Romance and Roleplaying

Sam has talked about this sub­ject in sev­er­al of his pod­casts, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried to address it. I may fail mis­er­ably, but I’ll try.

Sam and I had one of our twice-week­ly “date nights” tonight. That means that from about 7 pm ’til we go to bed, we do noth­ing but have fun with each oth­er. The girl amus­es her­self oth­er­wise, or goes out, and we do what­ev­er we like. Usu­al­ly, that means we spend some time gaming.

Yes, it is excep­tion­al­ly geeky that our favorite not-whol­ly-pri­vate pas­time is role­play­ing. But back when we had three kids in the house and a lot more stress, we found that we had fall­en into a real­ly bad pat­tern. There was always some “busi­ness” to take care of or dis­cuss, whether it was about the kids or Sam’s job or mon­ey or the pets or the house, and some­how those mun­dane things start­ed suck­ing up all of our ener­gy. Even when we were alone, the kids, espe­cial­ly, were there between us. We were par­ents and room­mates and part­ners in the busi­ness of life, but we weren’t hav­ing any fun togeth­er, and that can kill romance dead­er than a fossil.

It’s very, very dif­fi­cult to say, “We’re not going to talk ‘busi­ness’ dur­ing this time,” with­out hav­ing some­thing else to fill up that space. We both read books, we both wrote, we saw friends, and so on, but I’m not a big movie buff and I don’t play com­put­er games (two of his favorite things), and he’s not ever like­ly to pick up a nee­dle, and nei­ther of us real­ly likes to gos­sip. We don’t watch TV to speak of. We agree on pol­i­tics and reli­gion and the like so much that, well, there’s not a lot to dis­cuss. There’s only so much time you can spend in bed togeth­er. Sam came up with the idea of play­ing an RPG, one-on-one.

We start­ed play­ing as a con­tin­u­a­tion of a game we’d played with a group that had drift­ed apart after the cam­paign was over. It was sort of D&D 3.5, in the world Sam has been build­ing since he was a kid. Over time, we found our­selves mov­ing away from ever rolling dice or look­ing at char­ac­ter sheets. We were cre­at­ing sto­ries togeth­er, and dice just seemed irrel­e­vant. After a while, though, the main char­ac­ters in that world became so pow­er­ful that find­ing any kind of new chal­lenge for them was near­ly impos­si­ble. You can only threat­en the world, real­is­ti­cal­ly, so many times before it becomes old hat, right?

The game we’re play­ing now start­ed as a cam­paign we played with a cou­ple we were dat­ing, then got used as part of a nov­el we were writ­ing togeth­er. Some of the infor­ma­tion was recy­cled for yet anoth­er cam­paign with a group that just did­n’t “gel” for long. The sto­ry Sam had cre­at­ed was too good for me to walk away from, though, just because the oth­er play­ers were sel­dom avail­able. So we start­ed play­ing whether or not any­one else was with us, and it turned into a pri­vate campaign.

Over the years, my world has nar­rowed con­sid­er­ably, because of my health. I’ve gone from “just suck it up” to tak­ing a lot of ibupro­fen to liv­ing on nar­cotics and mus­cle relax­ants just to get through the day. There’s nev­er a time with­out pain, and the best way to not dwell on it is to be com­plete­ly absorbed in some­thing. Hon­est­ly, there aren’t that many things in the world that take absolute­ly all of my con­cen­tra­tion. Gam­ing with Sam is one of them, because he cre­ates such an incred­i­bly detailed, engag­ing, world, fills it with com­plex indi­vid­u­als, and then pulls me into plots that seri­ous­ly chal­lenge me, intel­lec­tu­al­ly and emotionally.

If the only kind of role­play­ing you’ve ever done involved a canned sce­nario or hack-n-slash, I’m going to have to ask you to toss every­thing you think you know about RPGs out the win­dow before imag­in­ing gam­ing with Sam. We are not talk­ing about “X strangers meet in a bar and decide to go off on an adven­ture.” Think instead of step­ping in to the rich­est nov­el you’ve ever read, and tak­ing it into a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent direc­tion based on what you do (or don’t do). Think about impro­vi­sa­tion with real­ly good musi­cians or actors, on a night when every­body is on.

I’ve real­ly only played with Sam, so I’m exceed­ing­ly spoiled. I had been exposed to D&D and Trav­eller as a teen but had­n’t real­ly played before I met him. We played in a cam­paign with a dif­fer­ent DM once, as an exper­i­ment, but it died after two ses­sions or so. Oh! We also played Seren­i­ty for the After Seren­i­ty pod­cast. No insult to any oth­er DM/GM, but I’ve yet to even hear of any­body like Sam. More expe­ri­enced gamers have told me they con­sid­er him “world class,” so I feel fair­ly con­fi­dent that my opin­ion of him isn’t com­plete­ly due to my bias.

We’ve played with just one or two oth­er peo­ple, and with groups of 12 or more. I’ve played in a cou­ple of the “one-off” games he’s writ­ten for con­ven­tions, with very dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple each time. There are def­i­nite­ly some things about play­ing with groups that I miss, and I hope we have a group again soon. I love sit­ting back to observe anoth­er play­er’s “on stage” time, how they inter­act with what­ev­er Sam throws at them, and their unique styles of play­ing. I adore the feel of a good group of peo­ple who are in char­ac­ter, play­ing off each oth­er, toss­ing focus back and forth, and work­ing as an ensem­ble. But play­ing one-on-one does have its unique joys, and I rec­om­mend it to any cou­ple who enjoy gam­ing at all (or, of course, play­ing togeth­er as a tri­ad or quad, for those who are part of those kinds of relationships).

Sam plays all the char­ac­ters but mine, com­plete with dis­tinct voic­es and their own body lan­guage. He comes up with the sto­ries, really—or the begin­nings of them, and the plot twists. He’s always the GM/DM/ST or what­ev­er you want to call it, the real “author,” the cre­ative force. 

I have no idea how he does it. He sur­pris­es me on a reg­u­lar basis, always in good ways. I con­sid­er it a major accom­plish­ment if I ever sur­prise him with any­thing I do or say (while stay­ing true to the char­ac­ter, of course). I know that he “reloads” him­self cre­ative­ly, by watch­ing good movies and well-writ­ten shows like West Wing and read­ing every­thing from Hor­a­tio Horn­blow­er to Pen­ny Arcade. Water is impor­tant. Just about every time he takes a show­er, he has to leave time after­ward to tran­scribe what­ev­er his mus­es sang to him there. And he does this while con­tin­u­ing to write a novel!

All cou­ples have their lit­tle in-jokes, code words, and shared anec­dotes. We have not just one world, but two over­lap­ping ones, all to our­selves. We don’t spend all of our time togeth­er in fan­ta­sy-land, but we don’t ever want for dis­trac­tion, either, thanks to Sam. The romance in our rela­tion­ship is still going strong, and it’s def­i­nite­ly well-ground­ed in reality.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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5 thoughts on “Romance and Roleplaying

  1. Love this. Sounds like ter­rif­ic fun. I miss D&D, or think I do any­way. I so feel that online RPGs still are miss­ing some ele­ments of table top play. So wish my wife even cared to try. 🙁

    We share oth­er things though, like both being movie buffs, and share favorite tv shows.

    (I also miss DMing though I was nev­er world class.)

  2. I just can’t get inter­est­ed in the online games. They’re miss­ing every­thing I real­ly enjoy, as far as I can tell! 

    Maybe you could point your wife to this post, and see if she might be inter­est­ed in try­ing it? Most peo­ple focus on “hack and slack” or “dun­geon crawl” when they talk about RPGs, so maybe she does­n’t know that there can be a lot more to it.

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