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.

It might seem a bit silly to do a piece on violence in roleplaying games.  From Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons, to Twilight: 2000 and Space: 1889, to the Vampire and other White Wolf titles there is one overarching connection — fighting.  For D&D, the whole raison d’etre is violence — against monsters, against people, against other races in the hopes of glory and wealth.  Vampire and Werewolf appear to be more courtly, and more backstabbing in their type of violence, but ultimately you’re still playing creatures that eat people.  Or war on each other, ala Underworld.

However it’s the approach to violence in the various settings that I want to address, and how you can capture the appropriate tone for your game.  Over the years, I’ve tried to make violence fairly realistic in my games.  That doesn’t necessarily mean gory, but violence has real consequences beyond how many “hit points” you lose.

I’ve run espionage games most of my life.  The goal is frequently to avoid violence, or even the hint that you were operating in the enemy’s AO.  But when it happens, it’s usually fast, messy, and not well choreographed.  (The latest James Bond movies have captured the frenetic pace and hurt of fights for your life.)  So how far do you go with describing the attacks, the injuries?

The easiest genre to attack is War, and combat-oriented games like Twilight: 2000 or Battlestar Galactica.  War is dangerous, fast-paced, confusing, and often deadly.  you might not have to give graphic depictions of everything happening around the characters — in fact, often “fog of war” keeps people on the battlefield from having a full picture of the proceedings.  Think of the beginning sequence of Saving Private Ryan — the chaos of the battle, the randomness of injury.  The character has his hearing go out temporarily, time seems to speed up and slow down.  There a re moments, like the soldier looking for his lost arm, that catch his attention.  This give you an idea of the kind of flavor you might want for this kind of campaign…

Here you would go over the effects of the injuries sustained, as much as the hit points/life points/whatever points lost.  Say a character has 14 life points and is shot with a high-caliber rifle — say a .50 caliber.  The damage they sustain might only be 5 points (they get really lucky), but that’s still roughly a third they can take…they’ll live, but they’re mashed up pretty good.  Maybe they lost an arm or a leg.

Smaller caliber weapons do different things.  The 5.7x28mm of Galactica‘s colonials is a .224 round.  It does a lot of temporary damage through hydrostatic shock, but it’s a small wound.  They tend to close and not bleed heavily.  9mm rounds in ball zip right through a person, even in the chest cavity, with some possibility of doing slight damage.  Or they can paralyze you.  The exit holes tend to bleed worse the the entrance wound.  Knife wounds hurt! and they bleed!  They also have a higher chance of doing permanent nerve damage.  Even a fist fight, the person delivering the blows — in my experience — rarely walks away without bruised knuckles or some kind of mild sprain.

You don’t have to go through the blow by blow, as in The Morrow Project, of what is happening as a bullet passes through someone.  Usually, most people aren’t that self-aware, and often an injury incurs some level of shock.

But say you’re not interested in the traumatizing effects of violence.  For a more genteel campaign, like Space: 1889 or Castle Falkenstein, you might want to keep the description of violence to a minimum, instead going with a “movie style” or “TV style” of violence.

Think about the way violence was portrayed in old Westerns, pulp movies (including the Indiana Jones series.)  There might be blood squibs, but often there’s just a clutching of wounds and collapsing.  Only during the truly horrific — the wrath of god or the evil fiend torturing an NPC do you see anything.  (Or not even then.  Think about the end of the flying wing fist fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance…)  No hero loses limbs, and no shoulder wound involves the brachial or subclavian arteries and bleeding out; no brachial plexus that means no feeling or movement in the arm.  The character, if tortured is given their resistance rolls, as the villains move in to do their dirty work and we pan away to the sounds of their screams.  (Think Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back…you didn’t need to see the torture to know that it sucked egregiously.)  This sort of violence style is much more appropriate to the pulp campaigns of Hollow Earth Expedition or Savage Worlds, and it works well if you want the more campy period of James Bond.

Even TV-style violence varied from the weekly “shot in the shoulder but I’m okay” violence of Starsky & Hutch, to the more serious effects of gun play in Miami ViceMagnum: PI avoided gun play for the most part, and when it happened, it was sanitized for the prime time audience.

Cartoony violence, in which violence is used as slapstick comedy might be appropriate to Paranoia or Toon campaigns.  The horrific ends the character might face are mitigated by the internal logic of the campaign itself.  Similarly, a “golden age” style superhero camapign would involve a lot of collateral damage and knockback…but ultimately, the villain is only knocked unconscious and taken into custody (only to escape later.)  People rarely die prior to the angsty-realistic comic themes of the 1980s and later.

The key is to 1) Know your audience.  Are they mature enough for graphic violence?  Are they the kind to go into vapors if their character is tortured, raped, scarred or physically impaired by injury?  2) Is it appropriate to the setting?  More realistic campaigns the answer might be yes, but for light entertainments of pulp or romantic adventure..?  Probably not.