The Power of Love

I Heart Orcs Poster

It's Clobberin' Time... Image Copyright © 2010 The Frozen Duck. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Visit www.thefrozenduck.com for more cool gamer gear!

Love in a roleplaying game can be a very sensitive subject.  In its most base form, the mere mentioning of love at the gaming table can derail an otherwise exceptional story and turn the rest of the night into nothing but inappropriate jokes, off-color comments, and uncomfortable snickering.

It’s quite possible that your own group of players has no interest in the subject of love, and would much rather spend their time slaughtering orcs and looting treasure hordes.  That’s all well and good, but if you don’t take a chance to at least attempt to include love in your game, you may very well be missing out on a very fun — and rewarding — play experience.  Let’s talk about some of the ways that love can be a powerful tool in your next game:

Hook your players with a surprise twist

If you’re sitting down to your 300th battle with a band of roaming bugbear bandits, it might be time to interject something a bit more saucy — for example, a love interest.  It’s best to choose a player who has some degree of comfort with the topic — you might have to do some pre-screening interviews to get a feel for which one of your players could best handle the task…although, it might also be fun to try this out on a more hack-n-slash type, as long as the player understands its all in fun.

This could be accomplished with something as simple as making the leader of the bugbears an old flame of one of the player characters.  Even tossed into an adventure on the fly, this should create a new challenge/obstacle the party wasn’t expecting to overcome — reconciling one characters emotions against the nefarious actions of monstrous thugs — without creating a player/player or player/DM conflict because “Sir Ivan Bartholemew Isaacs Montgomery NEVER wasted time with love” — or other such anxiety-inducing objections.

Be upfront about it, but keep IT in the background

Rather than wrangle your players in a surprise love trap, use love as the motivation behind your next adventure.  Orcs have kidnapped a local king’s wife, and the players have been hired to travel north, kill the orcs, and rescue the queen.  This way, love keeps a safe distance from the player characters, while still acting as an integral part of the story.

Mix love as a plot device with a surprise twist

Suppose the queen from the previous example has in fact been kidnapped, but what if the orcs had nothing to do with it?  The party has spent the better half of their time risking their lives to kill off orcs in the north, only to discover the queen is nowhere to be found.  In fact, the kidnapping was all a ruse to get the party of heroes to do the king’s dirty work.  Perhaps the king figured the heroes would perish in the process, but their assault on the orcs would help create confusion and give the king’s army an advantage, which has already begun a full-scale invasion to claim a larger portion of the northern lands.

You might even toss in a few more twists — the king has been replaced by a doppelganger, and the queen really has been kidnapped, but is being held by the king’s vizier in the west…and the vizier is a necromancer, driven mad by his own love for the queen, whom turns out is an old flame of one of the players…

…alright, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away, but you get the idea.  Love can be a very handy tool, and if you’ve never used it before as part of your game, you might be surprised by how much fun it can add to an adventure.

Then, once you feel comfortable with the subject of love, you might start branching off into the more complex elements of PC/NPC relationships, and the fun challenges those can add to a campaign!

But I’ll save that topic for another time.  Until then, happy adventuring, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Secret DM™ is just an average guy, trying to navigate the complexities of a successful career, a happy marriage, and raising a daughter…all while secretly rescuing damsels from fire-breathing dragons.  Visit him at www.thesecretdm.com or find him on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/secretdm), or contact him at: thesecretdm@gmail.com.

4 comments on “The Power of Love”

  1. Gameogre

    You left out the Inn Romance! How many times do player characters trot on into the local Inn looking for a tumble? Happends in my game all the time. Normally we just agree that the lad(or lass) has found someone agreeable and a good time was had by all. Take a small amount of gold as spent for the room/fee/drinks or Gifts and move on.

    Now add in love to the mix and sit back and watch the fun. What if the someone has fallen in love with the pc? Follows them about with that in love puppy look. At first the pc might eat it up but what about once the lover is put in danger or ruins some undercover plan of the pc’s? What if its a women who ends up pregnant? What if her husband/father/brothers(all six of them)/old boyfriend the Wizard come calling on the pc’s? What if they all do?

    Also what can even be more fun is if the pc falls in love with that special someone! Do they get married? What if that someone doesnt (love) the pc back?

    Not to mention all the strange evil things a DM could do. What if its a doppleganger now and not the lover? What if it always was a doppleganger and its in love with the pc?

    The Power of Love is mighty indeed if used with a eye towards fun! Thanks for such a great article!

  2. Chrispy

    I agree with gameogre! After all, the power if love is a curious thing. What makes one man weep might make another man sing. I’m not going anywhere with this, I just had to get that joke out of my system.

    On a more serious and related note: I’ve had love used in my games a few times, and it is indeed a formidable plot device! Though, i’ve never done a PC/NPC relationship and kind of want to try it out iny next campaign.

  3. Gameogre

    The one issue I have found with the pc/npc affair is that well,im a dude. The pc is often a dude as well and two dudes sitting around role playing a affair even if done well ends up with some strange looks and vibes. (Donald if you read this write to me! Anella still loves you!).

    Err ok umm Well anywho you see the issue often becomes a hassel and less joy. Although other members of the group might find it all kinds of funny.

    I think its best to speak of the npc in the third person and look at the big picture. “You two have a wonderful weekend and Anella opens up to you more than she has before. Telling you of her verbal abuse by a local boy named Sven.”

    In my experience this works very well without those funny moments getting in the way.

    I’m off now to practice looking lovingly into my eyes in the mirror for new weekends game. Better shave to.

  4. The Secret DM™

    Thanks for the replies, guys — very much appreciated!

    I definitely agree with Gameogre on running the NPC portion of the love interest in 3rd person, in order to help reduce that uncomfortable feeling.

    Unless you’re a method actor at the game table, in which case I say go all in and make the other player as uncomfortable as possible. 🙂

    In all seriousness, though, I can say that I personally prefer a more realistic game setting, so love is definitely a subject I can’t ignore as a DM. Of course, too much focus on realism and you end up with a game system that’s nothing but charts and percentages (No offense, Rolemaster!) — but if you ignore love altogether, you leave out a pretty significant story element. And once you can get your players to buy into it — to genuinely love an imaginary character — it’s all the more powerful when you turn that love into loss.

    And that makes for great storytelling.

    For more on the subject of love and incorporating it into your campaign, be sure to check out Connie Thomson’s (of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming — http://www.4windsfantasygaming.com) exceptional series of articles on the topic, as featured at http://www.geeksdreamgirl.com.

Comments are closed.