In Sickness And In Health 'Til Failed Death Saves Do Us Part! A Short Primer On How To Deal With Love In Role-Playing Games
Love is in the air.
Ah, to be young and in love…
Make love, not war!
I love the smell of napalm in the morning...
That 4-letter word is such a big part of everyday life; it’s bound to make its way into our gaming in one form or another.
Whilst the land of playfully cutting NPCs’ heads off via dice rolling is at least somewhat different from our very own 9-to-5 corporate existence, love in gaming bears at least a somewhat significant resemblance to its real life counterpart. Dealing with love in a less stressful environment can even get people to learn a thing or two and deal with love’s treacherous meanders more easily. Hey, look at that! We’re playing AND learning!
As such, here are a few pointers (mostly from a GMing POV) to bear in mind when dealing with the big L in your role-playing sessions.
1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
I could just leave it at this, seeing as it’s such an all-encompassing statement. Everything else I’m about to go through will bounce off of it in some shape or form, but we’re still doing listicles, not one-sticles.
It’s very important to know who the people around you are and what their expectations from the game itself mean when tackling something as important as love. This is why I’ve personally found that the best in-character love stories occur when those role-playing know each other well outside of the game itself, aware of what makes the other guy/gal tick as well as what ticks them off, how and when to push their buttons and where to stop. Now that doesn’t mean you should only do this with people you know, that might mean you’ll never get a role-playing session...
Love as a whole is difficult to even write about and get right, let alone trying to improvise a story on the go – don’t make it even harder by assuming stuff about your players. Take the time to get to know both them (the player) AS WELL AS their characters (one doesn’t necessarily merge with the other), feel around a bit, experiment and only then try to really go all out lovin’ within the campaign. On the other hand, if the players themselves start a love story, don’t discourage it – see where it takes them and why, and try to be the best catalyst for their plans and ideas.
There’s no harm in going all nun-style with a ruler on them when they cross the line, but you need to find out where the line IS first.
2. DON’T BE A D*CK
AKA Wheaton’s law (or otherwise the only commandment Moses ever needed to bring down the mountain in the first place), this one’s pretty wide when it comes down to it (...phrasing?).
Already linked to the first point, there are many facets to what this could mean, but it boils down to you as a GM not hurting, but enriching a love story as it develops/breaks apart. Someone sacrificing themselves for another in the thick of battle, or taking a punishment for their loved one will mean much more than someone’s betrothed dying after having slipped on a banana peel (unless this is Toon, the role-playing game). Anything and everything you do must make sense not only within the story itself, but even when you look at it from the outside. Sure, throwing a monkey wrench into the whole thing is great, if anything a little adversity makes it all the more rewarding in the end, but dropping a piano on someone out of the blue might skew towards poor-taste (unless this IS Toon, the role-playing game).
If you do, however, go off the deep end and get your players themselves pissed at you for something you’ve done, just blame it on the NPCs. You just make them up and set them loose upon the unsuspecting world, right?
It’s like ventriloquism – that puppet’s got a mind of its own, I swear!
3. FREE YOUR MIND!
We live in a day and age when the people around us are as varied as… well… the people around us, really. What this means for you is that some of your players might have a whole other view on who and why someone should/could be in love than you do. Unless you’re pushing 60 or have been living under a rock for the past two decades or so, that’s a good thing!
Seriously, if you draw the line at something like this yet are OK with your PCs murdering innocent bystanders, you need to rethink some stuff. The caveat to this, as to all love stories, really, is for everything to be done in good taste, something that – again – links to the first point of this list. Whilst people tend to explore more in gaming than they would in real life, this should only be done to the extent that they’re not making everybody else uncomfortable.
That being said, I can think of at least 10 ways a bi character would have gotten me out of some damn difficult situations over the past few sessions…
4. REALLY FREE YOUR MIND!
Careening off the previous entry, and taking it to the extreme, we all know role-playing sessions can be over the top. As well they should be. Where else am I going to ride a woolly mammoth into battle, singing “Come all ye deadful” on a giant harp made from the bones of my enemies?
My cloning experiments haven’t gone all that well lately and I’ve yet to amass nearly enough bones for a giant harp!
If you like to push the limits of your imagination (and why wouldn’t you?), role-playing might even be a good place to find new things to spice up the ol’ under-the-sheets action.
While I’ve been blessed with an amazing group that really likes to push the envelope when it comes to stuff like this (Sword-sex, anyone? Don’t ask…), your mileage may vary. But, if your players DO want to go all the way with their love/love-making (well, that sounded like I was 12…), you may end up with some laugh-out-loud moments if a pack of orcs shows up right as the thief and the mage are going at it while reading Contortionist’s’ Weekly…
What this point really wants to hammer home is that you shouldn’t miss out on some good times/great set-pieces (as weird as that sounds) just because something like that wouldn’t happen in real life. Yeah, YOU can’t possibly reach that way, but why shouldn’t Mubandi, Son-of-Snake-Hands be able to?
5. CHARACTERS =/= PLAYERS
As true as it always is, there should be some clear rules/discussions about this kind of thing when dealing with love and relationships within games. Many a friendship might be lost if a love story goes awry for character-related reasons, not to mention broken hearts if people take these things a little too seriously.
Let everyone know that what their characters do is contained within the game itself and that they should not get their feelings mixed with/hurt by something that happens entirely inside their heads. This is true for role-playing in general (I for one know a thing or two about betrayal… I don’t wanna talk about it…), but even more sensitive when two people lose themselves in the characters they’ve created and played for a long time.
The good outcome may yet happen – two players starting a love story inside the game, then seeing it spill into real life and them getting married a few years later, having kids, a dog, a house in the suburbs, teaching their kids how to role-play, and where am I going with this?
It should all be clear to everyone involved. Take the time to talk it over, out of character, make sure they all know where everyone else is. This doesn’t include letting people in on the betrayal about to happen right after the next kiss, though… Good plot-twist tip there, just blame it on mind-control or something, that’ll get everyone off the hook. Just make sure it makes sense, will ya?
As a happily married man (I wasn’t forced to write that - he says, furiously blinking in Morse code), I know that love can give you wings and make you want to run away screaming at times (very rarely, though - Morse, Morse, Morse…). Those ups and downs are worth it in the long run, they add spice and uncertainty and give you something to fight for. When your players’ characters take the time to think things through, see how far they’ve gotten, talk about a future together, even retiring and so on, THAT’S when you know you’ve steered things into the right direction.
Also tell us how you did it, alright?
We DID give you a few pointers after all…
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.