Often, romance is an element missing from roleplaying game campaigns, especially with male gamemasters.  There is a stereotype of the male gamer as somehow clueless, nerdy, and out of touch with women, but this is strangely not my experience; most are married or dating (often a gamer.)  This was not always the case:  in the early phase of the hobby, I’d say 90% of gamers were male, young, and way too into Conan the Barbarian.  We looked like the two guys from the Fear of Girls shorts on YouTube.

Romance, in those days, revolved around the character getting laid.  “I want to have sex with her,” enthuses Raymond in Fear of Girls, when confronted with a sexy elven priestess.  Doug, the DM, responds, “Gimme a roll…”  That was a pretty good example of “romance” in the early days.  Rape, pillage, get the treasure, repeat as needed.

Early on, I moved out of fantasy settings to modern day espionage.  Femme fatales are standard trope, and romancing them still was mostly to get laid and get information.  But the reality of the femme fatale is the honeypot:  the girl that makes you fall for them so that they can play you for information (or assassinate you…)

But by the late 1980s, I regularly had at least one female in the gaming group, and throughout the 1990s and 2000s, I average two women at the table.  Many were drawn in by different genres of RPG — there was the advent of “steampunk”, with it’s Victorian setting that brought the romance of the period to bear.  The period also saw the rise of the White Wolf settings, the World of Darkness, with the heavy-handed sexual innuendo of vampirism, and courtly style of interaction.  It, and steampunk in the Castle Falkenstein game,  favored LARP-style gaming, so they got to dress up, as well.

Women, I think, often bring more maturity to the table.  They are looking for more than macho self-aggrandizement.  They want story, they want character interaction outside of quaffing ale and randomly fighting each other (leave that to the English on a Friday night.)  And they want romance.  Not just sex.

Gamemastering romance can be tough, but it’s almost always fun, if you relax and enjoy it.  First thing:  don’t assume that characters romantically involved mean the players want to be romantically involved.  Yes, it’s often a hint –quite a few players with characters involved were themselves having a relationship…or were thinking about it.  But it’s not always the case.  Mature players will know this;  immature ones need to have rules laid out up front about the in-character/out of character situation to avoid misunderstandings.

Second, look at movies and television for ideas on how to run a romance.  There’s the popular “slow burn” romance — where the characters are attracted to each other, but don’t quite get to act on things, either because bad guys are distracting them, they sometimes misunderstand each others’ queues, or professional relationships forces them to pretend they aren’t into each other.  Even if these things aren’t in the way, real life has a habit of slowing things down a bit.

Start the relationships off slow — often a few well-placed and thought out NPCs can catch the attention of the players’ characters.  Don’t make the NPCs too easy if the players show interest.  Cock block them with missions, family issues, or put the love interest in danger.  Make them work for it a bit.  You’ll find that the players will take to it…even the guys.

This brings us to the inevitable conclusion of romance:  sex.  How much is too much?  As with violence, how (or if) to play out sex really relies on a few things.  1)  Is it something the players are going to get embarrassed by?  Making them play out the blow-by-blow is usually unnecessary, and unless everyone is feeling a bit randy, is probably not the way to go.  2) Are the players mature enough to handle it (especially if two players’ characters are getting involved)?  3) Is it necessary to the plot?  Probably not.

There’s the quick gloss over.  Think about the movies of the 1940s and ’50s.  The couples go for the kiss, then we pan to the blowing curtains, and then it’s the next morning.  This is usually enough for the players.  Some might be interested in their performance, however, and if they feel the need, you might have them test for it in some way.  (And it’s a hoot for all when they biff the roll!)  Essentially, it’s very hard to say how far a scene should be described…it’s up to your discretion and the maturity of the players.

Romance, however, is ultimately about relationships.  They connect characters to each other (or NPCs.)  If they care about these connections, they can be used as plot hooks (the kidnapped wife/husband/kid or the murdered lover or relative is always good material.)  they can also define the character for the player, giving them motivations and something to care about.  It’s easy to fly off for an adventure in Borneo when there’s no one home to leave alone.  The loss of a loved one can plague the character with guilt or doubt (if their fault), or cause them to act in a manner that might not be conducive to their safety.

Remember to use romantic attachments not just for cheap thrills, but to help the plotting and the definition of the characters.  The players will thank you for it.