November 15, 2010 by Jeremiah McCoy
The thing about role playing is that it is essentially a storytelling medium. The game master and the players at the table are trying to tell a story about the characters and their adventures. There are all sorts of stories to be had. All sorts of things to explore. Think on the novels you read. You have horror, epic heroism and even the occasional shady morality. These things make it into the games we play as well. You know what you don’t see in a lot of games? Romance.
Aragorn had his Arwen. Han Solo had Leia. Harry Potter has his Ginny Weasley. These are typical tales in fantasy literature. What is the Arthurian tale without Guinevere and Lancelot?
So why do we avoid the romantic stories on the game table? The answer boils down to a few issues. First, is when a lot of us started playing these games, we were kids. I started when I was 9. It is hard to resolve doing romantic storylines when you haven’t even been on a date before. The early days of gaming for most folks is a time when your awkward enough, without trying to figure out how it works in our games as well. I started gaming nearly 29 years ago, so I had the added difficulty of not having an even gender spread in most gaming groups. Thankfully that has improved and there are a lot more women playing these days. They were around back then, but it didn’t as though there were as many as you see today.
As we get older though, the lack of practical experience dating begins to fall aside somewhat. The new problem begins to arise. It is still a little awkward for folks. I have seen people be perfectly okay with scenes of absolutely terrible violence and gore, but mention they might have to do a romantic scene, and they begin to freak a little.
The first thing you need to realize is romantic stories at the table are not for everyone. There’s no shame in that. If your going to be pursuing that kind of story you need to make sure everyone involved is okay with that as a subject matter. One person trying to be Don Juan in a game of folks trying their best to be the Black Company, might not last long.
I should add a note here. Fellas, women at the game table are not there just for you to hit on, be your characters girlfriend, or other wise satisfy your personal fantasies. Girl gamers are there for the same reason you are. They want to have fun. Sometimes that fun might include doing a romantic storyline, but don’t assume. Ask them, but don’t make any assumptions. The truth is half the time they are just there to stab the bad guy like you are.
Now that you have established that folks involved are okay with romance stories at the table (including your DM) then how do you pursue them? I mean the “meet at bars” paradigm is not exactly archetypal storytelling. You also don’t want to force it. Subtle and chivalric is usually a good bet. The knight asking the NPC baroness for her favor to wear in battle is a good example. Your going for more of the suggestion of the romance forming and budding. This is not to say you can’t have your roguish fellow hit the bar and go “wenching”. If you need to find out about the manly art of wenching then, I direct you to the classic Disney version of the 3 Musketeers.
I guess the key here is to think of cool romances in fiction, movies or legends you like and play to that. You need to have an idea of what sort of romance your playing, to keep things working on a story level. You don’t start with exchanging poetry with a lady of the court, then grab her and throw her over your shoulder. Keeping how the narrative plays out in your mind, will increase your enjoyment of the final tale and the enjoyment of everyone else at the table.
Time for another note. Don’t be vulgar, pornographic, or deliberately uncomfortable. I hear horror stories from time to time of stories involving rape storylines and the like. Listen, there may be some merit in telling those stories in fiction. Showing the horror of them is a powerful thing. Showing the people who do that sort of thing as monsters is fine on a TV show or movie. 99.99% of the people you play an RPG with will NOT BE OKAY WITH IT. The games are mainly an escape. I have played some games that were dealing with painful and uncomfortable subject matter. They exist and if everyone is on board for that, fine. Most people who game are not wanting that kind of experience. Don’t decide on your own to give it to them. That makes you a jerk.
That said, as long as you have a sense of the narrative flow, everyone is on board with the romantic story, and you have the right perspective on it, romantic tales can be very compelling. Imagine your powerful mage who falls in love with the Eladrin Princess (or Prince) in the court. She gets taken by the villain and you will stop at nothing to save her. How much more compelling is that story than some prince or princess you have never met before. The recurring swordsman (or swordswoman) who works for the arch villain, how much more awesome a story is it that they fall for you and turn in their master for love. Maybe they die in the process and make it a tragic story.
I guess the point of this little essay, is don’t close the door on romance stories. You can have some really cool stories to tell if you let that sort of thing into your game table. With the right things in mind and everyone can have some fun.