Game Design

Romance Is In The Dice

Gnome Stew - 13 February 2019 - 6:04am

I love relationships in games. I’ve always been of the opinion that having relationships in your games adds depth, motivation, and to me, fun. I love playing family, friends, parents, children — and definitely romantic and ex-romantic partners. Adding romantic relationships to games gives them the same dimensionality, and also gives us a whole slew of tropes to play with. They’re an easy way to get investment and commitment from your players, and they can work as a great counterpoint to your main plot. In honor of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I want to talk about my favorite ones, why they are entertaining to play, and tips for incorporating them in to your game!

 Never embark on a love relationship with another character without their player’s consent, even if you intend it to be one-sided. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1EmailPlease note that using romance in games requires good communication and expectation setting with your fellow players. Never embark on a love relationship with another character without their player’s consent, even if you intend it to be one-sided. As the recipient of any sort of romantic interest, that player gets to decide what they are comfortable with and what will be fun for them in the game. If they aren’t interested, respect that. The tropes listed here can help you create shared story goals for playing through a relationship, both so that you are on the same page, and so that you can get informed consent. Got another idea? Go for it, of course! But talk it out.

My other note is that because these relationships have the potential to be very emotional, I believe that safety tools are important for any game that contains them. Use whichever tool you like, but please make sure you have a way to revoke consent or call a pause at any point in your game. Here is a list of some of the most commonly used tools, and I can also recommend the OK Check in as adjusted for Turning Point.

Hate Kissing

Hate kissing is the age old “we hate each other we hate each other we hate each other and we can’t keep our hands off each other” trope. It can work well for games where characters hold different belief sets — they’re always fighting, until that moment when passion takes over and suddenly they’re kissing instead. Don’t see how this works? It actually happened to me in college. A guy that found me very annoying at first (his own words) fell head over heels for me later. Strong feelings are strong feelings and the lines are closer than we like to think. Examples that work in play: characters who are at cross-purposes, like a notorious space pirate queen and bounty hunter etc. Characters on the same team with very different cultural values, like a paladin and the rogue. Cue emotional turmoil as your romantic leads (and the people around them) are faced with the conundrum of their budding relationship.


The object of your affections does not return your interest. You may pine, moon, make sad eyes at them, or pass them love poems at the table. Please note that stalking is really not cool unless that’s specifically the direction you both discuss — clear lines and boundaries about what is or is not acceptable are important with this one.

Will They Or Won’t They

The age old classic — they’re in love, probably! But so much dramatic tension! As the writers of this story, we know they’re probably going to get together, but this is the story of how they resisted it for as long as possible. To play this effectively at the table, you’ll need a strong reason they can’t get together, whether that’s some kind of personality trait, a strong belief, or outside circumstances. The key with this trope is that once they get together, there’s not tension left, really, so it should happen right near the end of the game in best dramatic conclusion, or at least in full Romeo and Juliet fashion where they can die in each other’s arms (also a very satisfying conclusion).

Old Flames

They had a thing, long ago, and for some reason it didn’t work out. Duty called them apart or they lost each other in a storm at sea. Whatever it was, it wasn’t their choice, but they both moved on. Now, in this new phase of their lives, with new responsibilities and possibly other relationships, they’ve re-discovered each other, and the chemistry is still here. The question is, what will they do about it? Will they make space in their lives for this relationship again, or will it remain a sad and distant ghost?


My last favorite relationship trope is exes. This is when we have tension in a different way — these two characters used to be in a relationship, but now they’re not. It might have been contentious. It might have been one-sided. There were probably hurt feelings. Now they have to work together again, and they’re probably not happy about it. They may have happy memories recalled with a twinge of sadness as well as fights that they fall into comfortably from long history.

I also have to call out some of my favorite games that create romantic relationships, many of these varieties, as the purpose of play. Star Crossed is a beautiful game of forbidden love from Alex Roberts. The Sky Is Gray and You Are Depressed is a story about a committed couple working through a difficult discussion and a secret from Josh Jordan. Yes is a forthcoming game from Wendelyn Reischl in which a nontraditional relationship succeeds. Shooting the Moon is a game of warring suitors and a beloved from Emily Care Boss in the Romance Trilogy. It Was A Mutual Decision is a game about the end of a relationship (and possibly were-rats) from Ron Edwards.

What is your favorite type of romantic relationship to play at the table? What are your best tips for playing characters in love? Have you had a famous love story at your table? What’s your favorite romantic game?


Categories: Game Theory & Design

Learn how machine learning can help you make better games at GDC 2019

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The Airy Peaks – Point Crawling (03)

Gnome Stew - 11 February 2019 - 6:00am

There are a lot of areas that are a part of the Airy Peaks, twenty-three last time I counted but I might have lost some and added some along the way that I’m forgetting about. These aren’t twenty-three rooms — they are twenty-four adventure locations. It’s intended to be a massive place and I wanted it to feel like that. In doing that I needed to solve a couple of problems when drawing it up. The first was how do I connect all the areas of the Peaks? The second was how can the characters travel the Peaks without it feeling like a slog? So let’s solve them.

The Point Crawl

The point crawl is an alternative to the hex crawl and mapping out every continuous connection in a dungeon. It looks a lot like a mind map and connects larger areas to each other by lines. That’s how I initially drew up the Airy Peaks. In doing this I created some distinct areas as parts of individual mountains, but I wanted a way for characters to really get around so I created the Fire Tube Tunnels. These round tunnels are beneath the Peaks and connect all the lower and some of the higher area caverns. Within the Fire Tube Tunnels are also some larger caverns that aren’t in a mountain. I also had some of the areas outside of the mountains such as the Ever Burning Forest, The Remnants of the Great Forest, and The Vale of Bones. With that done I had connected the Peaks and had given a way for the characters to travel them, but the Fire Tube Tunnels created a new problem. There was never going to be a way to map them out. They just connected things. That meant I needed to decide how the characters would find their way around the Fire Tube Tunnels. My answer was the Town of Foot and a custom move.


I talked a bit about Foot in the first article. It’s a home base that matters. One of the reasons it matters is because adventurers flock to the location, explore the Peaks, make maps, sell those maps, and learn rumors. One of the ways I evolved the story of the Peaks was letting the characters have maps that would lead them to new locations in the mountain range. These maps were described as hand written and were annotated by different adventurers depending on how old they were. The other side of the equation were rumors. The rumors were heard and shared over drinks at the Red Scales Inn. These rumors often prompted the characters to go on adventures to find whatever the rumors were pointing them to.

With maps, rumors and a move called Carouse, I had a lot of tools at my disposal to drop story seeds and adventure hooks to the characters. It made it really easy to prompt the characters into action, since most of them were looking go in after treasure. Even if they weren’t they’d just go look for adventure. With the maps and moves I had it let me improvise a night of adventure anyways.

Moving about the Peaks

Now that I had a way for the characters to move around the mountain range and several ways to hook them into adventures, I needed to mechanize moving around the mountain range. So there were a couple of ways. I created a custom move for Navigating the Fire Tube Tunnels and I would also just let them get where they were going if they had a map that led them there. So maps were more valuable than rumors, and any place that was connected by the Fire Tube Tunnels that needed to be navigated had a mechanism.

In Dungeon World I used the move but in other games a random encounter mechanism could be used, such as roll a d6 and on a 6 you encounter trouble of the GMs choosing. That could even be modified to be roll a d6 and on a 3+ you encounter trouble of the GMs choosing. I had a lot of things that could cause trouble in the Fire Tube Tunnels. It could also be roll on a random table instead of the trouble being of the GMs choosing. That’s completely up to how a GM would handle it.

Here’s the custom move I used:

When Navigating the Fire Tube Tunnels have one person designated as the scout and roll + WIS.

  • On a 10+ the party reaches the location without incident.
  • On a 7-9 the party encounters something interesting. It could be trouble but it might just be interesting.
  • On a 6- the party finds themselves in a difficult situation with the person who rolled choosing who gets the XP for the 6-. That member of the party is in a particularly difficult spot.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

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