Romance is something that everyone dreams about. Romance generally implies happiness and fun with someone who genuinely cares about you. This makes the idea of a tabletop romance very enticing to some. However, romance can often lead to many complex relationship issues, as anyone who has had a long-term relationship will tell you. In tabletop games, in particular, the relationship of the two characters will have similar dynamics to relationships off of the table. That means, put simply, that issues can and will happen between both involved in the relationship. Now, handled well these issues will stay at the table and not affect the actual party, but not many people are that mature. Feelings from the table can easily and quite often bleed outside and sour real life friendships. Now that we have prefaced all of that, let’s get into the three main issues with PC relationships.
A universal struggle in any RPG setting is developing and changing a character based on the narrative. Don’t get this idea confused with character progression, as that has to do with leveling and skills. Character development is taking the traits and quirks of your character and changing them based on the experiences your character goes through. Maybe after fighting a dragon, your character has anxiety around Dragonborn that wasn’t present before or a shape shifter gives your character minor trust issues. These things are core to creating a realistic character. “But Hunter,” you might ask, “what does this have to do with the article?” Well, I’m glad you asked! Relationships thrive on growth and development. Creating something real requires that your character changes and grows with the other member of the relationship, and this becomes a serious issue when considering the role-play aspect of your game. The relationship will be stagnant and ultimately lifeless, making you wonder why you even tried to be together at all. Either that or your character does something that goes against the morality of their partner, and that causes an awkward breakup because the characters aren’t developed enough to work it out together.
Another very difficult thing about a fantasy romance is over-romanticizing the situation. Not every two random people can be the perfect couple. No two people will go years without a single fight or disagreement. That’s just unrealistic! Without understanding the reality of romance and commitment, players won’t be able to create something that makes sense. Plus being all sugar-sweet all of the time is going to get super awkward and annoying for the other players and the GM. There are two major things that need to be understood before a relationship should even be considered on the table.
First, the world that you’re in is grounded in reality. Yes, I understand that some games, like Dungeons and Dragons, are very high fantasy. But regardless of the setting or style of the game, the core of every RPG is experiencing life through the eyes of another creature. That requires that whatever happens on the table becomes real in one-way or another. That includes a relationship, so consider that when you want to try to start something.
Secondly, consider how this might change your character. In a relationship free game, it is more acceptable that a character doesn’t change any major character traits or moralities. Why would they? They’ve been accepted by their party as they are so there’s no reason to change. It’s the mindset of a single person. But when you enter a relationship everything changes. Suddenly your standards and morals are going to morph and change to meet your partner somewhere in the middle on most issues. Unless you are ready to make those changes, don’t start a relationship on the table.
The “S” word…. Sex:
“WOAH, HOLD ON! HUNTER, YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT SEX IN A BLOG!” Well, actually, yes I can! And in this case, I kind of have to. Sex is something that is very prevalent in mainstream media. It’s something that we’ve all been exposed to in a major way throughout our lives. Calling a celebrity a “sex symbol” is more of praise than almost any other compliment we can give them. Suffice it to say, sex is a big deal. And so we bring it to a personal level. Relationships, in almost every case, will eventually come around to the big “S” word. Whether one of the partners are uncomfortable with the other’s advances, or they both go for it right away, sex becomes a major focal point for any pairing. Bringing that to the table dregs up a whole other world of complications.
First off, sex is a very intimate and personal experience. It’s not something that is done lightly in most cases, and it can make for some uncomfortable experiences if someone at the table takes issue.
Secondly, just remember that everyone is watching you. If anyone in your party is uncomfortable with the idea of sexual intercourse, there is no escaping it for them unless they leave the table. That in and of itself can ruin a party’s dynamic.
Third, remember your GM will have to narrate your flirtations. The degree of detail is up to them, but making your GM do something like that can seriously injure your experience as a player.
I hope you can take some of this information and input it into your own games!! Please understand that I’m not saying to avoid romance in games altogether, just to be smart about it. Clear everything with your GM and take it before the table to see if everyone is comfortable with where everything might end up.
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