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January 6, 2013, 5:14 pm

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Romantic Love


Love and the pursuit of love makes up a huge part of a person’s life, but it is often absent from game-play. Love is also often seen as a player‘s choice, but in drama and mythology love is often something that grips a character and can inspire them or cripple them.  Perhaps love should affect a character’s dice roles and perception of reality. 


This submission discusses the use of romantic love as disease or an affliction in the game.  This is not a description of players that want to role-play love, but a pontification on forcing characters to deal without love without telling them how to role-play. 


At the age of 11 or 12, I began to experiment with rule-based role-playing.  My friends and I has some second hand copies of the old Basic DnD box sets, and head full of knowledge taken from numerous popular speculative fiction sources and video games.  In this early stage I was requested to run a game day with a fellow 5th grader and his older brother and friends.  These older boys were maybe 15 or 16 but practically men to me.  Councilors at soccer camp, we already treated them as authorities and they spoke with a dismissive confidence about their role-playing skills.  They bragged that they were better role-players then us, and that their characters had defeated every monster in manual.   I jumped at the chance to run a game for such experts.  They handed me a couple of maps they had drawn and told me to run this adventure.  I remember one of the encounters on the map said “10 ghosts”.   Un able to suppress an urge to make stuff up I add some other encounters.   One was nymph like character spell caster, the sight of which (pun) made the PCs fall in love with her.  The PC did not respond how I expected, they killed the girl, and all I could say was “well you feel sad”.

Romantic love is something often absent from RPG games and if it is present it is often little more than back story or left to the realm of NPCs. Aside from obvious pragmatic limitations to role-playing flirtatious dialog and sexual innuendo with your best friend or worse your best friend’s wife, there is also little in game benefit for the PC in falling in love.  Unless your PCs really want to role-play romantic parts, the character could adventure for decades and never have a romantic liaison much less a true love affair (seducing the tavern wenches does not count).   I propose a method (okay maybe nothing as clearly defined as a method) here for writing love and romance into your game.  I suggest making love something that happens to your characters, something they can’t avoid and will be challenged and supported by.


Jump ahead ten years: My stalwart and constant group friends and I started playing with a new GM.  He was running Call of Cathulu and All Flesh Must Be Eaten and other horror genre games.  This GM is an excellent voice actor and envisions his games to at home version of popular movies or TV shows.  In both CoC game and the AFMBE game he would force the characters to take certain actions or points of view.  For example, he told a Priest character that the sight of an extra-dimensional horror caused him to lose his faith in God.  He compelled some character to flee from zombies in fear, specifically fear that was not generated by supernatural energy, but rather “was the natural reaction” to seeing the walking dead.  The group found this to be off-putting because he was telling us how to role-play our characters.  We should be able to control our responses to game elements. 

In short I assert that you cannot tell a character how they feel or what they would or should do.  But you can alter the character's stimuli and how they interact with the game world. If you accept the conceit that the subconscious self is different than conscious self and the GM has control of the subconscious and the player the conscious, then the player may function differently as result of feelings they may not be aware of or feelings they would not choose to have.  For example a character in love leaves his/her paramour’s bed, folds a love letter into their shirt and while storming the castle they find themselves sailing into battle with greater strength and vigor.  Upon returning victorious to the homestead, they sneak back into their bedchamber only to find their best friend making a cuckold of them. As result of this heavy heart they find their shield rises more slowly at the tournament, or that they seem to forget the last few lines of even the most basic incantations. Another interpretation may be that love is not psychological state, but a supernatural state.  In the ancient world love could be seen as an affliction; something the Gods forced up on you. Thus the Gods could aid the quest of a person acting for love, and hinder the actions of those acting against love.   In this way love is both a blessing and a curse.  The characters here can still chose how they respond to changes, but love also becomes part of the character whether they want it to be or not. 

Another option for manifesting love in the PC’s life is to alter the characters stimuli.  For example, the character may see a flock of birds flying low across a lake, here the name “Thora” with each flap.  Alternatively, the character may dream of their love or have remembrance constantly forced upon them. Thus when describing an NPC to a character you can reference the love object.  “She has slim hands like Sophia, but her eyes lack Sophia’s warmth.”  

         Love is a major narrative theme, if not the major narrative theme, in literature and media.  Role-playing as a medium is generally lacking in this theme.   But like all things in role-playing, when you place it your game you won’t know what it is going to do.  Part of the great fun of role-playing is that nobody knows what is going to happen.  How the PCs respond to the scenarios you place in front them should be as equally entertaining for the GM as it is to the players. Will this entire obsession with the romantic object push the PC farther or closer to that person?  Will the character resent love, feel like victims of love or will they just try to ignore it?  The point of the GM is to give characters something to hang their role-playing on and once you give love a life in the game mechanic it will be something that they will directly interact with.  It will no longer be an afterthought. 

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Comments ( 18 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Chaosmark
October 12, 2006, 23:19
Interesting. A basic evaluation and application of one of the most commonly overlooked things in roleplaying. Good post.
Voted Scrasamax
October 13, 2006, 3:36
A very valid point, but too short.
Voted manfred
October 13, 2006, 4:17
"Thus being in love can help the PC kill opponents and take their stuff."

Now, is that the ultimate reason why a player should attempt to roleplay a serious love interest? For some perhaps, but that sounds simply horrible to me. See a few threads on nonmonetary rewards, and think of all the plot hooks, changes in social standing and acceptance that may come with love.

Also, it is a great opportunity for a player to change his character, whether for a time, or permanently! Anything can change, from daily habits to that which is dryly summed up as alignement (thus the rogue becomes a good guy, the noble knight finds himself doing not quite so noble deeds, principled people become chaotic, wild guys may settle down, etc.). Love can shake up one's emotions quite a lot, so the character may be actually nervous before a battle he would actually handle easily - not nervous of the battle itself, but more of the impression it leaves on the chosen.

So granted, game-wise there will be bonuses to rolls (especially if it is defending the loved one), but also penalties - for instance the character should be often distracted from the mission by thinking about matters unimportant.

All in all, love could be treated as a kind of addiction, along with changes of moods, and changes in the character's behaviour as well. Being under the influence of this potent drug, the PC may suddenly not be afraid of the worst monsters, and at other times be grasping for words which usually come up so easily.
Voted Murometz
October 13, 2006, 9:07
Only voted
October 13, 2006, 10:41
Thus being in love can help the PC kill opponents and take their stuff.

sarcasism is lost on you manfred, but other than your humorless attitude your post really got the point I was trying to make.
October 13, 2006, 11:16
Ack! I really didn't notice the sarcasm in the brief post I considered too sparse to cover the topic. It is nicely started in places, with warnings on how serious such an engagement is, fickle fate and more... and all that comes of it are bonuses and penalties to ability checks. You have started to peak my interest, then abruptly cut it off.

But, I do have humour. Really. It just didn't turn on this Friday afternoon. :(
October 13, 2006, 11:30
I thought about stretching out the post and discussing various stages of love, possible scenario's. . .for example the young squire has fallen quietly in love with the knight he supports. And when the knight encourages his work at the sword or his skill with the lance the squire is the best of the boys in the castle. But when the Knight goes to court a young Lady, the squire becomes sullen, jealous (those have to be roleplayed) but he also responds slower to threats and forgets his tasks (dice failings). And when the knight, squire and the Lady are ambushed on the road the squire does not take notice fast enough and the party is caught off guard. Worse even is that when the squire helped his lord into armor, he left glasps undone and knots lose. The knight falls in battle leaving the squire alone to defend the lady, and there in lies the conflict. What kinda of bonuses or penalties would he suffer?

But I really thought it was a simple idea, and didn't need all that explaination or pontification. Besides talking about love is like dancing about microbiology after all. Manfred did add some useful notes however that I think flesh it out more.
Voted MoonHunter
October 13, 2006, 12:42
The piece covers a need subject, but so underdeveloped, that I was left needing more. It still seems incomplete to me.
October 13, 2006, 15:35
Fair enough MH, this is the first thing I have written entirely for this site, and I will take a stab at adding some content to it this decade. Check back with this post Monday November 1st 2010.
Voted Cheka Man
October 13, 2006, 15:49
A good idea, but badly executed.
November 1, 2010, 11:13

I have never forgotten about this one.  But today it was brought to my specific attention. I have made some changes.

Voted Ramhir
November 1, 2010, 22:37

An extremely good post about a topic that is glaringly absent from most supposed roleplaying activities. We (my players and myself) are trying to work that into our campaign. Since we do have Disads (Character flaws that help balance the character and give him 'hooks' for the GM to use), your idea of Addictions is a very good one, which we hadn't thought of.

Like most of the others, I would *love* to see your ideas on how to implement Romantic Love into a campaign. Please, please, give us some more. 4/5 

November 2, 2010, 8:41

It is good that you brought the topic up, but generally, I found applying dice modifiers to love unnecessary - players who care about the characters and NPCs enough to be bothered by the concept of love will act it out - and sometimes deliberately fail rolls; likewise will they succeed without rolling against fear and the like when their loved ones are in danger; often these scenes will be entirely roleplay and no system.

So, good idea, but approach it from a different angle.

November 2, 2010, 8:53
I am sorry this didn't come across clearly, this is not about players that want to roleplay romantic love. I want this to be about putting romantic love to the game as a challenge, and making love a force in the game world.

But this also not argument as to something you should do, but a discussion of something you could do.
November 2, 2010, 10:19
Ah, makes sense now.
Thus, perchance a more powerful, confronting wording may be in place!
"What can challenge the boldest knight whom a dragon's claw cannot touch?..."
Simply, a little re-write may make your intent clear.
November 2, 2010, 11:10
I spent a couple of hours last night working with your idea, Alxerowes, and I thought you might like to see your idea in action, as it were. It is rules-specific, so I'll just give the basics, if anyone wants to know more, PM me.
In our system, a Psych Lim ranges from 5/0, which means not very common and doesn't change your outlook much to 15/10 (25 points) which means very common and of overwhelming importance. So a 5/0 is the girl you left behind at home that you think about occasionally but otherwise does not affect you through 15/10, which describes one of my characters who is madly in love with another character, is always near him, and would never do anything whatsoever to hurt him. She would get a 10 percent adder to any dice rolls that affect him and not have to worry about fear rolls and such when he is involved, and would probably go to pieces if anything bad happened to him. I'll present it to the gamers when we play tomorrow evening, but I am sure it will be accepted. Thanks again, Axlerowes.
Voted valadaar
January 25, 2011, 16:06

This kind of reminds me of Aspirations in the Sims - and I think this area could use more explorations.


Voted Silveressa
January 25, 2011, 17:24

A nice beginning, but like others have said, it could use more fleshing out. The article makes a compelling argument for reasons why to include love/romance in your game, unfortunately it stops short of giving tips on how to include it.

Expanding the article more with ideas on how to work romantic sub plots and interactions into ones game would make the article feel more complete to me, and vastly increase it's usefulness to readers.

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