Saturday, June 11, 2016

Romance and D&D

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.


  1. There are ways of playing romance, sexuality, and dating in RPGs. I've done so in the past. The key point in doing so is 1st finding out what level the others in your group are comfortable discussing such things, particularly in front of others. It can be everything from "we went to dinner, had a good time, retired to bed together" to actually RPing the date and before it gets X rated the DM says "the scene goes to black. The next morning when you leave the tavern you leave together..." IMHO The more detailed, the more X rated things go, the the more that can go wrong because it crosses out of the realm of fantasy, and into the realm of quasi porn, so it's best not to go there, unless one's discussing the game mechanics of reproduction/ crossbreeding, STDs, sex and magic and the like (there's books that discuss just these subjects). But that should be done at the level of plot, not a roll of the dice to determine whether your character gets pregnant off a fling with a NPC, or fathers a child out of wedlock after paying for time with a prostitute.

    1. That kind of thing is a strict fade to black for me as well. If players want to roleplay some attraction fine. However it has to be G rated. I have players as young as eleven or twelve (on occasion) and certainly younger children in my house.

      When I was a teenager there was the occasional flirtation with another player but it was limited. In most cases very limited.

      Dice rolls for STDs, pregnancies etc are simply crass in my opinion. I have never had a female player that wanted a pregnant character. However if they wanted one I would probably be inclined to role play it or allow her a new dependent after the next 'down time' etc.

      I would want my grandmother to be comfortable listening as I was playing on her dinner table often as not when I was younger.

  2. I spent a significant period of time building up to a character death. The player had a moronic barbarian that consumed what he wanted but didnt want to carry. Leading up to this huge dungeon, the barbarian had been consuming alchemically modified zombie parts. I planned on killing him then bringing him back with one of the various undead templates of 3.x. Intro to the lich was the doors being blown off the hinges and the barbarian being power word killed. I move on around the table through initiative, and when I get to that player I really looked at him for the first time. There was a grown man silently crying over the death of his character. I had mixed emotions about it after the fact

    1. Thank you for sharing this. It is a truth in our hobby that many of us come to it because we do not fit in the outside world or because we have parts of ourselves that simply cannot fit.

      D&D allows us to be not just the best we can be but really better than we can be even if only for the few hours we are at a table.

      I have found that people can feel just as real about their character as they do anyone else in their life.

      When we feel that romance with the game like we felt with our first love we prove that this is not just fantasy chess. This can be just as real social interaction even though we do it through a mask of our characters it is still at the end of the day us who are interacting.

      I'll remember your story, it is important for a DM to remember that these characters can be real people.

      I cried for Boromir when I was a boy both for his fall from grace and for his desperate defense of the Hobbits. I felt for Thorin at the end because he was losing his friend and he just realized it was his friend all along.

      When a great hero dies it is just as important as his life. When Theoden died he died fulfilled as a man and as a king. He died redeemed from his despair never doubt you can create whole worlds.