Sometimes the hardest part of a role-playing game is simply playing a role. PCs, at least, have the entire campaign to work on who their character is and why he does what he does. The GM, on the other hand, usually doesn’t have quite so much to work with in their NPCs; all too often they’re little more than components of an adventure that fade into the background after the scenario ends (if they survive). This can make it awkward when a PC shows interest in the NPC – they haven’t been developed enough to make it clear what a relationship with them would be like.
Even beyond that, relationships are a tricky needle to thread. Should they be purely role-played, with no game rules used? It may seem that way, but dice checks can better simulate how someone would respond to an unknown factor (when even they’re not sure how they feel about something). It’s very tricky to design a system for this, and it’s not something that you’ll find for Pathfinder…until now, with AGES Gaming’s supplement, For Love or Power. Let’s take a look.
For Love or Power is a very short PDF supplement. Consisting of only seven pages, two of these are the covers, one is the OGL, and one is the credits and table of contents, leaving only three for actual game material. It’s actually slightly less than three, since a fraction of that third page is dedicated to “sponsors” – actually short blurbs advertizing two other AGES Gaming Pathfinder products.
There’s virtually no artwork here to speak of. The front and back covers do use some artwork templates to appear like stylized book covers, and the front does have a historical-looking picture of some sort of medieval get-together. That’s it as far as artwork goes; there’s nothing else pictorial in the book’s interior. Likewise, there are no bookmarks to be found either, though that’d be rather pointless in this book anyway.
For Love or Power (the title obviously referring to relationships/marriage) opens by talking about its basic assumptions for how relationships are handled in the game. This is a fairly standard list, noting things like “make sure everyone’s comfortable with the concept in game,” “keep the physical parts of the relationship off-screen,” and “this is for PC-to-NPC romance, not PC-to-PC.”
The next section of the book deals with how to introduce romance into the game. Like the preceding section, it’s fairly boilerplate in what it discusses, e.g. phasing important NPCs in so the PCs have opportunities to meet new romantic interests, keep in-game reminders that the PCs loved ones are also dynamic parts of their characters and the game world, etc. While there isn’t anything here that a good GM won’t have already taken into account if they’re trying to play up relationships in the game, I can’t condemn this section simply because it serves as a good reminder of the basics.
Following a brief notation on developing romance as part of the game world (e.g. romantic customs differ in different cultures), we finally come to the rules-based section of the product, cleverly titled “rules of engagement.”
The main thrust of these rules is a Diplomacy check, made monthly to advance the relationship. The base DC for this check is a static number, set by the NPC’s social level; it’s easier to woo a peasant than a duchess, for example. This isn’t a bad system, but it doesn’t seem to take into account the PC’s own social standing – shouldn’t a character that has been declared a knight of the realm have an easier time pursuing a relationship with a noblewoman than some commoner? I also thought that some of these terms could have used greater definition – what’s the difference between minor, medium, and major nobility, for example? Is a princess major nobility, or does this chart not take royalty into account? More could have been done here.
This mechanic is the core of the system, but there’s more to it than that. A table is given that allows a PC to research a character – this takes time, and gold (the higher the NPC’s station, the more gold), but on a successful research check, you get a free re-roll on your match check.
The match check is the subsequent table in the book, rolled on when you want to begin a relationship with someone, to see how compatible you are. A flat roll, it doesn’t have any modifiers to it (save for the aforementioned possible re-roll), and how good of a match you are is important, as it determines the duration of the relationship and a possible bonus or penalty to the Diplomacy DC.
It’s after this point that we’re told how that core Diplomacy check works. The PC makes the roll once per game month (they can choose not to roll, maintaining an equilibrium, but that increases the next month’s DC slightly), with each successful check counting off from the duration established by the match check. A failed check here can increase this duration, or even result in the NPC breaking things off, embarrassing the character.
Once the PC runs out the duration on the relationship, the NPC make it known that they want to be married; following this is a period of betrothal – this basically extends the relationship window further, and the PC makes more Diplomacy checks until this new duration expires, at which point the two characters are wed and this system concludes.
Following this is a final table that includes numerous modifiers to these monthly Diplomacy rolls. Some of these are permanent modifiers (e.g. a character has a high dowry, and so is more inclined to be distrustful of potential suitors), while others are one-time bonuses (e.g. you buy her a really expensive gift). Some of these are slightly odd…for example, if you two have the same alignment, there’s no modifier. If you’re one step apart in alignment, you get a bonus, as you’re similar but just different enough to be interesting to each other. If your alignments are further apart than that, there’s a penalty. It’s quirky, but not necessarily wrong.
Looking over this book, I’m of the impression that it’s a diamond in the rough. The low production values, and fairly standard set of assumptions and advice, mask a system that’s actually quite elegant, even if it could use some expansion. The relationship mechanics here present a stable framework for a much-needed set of mechanics in Pathfinder; this is a system that has great potential. It’s not without flaws – the social status-based Diplomacy check needs to take the PCs’ status into account, and the match check (and research check) could use an overhaul…but the ideas and rules work.
Whether you’re adding them for love of the game or to assert your power as the Game Master, For Love or Power brings a working set of relationship rules into your Pathfinder game.