Happy Ever After: Story Now romance

edited August 2006 in Story Games
I was chatting to my friend Joe and his girlfriend Gemma yesterday. Joe is a gamer, Gemma is not. If fact she doesn't like roleplaying at all. Gemma likes to read romance novels, especially set in a Regency era setting with the appropiate values and moral conventions.

I asked her: "If I write a romance game, would you play it?"
Gemma said she wasn't sure. She is not too hot about the idea of shared authorship, because this sharing may threaten the rules of the genre. I suppose she means, if she was narrating the story on her own, not sharing with others, this wouldn't happen.

Now, this got me thinking. I am not a big fan of the romance genre, quite the opposite, but it would be an interesting challenge to design a Story Now game that adhered to this genre's themes and strict rules.

Later that day I got an email with a link to Gemma's wiki where she had listed all the rules of romance novels. How can I ignore that?

So, for research purposes, I don't know many romance themed games. Maybe it's been done already. There's Blue Rose, but that's fantasy. Breaking the Ice, but that's too contemporary. Shooting the Moon is close as far as I can see.

Any other already published romance games?

(edited Victorian to Regency era)


  • Hm... Heart Quest has guidelines for romance, but I don't know if there's any actual rules for it.

    (BTW: Any chance of you posting the link to Gemma's wiki?)
  • Very interesting. I read her rules document as a series of challenges - "Oh hell no, she's going to be lazy!"

    My first reaction was that those constraints essentially nerf many exciting conflicts, but then I realized that this is not true. They only nerf the sorts of conflicts we write RPGs about. The drama and suspense come not from concern about outcome, but from concern about form, which is cool. I think we could learn a lot from trying to write a game Gemma would enjoy.
  • One thing that strikes me about a game that would follow those rules: there could be a lot of cool ways to play with pacing. I mean, sure, they are going to get together, sure he is going to save her, but how long will that take, what obstacles stand in the way? In spite of that, though, it isn't a question of how the characters will be damaged or what they will have to sacrifice--that, too, is regulated by these sorts of rules. The obstacles never really 'get under the character's skin.' It's all about 'teasing' you with the proximity of the ending and then either fulfilling it or withdrawing it.

    Bakhtin talks about 'Greek Romance' (parodied in Candide) in which the lovers' marriage is interrupted in the beginning, they are separated, and inevitably re-united. That being said, they can be crazy long--with obstacle after obstacle piled between the two necessary components. And, no matter how long the story, they are always the same characters (age, beauty, and all) reunited (hence Voltaire's parody--when the reunion happens there, everyone is old).

    How to regulate timing? Hmm, seems like a huge call for some pull mechanics, some way (token or dice giving a la Breaking the Ice) for the players to let each other know that they are "really" ready for the end or "really" looking for some juicy delays.

    It saddens me a little that this sort of game couldn't pull of Jane Eyre, though, without breaking the rules.
  • Good comments, guys, much obliged :)

    It saddens me a little that this sort of game couldn't pull of Jane Eyre, though, without breaking the rules.
    See, I am sure you should be able to break or bend a rule or two. I know some writers do that, and get away with it, at least that's what I gathered.

  • In Solitarie, the outcome is guaranteed... it just takes you a while to get there. I'd think of something similar for a Romance game -- if the criteria is the characters end up together at the end of the game.
  • I'm super interested in end-state constraints anyway. If I could rouse myself to be interested in romances, I'd totally go for it. Whoever nails it might become a millionaire.
  • These rules... keep in mind, they are for regency romances; they're the Spenserian sonnets of the romance world, having the tightest restrictions and the most formulaic plots. There are many, many other types, which freely break many of these rules.

    Please don't ask me how I know this.
  • edited August 2006
    Actually, Per, Breaking the Ice can be set in any period, and a lot of the game's mechanics revolve around living up to standards, failing standards, and letting those failures be endearing rather than scandalous. I think BtI could fit the bill admirably. Just make the "dates" the house party in the country, the ball during London season, and whatever that horse race is where everybody wears funny hats.

    On reading the "rules", that page could probably be used to set up the character creation segment.
  • edited August 2006
    Posted By: Joshua BishopRobywhatever that horse race is where everybody wears funny hats.
    Ladies Day, on the third day of Royal Ascot, is when they wear the funny hats.

    (and yes, it is a major part of "the season", and has been for a couple of hundred years.)
  • Howya.

    I've spent a lot of time discusing the genre (Regency romance in particular) with Gem. Did you know there's a genuine, multi-book, multi-anthology sub-genre called 'Magical Matchmaking Christmas Kittens'?

    The rules are extraordinarily tight, and I often tease her about how quickly the marriage appears in a book. Coz there' always a marriage. I don't know - I don't have the tools or the language - to run a game with such firm rules. You can push the ending as far down the story as you like, but the ending has to be _just so_.

  • Joshua, that makes a lot of sense to me - I don't know why I had the image of BtI being set in modern times - that's just how I read it, I suppose. Yea, it could work :) Now I just have to convince Joe to playtest it with me.

    Oh, found another one while Googling: Wuthering Heights, albeit a parody of the romance genre. And behold, Ron Edwards reviewed it once. Man.

  • I face a similar pacing issue in Errantry, my quest game. You know that eventually the heroes are going to reach the quest object and win it. How do you interestingly move them towards that point through what is basically an episodic structure?

    My solution is to say: You decide upfront on how many "boon points" you need to complete your quest, which determines, more or less, how many episodes it's going to take. Part of what you do in the episodes is gain boons, things which will move you towards completing the quest. Plot coupons, basically. When you have enough you can send off for the ending.

    A broadly similar approach might work to pace a romance game (or anything else with an inevitable-but-delayed ending).
  • edited August 2006
    Posted By: Gemma2. The reader should know who the hero and heroine are after the first chapter or two.
    2b. Exception to (2) allowed where a clear pool of potential heroes is quickly outlined and the heroine spends the novel choosing between them.
    This would give you an out if you have a lot of problems with the predetermined ending issue. You could just set the game up with the players as suitors to the GMPC/female lead (or reverse the genders for Archie and the like), like in Neelk's The Court of the Empress, which actually could work for a romance game if the rounds were longer and you removed the death by snakes.
  • Death by snakes is within the rules for certain genres of romance novels.
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