The Art Of The IC Romance


No one could ever accuse RPG characters of having boring lives. They go on quests, slay dragons, save entire kingdoms, win treasure and other fabulous prizes, and (usually) live to regale their friends with the tale over a pint or three at the local inn. But if you look a little closer you'll find that the lives of most gaming characters lack something that is a major (and some would say essential) part of the average person's life: love.

No one could ever accuse RPG characters of having boring lives. They go on quests, slay dragons, save entire kingdoms, win treasure and other fabulous prizes, and (usually) live to regale their friends with the tale over a pint or three at the local inn. But if you look a little closer you'll find that the lives of most gaming characters lack something that is a major (and some would say essential) part of the average person's life: love. I'm not talking about the typical "You spend a pleasant night with a willing wench" interludes that many GMs throw in as their bored, horny PCs wander from town to town. I mean long-term relationships and marriages - the kind that require time, tears, and effort to make them work, but end up being one of the best things in life. So I'm here to introduce you to the wonderful world of in-character romance, and to list a few simple do's and don't's if you decide to explore this facet of gaming.

But before we discuss this any further, I'll need to answer a question that I'm sure some of you are asking yourselves right now: "Why bother with all this soap opera crap?" First of all, there's the realism factor to consider. At some point in their lives, most people will get married or at least be involved in a few serious relationships. If you really want your characters to be believable, it hardly makes sense for them to avoid something that a majority of the population spends their entire lives looking for. After all, even the most intrepid adventurers need to settle down eventually...

If you're a GM, you should also be aware that PCs' love interests make for ideal plot hooks and/or character motivators, because they cannot be dodged or otherwise avoided without the players going flagrantly out of character to do so. If some villain kidnaps the lovely young half-orc maiden who's waiting for Grok the Barbarian back in his home village, you can be damn sure that Grok is going to run right out and rescue her to prove his love - which, as you can imagine, gives you plenty of ways to set your master plans in motion. Plus, every milestone in a PC's relationship is practically fraught with story possibilities. If you're letting your PCs start dating, get intimate, get married, have children, or break up without the plot somehow intruding on their romance, you're obviously not trying hard enough.

But most importantly, IC romance should be included in games simply because it's fun and interesting - in fact, I'd say it's one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things that you, as a gamer, can do. I've been in plenty of campaigns since I first discovered gaming, and the ones I remember the most fondly are, without exception, the ones where my character and others had the most romantic entaglements. Why? For the same reasons that the best, most involving movies and books are always the ones where you come to care about the characters as something greater than the sum of a few descriptive details and some dialogue - in short, as real people. When you allow your character to honestly care about a fellow character, to the point where you as a player might even have a certain proprietary inclination toward that character, be they PC or NPC, you are saying, "I care about this campaign more than a PlayStation game or a few rounds of Monopoly." And in the end, isn't that what really allows roleplaying games to reach their full potential?

By now it should be abundantly clear that I love inserting IC romances into my games as a GM, and participating in them as a player. But I'll be the first to admit that they're not everyone's cup of tea. If you haven't tried them, I'd highly suggest doing so, but if you've decided they just don't work for you, that's a perfectly valid decision. Including romance in your game will require time, work, and lots of intensive roleplaying on the behalf of all involved, and some gamers may decide they just don't want to take their hobby that seriously. It also requires the presence of a certain level of maturity and mutual respect from those present, which some groups quite frankly do not have. (In other words, if your players giggle every time you say "sex," they're probably not ready for IC romances quite yet.) So proceed with caution...and please, don't ever impose an IC romance on a player who's made it clear that they are not interested in exploring this aspect of gaming.

And here's another big caveat before we continue: When involved in IC romances, it is essential that the people involved have well-defined boundaries between what goes on in and out of the game. In other words, just because a fellow player's character flirts with yours does not necessarily mean they would do so in real life. I've seen people make this assumption, and while it doesn't occur frequently, when it does the results are invariably ugly. Good IC romances usually end up feeling more real than just about anything else in gaming, so it can be hard to keep the appropriately detached perspective, but it is essential that you learn to do so. You wouldn't wreak real-life revenge on your best friend if his character bested yours in a duel, so try not to take IC romances any more seriously after the game ends.

IC romances fall into one of two categories: those that take place between a PC and an NPC, and those that take place between two PCs. The first kind are considerably less complicated, and are a good starting point if you've never done this stuff before. If you're a GM who wants to include romance in your games, this tactic makes it as simple as introducing a new NPC to make advances on the lucky player and waiting to see if he takes the bait. (In the event that the players don't seem to get the hint, inform them of your new plan and see if they're interested in allowing the game to take that direction. If not, don't pressure them.) If you're a player and think it would be fun to have an NPC significant other, take your GM aside between sessions and make your suggestion. More than likely she'll recognize the endless storytelling possibilities this opens up to her and consent. (Otherwise, show her the first few paragraphs of this article!)

Romances between two PCs are a little bit trickier. While GMs become accustomed early on to treating their players in utterly foreign ways (they couldn't play villains if they didn't), players often have less experience in this area. If you envision your character taking an interest in another PC, you need to have a conference with the GM and with the other player to discuss this new development. The deciding factor for beginning a PC-PC relationship is not so much the compatibility of the characters as whether or not the players involved are comfortable with it. (For example, if the players are of the same gender or in real-life relationships with other people, they may not feel right about cultivating even an imaginary romance, which is entirely understandable and should be respected.)

As in real relationships, the most important element for creating good IC romances in a group is trust - once again, not so much between the characters as between the people playing them. If the player of your character's love interest is an enemy or a near-stranger, of course your characters' relationship is never going to work. Your chances are even worse if that player is your real-life significant other (after all, what will it do to the game if you break up in real life?). Ideally, this player should be a close friend, one with whom you would feel comfortable roleplaying out romantic moments, but one who won't take things too seriously, either. Communication, also, will be of the utmost importance. Ideally, both players should take time before each session to discuss any new avenues they anticipate pursuing, so that there will be no unpleasant surprises later on ("You're telling everyone our characters slept together? I thought we only kissed!").

If you're a GM whose campaign contains a lot of IC romance, ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure that your PCs' relationships turn out to be the best gaming experience they can be. This means learning to strike a realistic balance between the tribulations and the rewards of love. So feel free to make your PCs' girlfriends into plot hooks from time to time, but don't forget the payoff, either. It's no fun if the heroes don't get at least a few moments where they live happily ever after. Also, be forewarned that if you introduce romance into your game, you must also be prepared to handle intimate conversations and/or sex in-game. For the former, understand that some players may not be comfortable RP'ing heart-to-hearts in front of an audience, since it often requires getting in-character above and beyond the call of duty, so allow them privacy if they want it. One-on-one sessions (as kinky as that sounds) are often ideal for this purpose. And for the latter, the best option is always a simple "fade to black."

For my part, the most rewarding IC relationship in which I was ever involved was with an NPC (my character's mentor, to be exact). From the beginning of the campaign they had a sexual-tension-filled, Mulder-and-Scully-esque relationship that was the source of much lewd speculation among the other characters. (The other players actually burst into spontaneous, protracted applause when we finally consummated their relationship several months into the game.) The campaign itself experienced numerous player changes and other massive upheavals, but quitting was never an option for me. I learned to cope with the group's instability because I had to find out what direction my imaginary romance would take. In fact, the only time I ever cried while gaming was during the session that this NPC died a suitably valiant death. (He was eventually resurrected in a truly bizarre way, but that's a long story...)

The GM who portrayed this NPC was a close but platonic male friend. We had enough detachment from one another to avoid taking our characters' rather passionate relationship too personally, but were close enough to roleplay an intimate yet imaginary relationship. That's not to say there weren't awkward moments along the way. After our characters exchanged their "I love you"s, the GM and I sat in silence for a good five minutes and had to play video games for an hour before we could even look one another in the eye. But with humor and honesty, we were able to overcome them and create a truly cool story together. There's no question that this particular IC romance was one of my most memorable and enjoyable gaming experiences.

So, let my positive experience with IC romance be a lesson to you. Ultimately, my character's romance was a relatively minor subplot in a sweeping, epic campaign, but the scenes where our characters interacted were what really kept me coming back to that game week after week. If all goes well when you introduce IC romance into your campaign, I'll bet dollars to donuts that you'll soon be saying the same. Sure, it's true that it may not make your character's life much more interesting. But I can almost guarantee that it will make everything much more fun.


I'm incredibly impressed that you took the time and energy to do an article on something I've always considered one of the 7 Deadly Gaming Sins. Hats off to you Gamerchick (your other articles are great, btw).

I've tried this a couple of times and had players force it on the group a couple of times, and it's always been disastrous. If you don't have the perfect blend of maturity, commitment to the quality of the game, and a group of players that really know where the _line_ is, it doesn't work. I had players ready to PK each other just to bypass a sexual harrassment lawsuit.

One alternative I'd like to suggest is the "Not Appearing in This Game" NPC love interest. If you have a player that really wants an element of romance but it's making everybody else queasy or disgruntled enough to put rot grubs in their oatmeal, try getting the player in question to develop a rich storyline about a love interest that's far, far away. Maybe their spouse/lover/whatever got zeroed by a gang of gnolls and they want to exact revenge. Maybe they know they have a significant other but, do to a traumatic head injury, they can't seem to remember where they misplaced their heart's delight ("Gee, I just can't remember which city Ruprecht and I lived in. But we had a really nice place, split level, 2 car parking, swimming pool, the works...").

A love interest can be a driving interest in an RPG, even if they never even show up.

Thanks for an excellent and intelligent post.

I have to agree with the above poster, it's a great article on a difficult topic. I am glad you have had such experience with in character romance, but I'd to suggest something that most people should attempt BEFORE in charater romance gets added to their campaigns, just to see if it's likely to fit in.

In character Friendship.

Now, I know a lot of people might balk at this and say "Hey, a lot of our characters have a friend in the party. Those two don't bicker or try to kill each other or anything, they get along great!" and in one context of what 'friends' are they are right.

But I am talking real friendship, the sort of friendships which is more akin to romance and love, with all the same emotional depth and complexity that a properly role-played romance would have but without the sexual side and with a heck of a lot less room for screwing up your roleplaying groups make-up if it begets anything in real life.

To give a much overused example I would have to say the average roleplaying game has Star Wars friendship while what I am talking about is Lord of the Rings friendship.

The only thing in Starwars that lends you to believe any of the characters are friends is the fact that they are willing to do almost anything to get the others out of trouble. This leads their friendship to feel more like a plot device to get them from one scene to the next.

Why did Luke leave Dagobah?
He had his friends to rescue.

Why did Luke turn up at Jabba's palace?
He had a friend to rescue.

Why did Obi Wan pull himself out of his slump
and out of hiding to take Luke into the big wide world?
He had a friend of the family (Leia) to rescue.

Why the hell is there a 7 foot hairy behemoth
who nobody can understand along for the ride?
He was Han's friend.

And the most spectacular of all the leaps of
faith in the Star Wars universe: Why did C3-PO
follow around R2-D2 despite always whineing that
he didn't trust what the little droid was doing, and
that it would all end in trouble and strife?
Because he was R2's friend.

Now I am not going to get into an arguement about whether the reasons for the above friendships are just left unsaid, or that the depth of such friendships are simply not explored due to the style of the movie, because

A) I really am just trying to illustrate a point, not get
into the Star Wars vs Lord of the Rings debate,


B) That's my point.

The reasons for the friendship ARE left unsaid, and they are NOT explored and for those reasons they appear as simple plot devices, without which the entire trilogy would fall apart.

For this reason we just accept them, just like at the beginning of many gaming campaigns we are willing to accept our characters get along pretty well, or that even those within the group who don't get along are there because you want them to be in the story, and trying to fit them into the story and to see how their conflict with the rest of the group works out is fun. A sort of friendly indifference, except of course when friendshp is called upon (or is the only remaining reason) to move the story along.

In comparison in Lord of the Rings we see a much greater depth of friendship explored, one which doesn't feel simply like a plot device to get characters from A-B.

One of these friendships is between Bilbo and Gandalf. Bilbo and Gandalf are made out to be the greatest of friends from the get go. Anyone who has read the Hobbit will already know they have a history, but if we look at the movie we SEE that they are really friends, by the way the act around each other and the kindness they show each other.

But this friendship is tested almost immediately by the power of the Ring. Gandalf HAS to intimidate Bilbo to get him to part with the Ring. Now, it is clear from the reactions by both parties that they are still friends after this event, but because there is such a vital conflict early on within the story between these two characters it actually reinforces just how great their friendship is.

This sort of friendship doesn't continually dictate the events in the story but makes the story have more depth simply by being there.

Bilbo or Gandalf or any of the other characters in Lord of the Rings didn't have to be such great friends for the sake of convenience or for the story to work (Gandalf could have easily convincedd all of the hobbits to go to the Prancing Pony, on threat of turning them into something most unnatural or perhaps on promise of great reward). They are because they or they aren't because they aren't and while it's important to how the story plays out either way the story will play on regardless.

If they aren't friends they get the oppurtunity to become friends, and if they are friends there are events that could end that friendship. They don't act with a friendly indifference, friendship is important to the story. But because there is the more pressing matter of the Ring to worry about, the story doesn't use their friendship as a plot device, it tests it as an aspect of their character and asks it to prevail despite the odds.

If you already roleplay like this, then IC romance is probably the logical progression to test your abilities and expand your ability to make your characters 'real'. If you haven't really thought about it before I'd get you to examine the relationship your characters seem to have, and figure out how much depth they have, and if they come up lacking in the 'true' friendship stakes try for that before you reach for the lofty heights of IC romance.

Or if for you, like many, roleplaying is just a bit of fun to be had on weekends with some friends, and you don't feel the need or the want to put much more effort into the characters then the basic archetypes and the Starwars type friendship that will follow are probably perfect, they work and they don't need to be questioned.

After all, many professional actors, screen writers directors, playwrites and novelists earn a living without ever bothering to delve into such topics of true friendship and love in their works, because they are aiming at a specific sort of entertainment.

So just try to figure out what entertains you and whether you've been wanting to try something different, and work out where to go from there.

*applauds previous poster* I agree 100%, and you probably said it better than I could have. Thanks so much for all the positive comments...

The take on romance in the game definately depends on what the game is centered around. If your group subsists entirely on "I'm attacking the darkness", then romance will turn into "I'm attacking the wench..... romantically that is..".
The way in that romance works is when you are playing characters. In fact, now when I think about, the reason that I have had such good role-playing experiences with in-game romances is because I have only played with the same group of people.

In the different games, romance has been used in different ways.nIt has been completely unrelated: In one game GMed by the gamerchick, my seven year old cannibal redcap fell in "love" with a malkavian vampire that appeared to be eight. It was a strange romance, the origional point was to draw us in, but eventually, her relationship with Drew allowed her to easily leave the party once her goals proved to be incredibly teflon. So, she ended up being embraced.

In the game mentioned in the article, my character was first drawn into the group of mages simply because she thought another mage was hot. In the current game I'm involved in, the plot is provided by the strange love pentagon that is going on.

However, an ingame relationship should not take the place of a REAL relationship. I don't think that you should run around trying to get your character action if you are feeling frustration in that area in your everyday life.

OH, and this may be straying from the subject, but I think that gamerchick should tell the rest of that romance story, since it is both touching and bizzare.


I could only wish to know a group of females that have a dept in playing that you all have. I am playing in 2 groups, one I am running, the other I am playing in. And I want to add romance into my game, but I come into a delima. I am a guy in a group filled with guys. I can truly say that I have explored a more mature level of gaming with one person in my group but how can I add NPC relationships to my game with out it getting hoaky? I have in my game two current NPC romances, one with the more mature player that is in the beginning stages of a relationship, and I am going to be adding a romantic plot twist, A LA Soap Operaish. And the other other is a kind of forbiden love between a fee'ed slave(who works for the other character as protector), and the sights of his affections a NPC slave to another wealthy family. I can see myself playing out the romances that could have an impact on the story, but I can't see some of the other charcters understanding the complex issuses of romance and love. PLEASE HELP. E-MAIL ME.....BTW ANY OF YOU ALL PLAY IN HOUSTON TX?

No! Every woman in an RPG is danger. The bar wench is a succubus in disguise. The woman in the dungeon is a succubus in disguise. The character's mother who comes to visit is a succubus in disguise. The prostitute on the street corner is a succubus in disguise. The succubus is a succubus not in disguise. :)

Good article and good follow-ups. I've always been in all-male groups, and we didn't typically put a lot of stress on this sort of relationship (and the games might have suffered in some respect because of that). But I've also taken part in lots of 2-person RPG campaigns wherein I was responsible for GMing myself around half the time (naturally). We set up quite a few relationships in these, and it was much easier because anything potentially embarassing could take place off-screen.

One of the most memorable was when a pregnant PC SO gave birth to a child obviously not of the supposed father. :)

Great posts everyone especially gamerchick, you gave me food for thought GC.

Hum… Romance…

First I agree that romance should be left between a PC and an NPC (most of the time).

Between PC's… I find it hard to roleplay that, just like I find love scenes hard to do when I act. But when I'm in a play, I get to practice and I have lines to follow, so it's easier than improvising a fake romance with another person (who is also faking).

In one of the 2 games I'm in at the moment. Before all our characters died two weeks ago, there were 2 romantic relationships in the game.

a) My elven character had a forbidden love for my girlfriend's human character that he tried to hide from the rest of the group (especially her).

b) The ½ orc had a crush on the ½ elf , but she was in love with a roguish ½ elf NPC pirate. That unfair contest was a nice element in the game.

It was nice, it added spice to the story, but that's it. It didn't drive the story.

I can see it playing a bigger role in a Vampire RPG because the erotic / sensual / romance elements that permeates that game and the world it's set in. I played a clanless vampire who's live "love of his life" thought he was dead. And it would be part of my ritual to go see her sleep before I went back to sleep for the day. It was nice to roleplay the anguish between wanting to see her and not wanting her to suffer because of me.

I also have to agree that deep friendship offers another (more accessible) challenge for RPGers.

Well you all enjoy your fantasy and real life romance and friendships.

Cthulhu Matata

Romance is one of the things I look for in a game, actually. It helps that I'm married to a man that games, and have a number of women in games that I play in or run. Why does that help? Most of them seem up for it, for playing the romance aspect, more than the men in the games. (though now that I type this, I realize that my Amber game, running on 8 years now, had the first romance roleplayed between my female NPC and a male player with a male PC)

Like Caliban said though, the best relationships start as friendships and develop from there.

But it all depends on what you want out of a game. If you're a beer and pretzels gamer, one who plays to kick back and relax and maybe a little monty haul, then romance might not be for you.

If you're like me, and you want your character to be as real as possible, it means relationships. Even if you just fade to black or gloss over the details.

[2cents] Perhaps it's easier for most gamers to RP IC romance via the electronic medium? It certainly cuts down on the embarassment factor. [/2cents]

First of all, I really enjoyed reading the article and the posts. It's nice to see a discussion about a topic like this.

I have been playing RPG's for seven years now and never encountered a real IC romance until a couple of months ago. Our gaminggroup of seven players fell apart a year ago, because people decided to persue other interests. We had always played exciting adventures which involved a lot of exploring, fighting and other action-related things. An IC relationship, either between an NPC and PC or two PC's were almost impossible, usually just evolved around the physical act of love and involved a lot of giggling and dumb jokes. It made me sick, so I never tried to play an IC romance like that.

When the four most influential members of the group decided to stop gaming, me and two other friends were left. We decided to play a different sort of adventures, not the hack-and-slash types, but the ones involving character development, intrique and suspense. The characters we made were teens. We rolled a die to see whether we would play a guy or a girl and the funny thing was that the two guys would play girls and the one girl would play a guy...

The characters were true friends, they really cared for each other, tried to comfort one another in times of sorrow and laughed together in times of joy. Then
it happened that the boy (played by a girl) and my character (a girl, me being a guy) became romantically interested in one another. For the characters this resulted in a lot of glancing at one another, trying to see each other as much a possible, but not being able to peak when in each others company, blushing and in the end dancing together, sitting next to each other on a ench with a full moon in the sky were they spoke about their love and, finally, the first kiss... The third character saw the developing romance and went out of her way to try to encourage it.

For me and the other players it was something we had never tried to play before. It was really exciting to see a crush between PC's developing in a relationship and we really enjoyed playing like this. Sadly, the romance was cut short (explaining the situation would take to much time), but we had experienced a way to make our games more interesting and decided this was something we liked to try again.

I agree that including a real IC romance in a game does involve maturity from the players and a certain amount of trust in your fellow gamers. I could never have played that romance if I wasn't certain that my fellow mers were just as interested and mature about it as I tried to be. Of course there were awkward moments, especially because of the fact that I, as a guy, played a girl and the guy was played by a girl. But this also led to interesting and funny moments as we tried to act as someone from the opposite sex in a love-situation. Apart from exploring and discussing the IC relationship, we also gained a lot of experience in (and often discussed) realistically portraying a person from the opposite sex.

I can truly say that the IC romance has enriched my gaming experience. I hope that many more gamers may experience this enrichment to their game.


I DM'd a brillaint session once. This rather preachy clerical type had an NPC love interest, and they both prided themself on their noble, chaste, and above all virginal relationship. They were saving themselves until they were married, bless 'em.

However, being the sadistic evil character that I am, I had her village attacked by rampaging demons, and surprise surprise, she was forced against her will to commit wanton acts of carnality with the demonic hordes or be cut down where she stood. When the PC found out he looked genuinely hurt. The exchange between the two was awesome. It was like something out of a movie, particularly his immortal line "It would have been better for you to die a noble virgin than to live a cowardly whore!"

Behind my DM screen I was thinking "Yes, this is the best ever! XP all round for this one!"

Olly. You is an act of wanton carnility !


Interesting Article. Follows the trend of some of your earlier articles. You're is one romantic chick.
Anyway, I think this romance is a girl things primarily. Thats not to say men can't enjoy it, but i'm sure it works much better if theres a bit of real sexual tension in the room. That means a mixed group of players.
If it was just men then the subject would likely never arise. Thats just not what is on our minds in general.

And note, there is an honourable tradition of male centred characters with little or no romance in their lives. Think of the film "the magnificent Seven". It centres around seven heroes, with many fine qualities, some compassion, some appreciation of justice and fair play, courage, energy, honour. But the film goes out of its way to point out the many essentially empty features of their life, They are killers, they create nothing, they leave nothing behind, they have few frends, little romance in their lives, the wretched farmers that they fight for have fuller lives. This is the architypical male hero. Damaged goods. I think that many D&D characters fit this mould.


Thank you for your comments. I'm glad to find someone with the same view as me on "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the Rings". But I would like to add to your comments:

These two great stories both have the same two great themes. The first you have already mentioned is the power of friendship. The other that you have not discussed, is the corrupting influence of power. Let me develop my theme.

Both films describe the corrupting influence of power. In one book it is 'The Dark Side' in the other it is 'The Ring'. Note, in both cases, the people who have most to fear are the most powerful. Thus Darth Vader and Saruman are corrupted who should have been the greatest of the defenders of the good. Both films give very valid insights into the mechanisms by which corruption takes place. Here are some quotes as best as I remember:

Gandalf "tempt me not, I shall have such need of it"
Geladriel "that is how it would begin, out of a desire to do good"
Yoda"fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the dark side"
Aniken"I should be all-powerfull"

Both stories show how there are only two defences against the corruption. One is wisdom and the other is friendship. The very wise, such as Yoda, Obi-wan, Gandalf, and Galadriel, are able to reject the temptations of power, essentially by refusing to go to any lengths to achieve even the noblest of goals. The more humble characters are saved not by their wisdom, but by the power of their friendships.


Thats all =)

Hey what give!
I write a post that doesn't appear and Penis and Penis Enlargement get posted.

Has gamegrene been hacked or something?

Well, Sam, I think it just goes to show what's imortant and what isn't.

But on topic so I don't get in more trouble than I need to be.

I think in character relationships can greatly enrich a game that they are included in on one condition. They are handled with at least a semblance of maturity.

Now, despite whatever acts of wanton depravity Olly may (and probably is) guilty of, I would have to say that his example was a mature handling of the situation. I once introduced a famale character in a Vampire game who fell in love with one of the characters. Months later the character disappears and none of his freinds know where he went. They never discovered this but the girl was a succbus in the employ of the demon they had spent so long pissing off.

I have also played games where PCs have developed relationships with oneanother as a roleplaying thing totaly indipendant of anything the DM was doing. To cite a point in the article the relationships were totally in character and the players themselves did not feel that way for aneanother. In a game I DM ed two male players had their characters have a relation ship when one of them was playing a female. The great thing about that relationship was the fact that the male was an elf and the female was a dwarf. They had a kid and everything, it was great.