Handling player character romance in D&D can be a tricky task for a Dungeon Master. On one hand, it can add depth and complexity to a player character’s story and motivations; however, it can be difficult to balance player agency and the overall direction of the campaign if it becomes too much of a focal point at your table.
In this article, we will explore the best ways to handle player character romance in your game.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Establish Personal Comfort Levels and Boundaries
Obviously, first: only do what you are comfortable with. For many people, this is exactly nothing, and that is perfectly fine.
A lot of game masters don’t want to touch PC/NPC relationships, and I think, for good reason. I know as a female running Dungeons & Dragons, I need to be very careful about the kinds of interactions my NPCs have with my players. If my NPCs are too flirtatious with one PC and not with the others, it can lead to some above table issues, and I don’t want any of my players feeling left out OR singled out. This can be especially problematic if we don’t know our players as well, or if there are couples at the table.
Setting Limits and Expectations with Romance in D&D
When approaching character romance, it’s important to set clear boundaries and expectations with our players.
This includes discussing some touchy topics:
- what types of romantic relationships are allowed
- how explicit the content can be
- who wants to be involved
- types of romantic encounters that are off-limits
- how much influence the romance will have on the overall campaign
This is just a starter list. There’s a lot of potential discussions that you may need to have with your group. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the romance is in line with the tone and themes of your game.
If you aren’t comfortable having this conversation with your players, you should not be facilitating romantic relationships with their characters. Full stop. Just like any real world romantic involvement, communication, honesty, and boundaries are critical here.
Get a Real, Solid Understanding of Our Players
Here’s what we don’t want: we get a solid read on four out of our five players, but player five hasn’t given much information. We take this as a sign that they don’t care and go ahead with all the details. In reality, they are so uncomfortable they don’t want to talk in front of the other players.
There are a lot of groups that aren’t close friends, and the only time they spend together is on their gaming nights. Don’t make assumptions about your players’ comfort levels or history.
Use a Google Form (you can even make this anonymous), talk over Discord, or hold quiet conversations one-on-one during a session if you want, but make sure you find out the truth about what your players are okay with. Some players may be comfortable with more graphic and detailed content. Others may prefer a more subtle approach.
A lot of people have sustained abuse and trauma. Do we really want to drag that all up in our games? I know I don’t.
If you didn’t use a safety checklist during your session zero, or if your checklist was a bit too vague on romantic details, now would be a great time to use one of these tools, too.
Provide an easy opt-out option for players who are not comfortable with the inclusion of romantic elements in the game.
It may be that the player just doesn’t want to participate themselves. Or, maybe it’s a bit creepy for them to hear other people getting into relationships with fictional characters. It’s important to respect the decisions of these players, and to make sure that their choices do not negatively impact their experience in the game. Including romance is the kind of touchy subject that everyone at the table needs to be on board for, or it shouldn’t happen at all.
Try to Prevent Obsessive Behaviors
One of the issues I’ve seen come up in the past is a PC or NPC relationship becomes the focal point for the character, to the loss of everything else. While roleplaying a relationship can be fun entertainment for everyone at the table, it’s important to remember that player characters are not just made up of their romantic relationships.
This new development can be an important aspect of a character’s story, but it should not define the character as a whole. If it starts to be an issue, or if you suspect it may become one, there are a few easy fixes.
And if They Do… Use That Obsessive Focus in Game
First, encourage players to develop their characters’ backgrounds, motivations, and goals beyond the romantic relationship. Communicate that while the relationship is fun in the game, the character should have multiple interests, just like a person would in the real world. (I mean, ideally.)
If that fails, use the obsessive relationship to your advantage. Maybe there’s a rescue that suddenly needs to happen. Maybe the love interest moves to a new locale you’re wanting the players to visit. It could be a very easy hook into a new segment of your campaign. I’d also consider making the love interest the BBEG or a villainous sidekick. Maybe even a spy with a dramatic reveal! That could really spice things up for the story.
It’s critical that if a player is involved with an NPC, the character still has a sense of agency and purpose in the campaign that is separate from their romantic relationships. It’s up to us as the game masters to make sure the experience remains varied and vibrant.
Remember: You Control the NPCs
It’s important to remember that player characters are not working independently, and therefore are not in complete control of their romantic relationships and how they impact the story.
While players will have a general idea of who their characters may be interested in and why, it’s important to remember that real-life romantic relationships are not easy to predict or control. Reflect this in the game to make it more interesting: Maybe the PC is interested in one of your NPCs, but as the DM, you’ve decided to roll on a madness table for this particular character. Or perhaps this NPC is interested in a different player character at your table, creating a tense love triangle.
One of my player’s characters has been courting a particularly sharp-edged female for nearly our entire (almost two year long!) campaign. When he found out she was dating another particularly well-liked NPC, the results were disastrous and hilarious. Don’t feel like romantic stories always need to be creepy or inappropriate. They can be pretty entertaining; as long as everyone is comfortable.
By having NPCs act in unexpected ways or have their own motivations, the world you wield becomes more interesting to everyone.
How to Turn Down the Heat
Just because one of our players has decided to flirt with an NPC doesn’t mean we need to reciprocate.
While we don’t want to introduce relationships and then constantly reject everyone, an occasional teasing burn or turn down can be pretty entertaining if executed properly. Make it feel fun and special when an NPC flirts back! My players like to have their characters flirt a lot with my weird NPCs, but I know that could get out of hand quickly; they like to incorporate many NPCs into every session.
The way I deal with it? If I don’t want an NPC romantically involved, they’re already taken. Or, they say something positive but then do something off-putting to make my players less interested. I am naturally very good at making people less interested in me romantically, so I just apply that to my NPCs! Use your strengths!
Stay Focused on Your Campaign
It’s also important to keep in mind the potential impact of player character romance on the campaign. While a romance can add depth and complexity to a character’s story, it can also be a distraction from the main plot or conflict of the campaign.
To prevent this, it’s important to balance the focus on romance with the focus on the main plot and conflict of the campaign. Do this by ensuring that the main plot and conflict are always the primary focus of the game, and by giving the player characters opportunities to address their romantic feelings in the context of the main plot and conflict.
For example, when starting the game, award an inspiration to anyone who helps with the previous session’s overview. Interject when needed to make sure the focus is on the main story, not a budding relationship. When recapping the romantic events from last session, frame them within the story’s context:
“Then Belvadeal decided, after much prompting from the rest of the party, to ask out Jambila. She has agreed to join you on your next quest, which if you recall, you prepared for last session with a shopping spree and a long rest. You are ready to disembark….”
Keep it about the campaign. Your players will usually follow your lead here.
Handling player character romance in a tabletop RPG can be a delicate task, but it’s important to respect boundaries in order to create a comfortable and safe environment for all players. Start by establishing clear guidelines and expectations for romantic relationships in the game, providing an opt-out option for players, respecting the explicitness of romantic content, and including the agency of NPCs and their own motivations.
By balancing the focus on romance with the focus on the campaign, the relationships will add depth and complexity to the characters’ stories and motivations, instead of distracting from the main plot and conflict of the world you are wielding. You can do it!
Remember, you always have time to reflect and discuss with your players after each session. It can be intimidating to ask for feedback, but your players will appreciate the opportunity to be heard, you’ll become a better game master, and everyone (including you) will have more fun. It’s worth it.
Do you have any stories of character romance in your games? I’d love to read about your experiences in the comments below.
Thanks for reading this today. If you enjoyed your time here, please consider subscribing to our newsletter. You’ll get a free Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition compatible character sheet inspired by the Druid class to download and print out, and a notification in your inbox when we publish a new article. Spammers are fed to the false hydra!