It being Valentines Day and all, I figured I'd put up a small post about love and the gaming table. Now, this isn't about romance in your actual games. Lord knows there are enough things about that all over the place. No, I'm talking about Player -> Player love at the gaming table. The people themselves, not the characters that they play. This isn't a how-to guide. More of a general way to handle things without making the rest of the group feel awkward about it. And trust me, you don't want them feeling awkward about it. Not if you want game night to continue as normal.
There are a few different kinds of romance that can blossom at the game table. Pre-existing relationships, newly formed relationships, player/player relationships, player/GM relationships, really, it can be kind of nuts how many variations there are. This post isn't going to talk about all of them, but I am going to discuss a few different kinds. So, let's get going.
The Newly Forming Relationship
This one isn't really as common as some people would like to think it is, at least in my experience, but it does happen. Why wouldn't it after all? People like to date people that are into similar things, and that they find interesting. You can learn a lot about a person at the game table, especially when you pay attention. However, this can also be a dangerous one to make assumptions with. Just because you like the other person doesn't mean that they like you, and what you are taking as them flirting, could just be them acting in character.
The best way through this, or to find out what is going on? Like with most things, it is honesty. Ask the person you like if you can talk after game. Ask them out to dinner, a drink, a movie, anything. Tell them that you like them, and see where it goes. Maybe it'll be nothing. Maybe it will be something, and you can develop it into a nice relationship. Still, this is the one you want to be the most careful with. The internet is full of horror stories of mixed signals, crossed wires, and this sort of thing going bad. No one wants to feel uncomfortable at the game table, and the best way to prevent that is to be upfront, honest, and adult about it.
Introducing the S.O. to Gaming
This is, more than likely, the kind of relationship that you'll run into the most when it comes to gaming. As I said above, people like dating people that they have things in common, and it isn't all the unusual for a Significant Other to want to know what their girl/boyfriend is up to every week that takes them away for 4-6 hours at a time. It isn't suspicion, or anything devious, it is - generally - just honest to goodness curiosity.
However, this can be troublesome for the group as a whole. For one thing, the SO is probably brand new to even the concept of gaming, and that can be disruptive to the rest of the group. For another, if the SO finds they don't like it, they may just become generally disruptive to the game. This might not be intentional, but let's face it. Our hobby of choice can be boring for the uninterested. Because of this, if you are going to bring your SO along to learn the game, make sure the rest of your group is ok with it, and understands that they're being asked to teach someone who is curious about gaming, and new to the concept of it. The only thing that could be worse for you than your SO making your friends uncomfortable, after all, is when your friends make your SO feel awkward and uncomfortable.
The GM Girlfriend
I saw it, some of you winced at the heading, didn't you? The GM girlfriend has a bad rap from numerous horror stories and other bad examples. This can be the worst parts of introducing the SO to the game, and just having a player with open favoritism from the GM. The reasoning for this is because often the GM is trying to intro their girlfriend (it can be boyfriend, but the stereotype is girl, so please forgive me its continued use) to the game as a compromise, or way, to keep the game going. In the pursuit of doing that, they try to make the game fun for them, which involves giving them special treatment.
Now, in defense of the many GMs, sometimes the special treatment isn't intentional. Their SO has more access to them, and can talk to them about game things more often. Meaning they get more feedback, and thus their mind is more centered on that area of feedback. In other cases, the SO can actually be essentially extorting the GM for favors, this isn't as common as I think many people believe, but it does happen.
So, how do you keep it from messing things up? Well, if you're the GM, you just have to do your best to treat your SO like any other player. Talk to them about it, odds are they don't want special treatment either. It means some things may be rough (character death of a particularly beloved character, for example), but that is part of being adult about this. On the other hand, if your players don't mind how things are. You can always just leave them alone.
Those are some of the more common things I've seen at the table, and ways to keep it from messing the game up. Now, to be honest, I've rarely seen a relationship at the game table actually be a very bad thing for the group. Usually it is just another aspect of the OOC metagame, and one that rarely rears its head to be seen. Other people's mileage varies, definitely, but in an adult group that is able to handle things maturely, it really isn't all that bad.