Sex & Romance in Fantasy Gaming: Attraction



[AU] I have a gift for you by Lidiash

"[AU] I have a gift for you" by Lidiash (resized) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0


How It Starts

Sometimes attraction occurs as an organic result of game play, when characters meet and pursue each other because they are naturally drawn to one another. While they might use spells and skills on each other later, no spell or skill use caused their initial interest. This can be a very fun and easy way to introduce romance to a campaign, and while it can be completely unscripted, you can try to introduce characters who will appeal to others. You can try to encourage natural attraction based on what you know about the characters, but you can't truly force it to happen. For example, a Dungeon Master might throw a strong and loyal NPC in the path of the party paladin, who's been lonely for company. The DM might be pretty sure the paladin will enjoy the NPC's attitude and actions, but no one can predict how well two characters will hit it off.

Other times, attraction in a roleplaying game can be introduced because the Dungeon Masters and players are looking for opportunities to do so. In real life, people scope out their surroundings looking for others to flirt with or talk to. As a player, you can start to ask the Dungeon Master about the NPCs who are hanging around. If you're just looking for someone who's interesting, the DM could ask you for a basic perception check. If you're actively searching for the wealthiest person around, the DM might ask you to roll to appraise the crowd's relative worth. If you're trying to notice someone who's noticing you, the roll might be different. Spells and items that add bonuses to such skills naturally reinforce those rolls, as appropriate. From there, initial overtures can be just a lie or introduction roll away.

Spells and items that help to charm people can be used to gain someone's attention, whether they like it or not. Be aware that such effects usually wear off, and when they do, targets aren't likely to be happy about being manipulated. Also keep in mind how the law might get involved when magic is used to force intimacy. But most of all, be careful about using magic to compel the player characters; if you must do so, keep it to a limited duration. Players often chafe when their character's free will is taken away from them, or when they're forced to act against their character's direct wishes. Few things can be as annoying as a love interest you didn't ask for and can't get rid of.

As a Dungeon Master, it is part of your job to make interactions come to life. So think about the things that let you know someone is attracted to you, and build from there. Meaningful glances, "happenstance” meetings, bumbling conversation, and other clues can lead to more. Watch a few movies or television shows that show those first steps and keep an eye on how the characters move and speak. Try to use a variety of cues and responses, as well. Perhaps a few characters are open flirts, while others tease or are reluctant. Maybe a few NPCs are touchy, easily offended, or skittish. If every overture is accepted, romance is likely to grow stale and feel forced, so allow for some failures. Definitely think about obstacles that might stand in the way, like disapproving parents or obligations that force lovers to part for a while. Few romances are as epic as the ones that lovers have to fight for. But don't make every overture a complete disaster, unless you want to scare your players off.


Motivations for attraction are manyfold. Physical details are generally the first to be noticed; alluring colors, shapes, and scents draw us in. This can be represented by a character's Charisma rating, but keep in mind that overall physical condition (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution), clothing, and adornment play their part. Keep in mind that player characters tend to have higher statistics than the average Joe, and for that alone they will be distinguished. They might also be wearing finer clothes and jewelry than most people can afford, thereby making up for average or low Charisma scores. Rich NPCs can also adjust the playing field according to their pocketbooks.

For example, a lower-Charisma character might spend more money on nonmagical perfumes and a rich wardrobe, granting themselves a temporary bonus (say, +1 per 50 gp spent, maximum +6) to social rolls for an event. For every occasion that the gear is used in public again, the bonus decreases by 1 until it is gone. Or perhaps aristocrats inherit magically enchanted clothing, with social benefits that don't expire. If you have wanted to make use of varied clothing, cosmetics, and perfumes – what I think of as social gear – in your games, this could be the perfect place to do so.

Apparent wealth is a draw, and there are many ways to show your good fortune. Characters can own land, vehicles, fine furnishings, animals, and command servants, but they also carry wealth in their armor and weapons. In fantasy settings, a lot of magical gear looks impressive, since it's studded with gems and etched with runes. Though enchanted items might be more common in major cities, some will stand out more than others, and few would be considered commonplace. People's jaws will drop and invitations will come, even for the most unassuming guy in enchanted mithril full plate.

Sometimes it's what people are doing that makes us pay attention in the first place. Characters have plenty of opportunities to show their skills, regardless of what they are. A bard might be delivering a virtuoso performance, a monk might be meditating with a serenity that shines, or a cleric might be tending the sick for free. And then we have displays of fighting prowess, which are bound to gain someone's notice. During the course of a normal day's work, characters can end up with an offer of a drink, or more. Indeed, the more experienced and even dangerous a character looks, the more romantic attention they might get.

Other times, it's the way that someone makes us feel when they're around that makes us come back for more. The rising of pulse and temperature, the electric sensation someone's hands have, even during a casual touch, and the lightheaded sensation when they're lingering nearby can make a lasting impression. It could be that the player characters start to feel such things, or that would-be lovers confess to those sensations. Either way, these are details that gamers will recognize.

Attraction in Real Life

It's possible that some genuine attraction can start to develop between players, or between a player and the Dungeon Master during the course of romantic stories. If everyone is single and not threatened by the idea, this can work out perfectly well and can even make exchanges more fun. I've experienced this directly, more than once, and with great results in my gaming and personal life. Most of the time, it's not planned; people just start to gravitate toward one another, or see something different in each other, or at the very least find a bit of an edge to their characters' flirtations. Sometimes an edge is all it is, and all it remains.

But it's important that real-life chemistry doesn't start to hog the spotlight or slow down the game. It might be tempting to give interactions between player characters a lot more emphasis, or the players themselves might keep going as long as they can get away with it. But everyone at the table is there for their turn to shine. The Dungeon Master needs to make sure everyone is getting roughly the same amount of attention. If enthusiastic players want to continue a scene well beyond where the group wants to go, see the Techniques section for advice.

It is also important to realize that the line between fantasy and reality is easily blurred, especially when jealousy rears its ugly head. Players can come to resent sexual tension. Couples who game together might become jealous if their characters get involved with people outside their relationship, or if chemistry seems to be developing outside of the relationship. Sometimes the hook-ups that really shouldn't happen in real life do happen. And there are people who consider romance in roleplaying games to be a form of emotional cheating, even if the stories are entirely fictional. While these things might seem silly or far-fetched, I have seen them all come up over the years, causing varying degrees of strife.

The best advice I can offer is to keep an eye on what is happening inside the game. If too much tension builds up, see if you can move the scene along or otherwise defuse it. If individuals seem to be having trouble, see if they'll talk to you about it before or after a session. You can't be held responsible for what other people do, and you certainly can't be blamed for what they do outside of the game, but you can try to make everyone comfortable at the table.


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