Tuesday 1 July 2014

Falling in Love (Fantasy Style!)

I remember one time when discussing the ShadowRun game that was my first 'proper' taste of roleplay being told off by another player for expressing an in-character interest in 2 of the NPC's. The other player knew I was 'in a relationship' (of a sort) with a third player and deemed it inappropriate for my character to fancy anyone other than his character. I have to disagree: it's a game! It's story-telling, too, so relationships should be realistic to the characters involved - not to out-of-game politics. If a relationship between characters happens, all players should be mature enough to recognise that it's a game. But that memory - of it being implied it was in some way 'improper' - means I've been a bit shy about this post.

Anyway, rant over: it can be great fun to have an in-game romance. 

I once played in a short horror game – four players: myself, Ben, Rob and someone else I forget (possibly Kit?). We were playing American students on a summer break. We’d rented a small cabin by a lake in the middle of nowhere. There was a boat to a little islet in the middle of the lake, so we spent time playing around there. There was also an abandoned mine with ‘danger’ signs all round it, which we avoided accordingly. Mostly we had fun with bonfires and boating and hanging out in the sun: the GM (Pete) had to use plot hammers, hooks, and railroading before we would investigate the abandoned mine that led us into the other realm where the real game was meant to take place. It was funny to watch him get exasperated with us, but we were (or at least, I was) genuinely enjoying pretending to be students on summer vacation.

And once we were there, in this strange kingdom overseen by a shadowy figure whom we did eventually meet, it was actually pretty scary; in a creepy ‘getting under your skin’ manner rather than a gore-fest. I sat beside Rob and as the game progressed our characters were getting physically closer and closer until – without it being explicitly said or even intended – it became clear there was a romantic interest between them. And it made sense: fear is a known aphrodisiac*. (Ben and the other player drew apart, which was also an interesting response to fear – more of a ‘freeze’ response, maybe).

I like Rob. At the time, we hadn’t known each other long so it was a gentle relationship – I think he and I curled up on the sofa together, possibly held hands but that was about the extent of out of character contact. It was, though, the first time I had a character begin to fall in love.
Ah, and then Kella and Reisha! I desperately want to do a massive post about Kella, but she’s so dear to my heart and the game was several years ago so I fear the details are too fuzzy and my narrative skills too poor to do the story justice (at least for now).

But as a quick summary, the game was ‘Final Fantasy Noir’ – a home-brew game based on Final Fantasy X and set some 1,000 years earlier than the computer game**. My character, Kella, was from the southern region of Besaid. She played Blitzball for pleasure (although it was her younger sister, Elin, who was the real star at that, playing for the Aurochs) but her real skill was in healing and white magic. Ultimately, she became the summoner (the role was up for grabs, but it fit her character better and the others went down other routes), which meant we knew the game would end with her death.

As we were approaching the end of the game (or at least getting nearer the mountain, Gagazet), a new player was introduced. His character, Reisha, I found out later was deliberately brought in to be my character’s love interest: she had so steeled herself to her fate that it was felt something needed to be given to her for a reason to live! It worked beautifully. Rowan and I are very good friends anyway, so I could curl up on his lap and have my hair stroked both in and out of character and it not be weird (even when his now-wife brought in cups of tea).

The relationship was built elegantly – Reisha is out of time in Kella’s age; returned to life (or otherwise dragged to the present day) by Phoenix. As the party healer, Kella rushed to him to make sure he was ok. His eyes fluttered open and he muttered “I could get used to waking up next to you!” – before going bright red and being very embarrassed. This was repeated a few times, either where they fell asleep beside each other or where he was hurt and she healed him. Their approach to each other was tentative, slow. Shy, almost.

It was a beautiful moment on the mountain when Kella and Reisha finally declared their love for each other (much to the amusement of the other characters) and then snuck off: Rowan handed me the cherries from the packet of Tangfastics we were devouring (at the time, RPG snack of choice!) as a little metaphor for the moment.

A little while later, being a powerful white mage, Kella realised she was pregnant but it would be a while before she would be showing. Realising it was early enough that she shouldn’t have too much difficulty hiding this from her friends, she elected not to tell anyone: it was going to be hard enough for Reisha (and the others) to lose her, but for him to lose his unborn child was more than she could bear to put him through. And then, of course, she managed to survive the final challenge but Reisha vanished somewhere in the process. It was very, very sad.

We ran a post-game session to tidy up loose ends. Kella is sitting on the beach with her little baby son, Zette (I didn’t know how to spell the mountain where he was conceived), with her (NPC) sister and the twins Elin had had with another player character, Rax. There’s a sadness to Kella that didn’t exist before. Her favourite Aeon, the local Valefor, swoops in the sky above and the Aurochs, Besaid’s Blitz Ball team, are practicing in the sea when there is a sudden loud splash. Everyone is startled, but Kella realises this is Reisha, returning to her just as he promised. And as she pulls him from the water and heals his injuries, his eyes flutter open and he mutters once more “I could get used to waking up next to you” – this time with no embarrassment. (I actually wrote this up as a bit of ‘fanfic’ and the intensity of the game was such that reading it even now, 7+ years later, it still makes me cry!)

Kella and Reisha, as drawn by Rowan

It is a bit different when the other player is actually the GM: you can’t curl up on their lap, for instance (because you may see secrets!) and this brings me on to Svetlana and Noleski.

I love their relationship – as mentioned above, it’s many years since I’ve had a decent love story in a game and it’s actually something I really enjoy, which is probably why I was up for it when the others began their joking. There are a few problems – his role (as King) means he can’t come travelling with us, which means most of the time spent together is as downtime, which in turn makes it harder to build the romance and closeness between them. Also, when your character’s lover belongs to another player you can roleplay the lovey-doveyness when focus is on other players, but when it’s an NPC it means everyone else has to stop and wait – and not everyone is comfortable with watching romance-play.

But as I said, I really like this relationship. It helps that I really like Svetlana, of course. I like the juxtaposition between the two, as well – Noleski has been raised a noble, steward to the king, and has had kingship thrust upon him. He has accepted this as a duty. Svetlana was raised a peasant and has accidentally earned her way into the nobility through her courage and love of adventure. I like to think that part of Noleski’s attraction to her is her relaxed attitude towards rank: that she sees him as a person, not a king (and is attracted to him as a person, not a throne).Neither of them has sought the political power they've received and I think it is more of a burden to Noleski because a lot of the time Svetlana can ignore it. That, no doubt, will change.

I’m looking forward to the future of their relationship. That she’s a half-elf just turned 20 and he’s human and in his late-20’s/early-30’s means there could be some interesting issues of aging and mortality down the line: if that sounds a little forward-looking, there was talk at the beginning of the game of ‘playing down the bloodlines’, ie, periodically resetting and playing as the descendants of our characters. On that note, having a chaotic-good, fey-blooded, half-elf rogue/sorcerer mother and a lawful-good, human noble/fighter/king (I’m surmising from what I know) father gives me a lot of scope to play with when building future characters. I think Svetlana and Noleski would like a large brood, even if Svetlana’s adventuring means Noleski might need to do more child-rearing than is traditional for a male monarch (although I have a vivid image of Svetlana using her left arm to shield a baby in sling across her, rapier in right hand fighting off some vicious enemy; so maybe she’ll only hand them back to him when they’re old enough to toddle ;-) ).

In the shorter term, dealing with Svetlana’s recent brush with death could be… interesting. Despite the issues she’s currently dealing with, she will want to pull herself together for his sake – and her mum’s! Hopefully, he’ll help her get through it but there are a few longer-term problems that could arise from this that I won’t go into because "Spoilers".

I would like them to be able to spend more time together, but can’t see a way of doing that without drastically changing the flow of the game, or at least significantly reducing Svetlana’s role in it (which would be a shame). But it’s nice to have a love interest.
Of course, it could all go wrong: he could be killed or turn out to actually not be very nice, but I hope not. It would hurt Svetlana too much!

*I remember reading an article about an experiment into this several years ago. Can’t find the article I originally read, but this mentions the same experiment.

**I’ve not played FFX but think I’m probably not giving too many spoilers away to anyone else who hasn’t because, of course, the game was run through one person’s interpretation and also edited to suit the group and all the usual caveats etc. So apologies to anyone who has played it and for whom I am now destroying beloved memories by not understanding the game properly.

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