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.