A character fell in love, and followed her heart.
This shouldn't be the craziest thing that’s ever happened in one my games. A character meeting someone, hitting it off with them, falling for them, and choosing to be with them should be a regular occurrence in a game. It’s not only something all humans can relate to, and something we desire in our lives, but it’s also one of the great benchmarks of story, almost regardless of genre. This is particularly so in Vampire, where romance and passion should be major elements of the game. Hell, the vampire is probably better known today more as a creature of romantic desire than as a foul, murderous monster.
Yet, I just can’t seem to make romance work in most of my games. Sure, in some games we’ll handle relationships during the down time, but most “romance” ends up being a Charisma check and quick off-screen tussle with a comely bar wench. These have always struck me as hollow, and leave a critical element of characters hollow. I've tried as a player to play a more romantic type character, or at least one who is looking for and receptive to such relationships, but my tendency to not play the “face” or “social primary” characters often leave me with little in the way of social relationships. And when I try to bring them in as a Storyteller, well, it never seems to go well.
Maybe this is due to the inherent goofiness of having your bearded friend gazing at you across the table and coquettishly batting his eyes. Maybe it’s the latent (or not-so-latent) homophobia that tends to crop up when a group of guys get together. Or maybe it’s because romance and desire are such personal things for most of us that even in a game of “let’s pretend” it can be incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Or, and this is probably the most likely reason, maybe I’m just not a strong enough Storyteller to make the more personal elements come to life.
Of course, when I run games with more of a gender mix, romance tends to play better. I credit this purely to my female players, who are often willing to explore more personal and intimate issues in the game. Occasionally, it even rubs off on the male players too—I suppose having women present makes it safer for the guys to be more “emotional” or at least creates an environment where it’s inappropriate to giggle or mock such things. I don’t want to stereotype, especially because the one thing that I noticed when I began running games with more than a single female is how NOT different they are from the male players. They can be just as bloodthirsty and ruthless and min/maxy as any guy, but a good number have fun exploring other elements as well.
So, in this case, it was a romance that worked, and I give full credit to the player in this case. Until the decisive moment came, I had no idea that I was running a romance, let alone that it was a romance that was working and that her character was falling for an NPC. This probably says a quite a bit about me as a person, now that I think about it. In any case, she’s the one who was open to the idea, and she was the one who took things to their conclusion. I’m fairly certain if I had tried to run a romance story at that point, I would have just ruined it somehow.
Here’s the summary. I was running my Gary game for a group of new players. Well, newish, at this point, since we had been playing for a few months. My players had shown a willingness to recruit powerful allies for nasty fights, and they had the cunning and charisma to get the elders and others to recognize major threats and help them take these threats out. So, I decided to bring in a pair of powerful Sabbat—some guys who would really need everyone the players can get together to take them down. Being decidedly uncreative, I choose two PC’s from a previous game I had played in--basically I was lazy and “hey, I know they’re personality, their goals, their history, and their stats. And, these are the kind of guys who would show up in a random town to do something, and potentially start a lot of problems” seemed like a reasonable solution.
Well, the players got involved separately in trying to track down what the Sabbat was after--what it was isn’t really important for the story. In the process, they ran into one of the pair, “Jay” (short for Jebediah, and yes, he hated that nickname), who, surrounded by a group of Camarilla, decided to try “not being a dick.” They talked, exchanged numbers so this would never happen again, and both sides took off. Well, the characters immediately ran to Modius, who of course sent out word that no one should talk to the Sabbat, no one should confront them, but keep an eye out and see what you can figure out they’re after.
I decided that it would fit Modius to be terrified of the Sabbat, and that he figures where’s the one, there’s a whole pack somewhere waiting to eat you. Better to reveal as little as possible than risk direct confrontation.
Well, Deidre, the PC in question, was feeling a bit annoyed at being kept out of the discussions, and so she called Jay up. The two met, he took her on a wild hunt through the city as they scared the hell out of some poor mortal and hounded him to his death. I viewed this as him trying to bring out the Beast within Deidre. She viewed it as a date, apparently.
In retrospect, she probably had a better idea of what was going on than I did.
They spoke a few other times, but always on the hush/hush since, you know, Camarilla and Sabbat. Finally, the pair did something pretty blatant and violent which forced Modius to do SOMETHING about their presence in his city. One of Deidre’s fellow coterie members sold her out, and she was instructed to set up a meeting. Unbeknownst to the PC’s, the Sabbat’s violent act pretty much resolved why they were in town, and they were already heading out when they got her call. But, it was Deidre, so Jay had them turn around.
Modius and company did everything right. They picked one of the random murders that happened that night and used their influence to turn it into a “red ball”—pulling cops off their normal beat to work that case, leaving a certain area completely un-policed. They chose an out of the way coffee shop on an otherwise closed down or abandoned strip, and had city workers close the road for repairs. The mortals in the shop were escorted out, and replaced with kindred and ghouls.
The meeting came, and the Sabbat quickly saw what was up. Not wishing a fight against not only most of the kindred of Gary, but also a number of Modius’ allies from Chicago, then were polite, but…eventually things went south as they are wont to do. Eventually the Sabbat fought their way out of the meeting and into the alleyway, where only Deidre stood between them and escape.
Jay pointed his clawed finger at her, and declared “We. Are. Leaving.”
Deidre looked him in the eye, grabbed his hand, and said “Ok.”
Both J, and, more relevantly, I, were taken aback for a second, before I recovered enough to have them run off. It ended up being a pretty epic chase scene throughout northern Indiana, cutting between the bulk of the players and the Camarilla on one hand, and Deidre and the Sabbat on the other, making things very tense and exciting. It also helped that when the Sabbat DID get away, the other players could see what they had done and realize that they had legitimately out thought, rather than just Storyteller fiat.
Soon thereafter, Deidre moved to the top of the PC’s hit list. Whenever her name was mentioned, you could be sure they would drop everything to hunt her down. Deidre’s player quickly made a new character, and I think the game became even more interesting a fun afterward, as a sense of “no, really, ANYTHING can happen” became dominant.
I have never had something like this happen before, where a PC sincerely and honestly fell in love with an NPC and made the “wrong decision” because, damn it, that’s what happens sometimes when you fall for someone. To this day, I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but it’s something I want to see more of in my games, both as a player and as a Storyteller.
Partially, I think it came about on my end because I had a well-defined NPC that I wasn’t trying to “force” onto a character; the relationship came naturally. But more credit goes to the player. Yes, she was a woman, and so one could say that such elements come more “naturally”—but I’m not sure I buy that. I think it was more that she was new, that she didn’t know you don’t “fall for the bad guys and betray your team”—such things are not supposed to happen in a game, after all. Instead, she embraced the improv and “shared storytelling” nature of the genre and ran with it. Was Jay a dashing, romantic figure that made girls weak in the knees? No, of course not. The passion and energy came from a player who was unafraid to do something “stupid” or “wrong” and was instead committed to the story and the character in a way I wish I could be as a player, and in a way I wish was true of every character in every game.
Instead, it’s a rare event. But whenever something like that happens, my love for gaming gets re-nourished, and I remember why it is that I sit around in basements rolling funny dice. Because at the right time, with the right group, amazing things can happen that make books and movies and plays feel shallow and false compared to the reality that occurs around the gaming table.