Since everybody and his sister read my post on Sex and D&D and I promised a post on Romance and D&D I figure I owe it to both my readers, I mean my veritable horde of readers.
As in my post on Sex and D&D I will get straight to the matter that all players (and readers) are eagerly awaiting, romance. Romance has been one of the driving forces behind the hobby since the beginning.
Why do people play their paladins like Lancelot or Galahad or Holger? Why do their dwarves seek deep treasures and their elves use bows (other than the mechanical benefits of course)? It's romance.
Players and Dungeon Masters have had a romantic relationship with the game since the beginning. Until I got dumped by my first girlfriend (yes even the handsome Giant has suffered rejection) I have never felt the same sense of frustrating loss as when I lost my first character. Other hobbies have their passionate players and advocates. I've sweated hours every day to perfect a technique or worked the heavy bag until my hands ached many times but I never felt the same unbridled hope and joy with a hobby as I did when I worked on a new module.
When I was working on non-player characters, designing an organic dungeon that fit in its setting, or fiddling on the details of an area's culture or ecology it was a labor of love of romance. When I was making a character sometimes his history, skills, and desires came to me in a flash of inspiration. At other times my character took days or hours of thought. I wanted everything to be just right.
I knew other players and dungeon masters who put the same love and care into their games and players. People would draw their players or the group, some kept a play diary, others drew maps of their adventures or wrote stories based on the characters. We negotiated our dialogue with our game masters with the same intensity we gave to talking to our girlfriends or boyfriends. Maybe more intensity as you could kind of coast talking to a member of either sex about their day but miss one clue of your dungeon master's description and everyone was looking up from the bottom of a ten foot deep spiked pit.
The hobby is romantic of course in a more important way. In the beginning while there were evil characters or chaotic if you go back far enough most were good or neutral. Usually we were on impossible quests that would have had Don Quixote mounting his charger and galloping to the rescue.
If you weren't playing a character or game inspired by romance and action you were often playing one that was an explicit rejection of romantic themes and characters. Elric and Stormbringer are a rejection of romance. By the late seventies and early eighties we were seeing whole parties of evil characters while not unheard of before it became a big enough part of the hobby that whole campaigns were looking at it form the Necromancer's point of view.
Chivalric romance and planetary romance of the kind of Roland and John Carter were losing out to Drow Assassin Ninja's and Half Orc Clerics. You can play a game either way but one embraces and the other rejects the romance.
That's not to say that the romance, high ideals, impossible goals, tragic and doomed heroes, and unbearable loss was always adopted by all players. Some played it like a battle simulator or fancy chess moving their miniatures strategically from square to square or hex to hex with all the emotions of a war gamer. And just as much attention to their character's life story or desires.
At least half the first level characters I saw never had a name until a game master said, "Dave, what's your fighting man's name?" "Uh, Crom." or Barzak or Karne, were usually the answer. Something vaguely conanesque or fantasy sounding.
How ever you played the game and whether or not you read any of the appendix n that inspired much of the atmosphere you cared about your hobby. Most of the kids who played cared and cared deeply about their characters. I've seen adults get teary eyed when they had to hand over their character when they were killed by a vampire or otherwise became a 'GM' character or the character died.
It was never as bad as 'Dark Dungeons' made it look but it could get emotional. So the Romance and D&D was real and will stay real as long as one player cares about his character and one game master works hours to make just the right dungeon crawl.
Keep romance alive play fantasy role playing games.
If you thought this was a trashy sordid tale leave me a comment. If you thought this was a shining example of worthy of the Matter of France leave me a comment and if you disagreed with everything drop me a comment.
UPDATE: I've had a reader leave a comment on G+ saying he felt like this had been a bait and switch. I am not one to argue with my audience so for his benefit I will address the subject of relationships between characters at a later date.