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I will be running Rise of Tiamat as a sequel to a summer campaign I ran (which was not Hoard of the Dragon Queen). At the end of the campaign two of my PCs, a Bard and a critical role gunslinger, gained companions who are love interests for their respective PCs.

I'm not entirely sure how comfortable I am with running romance as I've never really had it come up before and while I am happy to do this with my players - I would like it to not derail my campaign. I also anticipate some problems as one of my players is notorious for getting annoyed with fluff like this and for reacting in undesirable ways (i.e. passive aggressive remarks, attacking the offending NPC, trying to take agency away from the other players, etc).

To summarize: What pitfalls should I be aware of with NPC/PC romantic relationships and how can I best allow them without annoying other players and or derailing my campaign?

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Romantic entanglements are just another character-based plot hook.

You can satisfy your notoriously annoyable player along with the more interested players by keeping this in mind: it doesn't have to be fluff. I've had an NPC romantic entanglement as a player (well, it wasn't all that romantic, but the setup is the same).

Some people really like tons of extra detail that doesn't necessarily touch directly on the main plot (or any plot), frequently because that makes the setting feel richer and more "real" and helps them get into the minds of their characters. Others simply like certain types of story element or subplot, and will enjoy a story that has that sort of thing in it. Still others dislike everything but the most pragmatic, efficient dissemination of story elements and guidance through the plot.

But I've never heard someone, of any player archetype, complain that a story element or subplot was woven too well into the main story or the game overall.

Adding a romantic subplot for a character definitely can feel like something that is apart from the story, and matters only to the character(s) involved as roleplaying/worldbuilding/fluff. That can be a problem from at least two angles:

  • The subplot necessarily doesn't involve all players (and leaves them with little to do but watch, unless they choose to act out)
  • The major points of that subplot only matter to players that are really invested in the relevant character's story

But, again, things don't have to be that way! Treating the romantic entanglement like any other plot hook, along with prep work to support it, is another way to integrate content some players want to see with the adventure players hope to have and the story that you want to tell.

If the love interest NPC wants to associate with the party just to play the tambourine and pull their significant other away from what the other players want, that's a serious problem. The players exist, and the NPC doesn't. If the NPC is woven integrally into the story in some way that affects all players then it's just another NPC that it's important to interact with, and there can be an extra dimension for certain characters to consider.


Any experience you have with making plot hooks engaging for players is already exactly what you need to tap here, without much modification. Major pitfalls include:

  • Not giving the romantically-inclined players what they're looking for in a romance subplot (talking to them about what they want from these stories can help)
  • Building these NPCs only for this dimension of interaction with only the relevant PCs (above all, the NPCs should be interesting plot hooks which affect the story, not just a specific character)
  • Shallowness (a poorly designed character with little backstory or few defining characteristics who exists to "check the box" for romance adds little to the game for anyone, unless a player specifically wants a shallower NPC experience. This counts double if you use any "fade to black" moments)
  • Failing to plan a role for the NPCs which adds challenge or dramatic tension to the story (as above, they should be story-relevant characters that a PC happens to be involved with, not a hanger-on a PC drags into a story in which they are irrelevant)
  • Failing to balance "screen time" (a PC that is not interested in a romantic subplot should get other content meant for them, and not simply get less attention because they don't want this aspect of the game for themselves)
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Let me give some generic based on experience (also you can get a lot of similar advice all around the TTRPG community). Communication with your players is a key.

Before you start the campaign, have a session 0 and talk to them about what they are interested in.

  • Do they want roleplay or combat.
  • What is going to be the tone of the campaign (if some people are expecting fluff and lightweight fun and others grimdark hack and slash it will cause problems).
  • You can also talk to your players privately and ask them what they are interested in.
  • Talk to them if they are comfortable and interested in exploring romance/friendship and in what way.
  • Try to establish a rough idea of what the campaign will look like and also what they want to explore for their characters. Make sure their ideas are compatible.

Especially talk to the players who have acquired these companions. They might have different answers about how big of a role they want those NPCs to play going forward. I have GMed for players who acquired a love interest and, after talking through it, we decided to have them tag along as a sidekick, but also for players who had a love interest and didn't want that to be the main focus of the story, so they were only mentioned in the background. Both ways are viable.

As for the player who "gets annoyed" without more detail you have to be the judge of whether their reactions are in the realm of "I don't care about these things and didn't think this was what we were doing" which is something that again should be a part of the session 0 discussion, or if it is more problematic behavior that you should talk to them about it.

What pitfalls to be aware of:

  • Not talking through the focus and player interests in time might lead to conflict at the table or people suddenly realizing that the game is no longer interesting for them. Being on the same page about what game are you actually playing helps a lot.
  • The companions NPC might feel out of place if their only purpose is romance. If they are a big part of the play sessions they should be flashed out or even part of the campaign story so that other PCs don't just ignore them.
  • Romance or certain scenes might make people uncomfortable, if you have not talked about these things in advance chances are the atmosphere at the table will be uncomfortable. (I mention safety tools at the end of the post, if you don't use them at your table this might be the time to start)

To sum it up:

It is common for players to be interested in different things in TTRPGs. Use Session 0 to establish the tone and player interests. It is not cool for someone to ruin other peoples fun because the current focus is not what they are interested in, everyone should have their time to shine. Make sure your group is on the same page.

For romance talk with the group about what they are comfortable with.

I think it is out of the scope of the question but it might also be useful to look into safety tools. This QA provides a good explanation of what lines and veils are and a basic framework to work with.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for a pretty detailed answer that offers up useful resources. \$\endgroup\$ – Gwideon Nov 11 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ You've got some good suggestions on proactive, but can you also talk a bit about pitfalls and/or what types of things doing the above will avoid? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 11 at 16:34

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