We here at CPG have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. Clearly, we do not care enough to remember the day is about Saint Valentine or to stick the apostrophe in our news post or social media updates. However, we love having fun with people. We want people who are dating to find activities that are both mutually enjoyable and let you hang out with other friends. It’s good to break up the stagnation of coffee, dinner, drinks, Netflix, and chill. Branch out and try playing a role-playing game with your partner and some friends. If you have trepidations about this experience, we have some advice to help get the most out of it.
First, let’s establish both of you really want to play the game. Everything from our “Introducing RPGs” column applies here: don’t force anyone to play, be helpful, and let the new person make their own decisions. This is important not only for your partner to enjoy the experience, but also everyone joining the session. RPGs typically rely on groups of four to six people to build a story and play off of each other and the game master. A couple acting as one person dulls the narrative and is either frustrating or boring for the others. If your partner is hesitant to join as a character but wants to observe and be with the group, consider having them co-GM. This tactic lets them learn the game with no pressure to succeed; doubly so if the GM is not their partner.
If your less-experienced partner is worried they will be bad at the game, assure them it is genuinely hard to play an RPG incorrectly. Now, if the inverse is the case and you are worried your partner’s incompetence will embarrass you in front of your friends, you should probably not play with them. Being positive and supportive is the only way to play an RPG in the first place. The less-experienced person should be welcomed into the group and helped along the way. We talked about bad player archetypes before, but the only applicable trait for new players is crippling indecisiveness. Making choices is the crux of the genre, but your group can ease your novice partner into the mindset. Provide context by explaining mechanics, past choices, or potential outcomes while avoiding quarterbacking (explicitly telling someone what to do). If you are leading the session, be careful about forcing your partner into a situation by themselves. They will feel more comfortable interacting with the game’s narrative if they have another player to work with and defer to. It also reduces the stress on your relationship by keeping the conflict between the GM and the players, not just between you two.
Once you are both playing a role-playing game together in earnest, make sure you are cooperating (or competing) in-character. Again, you should avoid direct antagonistic behavior, but do not bring your relationship into the game’s world. This is not for your benefit, but for your friends’ sanity. Parties usually cooperate, but many scenes rely on player choices between self-preservation and sacrifice. Do you head back into the fight to grab someone’s unconscious body? Do you distract the enemy army while the rest of the party slips by? Choices predetermined by your out-of-game relationship make for inorganic and predictable in-game decisions. Circumventing this by having your RPG characters in a romantic relationship is a dangerous move. Doubling down on the dating is like making out in a bar: it seems fine if you’re the ones doing it, but people around get uncomfortable and later you realize how amateur-hour that behavior really is. However, if you’re willing to test the in-game couple and not take a constant moral high-ground, that’s a different story. A plot about scorned lovers, betrayal, and redemption sounds like a fun time for all.
The deeper you two get into the game, the more you can benefit from the experience. I enjoy having post-mortem conversations will fellow players after a session. It lets you explore your characters and the story outside in an objective fashion. This is especially true when talking to your partner. Aside from the increased opportunity for these discussions, they will be more candid with you. Talk about how you should better portray your characters. Read the game manual together and decide how your characters should advance and level up. If one of you is the game master, you can get feedback on the campaign and better understand what players are taking away from the storytelling. The more immersed you get in the game’s world, the more enjoyable the experience is. Doing so with your partner amplifies this effect, bringing more energy and excitement to the table.
Like most of these advice columns, if you and your partner are having fun, you’re doing great. Relax. Enjoy each other’s company and the company of your friends. Tell a story. Get into character: not yourself, but a different one that’s appropriate for the game. Cheer your partner on as they win the fight for your group and join the booing of your friends when they take the loot for themselves. Do not make the game different because your romantic interest is there. Treat them like the rest of your group. Afterward, relish the shared moments together. Use the RPG as a way to bond; as a way to meet each other’s friends. Tell a fantastic story together and remember it with the fondness of a first date.