Romance in RPGs – 5 Ways to Minimize Your Discomfort at The Game Table

From Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0498

Romance in RPGs – 5 Ways to Minimize Your Discomfort at The Game Table

A long time ago, reader Casey Dare asked for tips on romance in games. Romance adds another dimension to your games with new plots and character possibilities. The topic gets tricky in RPGs though, because of the interactive nature of the game.

Hopefully the tips in this week’s issue will be of some use to Casey, as well as you for gaming romances in a fun way, without the potential discomfort the topic sometimes creates.

Pick What Characters You Want Involved

Everybody has different comfort levels when it comes to romance in the game. You have an easy lever though, to help you steer the game according to group preference. A romance in-game has three potential character combinations. Set a policy with your group about what combinations are allowable in your campaign.


This is the best combo because you have complete control over it. You control dialogue, actions and encounter situations. If you have never run a romance plot before, start with an NPC to NPC storyline. Use it learn where your comfort zones are in various circumstances (dialogue, description and action).


This is the second easiest combo to GM. Reserve the right to veto or bypass gameplay that enters tricky waters. Let your group know you are acting as referee in this situation and will intervene if things get uncomfortable.

In the PC to PC situation, you need to do little except monitor gameplay and player engagement levels (pun intended). Also make sure the two PCs do not hog the spotlight. Good roleplaying is great, but you ensure everyone gets good screen time.


A tricky combo to GM, but one with rich story potential.

Ask the PC in the romance to involve the other party members as much as possible.

For example, the culture might require romances to carry on for at least a year before marriage is acceptable. Further, in-person visits are not permitted except at events. Letter writing is the main form of communication. At events, chaperones are to be present at all times.

This provides the party with several interaction options. One PC might help with persuasive letter writing. Another might deliver the letters. Another can act as chaperone. Another might help arrange discreet meetings.

Graphic of section divider

Create A Conflict

Some GMs might associate romance in RPGs with roleplaying the interactions and awkward dialogue. Not so. Focus on the conflict. That is where the great encounter and plot opportunities lie.

We have already seen one example above of interesting conflict where a society imposes restrictions, standards and behaviors on relationships. This gives player’s gameplay opportunities as they try to work within the system, and depending on the relationship, try to work outside the system.

Instead of making the relationship the focus of the gameplay, look at conflicts surrounding it. Focus on those who try to break up the romance versus those who gain by seeing the romance bloom. Then involve the PCs in the faction interplay.

Another awesome source of conflict comes from the background of an NPC involved in a relationship. Keep this background a secret and reveal it in bits and pieces as the game progresses. Then have each revelation change the NPC from sympathetic to pathetic to villain to sympathetic again, back and forth, over and over.

For example, say the PC is in love with the daughter of someone who is far down the line as heir to the throne. Aside from all the courtly political plots you might hatch, you can create a twisted background that keeps the PC guessing whether the love of their life is a wonderful person or jaded pawn of the court.

In one encounter the group learns the daughter, Mariele, saved an orphanage by convincing her father to donate funds to keep it running. But then the PCs discover the orphanage is a cover for a gang of thugs who bully the orphans. They also learn Mariele knew about this the whole time!

When confronted, she tells them she has nothing to do with the thugs and she raised the money truly help the children. Suspicious, the PCs eventually uncover proof that she is telling the truth. But in the course of that investigation, they learn she is secretly betrothed to one of the thugs. When asked to choose, she chooses the thug!

But then the party learns she only chose the thug because the King threatened to call the PCs criminals and throw them in his dungeon.

And on and on it goes, with the group thinking Mariele is a victim one moment, then villain the next.

Focus On Actions

Show, don’t tell. Game out consequences that result from the feelings created by the romance instead of gaming the feelings themselves. Feel free to take things to the extreme as emotions are powerful motivators. Then make these extreme situations interactive so the PCs can participate.

For example, an incautious word makes a lover feel spurned, so he climbs up the bell tower and threatens to throw himself off because he is so devastated, or he plots revenge and attempts a kidnapping, or he wants to prove himself and challenges a local thug to a fight.

Think about the actions generated by the romance and use those as encounter hooks so gameplay can involve the characters.

Avoid Dialogue If It Makes You Uncomfortable

We’re not all good actors. I’m definitely not. My wife says I act up or act out but do not act well. 🙂 So do not feel it necessary to roleplay the dialogue in a romance scene.

Narrate it instead. Go to an abstraction level above dialogue and describe what is said and the consequences.

For example, the PCs overhear a couple arguing at the market:

DM: You spot your friend, Amelious, and his girlfriend standing near the hot pepper vendor. They seem to be arguing about something.

Player: I get a little closer to hear what they are saying.

DM: She is demanding he confront his father about something. He is trying to calm her down. [Roll] She glances in your direction.

Player: I am not looking at them and pretend to be comparing two red peppers. What does she want him to confront his father about?

DM: Apparently, he is spreading false and malicious rumors about her and her family. You do not hear why. [Roll] She grabs his elbow and leads your friend away to another part of the market.

Another example, this time with a PC involved in the conversation:

GM: The drow prince grabs you affectionately and says you must come with him to his home so he can introduce you to family and friends.

Player: “I am honored, m’lord, that you wish me to meet your noble parents. But then we would not be able to see the sun rise and set together each day. And your family would not approve of one such as me having relations with their son. Please, can you not stay here with me and my friends?”

GM: The prince considers your words carefully, but you see a look of sadness cross his face. Perhaps he has realized, finally, the difficulty of a relationship with a high elf and the inevitable result. He tries one more time, and offers a promise of his protection. He swears by Lloth you will not come to harm and that his family will honor his wishes.

Player: “There is so much to discover in this land of light and open water. Please, share these discoveries with me. My friends and I are ready to embark upon a wonderful journey to recapture a holy relic stolen by the Guruk during the last war. Such adventure! I could not bear days on the road without you by my side.”

GM: He seems to consider your offer carefully. Then he grabs your shoulders so you are facing him, your faces inches apart. He says yes. My family can wait. He would love to be your travelling companion.

GM: [Roll] [Writes a note and passes it to another player.] You spot the drow prince’s eyes widen a bit when the relic is mentioned, then a calculated look darkens his features for a brief moment. You also think his affection for Clarisse is genuine.

So, even if a player engages in dialogue, you can still take a narrative approach in response to run the game in the way you find most comfortable. You do not need to respond with in-character NPC dialogue if you find it uncomfortable. You should try it out once in a while, though, as getting out of your comfort zone helps you become a better GM.

36 Dramatic Situations

I recently wrote an article about Gnome Stew’s book, Eureka! 501 Adventure Plots. In it I laid out a plot stat block you can use to help create and structure your game’s plot threads: Plot Stat Block For The Organized Game Master.

Eureka! reminded me about a 19th century book written by Georges Polti called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations that categorizes every possible story configuration.

These situations from his list directly relate to romance and can inspire your plotting:

#18 Involuntary crimes of love
#22 All sacrificed for passion
#25 Adultery
#26 Crimes of love
#27 Discovery of the dishonor of a loved one
#28 Obstacles to love
#29 An enemy loved
#36 Loss of loved ones

The book is also available at Amazon (affiliate link):

And you can get details on each situation at: Georges Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations.

Here’s a great trick for using Polti’s list. Consider each of the 36 situations the result of a romance. Rather than looking for the romance angle in just the situations directly related to romantic conflicts, as I have listed above, start first with the romance instead. Who is involved? Write a few details about each person. Then, apply any of the plots to the romance as a complication. Next, figure out how the situation came about.

I find this reverse method much easier to work with than trying to start with a plot and figure out how a romance comes out of it or works into it (though this is possible too).

To add to the flames, try a sequence of three plots linked together.

For example, Clarisse and Muvat, the PC and the drow prince, are falling in love. They met when the PCs interrupted a drow patrol above ground defending itself against a pair of mated behirs. Though drow and party almost came to blows, diplomacy won out as the group learned the prince is on a peace mission. He wants to prevent a war for which his father is generating political support in the drow city of Dezrafaranzen.

The prince and party’s cleric soon became friends, and as the PCs tried to help the drow gain the ear of the Mayor of Riddleport, their friendship blossomed into romance.

Picking 3 of Polti’s plots at random using my d36, I get 6, 13, 25:

#6 Disaster – a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger
#13 Enmity of kin – a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hated or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
#25 Adultery – two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse

Each must affect the relationship between Clarisse and Muvat. That is the crux of this method. You must apply each situation to the relationship, and therefore you treat the relationship as a new game element – standalone and needing the GM to mess with it.

#6 Disaster. Let’s pick messenger from the options. Muvat receives a message from his family. The message could be a status update, a missive to kill the Mayor of Riddleport, or news on the war effort. But we want to target the relationship. So the message is from a female drow sharing personal news and intimate details. The message is signed, “Love, Alasivig.” Muvat will claim it’s from his sister. Ensure there is at least one encounter delay between the PCs finding the message and Muvat’s explanation so doubt, anger and conflict erupts.

Once (if) Muvat smooths things over with Clarisse, we trigger plot #13. Let’s say Muvat’s youngest brother accompanies him to get blooded while on the peace mission (that’s a strange and suspicious combo in itself, getting “blooded” while suing for peace, that has great side-plot potential) and he grows to despise Muvat for having a relationship with a high elf. What will he do to sabotage the relationship?

You have lots of options here:

  • Spread lies about Muvat to Clarisse.
  • Spread lies about Clarisse to Muvat.
  • Attack Muvat.
  • Attack Clarisse.
  • Warn the drow king about Muvat (betraying the mission in the process).
  • Spread lies about Muvat to the Mayor (possibly betraying the mission in the process).

After lots of trials and conflicts involving Muvat’s hateful brother, the game moves to the final plot in the chain, #25 Adultery. You cannot count on Clarisse to take action, as she is a player’s character and out of your control. You could have Muvat be the adulterer. He could already be married, and Clarisse or his wife find out about the other.

Perhaps he is forced to betray Clarisse by sleeping with a powerful female politician who can further his mission and Muvat sees no other option.

If you are a diabolical GM, you could try having Muvat’s brother disguise himself as Muvat so he could have relations with Clarisse (a simple kiss might be enough). Muvat finds them, but his brother has returned to his true form and pretends he was not disguised at all and that Clarisse has betrayed Muvat. A further twist might be the brother also has feelings for Clarisse and wants her for himself – a good explanation for the enmity of kin situation.

All these situations would be exciting to game without anything getting uncomfortable because things stay focused on actions and situations, and because you are targeting the relationship as a plot device. Good stuff.

Graphic of logo used as divider

Readers Respond

Car Chase Tips & Rules

Last issue Richard Silver made this tip request:

Do you know of a simple way to run a generic car chase? I

know Spycraft has a decent way, but it is more or less specific to that RPG. I’m looking for something that can work in CoC, Hero, Spirit of the Century, or whatever.

Here is how your fellow RPT subscribers responded:

From Klydesdale

I have a car chase chart that I used for my games (Top Secret S.I) that might work. It’s simple to use, and with some modification he should get it to work for his style of game. (Top Secret S.I was based on skills and abilities being out of 100%, was a very good system and very logical. 🙂

Improved Chase Flow Chart for Automobiles

Roll 1d8

  1. Even road – No driving check unless Special Maneuver is chosen for turn.
  2. Driving Up Hill – Driving Check + 10.
  3. Wet section of road – Driving Check -10.
  4. Occurrence – See Chart A.
  5. Driving Down Hill – Driving Check – 10.
  6. Occurrence – See Chart A.
  7. Gravel section of road – Driving Check – 20.
  8. Even road – No driving check unless Special Maneuver is chosen for turn.
Graphic of section divider

Chart A. Roll 1d12

1: Street Construction Crew.

Roll 1d6:

1-2: Light Construction – Full Driving Check.
3-4: Medium Construction – 1/2 Driving Check.
5-6: Heavy Construction – 1/4 Driving Check.

2: Accident.

Intersection ahead is blocked by emergency vehicles, damaged vehicles, curious onlookers and stopped traffic.


Evade vehicles: 1/2 Driving Check.
Evade everything: 1/4 Driving Check.

Note: Hitting pedestrians will cause 1d4 damage to vehicle per person hit (roll 1d10 to determine number hit).

Firing Checks will be at a 1/2.

3: Public Event.

Parade, funeral, protest, street festival, street concert.


Evade vehicles: 1/2 Driving Check.
Evade everything: 1/4 Driving Check.

Note: Hitting pedestrians will cause 1d4 damage to vehicle per person hit (roll 1d10 to determine number hit).

Firing Checks will be at a 1/2.

4: Red Light.

Intersection ahead has traffic stopped. Two Driving Checks:


1st: Evade stopped vehicles – Full Driving Check.
2nd: Evade oncoming traffic – 1/2 Driving Check.

5: Special Occurrence – See Chart B.

6: Emergency Vehicle Approaching

All traffic slowing down and turning to right hand lane Two Driving Checks.


1st: Avoid collision due to change in traffic pattern -Full Driving Check
2nd: Avoid becoming boxed in – 1/2 Driving Check.

7: Traffic Obstacle

Traffic circle, speed bumps, meridians, pot hole.
Modifier: 1/2 Driving Check

8: Pedestrian

Jaywalker, Skateboarder, Cyclist, Ball Chaser, Animal.
Modifier: 1/2 Driving Check

Note: Hitting pedestrians will cause 1d4 damage to vehicle.

9: Motorist

Californian lane changer, car pulling out of parked position, drunk driver, Sunday driver.

Modifier: Movement of Obstacle
Slow: Driving Check – 10.
Medium: Driving Check – 25.
Fast: Driving Check – 40.

10: Speed Trap

Vehicles slowing down suddenly without warning or obeying speed limit.

Modifier: (1d4) 1/4 Driving Checks

Note: If manned police speed trap, officer may pursue.

11: Moving Truck and Movers Moving Furniture

Large moving van and team of movers carrying various furniture.


Evade movers: 1/2 Driving Check.
Evade everything: 1/4 Driving Check.

Note: Hitting movers and/or furniture will cause 1d4/1d6 damage to vehicle per object hit (roll 1d10 to determine number hit).

Firing Checks will be at a 1/2.

12: Special Occurrence – See Chart B.

Chart B. Roll 1d8.

  1. Dual Effect Road. See main chart, roll twice and combine modifiers (Re-roll if “even road” or “occurrence”).
  2. Train Approaching At Upcoming Crossing:

Modifier: Beat the Train: Two Driving Checks

1st: Acceleration – Full Driving Check.
2nd: Dodge – 1/2 Driving Check.

Pursuing Vehicle: Two Driving Checks.

1st: Acceleration – Full Driving Check.
2nd: Dodge – 1/4 Driving Check.

13: Bridge Raising Up Ahead

Two Driving Checks.

Modifier: Jump the Bridge: Two Driving Checks

1st: Acceleration – Full Driving Check.
2nd: Jump – 1/2 Driving Check.

Pursuing Vehicle: Two Driving Checks.

1st: Acceleration – Full Driving Check.
2nd: Jump – 1/4 Driving Check.

Firing Checks will be at a 1/4.

14: Fire or Emergency

City’s emergency vehicles blockading entire road ahead.


Evade vehicles: 1/2 Driving Check.
Evade everything: 1/4 Driving Check.

Note: Hitting pedestrians will cause 1d4 damage to vehicle per person hit (roll 1d10 to determine number hit).

Firing Checks will be at a 1/2.

15: Police Involvement

Police car or motorcycle begins pursuit.

16: Poorly Maintained Road

Large potholes, uneven surface, large ruts, manholes and pipage sticking out of ground.

Roll 1d8.

Roll Large vehicle       Sporty vehicle     Motorcycle

1-2:  Full Driving Check – 20 (for all classes)

3-4:  Full Driving Check 1/2 Driving Check 1/2 Driving Check

5-6:  1/2 Driving Check   1/4 Driving Check 1/4 Driving Check

7-8:  1/4 Driving Check   1/4 Driving Check 1/4 Driving Check

Firing Checks will be at a 1/2.

17: Narrow Stretch of Road

Tunnel, slim bridge, alleyway.

Roll 1d4.

  1. Full Driving Check – Speed Modifier.
  2. 1/2 Driving Check
  3. 1/2 Driving Check – Speed Modifier.
  4. 1/4 Driving Check.

Firing Checks will be at a 1/2.

18: Entering Freeway

Entering into higher speed roadway by merging.

Roll 1d6.

1-2: Light Traffic – Full Driving Check.
3-4: Medium Traffic – 1/2 Driving Check.
5-6: Heavy Traffic – 1/4 Driving Check.

Graphic of section divider

From Dave

Find a copy of the James Bond RPG from Victory Games. It had a fun system that involved both sides of the chase bidding with difficulty numbers.

“I’ll bid a difficulty factor of 1. I bid 2. I bid 4! Ok, do a difficulty 4 maneuver!” (The loser must do a maneuver equal to his last bid.)

It was fun and was a direct head-to-head challenge. The better skilled driver tended to win because they could outperform, though don’t forget to make sure the vehicle can handle it!

GURPS Autoduel could be used too.

Graphic of section divider

From Rod Spellman

While Aces & Eights is a Western RPG, their chase mechanics are relatively portable.

In short, and possibly from faulty memory, you use a deck of playing cards to illustrate the chase. Deal out a number of cards face down in a row that represents the length of the trip (or set the number of cards that must separate the cars before the prey gets away).

On each turn, roll the opposed driving checks to see how far ahead one car gets. Flip over that many cards and move the car’s mini/marker (Matchbox cars are tons of fun as minis in chases) the required number of cards.

If any of the cards are a face card, they represent a driving challenge that must be resolved by the car passing over that card.

Continue each round until one car out paces the other or reaches its safe card. The card path stays out, so later cars still need to make the checks for the face cards they have passed over.

Graphic of section divider

From Grant Howitt

As far as car chase systems go, I’ve yet to find a better one than in Unknown Armies. I’ll reproduce the gist of it here:

Mark out twelve spaces in a ladder formation. (Number them 1-12, if you like.) Place tokens for the chasers on space number eight and the targets on space four. You can put them further or closer depending on how much of a lead the targets have.

On their turn, each player makes a roll on a relevant skill (Athletics, Acrobatics). If they beat a moderate DC, they stay where they are. If they fail, then they drop back one space. If they beat a hard DC they advance one space.

Players can also elect to take a risk that they describe in narrative terms – anything that could help them if it pays off, but might mess them up if it goes wrong.

For example, swerving down a tight side lane to avoid heavy traffic, taking a jump to leap over a gap in the road, driving through a shopping mall, ditching your car and finding a faster one, taking aim and firing at the target to try and blow out a tyre.

If a player takes a risk, it adds 1 space to all movement – so passing the hard DC moves 2, medium DC moves 1, and failure goes back 2.

If a pursuer reaches a target’s space, they have caught up with them. If a pursuer moves off the last square having failed their roll, they are out of the chase. If the target moves off the first square, they are assumed to have got away.

It works for any sort of chase, and the PCs do the hard work of introducing narrative elements.

Graphic of section divider

From Sean Shannon

I have recently run a few car chases in my post-apoc game,

The Wastelanders.

I find it difficult or impossible to constantly change the battle map to reference the terrain in chase scenes, since it is always changing.

So, I orient my map to the cars instead of the terrain.

Treating the terrain as an ever-changing effect around the cars allows you to place the vehicles relative to each other, and you only have to adjust for difference between speed and driver skill.

At that point, it is treated like a skill challenge between the drivers and each car, with variables thrown in due to environment, vehicle damage, etc.

As for handling obstacles, present them as part of the challenge and reorient objects on the map if needed. Most things will fly by too fast to actually need a map marker.

The check amount would be set given the speed, terrain, obstacles, and damage to the vehicle. Bonuses of the vehicle and driver skill would be added to the die roll to pass.

Each car has a given amount of HP, and each player that wins the skill challenge damaged the HP of the other vehicle by ramming, shooting or obstacles.

Same goes for losing a check, damaging your own vehicle in the process.

After one of the two vehicles has been damaged beyond repair, the challenge ends and you orient the vehicles around the crash scene, which usually has a fun life or death fight right afterwards.

This allows for a simple mechanic to drastically vary the descriptive action while keeping a simple mechanic to handle the numbers parts.

Keep in mind both drivers will be making checks against different circumstances. Also consider passengers can make attacks against the vehicles to further damage them and halt the scene.

Hope this helps!

Graphic of section divider

From Robert

In Mongoose Traveller, you can choose the special action Weave when you are being chased in an environment with obstacles. The chased chooses a weaving number between one and one per 20km/h of speed. He then makes a skill check with this number as a penalty to his roll. Failure results in crashing, but if you succeed, each pursuing vehicle must make a skill check with the same penalty or lose his quarry.

For example, Baron von Evil is trying to evade the PCs in his Evilmobile (max speed 140km/h). He doesn’t know the PCs, so he starts with a low weaving number to be on the safe side (2). His skill is 3, so he rolls 2D6 and passes with a roll of 7. (He needed 5 or more.) The PC driving his car only has skill two, but passes his check.

The other PCs, on their go, begin firing at the Evilmobile, so the Baron decides to speed things up and picks a high weaving number (6). He fails with a roll of 8 (he needed an 11!) and crashes, mortally wounding him but leaving him alive long enough to deliver an oratory on how he will return from the dead.

This system is strong mechanically, but lacks good descriptions. It can be adapted for any number of systems by tweaking the weaving number. So, for D20 Modern, I might raise the DC by 1 per 5mph of speed.

Graphic of section divider

These are great tips! Thanks Klydesdale, Dave, Rod, Grant, Sean and Robert for writing in.

Graphic of logo used as divider

10 City Encounter Hooks For Your Game

1. A group of goblins, fresh from their foray from the sewers beneath an alchemist’s shop, climb out of the sewer grate and then begin throwing alchemist fire on many of the surrounding buildings and then commence breaking into store- fronts and stealing. Do the PCs fight the fires or stop the goblin looting problem?

2. A noble is mortally offended by a PC’s behavior and challenges the PC to a duel a l’outrance (to the death). There is no way to back out without violating social mores and ruining the PC’s reputation. Careful investigation will reveal that the noble and PCs were subtly maneuvered into it by a third party trying to get the noble killed. And if the wandering adventurer gets killed instead, who cares?

3. A child asks the PCs to help him find his pet dog. This simple task might lead them someplace where they are viewed with greatest suspicion.

4. A grocer in the market motions the players behind his cart. In a low voice, he advises that a rival purveyor of vegetables has somehow sabotaged the farms that the grocer relies upon, and as a result he is forced to sell stale, imported wares at inflated prices. Would the players be interested in investigating, or perhaps taking more direct action against the accused party, for a reward?

5. The party notices a hooded character attempting to sneak around in shadows doing his best to not be observed. The hooded man is trying to meet with the wife (or daughter) of a local nobleman for a romantic encounter. The party could get in the nobleman’s good graces by protecting his honor and preventing this meeting, or will they allow love to run its course?

6. A leper has dropped his coin pouch. Should the PCs get his attention, he will gladly share valuable information as reward. However, should the PCs take the pouch, all who touch it are susceptible to his disease

7. A young girl terrified of the local orphanage turns up very ill with an incoherent story about the other children biting everyone.

8. A group of kids is playing on a gallows. One has put a rope around his neck, pantomiming being strangled, and it looks like another is sneaking up to kick him into the hole.

9. A beautiful NPC falls in love with one of the PCs and thus starts several encounters involving her suitors. Some try to kill the PCs while others simply want to run them out of town. The girl is theirs and they don’t need any more competition.

10. The PCs get embroiled in a local election scandal and are asked to help find the culprit behind fraudulent votes. Perhaps one of the candidates is glamoring the populace into voting for the “right” person using magic, alchemy, or other tricks.

Ok, one more:

11. An eccentric and wealthy businesswoman in the city sponsors a contest and offers a large prize of something mysterious and cryptic: “the source of life and energy!” She creates a list of items that contestants must secure and bring back to the businesswoman to claim their reward, which will be a container of water in a fancy jug.