Romance and intimacy can be tricky topics to cover, especially when it comes to interactive examples. Whilst watching a film or reading a book can be an entirely solitary affair wherein the one person involved has complete control over the situation and where it goes, interactive examples have a much greater chance of getting messy.
Video games have enabled players to experience fictional relationships with little to no issue thanks to the fact that they’re usually not with another human being as long as the material is sensitive and unproblematic. Unless we’re talking about something like the massive multiplayer online simulation game Second Life – which acts more like an online relationship simulator than a fictional one – video game romances usually involve one human player and can provide a fun experience if written well.
By contrast, other interactive examples may prove a lot more problematic to explore romance and intimacy due to the fact that other players are so often involved. Board games have always struggled in this department because theme usually plays second fiddle to the gameplay mechanics, meaning that the majority of attempts to create board games about relationships and sex have proven to be shallow at best and creepy at worst. Besides the fantastic and unique Fog of Love – a board game wherein two people each become one half of a couple in a variety of different dramatic scenarios – most of the board games that tackle love and/or sex are cheap reality TV tie-ins or akin to a pair of dice you throw to give you romantic ideas for an evening.
Tabletop RPGs obviously also involve other players and often require them to buy into the story and world that the game presents, thereby potentially creating an even more problematic situation wherein participants find themselves wanting to exit the game as soon as anything gets remotely saucy. However, surprisingly enough, TRPGs actually make for a great way to explore topics like romance and intimacy because good examples will simultaneously invite players to immerse themselves and protect themselves, at the same time.
Whilst romantic and intimate plotlines can be potentially put into any roleplaying game, with many actual play shows – wherein the cast are filmed playing a TRPG – such as Critical Role garnering big followings solely due to the fact that they include relationships between beloved player characters or non-player characters, there are several TRPGs out there that are specifically designed to be used to explore romance and sex. Though some will allow players to bypass relationships or sexual encounters entirely – if they want to – the best experiences players will get from RPGs that explore these topics will come from taking the plunge into fictional flirtation.
Playthroughs of Monsterhearts 2 should be ripe for developing crushes and playing around with intimate scenarios.
An example of one of these tabletop roleplaying games is Monsterhearts 2, an RPG created by Avery Adler that Dicebreaker played on our YouTube channel. Monsterhearts 2 takes place in a world populated by supernatural creatures – from the classic vampire and ghost, to the more unusual hollow and fae characters – who, despite their huge differences, desperately seek connections with one another. Though the abilities and traits granted by the different supernatural species do make for some weird interactions and setup for drama, Monsterhearts 2 is all about the exploration of romance and intimacy. Characters in Monsterhearts 2 are supposed to be angst-ridden teenagers or young people, which means that playthroughs of the game should be ripe for developing crushes, building relationships and playing around with intimate scenarios.
Though Monsterhearts 2 is explicitly a queer-supportive TRPG, there are other roleplaying games out there that are specifically intended to be used to explore queer relationships. Thirsty Sword Lesbians is one such RPG, focusing entirely on a cast of “disaster lesbians” who struggle to find a balance between their love for swordplay and flirtation with other femme-presenting fighters. This is definitely a more overtly humourous game than Monsterhearts 2, exploring romance and sex in a way that’s meant to be silly and fun for the players and the games master. Flirtation is directly baked into the RPG’s gameplay mechanics, with the players being encouraged to, well, play around with the concept of simultaneously fancying someone and having an intense rivalry with them at the same time.
Tabletop RPGs are so often used to simulate fighting and conflict, but they’re also incredibly good ways to explore connections.
The key with both of these examples of tabletop RPGs that tackle topics of romance and intimacy is that they feature guidance and tools to help GMs and players to navigate those topics safely. Nobody should have to feel uncomfortable when playing a roleplaying game, especially one that could involve sensitive content or has the potential to cross lines that players might have. This is why it’s important to use safety tools when playing or running a roleplaying game, and to follow the advice provided by the author in regards to roleplaying relationships or intimate situations. Using tools like lines and veils – which allow players and GMs to highlight any topics or scenarios they’re not comfortable with exploring – and the X card, which can be held up to stop a potentially triggering situation, are important when roleplaying and can ensure that everyone involved has a good time.
Tabletop RPGs are so often used to simulate fighting and conflict, which is great fun as long as it doesn’t drag on forever, but they’re also incredibly good ways to explore the connections people can develop between each other. It’s time we used TRPGs to spread a little more love in the world, both romantic and platonic.