Warming up to the Romance Trilogy: A Review
  • Warming up to the Romance Trilogy: A Review


    February is a month of cold temperatures and warm feelings of love and romance. If you’re looking for something to do with friends when it’s too cold to go out, why not stay in and take a look at the Romance Trilogy?



    A compilation of three games (and much more besides) written by designer Emily Care Boss, the Romance Trilogy includes Breaking the Ice, a game for two players about a new couple going on three different dates; Shoot the Moon, a three-player game about two suitors competing for the affection of an idealized beloved; and Under My Skin, a four-to-eight player live-action roleplaying game about infidelity in established relationships.

    Besides the three main games, Boss saw fit to include a plethora of supplemental material in the compilation. Sitting at 373 pages, the book contains hacks and mods for each game, either providing guidance for changing the number of players or changing the core assumptions of the games entirely. Shoot the Moon, for example, supports two-players instead of the normal three, while Breaking the Ice can handle up to ten with modifications included in the book. Additionally, both of those games include alternate rules for playing “man vs nature” scenarios, allowing for a very interesting look at the ways a game can be cleverly hacked to suit different purposes.

    Game mechanics aside, roleplaying romance can be a very difficult thing. Emotional vulnerability requires a great deal of finesse and care from all those involved, especially when dealing with more sensitive subject matter like infidelity in Under My Skin. Thankfully, Boss is sure to include constant reminders, gently but firmly, to establish boundaries and ground rules for those participating. The text instructs participants to preemptively establish what level of physical contact is acceptable, what subject matter shouldn’t be brought up, and to keep an eye out for discomfort and be ready to put the brakes on any scene that’s going too far.

    In addition to these inclusions of desirable metagame behavior, the book also includes references to several meta-techniques to be used by the players and, if applicable, the director. This is part game, part improvisational theater, and Boss goes to impressive lengths guide those playing towards techniques that will help tell the type of stories these games are about. Players are encouraged - and in some cases, required - to act on knowledge their characters lack in order to create tension or comedy through dramatic irony. Players are all encouraged to make suggestions for scenes as they unfold, even if they aren’t direct participants. These games trust their participants to all act as directors or game masters, to some degree, and guides them into doing just that.

    As a final bonus inclusion, several “companion games” were included after the main trilogy. These companion games are like the hacks and mods mentioned before, but each one includes such significant additions that they change the entire way the game is played along with the core assumptions of each one. From a strictly guided, on-rails improvisation exercise where players act out scenes from Arthurian legend to a pseudo-wargame about love triangles between bitter enemies to more besides, there is more extra content included here than anyone could expect from any one product.

    There are a few blemishes on the product itself. There were plenty of typos and poorly edited sentences, as well as quite a bit of redundancy in the explanations of the rules. But these editing issues are relatively minor, and never even come close to making the book unreadable or the games unplayable.

    Looking at the Romance Trilogy as a whole, it’s an exceptional product. The reader is promised three games about romance, and gets all that and more. Give it a look, and try to get some friends together to play. Who knows? You might just find some romance of your own in the process.

    This article was contributed by Nicholas Potter as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Egg Embry's Avatar
      Egg Embry -
      Nicholas,

      Excellent review! This line is the clincher for me: "roleplaying romance can be a very difficult thing. Emotional vulnerability requires a great deal of finesse and care from all those involved". I need to read this for perspective on my own romance project, Love's Labour's Liberated - A 5e RPG Zine. Thank you for sharing this, it's on my list to grab! :-)

      Thank you,

      Egg Embry
      On Kickstarter: Love's Labour's Liberated - A 5e RPG Zine
    1. entling's Avatar
      entling -
      I'd never heard of this game(s) before, but it sounds like a great way for people to introduce their SOs to TRPGs! Will definitely be trying it with mine
      Great review!
    1. Nicholas Potter's Avatar
      Nicholas Potter -
      Quote Originally Posted by Egg Embry View Post
      Nicholas,

      Excellent review! This line is the clincher for me: "roleplaying romance can be a very difficult thing. Emotional vulnerability requires a great deal of finesse and care from all those involved". I need to read this for perspective on my own romance project, Love's Labour's Liberated - A 5e RPG Zine. Thank you for sharing this, it's on my list to grab! :-)

      Thank you,

      Egg Embry
      On Kickstarter: Love's Labour's Liberated - A 5e RPG Zine
      Oh hey, I saw a post on Reddit about that! Super cool to hear that I was able to help, even if just a bit. I hope you like what you see when you grab it!
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      Romance is a very difficult topic to handle in a table top RPG, owing to the intimacy of the setting and the subject intersecting in some uncomfortable manners. An obvious example of the problem comes to mind when contemplating the difference the term 'role-playing' connotes when isolated to the separate spheres. It's also really easy to blur the lines between reality and game if romance becomes the focus of it rather than something implied but not explored. I've never had a game that didn't feature some sort of attachment between sexual partners, or just simply sex (off stage). But at best such play seemed to explore infatuation rather than anything like romance, in part because it's impossible to make an NPC real enough of a person to serve as an object of any higher emotion than infatuation. And I've never seen two PC's want to explore romance as a topic between them, and all the cases I've heard of involved actual romantic feelings between the two players.

      I can't imagine playing 'Breaking the Ice' with someone I wasn't at least potentially romantically involved with, for example, and I have hard time imagining playing it as a character that wasn't a self-surrogate. And while I can imagine making a game of flirtation I'm not sure that such a game offers some experience diverse enough from actual flirtation to make me want to pursue it as a separate activity.

      Is anyone who has played these sort of games able to address these concerns?
    1. mythago's Avatar
      mythago -
      I've run "Under My Skin" a couple of times and it went very well - and this was running it at a convention with people who mostly didn't know each other and didn't pair off or seem awkward about it after the game. Everyone was very clear on the fact that it was a game, not 'let's use a game as a pretext for flirting!', and since there were agreed-on boundaries and rules ahead of time everyone was very comfortable.

      If you're not comfortable with or can't imagine RP'ing a PC having a romantic relationship with another PC or an NPC this might not be in your comfort zone.
    1. Nicholas Potter's Avatar
      Nicholas Potter -
      Quote Originally Posted by Celebrim View Post
      I can't imagine playing 'Breaking the Ice' with someone I wasn't at least potentially romantically involved with, for example, and I have hard time imagining playing it as a character that wasn't a self-surrogate. And while I can imagine making a game of flirtation I'm not sure that such a game offers some experience diverse enough from actual flirtation to make me want to pursue it as a separate activity.

      Is anyone who has played these sort of games able to address these concerns?
      As mythago said, not everyone is going to be comfortable playing a game like this. As I said, even with established boundaries it requires some degree of emotional vulnerability, which is easier for some than others.

      Also, your concerns about playing 'Breaking the Ice' as a character who's a self-surrogate is actually a good chance to talk about the specific mechanics of that game that I didn't have room for in the general overview of the product:

      When you sit down to make characters with your fellow player, you actually choose something that is decidedly different between the two of you. It might be gender - that's the default suggestion, assuming you're different genders. Or it might be nationality, or level of education, or political affiliation if you're especially confident in your abilities to be respectful and level-headed, or anything else you can imagine that you differ on.

      And you both make a character that is opposite of the truth for you. If you are a man playing with a woman and decide on gender, then you play the woman and the woman plays the man. The issue you differ on becomes a key focus of the game, so if anything I'd be worried about disconnecting too much from your character than it becoming too much of a surrogate. But that's why you take on your fellow player's position, rather than one completely alien - they can help you understand and nudge you with their own experience, and you can do the same for them.

      There's still more to it than I can reasonably write about in a comment here, but I hope your concerns have been at least somewhat addressed
    Comments Leave Comment