Despite the fact that romance plays a key role in storytelling, it is one of the hardest things to incorporate into a role-playing game story scheme. A lot of that has to do with the nature of role-playing games as a hobby. Role-playing games are played with a group of people, and the story authorship belongs to everyone in that group (though, with GM-heavy systems, it could be argued that the brunt of the work in authorship belongs to the Game Master). We are, in a group, realizing our personal fantasies through the fiction we create, and when those fantasies remain largely in the realm of “If there’s a bad guy, I want to stab it with my sword and look awesome doing it,” they’re safe. When we start to work our own romantic fantasies into the mix, things can get a little awkward for a lot of reasons. Usually, this awkwardness is avoided by simply not involving romance in an ensemble game, or by handwaving and bluebooking whatever romantic stuff is happening into the background.
So I’m going to sit down and talk about this right up front. If someone in your group is uncomfortable adding romantic love to your game, don’t do it. We are not here to make people uncomfortable. We’re here to play a game and have fun. If one of your players isn’t having fun because you’ve mixed romantic love into your normal game-play (even when it’s as abstracted and crunch-tastic as I’m about to make it), stop using it.
What follows is a crack at a character theme. We haven’t actually seen these babies in action yet (as of this writing, Dark Sun is still a few weeks away), but it seemed like the best way to mechanically depict the complete devotion and powerful motivation of love in a game like Dungeons & Dragons. It gives you a solid reason to involve romantic relationships into your game, because the benefits of having a beloved in the party are pretty staggering. The idea of dealing 6[W] at level 9 is, to me at least, awesome.
You’ll notice a few of my political and social leanings in this writing. I made no assumptions about the gender of the Lover or the beloved, and some of the feats below give you killer bonuses for having more than one beloved. Those things may not suit your game, so I would suggest changing them if you plan to use the theme.
Also, I allow for the possibility that your beloved does not love you back. You can take the Lover theme, designate one of your party members as your beloved, and if that player does not want his or her character to be in a relationship with yours, your love is unrequited. Storytelling tools ahoy!
And I know the power names and flavor are corny. That I did on purpose. ^_^
Lover - A Theme
Should I draw you the picture of my heart it would be what I hope you would still love though it contained nothing new. The early possession you obtained there, and the absolute power you have obtained over it, leaves not the smallest space unoccupied.
In a letter to John Adams
December 23, 1782
Love is perhaps the most incredibly motivating force in the world. For it, people will lie, cheat, steal or kill. There are no laws as powerful, no religion that can withstand its tidal force. True love is so strong that it will withstand the pain of torture, the struggle of war, and even the ravages of death. Some say there is no stronger force in the world (those people are wrong, but they’re closer than you might think).
It is a universal concept. Even in the deepest pits of the darkest hells, there is love (perverted and twisted though it may be). Every creature on every plane of existence is capable of love to some degree or another. True love, the sort for which one might combat entire armies or martyr one’s self, that is rare indeed. Some of these lovers lead long, happy, uncomplicated lives. Others, though, face great hardship in being with their beloved. The stories of these lovers, overcoming the difficulties in their being together (or, sometimes, dying tragically in the attempt) are the sorts of tales that are told for centuries past the deaths of all involved.
True love appears at every caste, and no race is free from its ravages. Anyone can fall deeply, desperately, stupidly in love, and when it happens, it is a powerful, moving experience. Many lovers, facing adversity, will leave everything they know to be with their beloved; this has led many to a life of banditry, begging or adventure. Their devotion, intuition and empathy make them strong allies and terrifying enemies. They always have something to fight for, and when their beloved is threatened, will not hesitate to fight to the death.
The lives of true lovers are varied and often strange, the sorts that songs are written about. They are the heroes of romance tales and the trials they are willing to endure for their love are the stuff of legend.
Building a Lover
Sometimes, a person deep in the thrall of love decides to abandon the comforts of home to be with their beloved. Other times, a long-time adventurer discovers new love. Occasionally, a person will fall in love with the wrong person – the relative of a life-long enemy, a powerful (and married) noble, a pirate captain – and dedicate themselves to earning their beloved’s favor.
The lover theme is a common choice for bards, clerics, ardents and other leaders. The theme powers offer strong options for healing a particularly individual at a decent range, a useful skill if one of your party members is particularly squishy. Also, melee combatants (for example wardens and fighters) interested in helping keep the heat off of a particular character might benefit from these powers.
Secondary Role: Leader
Power Source: Love (Divine)
Granted Power: You gain the meant to be power.
Prerequisite: Lover Theme
Benefit: Choose a second beloved. After initiative is rolled, choose a beloved character. Only that character is treated as your beloved for the rest of the encounter.
Prerequisite: Lover Theme, Love Triangle feat
Benefit: Choose a third beloved. When you use a Lover power, choose which beloved character will be treated as your beloved for the purposes of that power. You may take this feat multiple times. Each time, choose a new beloved.
Prerequisite: Lover Theme
Benefit: Whenever you use a Lover power, you and your beloved gain 5 temporary hit points.
Prerequisite: Lover Theme, Engaged feat
Benefit: Whenever you use a Lover power, you and your beloved make a saving throw.
Prerequisites: Lover theme, polyamorous feat, marriage feat, level 26.
Benefit: Whenever you use a Lover power, all of your beloved characters benefit from the use of that power.