RPT#105 – Romance In Rpgs: 6 Tips
A Brief Word From Johnn
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Guest tips by an anonymous contributor
- Take It Seriously
Romance is a fabulous method to create plot, but if the players don’t realize that this IS plot, then it’s completely wasted. If they aren’t mature enough to handle the topic–and you should know if your players are actually ready–don’t even try. Oftentimes, the PLAYERS will initiate the romantic plot, not the GM. In that case, stand back, get comfortable, and go with the flow.
- Conflict, Conflict, Conflict
A match made in Heaven is hardly interesting. If a player character picks up a sweet girlfriend in Generictowne and they live happily ever after, that’s great for him, but it’s no story.
Consider putting in some barriers that make the relationship workable, but difficult:
- The ultimate cliche: the characters are working for opposite sides…
- The characters are in love, but not of the same race.
- The characters are not of the same social class and aren’t sure as to the reaction society will have.
- The characters are the same sex.
- An assassin falls in love with his or her target.
- A soldier falls in love with a superior officer.
Put a barrier to the romance, and how the characters cross it becomes an excellent story.
Also keep in mind that the relationship doesn’t always work out. Sometimes character personality conflicts prevent a romance, but playing a failed or crumbling romance can be just as interesting as playing one that works despite barriers.
- Know When To Dim The Lights
It’s up to you to judge the comfort level that your players can deal with. Usually a simple mention of a kiss and a flick of the light-switch should be MORE than enough to accompany any romantic situation. When the story gets graphic, it stops being about romance, and starts being about sex, which can be offensive to many, just plain silly to others, and is barely conducive to a story atmosphere.
One exception that can become difficult to deal with is an “evil party game” and…slightly darker situations. I have seen evil party games that were completely explicit: quite frankly, nauseating to all involved.
However, I’m not ashamed to admit that I did have a rapist villain in one of my games. The players were all comfortable with my game and my style. I simply took a player whose character was captive to the villain into a side room, and said to her “He is going to rape you.” She nodded, and that was it.
The story was about how her character dealt with the aftermath of that situation, and not the moment itself. (Very interesting: the character was a “classic victim” and ended up developing quite a twisted love relationship with that villain…won’t bother you with the details but it ended up being the most intriguing romance I have EVER RPed!)
- Stay In Character
Don’t make all characters in love into instant Casanovas. It cheapens the atmosphere. If a character has other priorities or other duties, don’t neglect them too much to focus on the romance. You don’t want to lose characters you have spent time developing in other areas and make them into nothing but “yes dear’s” once they are bitten by the love bug.
If the village idiot starts uttering Shakespeare, or the spoiled princess turns into the ultimate girlfriend, instantaneously, you’ve made a mistake somewhere along the line. The number one place this gets screwed up is if an evil character falls in love with a heroic one. Sure, it’s a great story, but make it believable, please! (The players DID believe it when the above villain began to really fall in love…after he’d been blasted by holy light during a dying paladin’s last divine intervention.)
- Mix It Up
A novice GM once shocked me by saying that she never used ANY married characters, PC or major NPC, in her stories. She thought that it ruined conflict if certain characters were automatically “unavailable”. In my opinion, of course, that is completely wrong. It’s boring for all characters to be young, available, and looking. What’s wrong with a married villain? A player character with a wife and kids? A PC or major NPC who is already betrothed? It doesn’t ruin the atmosphere to explore new situations; it makes for variation.
Also keep in mind that not all characters respond to romance in the same way. I once increased the difficulty of a seduction roll tremendously on the grounds of “he’s not your type”. The player knew the NPC quite well and agreed with my assessment of his opinion. Some characters can and should fall head-over-heels, and others will take a bit more encouraging.
One NPC in my recent game nearly refused a date with an interested girl because he was certain she just wanted to pry information. But others spill their guts at the first wink, Captain Kirk style.
- Remember, It’s Just A Character
Don’t bring the romance away from the table. Don’t live- action the kissing sequence. It can lead to some serious problems when a player character’s romantic interest tries to become a player’s real life romantic interest. And it gets much worse if/when the characters or players break up.
From experience, I’ve found that the most awkward situation is two player characters playing their own sex in a developing relationship (got into some big fights about that one away from the table). It’s actually less awkward when the relationship is PC to NPC, or if one or more players is playing the opposite sex. It just seems less “real”.
Be smart. You don’t beat up your friends after you leave the combat; you don’t take your character’s romance home with you, either. Ever.
For example, giving the villain a spouse or romantic interest is a great start. That’s NPC to NPC romance and easier to GM. Perhaps the PCs see the villain having a romantic dinner, or courting a fair lady–that should add romance to your game in a comfortable way.
Here are two other articles on the topic, if you’d like to read more:
Romance In Games: It’s The Chase That’s Fun
Romance In RPGs by Delphine Lynx
And here is a page with a ton of great PC and NPC romantic roleplaying ideas:
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I’ve decided to run two classic AD&D modules:
- B2 Keep On The Borderlands
- T1-8 Temple of Elemental Evil
And I need help and advice on prepping them for good, quality play. I’m reading through them, but wondered how you plan and prepare to run published modules for your campaigns?
Any tips and advice will be appreciated.
Email me personally at:
- General GMing Tips: Game News Flashes & Let The PCs Talk
Wanted to say I’ve been reading your site for a while now online, and it’s great. I keep coming across novel ideas that I’m happily (and evilly) incorporating, or ones that I come across and go ‘Oh, yeah, that works great! I know that one!’. Great site, and hope you keep it going strong.
But I wanted to put in my 2 nuyen on a couple of tips that I don’t believe you’ve covered yet:
- A Twist On Campaign Journals… Game News Flashes
One of the things that I’ve found most effectively sets the mood, and helps get people into character very quickly, is pre-written news flashes. The group I’m currently using this with is a Shadowrun crew, and as befits the milieu, I send these out by e-mail as ‘NetFlashes’, complete with time/date/place/service stamps, although I also have them available in ‘hardcopy’ when the players show up.
These also feed very well into the concepts of having the world running on its own, without revolving entirely around the PCs.
Admittedly, this group meets only sporadically (about every third month), so I have plenty of time to write these up, but it’s actually reasonably easy, if you keep a few things in mind.
- Be Brief: These are flashes, not Pulitzer Prize winning investigations. Think of top-of-the-hour headlines, with maybe five sentences total. This also applies to the amount of news. I do three on average, or at most four, per update.
- You’re writing about the World Outside: One of the things the players seem to appreciate the most is that I don’t detail just the events touching upon their actions in- game (from the previous session or earlier). I have one player who is (in-character) totally obsessed with the sports team I’ve invented, and they look forward to each update like a real fan. Plus, it’s YOUR world, do what you will with it.
- Hints AND Red Herrings: At this point in the game, the characters are very low power, so almost none of the things I write ever directly relate to their actions, and sometimes are intended to get them thinking in the wrong direction. However, I do use the flashes to set up scenes in advance, and if the players are clever, and put 1 plus 2 together, sometimes they even get 3, and plan accordingly.
For example, I had the PCs intercepting a courier at an airport at around the same time that an important international delegation was scheduled to arrive. One of the characters remembered reading the flash about the delegation and the military honor guard that would meet them. The character remembered and, assuming high security, didn’t pack any heat. They weren’t stopped at the doors, and they met the courier on time.
- If the characters DO make a splash: If the PCs have been involved in something that is significantly newsworthy (i.e. the airport mentioned above was then attacked by a terrorist group; alas, this game was back in July), then put something in the flash about it, whether in a direct read, or in an oblique way. It gives the players a real feeling of belonging to the world, and just occasionally will get them in hot water.
- Let the PC’s Talk
I find that this frequently stems from my news updates, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch sometimes. It also works best if the world has ‘something else going on’ not requiring PC involvement.
When you are playing a game with an overarching campaign goal, or a massive conspiracy, or any particular figures in the shadows, it can be very informative to the GM to let the players talk to each other, sometimes at great length, about what’s going on, usually as they try to figure out why things are happening the way they are.
In the beginning, when I knew exactly what was happening in- game, I would just let the players talk, which would eat up out-of-game (as meta-game talk) and in-game time. (“You’ve just had an hour long conversation about where those vampire terrorists came from. You’re getting hungry. And the rest of the people in the lobby are staring at you.”)
However, about half of the time, one of the players would come up with a scheme or reason so outrageous, or so intrinsically cool, that I just had to write it down, whether or not I ever planned on using it. And because I’m in charge of the world, there’s nothing stopping me from changing my plans to what the players talked out, just to surprise them. Plus, it allows me to take their ideas and start brain-storming off of their accidental input to create new plots and characters.
These sorts of conversations have had the effect of getting ALL of the players to periodically look up at me and look for whether or not I’m smiling. If I am, they start to worry, even if I have nothing up my sleeve. It’s great for playing with their minds, which sometimes is the point behind some whole scenarios.
- A Twist On Campaign Journals… Game News Flashes
- Working Information Into Your Game
From: Paul B.
I have an established campaign world that I am constantly adding bits and ideas to, and there are two main ways in which I pass on information:
- The Campaign
Each campaign I run is based around an event that will change the way in which the world is run. By playing the adventures, the players come across important world defining facts.
For example, in my current campaign, the players were transported back in time through a portal, and everyone kept referring to the humans in the party as “Dragon Lords”. Eventually, they worked out that Dragons and Humans had some kind of link. And they ended up in the court of the Dragon Council, which advised them that Humans are Dragons who have ascended to the human form (in Draconic, the words “human” and “dragon” sound like the same word).
They have been able to use this information to bluff their way through incredible dangers.
- Special One-Off Adventures
I use one-off adventures to give information to players (but not the PCs). I like that the players know what’s going on in the world and I am happy for this knowledge to help guide their characters actions.
For example, over Christmas breaks our normal roleplaying sessions are halted, but a few old gamers come back to visit family and such and we often hold special one-off adventures. In the last pre-Christmas adventure of 2001, all of the characters were captured by kobolds (actually whipped into submission; +5 brilliant energy shock whips are wonderful things). So I gave all of the players pre-made characters and sent them on a rescue mission for the captured PCs. The mix of players meant that some of them were very keen to save their PCs, but the players who didn’t have PCs in peril were given special tasks to thwart the rescue attempt.
During this mission they found out exactly how powerful the members of the dragon council were (because they played members) and what the plane of the gods was like (because that’s where the setting was). By the way. If you die on the plane of the gods (in my setting) you go straight to the nine hells, do not pass the prime plane, do not collect 200gp.
In the previous year’s session, the last regular adventure saw the characters steal a diamond that was a cage for an extremely powerful wizard (Level 100). They also found a crystal ball with the suggestion curse on it suggesting that the players dispel the magic on the gem (that was holding him inside). Once he was freed he possessed one of the PCs and then magic jar’d his essence into something more powerful.
The end of year special session was again with special characters (where they first learnt of the dragon council’s existence). This was to recapture the escaped wizard (who was also a dragon lord). I want the players to realize the havoc that their PCs cause to more powerful beings.
Oh and on a side note, I used sock puppets made from old socks and stuck on craft eyes for the last special session and the pre-made PCs. At first, the players looked at them strangely and were slow to put them on, but when I pointed out that for each character I had given a strange habit that I expected them to role play, they got right into it.
- The Campaign
- Language Creation Trick
That means Language Creation in Drang-Mi-Laran, the new language I’ve just created. I’ve just found out how easy it is to create a basic but fully workable language.
There was a list of sounds in my dictionary:
a as in cat, a as in ago, ah as in calm, air as in hair, ar as in bar, aw as in law, ay as in say, b as in bat, ch as in chin, d as in day, e as in bed, e as in taken, ee as in meet, eer as in beer, er as in her, ew as in few, awr as in demure, f as in fast, g as in get, h as in hat, i as in pin, i as in pencil, j as in jam, k as in king, l as in leg, m as in man, n as in not, ng as in sing, nk as in thank, o as in top, oh as in most, oi as in join, oo as in soon, oor as in poor, or as in for, ow as in cow, p as in pen, r as in red, s as in sit, sh as in shop, t as in top, th as in thin, u as in cup, v as in van, w as in why, y as in say, yoo as in unit, yoore as in endure, yr as in fire, z as in zebra, q as in quill, q as in qualm, x as in xylaphone.
So, I worked by simply replacing English letters with a different letter, always trying to think about the different sounds and where the tongue moved. Therefore as “t” is made in the front of the mouth, “a” is made in the back etc. I tried to choose a combination that would come up with a minimal number of unnatural sounds like dopkmbvcxk that clearly wouldn’t be the part of a language of a human race such as the Drang-Mi-Laran’s.
The finished result was:
a=t, b=c, c=b, d=k, e=m, f=g, g=g, h=w, i=r, j=y, k=d, l=a, m=e, n=v, o=i, p=b, q=z, r=i/r, s=u, t=a, u=s, v=n, w=h, x=x y=j, z=q.
This formula meant I could simply swap the letters of an English word with the substitute letters and have something that sounded like a whole new language, and it sorta was.
With this I can basically come up with any word by simply spacing letters that don’t sound natural with a vowel. Drang-Mi-Laran usually uses an “e”, but that can be changed for different languages.
This would probably be pretty useful for DMs who wing it, as you can pretty much work out the Drang-Mi-Laran word for anything on the spot. Here are a few phrases so you can get an idea of what the language sounds like:
That man is evil!
Aweta etev ou menema!
Shall we make a deal?
Cheta hem etedem teh kemta?
I will crush you like a bug!
Oh hoah bisaw jis aredem teh cesef!
I am your king!
Rih tehe jisi dovef!
You’re a madman!
Jisim teh eteket!
It’s pretty basic but it can either be the framework for something more complex or just a simple language if you really only need it for place names, NPC names etc.
It took me really only about an hour to devise it – and thats pretty good considering it can create a Drang-Mi-Laran word for any English one.
- Photoshop Mapping Tip
From: Heather G.
If DMs want to reveal their campaign world bit by bit–as the players travel through it–here’s a tip for using Photoshop (or another graphics program that allows the use of layers) that lets DMs disguise unexplored regions while revealing areas already known to the PCs.
Using a copy of your master file, create a new layer on top of the one that includes the scanned or custom-made map and use the new layer to “cover” portions of the map that haven’t been explored. If a town’s location appears in black over a color that indicates cleared land on the map (tan, for example), select and copy a tan “patch” from the original map layer and paste it onto the new layer directly over the town–viola, the town has disappeared! When the party travels to previously-blotted out locations, simply erase the corresponding section on the new layer to reveal it.
A certain amount of care is needed as the DM switches from the map layer to the cover layer so that mistakes aren’t made, but DMs who like to dabble in Photoshop will probably enjoy this technique. Save a copy of this file if you need to collapse the layers before printing. Updated maps can either be printed out or uploaded to a website to show the group’s progress over time (copyright permitting).