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I know this question makes me sound like a pervert but especially with the epidemic me and my girlfriend ended up unable to have much contact.(Not even calls since her roommates are always in the house and it would be really awkward with them.) As a result we have been exploring new avenues and in the end as we are both TTRPG fans we decided to run text based solo games for eachother where we could at least feel a bit close and flirty.

Now the problem is I am not particularly familiar with the concept of running games with erotic features and as a result I am not sure how to balance the NPC's flirting as a substitute for our actual contact and actual story. Neither of us want the game to essentially be a glorified erotic roleplay. Now my question is how can I keep myself from including too much relationship stuff without fully avoiding them altogether.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the question--it's certainly a tough one, and I'm sure it must have taken some gumption to post. I just want to remind answerers and voters that this is very much the sort of question where good subjective, bad subjective really shines. Answers should speak from experience, should explain how and why, and should be constructive and fair. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 13 at 22:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot If you think that is better solution for the querent, it might be better to put it up as a frame challenge and with the support for why that might be a better solution. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jun 13 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this require answers specific to Burning Wheel? \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Jun 14 at 6:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not neccesarily. We just decided BW was the best system for this. \$\endgroup\$ – Maiko Chikyu Jun 14 at 13:31
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Focus on one pair of characters

A lot of text-based roleplay with romantic or erotic content focuses on each player running one character at a time, even when each player has a whole stable of characters they play intermittently. Likewise, such roleplay often focuses on one-on-one scenes, even in a game with numerous players. It sounds like the two of you wouldn't be interested a story like "our hero sleeps with everyone they meet between adventures", anyway. So I suggest that you have each player character romancing one NPC.

When you focus on developing these two characters, it should be amusing to see how they relate to your own personalities: Without the characters merely being stand-ins for yourselves, you can still emphasize traits you find endearing about each other... or you could "play against type", since a lot of charming heroes in fantastical fiction have traits that would be truly obnoxious in a real-life partner. The focus on two characters also brings us to my second point...

Build up the tension until it's unbearable

This is a factor that people have been considering in text-based roleplay with online acquaintances for decades. Lots of people love a sexy subplot; lots of people also don't want to seem like they're just in it for the adult content when everyone else is really into the fictional world and characters. So it seems "impolite" to push things in that direction too often or too firmly, and the result is a lot like a "will they or won't they" plot in a TV show.

This can work by adapting formulaic stories that are obnoxious in other types of fiction. In TV, film, etc, a character constantly trying to win another's affection often makes that character seem like a jerk. But when roleplaying with an in-character relationship in mind, you both know that the object of their affection secretly reciprocates those feelings. Likewise, this can work with two characters who secretly like each other but are afraid to admit it - as an audience member, you may be yelling "just kiss already!", but while roleplaying, you're building up how that happens in a way that will be satisfying for you both. This kind of thing is eminently compatible with a serious plot - the back and forth between them builds up over the course of the story, until they finally admit their feelings and fall into each other's arms.

This buildup of tension can easily be driven by circumstances rather than characters' personalities. For example, let's say your character and the NPC they have a crush on are planning a heist together. No matter how much they flirt, they're probably not going to act on it for a while. It may be inconvenient to make a move while they're reviewing maps and buying smoke bombs. It could cause a lot of trouble to steal a kiss while they're picking locks or sneaking around silently. And it certainly ruins the mood when they have to escape through the sewers. But they can be flirting the whole time... and the love scene at the end of the adventure should have that much more impact, after nearly getting distracted from the mission because they were both thinking about how cute the other one was.

But there's certainly also a lot of more sophisticated ways to...

Give them a reason that the relationship is inconvenient

Establish a concrete reason that they can't just fool around all the time, one which fits the tone and setting of the RP. The heist plan in my example above is one that works to defer that side of the plot until the end of an adventure, but you can come up with a good reason that love scenes can only be intermittent throughout a longer storyline.

Maybe they're on opposite sides of a conflict, working together to face a greater threat... and their allies accept that, but publicly revealing their love for each other would be scandalous. Maybe a casual relationship, without a proper courtship, is just seen as improper in their society. Maybe it's a comedic matter, where something explodes or a crazed barbarian bursts through the door as soon as they're getting their clothes off.

The pacing of this may be too obvious or monotonous for you, or it may be a bit of a letdown once the characters get intimate and the built-up tension is relieved. In that case, you might want to insert some more pointed conflict into the romance, and...

Introduce a love triangle

Sure, I still think the focus on a single couple is the best way to proceed, but you're not writing an epic of star-crossed lovers. At some point, there's a reason to break things off - it could be a conflict like the ones described above coming to a head, or a the player character might make a bad decision or a bad dice roll that offends or disappoints their NPC love... or they might just be heading out on separate adventures. That's the opportunity to introduce a new NPC with hearts in their eyes, or an existing NPC with newly revealed affection for that PC.

This is a way to "reboot" the flirtation and the buildup of tension, and introduce a new obstacle. The PC may only have eyes for their prior love, while the new NPC does everything they can to win them over. Or plot-based conflicts between the three of them may make the whole affair a risky flirtation. Or they could party up together, while the PC's split affections cause turbulence in their adventuring. If you're not planning on true love winning out every time, it should be a lot more fun to periodically complicate matters this way.

A lot of this advice could be simplified to "do what works in fiction", but it's important to consider how fundamentally different these plot devices are in a collaborative story. The key thing here is, since you two trust each other and are on board for this kind of roleplay, you can look ahead at the results you're aiming for. Ask how you can set up the type of relationship that you find engaging in fiction - and how you can avoid the cliches that annoy you. When you know what that goal is, you can use those plot devices, alongside the narrative and mechanical progression of the game, to find out how you get there.

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There are several options you could use for it.

  1. Harem world. You run the session as normal, but whenever there's a major cost or problem with the world, it can be overcome with flirting. This one is popular when you want lots of excuses for flirting. For example, you might fight a group of goblins, lose, and then you can bypass the goblins by having flirty times with the goblin king/ queen. So, if you are successful no need for romance.
  2. Flirty romance. You can have text based games where you each have a character in it who represents your desired self. You can then have flirty times whenever it's appropriate in game.
  3. Actual romance. You can also agree to have a romantic conclusion to an adventure, if you want a predetermined output. You could say, if you like violence, agree that after extreme violence your characters will be romantic together. Avoiding extreme violence avoids the romance.
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