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Our group consists of two couples. One player seems to like romance (which is just fine). This player's character flirted with her husband's character; he played up the fact that his character was not remotely interested. It made for great comedy, the two players handled all interactions, no issues.

In the next campaign, the same characters meet an NPC that romance-character begins flirting with. As a new GM, and as someone who is far more familiar with intrigue and killing (and not fictional romances), I am unsure how to proceed. Beyond that lack of experience and knowledge, I worry the character interactions may be uncomfortable for us in the real world, since my spouse is not the PC's player. We haven't had any issues with characters acting out-of-character, nor with players taking offense at character actions, but we are all still new at roleplaying in general. It should also be mentioned, this would be a PG or low PG-13 romance at most- none of us is comfortable roleplaying sex, not even the player who enjoys the romance interaction.

As the GM, how do I ensure the player, who seems to enjoy this sort of character interaction, has fun without being awkward myself and while avoiding the appearance of flirting with the player?

If you say "talk to the players" (or the one player in particular), I'd appreciate ideas on exactly what to say.

The problem is my skill as a GM. I'd much prefer to develop my own roleplaying skills instead of arbitrarily shutting down the PC's actions, though as a last resort I will (NPC leaves, or is already involved, or dies, etc).

If it matters, both are dwarves, one is a cleric and the other a fighter-type. The two characters will be traveling together for in-game months (real-time several game sessions) to accomplish a quest.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ [Related] How should a GM deal with sexuality in an RPG? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 13 '15 at 18:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Look at how Critical Role campaign 1 handled it. There, one PC became romantically involved with another, and one of them was engaged/married to the GM. (wedding took place during the game's run) It all seemed to work out just fine. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Dec 10 '18 at 21:59
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Separation of Player and Character

The biggest thing is to remember that just like the Players are not their Characters, you are not the NPCs. Keeping this straight helps eliminate many issues, but it sounds like you have a good feel for this, so lets look a bit deeper.

Give the Interaction Purpose

Idly chatting and flirting can be a struggle for some people, but giving the interaction a clear story purpose can help move things along. Maybe the NPC uses the characters personality to push the PC to take an extra risk or maybe even betray her group.

Use the Romance to Drive Action

Similar to the last point, use the characters desire to flirt to create interesting situations. Maybe a spouse shows up, or a rival NPC "flirter". If the PC has feelings for your NPC you can use that as a jumping point for all sorts of plot-y goodness.

Talk with Your Wife

It sounds like your wife is present at the game table. Talk with her outside of the session and see how she feels about it all. If she seems nervous or uncomfortable you could easily devise a signal or word that she can use to tell you that it might be going too far. I'm assuming you're all adults, so I'm sure she won't sabotage the game with overzealous use of the signal. Along the same vein, let all the players involved have a "safe word". Being open and up front about the desire to drive good story does wonders for player attitude.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea of giving the interaction purpose. The signal idea is not something I'd have thought of, either. \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang May 11 '15 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ If there are two couples at the table, don't just talk to your wife, talk to all the players. They can all have the same concerns here. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik May 11 '15 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik I mention this specifically under that heading in the longer text. I agree that it is important. \$\endgroup\$ – Skiptron May 11 '15 at 19:54
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There is always an option to handle such interaction in third person rather than the first. Describing the actions and words of the NPC will feel a lot less awkward than acting it out, especially so if the NPC isn't of your own gender.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems like a pretty trivial and partial answer for a reasonably complex question. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 9 '15 at 0:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk The KISS principle is sometimes necessary to cut through the embedded drama of some of these social questions. This is a practical answer, as it addresses the root cause of the discomfort. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 9 '15 at 2:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk, most other angles I can think of have been covered by existing answers. I feel no need to repeat them. I just wanted to offer another simple approach that has been overlooked. \$\endgroup\$ – edgerunner Oct 9 '15 at 9:51
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I have had this exact situation in a previous game. I had been casually roleplaying the romance between my NPC and a PC, but eventually it got a little more serious. I noticed that another player was egging me on and had lots of great suggestions, so I just had her roleplay my NPC. She and the other player went back and forth with their romance for a good fifteen minutes and it was fantastic. Everyone at the table was entertained and it made for an incredibly memorable scene.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for deputizing another player to be an NPC. This is an underused technique. \$\endgroup\$ – mbocek Nov 4 '15 at 22:55
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I usually try to avoid long dialogs between one PC and an NPC, because I worry that the other players will be bored by spending a long time "out of the spotlight". When someone starts flirting with an NPC (and makes a good Diplomacy check), my preferred answer tends to be: "Yeah, you two are getting along great! ...Okay, so those two step away from the group for some alone time. What are the rest of you doing?"

If someone seems to specifically enjoy romancing "on-screen", I might solve it by getting them to roleplay both sides of the interaction: "That's a great roll. Go ahead and narrate what happens next. This NPC really likes you and is going to do whatever you want, so long as you don't mistreat them..."

Or, it might be tempting to play it for laughs -- make up a bunch of ridiculous dwarven romance customs. "...He sidles up to you. 'In this next village', he says, 'there's an authentic dwarven forge. It's probably not up to the standards you're used to, it's not lava-heated or anything, but I had a chat with the owner, and I reserved some time this evening when we could have it all to ourselves. So, I was wondering if you'd like to, er, forge a battleaxe with me?'"

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Why Romance?

Romance can be a great addition to your game. How many action/fantasy/horror/genre movies or TV shows or novels have you watched/read that do NOT have some kind of romantic plot threads? Perhaps a handful out of thousands. Everything from The Iliad to Game of Thrones is driven in large part by romance/love/sex. You may have heard the term "sex and violence," right, because both of those are key parts of most dramatic storytelling.

If someone just wants to "bang bar wenches" then it's fine to say "whatever, sure, back to the game." But it seems to me that in most games GMs are desperate to get PCs to give a single good Goddamn about any NPC and be motivated to do anything for or with them. When they hand you potential romance they are handing you one of the biggest gifts they can - investment in the fictional world.

How To Do It?

First, you need people to be "comfortable" with the topic. It's frankly bizarre that a gaming group can sit down and watch an episode of Deadwood and then walk to the gaming table and then when a PC flirts with someone they get all "tee hee" like they're 10 year old boys. But this is the key issue to deal with. Discuss it with the group and say "Hey, we should be able to do this, so expect it." I had that discussion with a GM who was uncomfortable with RPing with me as my character showed interest in an NPC. This goes beyond the usual suspected causes - in this case my GM was gay and I wasn't, his discomfort wasn't about "yuck I am flirting with a dude", it was just that same tentativeness you and others are feeling, and we had an open discussion about being able to do it and how to do it well. It's not about coming up with hard lines as to where you "shut off the camera," it's more about GM and PCs continually being sensitive to what's interesting as part of the story being told.

Frankly, from an immersion perspective you should be keeping a strong differentiation between in character and out of character talk and action at all times anyway. If you are doing that, then a lot of the confusion about whether it's the person or the character doing the flirting should be dispelled automatically.

Consider trying some storytelling type games like Fiasco, or even one or several members of the group going to an improv acting workshop (there's guaranteed to be one somewhere near you). The main goal here is just being able to man (or woman) up and freaking act in character without coming apart at the seams.

Making It Interesting

OK, so you don't want to spend table time on things the group doesn't find interesting. However, the group there is audience as well as participants. Not everyone has to have their character engaged in every scene to be interested.

Go read David Mamet's note on how to do screenwriting to get some insight into what to put into a scene that's "on camera," so to speak, it'll help you more than a single answer here can.

OK, now that you're back, in my current campaign one PC (ironically, the GM from above who had been uncomfortable with this to start) decided to date and then marry a NPC. Rather than the other PCs being "bored with" this, he and I both took steps to ensure they were engaged. Some of that is just making the RP interesting and dramatic to where it's entertaining to watch. Some of it is making it very plot related (she went from being just a random related NPC to being a lot more integral to the plot once he brought the spotlight to her). Also, he would engage with the other PCs about it just like a real person would with his friends - they became invested in his success in the relationship, would give him advice (his character is a low-CHA barbarian/ranger/druid Viking, not one for the smooth talk), took joy in skedaddling and leaving him to his own devices when she initiated a "define the relationship" talk, started bugging him about when they were going to have kids... There's not one single trick, it's about organically making the NPC and the relationship an interesting part of what's going on.

In this case she was a half-elf, she got kidnapped by the bad guys and he saved her and they stared dating, but then she was revealed to be a serpentfolk (like the BBEG), but he declared his love for her anyway and they got married, and then later decided they wanted to have kids and were on the look-out for any magical aid they could get in that vein. Now they're all sailing around on a pirate ship committing acts of ultraviolence waiting for their egg to hatch. Heck, just the shopping trip to get a custom sea chest to keep the egg safe engaged the other PCs. "Enchant it with alarm! And make sure it floats!"

Conclusion

  1. It is fine to have romance in your game.
  2. It's pretty simple to have a discussion with your group about "hey, in character it's fine to flirt and have romances and stuff. We all good?"
  3. Keep it interesting - maybe that's its own drama, maybe it's being part of the rest of the plot, maybe it's a mix.
  4. Use it to forward the plot, that's what it's there for.
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You say romance, but you seem to be implying something more short term. The fact is, making a relationship between your character and an NPC is one of the pillars of the game. There's all sorts of relationships, a vendetta against an enemy, a friendly rivalry between two figures with the same goal, and also a romantic relationship.

You have a player that wants to focus on character interaction, which is usually absolutely wonderful. If the player wants to delve directly into a description of activity, I might punt and say "And a wonderful time was had" and move the game on. This isn't necessarily satisfying for the player, but it might be all you're comfortable (and might be all some of your players are comfortable) with. It might also be all that the player wants, for some people this is a goal to have a character with success in different areas.

If this is an important NPC, think of how this tactic influences your story. It might go either way, perhaps the NPC thinks this is a ploy and thinks less of the characters. Perhaps you had intended for the NPC to be helpful, but now you have an excuse for why the NPC does help the party.

This goes both ways, the character attempting to court/seduce/flirt with the NPC now has a connection that goes the other way as well. Someone mentioned that your players might not enjoy the "spotlight time" being ceded to this other player, but if this is a limited thing, this may be the spotlight that this player WANTS, and where you might motivate the rogue in the party with yet another hint of immense treasure, this particular player will be motivated because her fiance is being threatened with blackmail!

And with a personal anecdote: I had a player that was female running a male dwarf character. I'm male. The girl was my daughter's age. She was trying to play the standard "male that attempts to bed every barwench he meets." I mention the player's age and my own because I kind of grimaced internally, because I really didn't want to be some dirty old guy or anything. But, I thought about "what could happen" and handled the "bedroom bits" off screen, but well, the next night: the aftermath.

The very first morning the barmaid asked about seeing the dwarf again,... and next time, again,.... And eventually the bartender said that he considered the barmaid "like a daughter" and wanted to know his intentions for her. And ... The remainder of the campaign had a recurring theme of the wedding plans for this dwarven fighter that was originally played for yuks as a womanizer, but ended up married to a human female, and went on a quest for oranges because she wanted oranges for her wedding, since it reminded her of her home and "you need to escort my mother back here, I've already used the money you've given me to arrange passage, and a nice house, and mother will be so pleased to see what a wonderful home!"

Everyone talked about it. Our game revolved around the same situation you describe, and it was wondeful, and all of the players loved it. We even had sub-plots, where one of the players just despised the mother-in-law until she turned out to be very charismatic herself, and helped inspire the defenders of the town against invaders. So, relationships with relationships with relationships.

In D&D. The module was "Keep on the Borderlands." I'm not even joking.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not entirely convinced of this answer's relevance, but I +1ed to reward a cool story with a neat punchline. Smiles are important, too. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 19 '15 at 20:50
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Do as much of it "out of shot" as possible. Let it be an implicit thing where their private behaviour is assumed rather than an explicit thing which can get wildly uncomfortable.

I have been party to couples playing a game (both in game and in "meta game" terms) and it is quickly apparent that the couples who handle the parts of their relationship that are societally considered private, again either in game or in meta game, "out of shot" as far as playing the game is concerned are far more enjoyable. Generally no one likes sitting next to a necking couple.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Edited to remove "comments" and retain your illustration that supports your admonition to do as much of this romance "out of shot" as possible. If this edit does not capture your intended meaning, feel free to revert. What was removed was "forum discussion" defense of your answer, which has the virtue of pith. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 16 '15 at 16:36

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