. Just like in our real lives, romances in a story develop organically. I’ve forced aspects of romantic plotlines in the past and always regretted it later, because it made the story falter under the weight of too much control. The romances I still remember fondly were ones that developed at their own speed, and often surprised me. The story will flow if you don’t screw around with it too much. Remember hating on a movie that was heavy handed in its script when it came to the romance between leads? Don’t be that script writer.

Tell a story you can be proud of

Romances are an engine in stories. Orpheus and Eurydice, Antony and Cleopatra, Leonore and Florestan (to name some heterosexual couples of note), Apollo and Midnighter, Willow and Tara, Ash and Kaisa, Mel and Avery, Richard and Alec (to name some fantastic gay and lesbian couples in fiction) all have romance between participants in the story as a strong element. Those stories would be radically different without the romances tangled in their threads. There’s no shame in embracing romance in a game or fiction. The elemental power of love and human connection tells one of the strongest, oldest stories there is. So do it justice, and you’ll have a story that resonates for those within and outside it.

Have some tips to share on ways to help romance bloom in a story? Leave me a comment! 

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

Speak Your Mind