Graph Paper Romance: When D&D Characters Date
  • Graph Paper Romance: When D&D Characters Date


    Do your D&D games ever contain romantic elements? Iím not talking about stereotypical antics involving trying to hook up with NPC barmaids or seduce a guard as a distraction. Realistic relationships are unlikely to develop that much in a one-shot, or in a style of play which de-emphasizes role play in favor of action. But in longer-running games with ample time for RP, Iím curious how often it actually becomes a plot element.


    Iíve played in games with real-life couples whose characters were involved with each other from the start. That seems to be fairly common based on what Iíve heard from other people, and it makes sense. Player groups with a mix of genders and orientations may be more likely to introduce intra-party romance. And some players may feel uncomfortable dealing with in-game romance and prefer to avoid it entirely. However, it can add an interesting element to your game if the other player involved also is onboard with the idea.

    Ask Before Proceeding
    If you want to initiate a romance between your character and another playerís, donít take it for granted that the other player is into it. You probably can gauge how your target will feel about it when you know that player well enough. If youíre friends, they may be fine with you introducing the notion within the game, and just roll with it.

    For example, I am playing in a Curse of Strahd campaign with friends. Naturally, most of our characters are strangers thrown together by mysteriously misty circumstances. A few sessions in, my friend playing a non-binary half-elf sorcerer announced that her character definitely would flirt with my character. She knows me well enough to know it wouldnít bother me, regardless of whether my character was interested. But my character was very okay with it, so it was that simple for our characters to start up a little romance. Thereís little time for a slow burn in Barovia, so we just jumped in. Our DM was entertained enough by this to make us both roll DEX checks for makeout success once (I rolled a 19!), and their relationship became a minor aspect of the overall narrative.

    However, some players might be very not-okay with a move like that. Amorous pursuits can be a sensitive subject, so I encourage you always to proceed with caution and respect (in D&D and life in general). Either way, it may be prudent to ask the other player outside the game if they are comfortable with the idea of your character showing interest in theirs. Some DMs also might appreciate you sharing your intentions with them. As a DM, I would love to know when a character in a sandbox game has a crush so I can pick up that thread, but thatís just my own preference.

    PC and NPC, Sitting in a Tree
    Striking up a romance with an NPC presents its own challenges. Itís one thing to have two PCs get involved, but starting a thing with an NPC potentially translates into one character having long interactions with the DM that could get tedious for other players over time. But if your group enjoys RP-heavy play where each character can have their own interests and side plots, it can be a great source of drama and/or comedy.

    In another ongoing campaign with my friends, we all are playing young adults, and most of our characters donít have much romantic experience, if any. It was fun when one character starting awkwardly flirting with a cute young elf cleric NPC we met. She wanted to ask her out, so the rest of our characters dropped everything else we were doing to help. We kinda derailed the session with what quickly turned into Archie Comics-style teen hijinx, but we had a blast. Making sure they had a successful coffee date instantly became a group project for the party.

    Our characters just had been through a bunch of drama and near-death, so it was a perfect way for those kids to blow off some steam and put their energy into a positive project that didnít involve killing anyone. We tapped the full comedic potential of having a minotaur monk, a goliath barbarian, an aasimar fighter, and a human rogue run around gathering intel about the cleric so our dragonborn paladin could have good small talk over coffee with her. Theyíre both rather shy and their romance is developing slowly, but it added a fun new dimension...and we got ourselves a friendly cleric who will help our party not die. Win-win!

    There are so many ways in-game romance can turn out either well or horribly, for characters and players alike. Do you ever include romantic plots in your D&D campaigns? If so, did it add an enjoyable element to your story, or create any issues?

    contributed by Annie Bulloch
    Comments 45 Comments
    1. DMMike's Avatar
      DMMike -
      Quote Originally Posted by Annie Bulloch View Post
      so we just jumped in. Our DM was entertained enough by this to make us both roll DEX checks for makeout success once (I rolled a 19!), and their relationship became a minor aspect of the overall narrative.
      Does that mean there was a chance for critical fails? In making out? Were braces involved?

      Romance is an ageless plot device. It would be weird not to include it...unless your players are all murderhobos. That, and it's weird for some non-actors to role-play romance. But I think you can abstract it enough, players willing, to keep even the most sensitive (yet tough. AND manly.) players comfortable in their seats.
    1. andrewlichey's Avatar
      andrewlichey -
      We had one in a HotDQ campaign... not part of the story plot, but rather something that organically came up. An unlikely pair, a neutral good paladin, and a chaotic neutral wizard, separated and in a stressful position, explored being "friends with benefits". Over time that matured and they were pretty close, on more than one occasion sacrificing to help the other. In the end, though they never fully committed and split apart at the campaign's close. In a way, it was one of those implicit relationships, rather than explicit ones. They never really talked about it, but showed it through their actions. Not formalizing it though made it easier for it to slip through their fingers.
    1. Blue's Avatar
      Blue -
      I've rarely had long term romantic relationships (either PC/PC or PC/NPC) when running. When playing is a different matter. Though really the split might have been: playing when we'd do 8-12 hour sessions as teenagers/20s who were only sporadically dating vs. 3.5 hours every other week after work for a bunch of married old farts with kids.

      Heck, one super setting I played in (multiple campaigns in the same setting) was half superheros and half soap-opera in terms of interpersonal relationships. Lots of romance happening. Both working and failing spectacularly.
    1. Umbran's Avatar
      Umbran -
      Quote Originally Posted by DMMike View Post
      It would be weird not to include it...unless your players are all murderhobos.
      There are other cases. In my 5e game, two of the players are 14 year old girls, and I am a grown man. I am *NOT* going to do romance plots with them. Period.

      I could be similarly awkward if your game is in, say, your work environment.
    1. Annie Bulloch's Avatar
      Annie Bulloch -
      Quote Originally Posted by DMMike View Post
      Does that mean there was a chance for critical fails? In making out?
      No braces were involved, so I don't know what would have happened in case of a critical fail. Maybe somebody's magic malfunctions, or somebody accidentally falls on a sword! Probably something nonfatal yet embarrassing.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Two of the characters in my game are married (in real life). Two other characters are married (in game) to NPCs. We even got a dramatic challenge / duel in which the best man had to defend the would be happy couple at the wedding. Successfully. It's a sand box game in which the PCs have made friends (obviously) and enemies.
    1. Annie Bulloch's Avatar
      Annie Bulloch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
      There are other cases. In my 5e game, two of the players are 14 year old girls, and I am a grown man. I am *NOT* going to do romance plots with them. Period.

      I could be similarly awkward if your game is in, say, your work environment.
      Yeah, absolutely. I hoped it would go without saying, but: don't be inappropriate. Don't be a creep. Again, this is a rule for D&D and also real life.
    1. the Jester's Avatar
      the Jester -
      I run a game that has several instances of pcs married, both to other pcs and to npcs. Romance has been a plot point multiple times.

      I run a fairly hardcore sandbox campaign, with an emphasis on the passage of time and downtime. Since 5e launched, around 6 years of game time have passed. I also run multiple groups with lots of players, and most players end up with a 'stable' of different pcs in the milieu. I've created a set of rules for finding romance (with an npc) as a downtime activity; the DMG carousing downtime activity also has romance as a potential result. So in my game, we've ended up with at least the following relationships:

      • A pc ranger (who died) had an npc girlfriend who he met in play (his group spent tons of time in a brewery);
      • A pair of pcs who had a drunken one-night stand ended up getting married after the man (a monk) was ennobled and then pressed to produce an heir;
      • A pc tabaxi spent around six months of downtime traveling to a tabaxi enclave to find and woo a suitable mate and has had kids;
      • Said tabaxi's sister also had some romance, but an unsuccessful one;
      • Another pc noble got married to an orcish princess for political reasons;
      • A pc gnome got caught up in romance via the aforementioned carousing downtime, and the romance has stuck.


      I may be forgetting some others.

      I'm also a huge fan of multi-generation campaigning; several of those have produced kids, who are eventual future pc options for the players.
    1. Lanefan -
      It's a near-constant sub-theme: within our games it's nigh-guaranteed that some PCs at any given time will be doing some or all of: chase, pair off, separate, quarrel, flirt, romantically cheat on each other, get married, sleep around, get jealous, etc.; in no particular order.

      Most often it's with other PCs but NPCs get involved too; and osmetimes party NPCs get involved with each other as well.

      For my own part, two of my major PCs got married* to people they met during their adventuring careers - one to another PC, one to a party NPC originally hired as a hench - and still remain so. Another has sworn off any and all romantic involvements because background and history (and possible personal-story ideas later). Another will sleep with just about anybody human, elf, or part-elf just for the fun of it. Another mostly sees flirtation and even sex as just one more tool of the spy trade. And so on...

      * - though the whole "till death do us part" thing had to be amended, as since their marriages both PCs and both spouses have each died and been revived at least once!

      So yeah, I think the game is immensely better with PC romance etc. in it; to the point that were such things banned in a game (and I recall at least one ENWorld poster that had this restriction, though I forget who it was) I'd call a deal-breaker and find another game.

      Lanefan
    1. MonkeezOnFire's Avatar
      MonkeezOnFire -
      The character I currently play was involved in a romantic relationship with another PC until the other player had to quit the campaign due to scheduling. I play a human devotion paladin and she played a tiefling wild sorcerer (which sounds bonkers, but they had similar upbringings and their personalities were cute together). Our characters had talked one on one a couple of times, sharing details about each other and bits of backstory. After some time we started playing them showing signs of interest. She'd get a bit jealous when he flirts with other women. He would try to march beside her whenever possible. Things finally came together when the party learned they would be facing off against a basilisk and her character essentially said "screw this, I'm not dying before confessing my feelings."

      So for a time there was a happy couple in the party. They would go on dates and they eventually introduced each other to their families as our travels brought us to our respective home towns. Both coming from noble families of different kingdoms those were some interesting sessions.

      When the other player had to leave she had her character run away from the party without saying goodbye, only leaving a note. This left my character fairly devastated and he's still dealing with the heart break to some extent. There is a possibility the character will come back as an NPC, but we agreed that since it would be weird continuing the romance with the GM playing her instead so there's no real chance of them getting back together. But such is life when you fall in love with a being of chaos.
    1. mrpopstar's Avatar
      mrpopstar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Annie Bulloch View Post
      There are so many ways in-game romance can turn out either well or horribly, for characters and players alike. Do you ever include romantic plots in your D&D campaigns? If so, did it add an enjoyable element to your story, or create any issues?
      I am the Dungeon Master for a campaign that features a romantic plot. One of our adventurers has kindled a relationship with one of the non-player characters. Things happened naturally as the narrative unfolded, and I observe that it makes everyone smile whenever the couple's interactions are explored.

      I think the romantic plot adds an enjoyable element to the story first and foremost because it offered an opportunity for a character to gain a new bond. As a Dungeon Master, bonds are important to me because they represent important connections to people in the world I've created for us to tell stories in. Each one helps me better understand the kind of story my players want to be involved with.

      Most of the relationship is explored in descriptions of downtime by the involved player, and I do everything I can to support a fantasy of love and success.

      The only issue it has created for me is the need to be more authentic in my storytelling. Character bonds are ripe for narrative exploitation but romantic plots require more maturity and mindfulness when we leverage them to build challenges.

    1. EthanSental's Avatar
      EthanSental -
      Hasn't happened in our group in over 30 years of gaming , but we are teenage boys and now men and none have played female characters.
    1. Chaderick -
      The last campaign I ran ran for fifteen years in real life, spanned decades of game time. By the time the heroes went off to save the universe at the dawn of time, they were leaving behind children who were nearly teenagers. The current campaign I run is set about five years after the old one ended, and the players are mostly playing their former characters' kids. To be fair, one is playing the grandson of an NPC whom the old heroes had redeemed (Gilean Vel, for any old Necromancer Games fans), and another is playing the time-tossed young version of his original character.

      But, yes...we endeavor to tell a story with our characters while rolling dice, killing monsters, and collecting our loot. So, romances occur between PCs, and between PCs and NPCs!
    1. SMHWorlds's Avatar
      SMHWorlds -
      If you played in the Living Greyhawk (can't speak to Living City or the other Living games) then I suspect you at least knew about some hip deep soap opera level romances. In every region

      It has to be consent all around, I think. However, there is no reason that action oriented or one shots cannot have some kind of energy involved in them. Just many fewer details
    1. Osgood's Avatar
      Osgood -
      Iíve had romances between NPCs and PCs a few times, one between PCs that played very well despite being two straight dudes (one was playing a female), and one I randomly inflicted on two unsuspecting PCs when I time jumped the campaign to the gnome wizard and half-orc rogueís wedding.

      Interestingly, the married couple I play with avoid romance between their characters like the plague. They also sit as far from one another as possible, and bicker out of character a lot. Actually I think they might be on the road to divorce...
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by Annie Bulloch View Post
      Do your D&D games ever contain romantic elements?
      Not as often as other games, like Storyteller.
    1. Elf_flambe's Avatar
      Elf_flambe -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      Not as often as other games, like Storyteller.
      Back in high school/college (late '70s to early '80s), we played a more free-form improvisational RPG that often overlapped our D&D sessions. We had lots of characters that paired up, and not just between players that were dating. Children often resulted. It added an interesting dimension to the storylines, and like in comic books, often made villainous targets of spouses and offspring.

      One of the most memorable pairings was the marriage between the soft-spoken Grandmistress of Flowers (1E top-level monk) and a flamboyant fighter who spoke with a Western twang.
    1. Lylandra's Avatar
      Lylandra -
      Happens quite often. I've had a young noblewoman falling for a same-age paladin who both didn't know jack about relationships or love or intimacy. She then ran away from an arranged marriage, got disinherited and started training as a paladin as well.

      Right now, the two PCs I DM for are both in a relationship with two NPC women, one of them is a permanent party member who just got married to the PC (they are about to go on a suicide mission and wanted to make it official) who was romancing around before. The other one seduced a local ruler and then realized that there was more to her than just a pretty face.

      My own PC is in a kind of latent relationship as well (it's complicated), so... yeah.

      But it isn't that hard to romance when one of your players is your husband and the other a close friend.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Sure, it's happened in various ways.

      Example: I played in an "ensemble cast" type of campaign where there were a small number of players but we had varying PCs. It was set in the City of Greyhawk, and we had various adventures in the area over the course of a few years of game time.

      One of my PCs, Buckminster Burrmaster II, was kind of a n'er-do-well halfling fighter who'd not been happy in halfling society and was somewhat outcast due to his adventuring ways. After his friend Borlin the Dwarf got killed by a demon, he cashed out his magic items and went courting, eventually marrying Euphemia Morris, youngest daughter of the pipeweed magnate Philip Morris. Two PCs got introduced at his wedding, later. Another character had a relationship (of sorts) with the Djinn in her Ring of Djinn Summoning and a different one fell hard for a Nymph, so hard he organized a massive raid against the Horned Society to recover her after she was captured.

      The way we always handled it was to have anything explicit "fade to black" in fine TV fashion.

      An "ensemble cast" type game is a lot of fun and allows for things like PCs having relationships, doing longer term projects, and the like. It also means there's a lot of variety so the party can be tailored to the story going on.

      It really depends on the group, though---some groups are fine with it, others should just stay away. It's definitely not a good idea to get past very light flirting with a group from work, for instance.
    1. Sunseeker's Avatar
      Sunseeker -
      Romantic interactions are generally available, but I tend to prefer them player-initiated. I will approach them however a player wants to do it, pure role-play, roll-play, just as long as whatever is going down A: does not bog down the game and steal the show, and B: always fades to black.

      NPCs coming on to the players is usually a plot device by me the DM to get the players to do some quest or something.

      I don't have a whole lot of players who show interest in it though. But that may simply be that I'm not putting much effort into presenting available romance.

      ****this is all assuming the appropriate group of course.
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