So I Roll A d20 And Add My Charisma To Make Cthulhu Love Me
Okay so only a very few players out there would try to charm Cthulhu. But inevitably, love and all things emotional come into play in most fantasy game worlds. You gotta be bashing goblins for something, right? If it's not a god, why not some dame or dude the character is jonesin' for? But, oh wise article writer, you ask, how do I, a mere, geeky GM, have my characters fall in love? Without it turning into some horrible encounter best left to those instant messaging at 3:30 in the morning?
Okay so only a very few players out there would try to charm Cthulhu. But inevitably, love and all things emotional come into play in most fantasy game worlds. You gotta be bashing goblins for something, right? If it's not a god, why not some dame or dude the character is jonesin' for? But, oh wise article writer, you ask, how do I, a mere, geeky GM, have my characters fall in love? Without it turning into some horrible encounter best left to those instant messaging at 3:30 in the morning? Do I have to set up NPCs specifically to be love interests? What if I'm a dude, and all of my players are dudes, doesn't it just get. . .weird? What about, you know, kids and stuff that comes with character marriages? Not to fret, sweet reader! I, the wise and benevolent Charisma Chicky, am here to help you develop this oft-neglected aspect of your RPG experience.
Rule Number 1, my friendly GMs, is: don't force it. Never design an NPC specifically to be a PC's love interest. It's kind of like those computer match-up things they do to high-schoolers on Valentine's Day: "Ok, I like computers, Terry Pratchett novels, Nirvana and Shakespeare, so my perfect match is: Becky Greenville!?!" It just doesn't work. You never know, a four foot tall halfling cleric might fall for your human machine-o'-buttkicking, leaving Khelios Fleetfoot without a role. Just develop a rich background of varied NPCs. As an old gnomish saying goes: it takes all kinds. Your players probably have a very distinct vision of their character, including the kind of people to whom s/he would be attracted. For a GM to choose a character's sweetie is just uncool, sort of like assigning them their alignment and deity. If you really want a rich roleplaying landscape, leave the choice to them.
Closely related to Rule Number 1 is Rule Number 2. Which is: don't try to roleplay anything that would make you or your players feel awkward. There's no need to sound like a Harlequin novel: "Taken by the beauty of the young cleric, the knight leaned in and brushed her lips with a gentle kiss." Most parties would giggle at best and become truly upset at worst by this sort of encounter. It is sufficient to say, "Cameron courts Ariane, seeking to win her love." If you're a creative type, you could even do the occasional non-mushy NPC letter. You can say just as much with allusion and innuendo without making your characters bolt for the nearest door. Tasteful limits are the key to roleplaying grown-up topics, like love and politics, without making people uncomfortable.
Of course, gaming is still a largely male-dominated hobby. How do you work in love as a guy GM with a bunch of guys at the table? Much the same way we girl GMs work in love with girls at the table. The above noted tasteful limits! It's a topic best broached by the party out of game, and needs to be carefully tailored to your players' comfort level. If you have players who blush and giggle uncontrollably at the mention of girls or of guys, it might be best to stick to gnoll-squishing. On the other hand, if your players can deal with a pit fiend who has a thing for the rogue and gives him bumless chaps, love interests probably won't ruffle any feathers. Allowing PCs to have lovers touches every end of the spectrum of delicacy, and has to be carefully tailored to the group. It can run the gamut to a husband back on the farm in someone's backstory, to an NPC with whom the rogue has a love-hate relation, to PC-PC relations, all depending on the party's comfort level. Including such a variable facet in your game (there's no percentile dice roll to figure out the results of the queen and former peasant fighter fall in love) has the possibility to change a lot of things. It requires Rule Number 3: be a sensitive GM. It's just like playing with a lot of high-level politics and intrigue in your game. You have to be very aware of your players, their comfort level, their perceptions and their goals for their characters. Ideally, you'd be doing this anyways, but negotiating characters' love lives is a bit more subtle than negotiating "Gruk bash! Gruk bash with club!"
Of course, some of the subtlety of in-game romances comes from what they encompass. There's the politics, both class and racial, of characters falling for anyone outside of their own background. What happens when a human noble and a lowborn half elf fall for one another? You can choose to say your world doesn't care, or you can involve your characters in a new level of interaction. Suddenly, Henrick is treated with a coldness he never experienced before at court. The Thieves' Guild starts treating Anya as a traitor and an outsider. It's all politics, and few things are as political as love. Particularly in the proto-medieval setting used in games like Dungeons and Dragons, love can be a bargaining piece. A beautiful female character might seduce and connive her way out of jail, or she might be branded a harlot and punished for her beauty. A paladin might betray his ethos for love. Love gives you, via your NPCs, a new level of power over and interaction with your PCs. If one of your characters starts to fall for the Black Knight, by all means, use it. Develop it in accordance with the social and political structure of your world, and you'll be amazed at how many new levels of resonance you find in RPing in your world.
Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. There is no denying children are frequently the result of amorous liaisons. You can do this by saying, since a fertile woman will get pregnant from 25% of such encounters, your players should role the percentile dice to determine their fate. Or you could just let them decide if their character wants to have a child. Surprisingly, some characters will say yes. But then you're left with a new quandary. What do you, the GM, do with a party whose main tank is 7 months pregnant and waddling? Or a cleric who is expecting her first child in the middle of a war? First off, provide a convenient orphanage, convent, or family with which the child can be placed. "Ok, you have your kid, you stop adventuring and live in a hut raising it. Roll up a new character." Stop, do not pass go, do not collect $200, because that's just not a thing a nice GM does. It might be the realistic thing, but this is fantasy. Furthermore, it's fantasy that everyone is supposed to enjoy. So sure, a character might get stuck with the results of his night with Lady Sedona, but don't punish the player. There's always an interesting way to place the child so that the player can still play his/her character. Later on, you could even use the child as a plot hook: "A messenger rides up breathlessly and falls before Dame Lihan. . .'Oh mistress! The dwarves have captured your child! We must ride west and rescue her!'" A little creativity will find a lot of uses for a character's child.
In short, a fantasy RPG can easily incorporate love, seduction, pregnancy, marriage, and betrayal. But it means you, the GM, the great and powerful one, must run with awareness and sensitivity. Including your characters' love lives can add new levels to game play. But only if done well, by a GM who cares about his/her players and world. Are you ready to face that challenge?