Love: Now in New Triangular Flavor!

A little while ago, Mxyzplk – of the blog Geek Related, which is over to the right in my blogroll – made a comment regarding my post about the context of sex in an RPG. Specifically, he noted “One of the major lacks in d20 is an overall relationship mechanic beyond the very limited “make them friendly with Diplomacy” one.”

At first, I was skeptical about the idea of having a “relationship mechanic” in Pathfinder. The whole idea seemed to suggest that interpersonal dynamics between characters (PCs and NPCs, that is) shouldn’t need to be role-played; you can just come up with a mechanic to roll-play them. However, after some thought, I started to come around on the idea.

After all, how people relate to each other isn’t always something that’s consciously decided upon; sometimes you get swayed by someone else. Mxyzplk makes some good arguments for this by showcasing an instance of his own character being propositioned by an NPC as well as making a more generalized example out of James Bond and Pussy Galore. Pussy’s initially not very impressed with James, but when he really turns on the charm, she’s suddenly switching sides for his sake. While it’s conceivable that a player and GM could role-play something like this, it’s difficult to do since it requires the characters in this situation to be fleshed out very thoroughly – so much so that the people running them can anticipate how those characters will react to any given situation. That may be fine for a PC, but asking for that level of character immersion for NPCs will almost always be too much.

Okay, so there is a need for some sort of mechanic to define relationships. But don’t we have that already in the form of the Diplomacy skill?

As it turns out, not really. Diplomacy in Pathfinder isn’t about relating to other characters so much as it’s meant to make them more amenable to what you want for a short period of time – notice how the skill won’t let you improve an NPC’s attitude by more than two “steps,” and the effects tend to last for only 1d4 hours. Further, there’s a series of modifiers depending on what it is your requesting; this gives away what the skill is really trying to measure, which is how well you can entreat someone for something and have them accede to it.

In fact, the skill itself isn’t at all disingenuous for what it’s meant to do. It’s called “diplomacy” because it’s meant to measure how diplomatically you can ask for things – it was never meant to function as measure of interpersonal relationships. On a side note, I much prefer to use Rich Burlew’s (of Order of the Stick fame) alternate diplomacy rules, which are tailored more specifically to asking for favors.

So given that we’ve established a need for a relationship mechanic, and determined that we don’t really have one in current Pathfinder rules, how do we make one?

Well, I don’t know, but I do have a pretty good idea of where to start.

One Hundred-Eighty Degrees of Love

A little while ago, while clicking through Wikipedia, I stumbled across the Triangular Theory of Love, which is pictured below. I won’t restate the entire article here, but to summarize: the theory measures love in three different aspects – intimacy, passion, and commitment. Different combinations of these feelings in regards to someone forms different “types” of love between people (e.g. intimacy by itself is true friendship, whereas intimacy and passion is romantic love, etc.). Obviously, the highest sort is the kind that combines all three.

Given that half of the problem with creating a relationship mechanic for an RPG is figuring out what exactly it is you’re measuring, using this three-fold breakdown – intimacy, passion, and commitment – seems like a good place to start.

Given that, we’ll measure a character’s feelings for another character in each of these listings, probably by using a numerical rating. Purely for simplicity, let’s use a scale of 0 through 20, with 0 being that you don’t feel any of that particular emotion for somebody, while 20 is that you’re completely overcome with that emotion for somebody.

Hence, when measuring the feelings that the paladin Ordirius the Great has for his wife, we’ll rank them as Intimacy 12, Passion 7, and Commitment 18. In other words, he feels markedly close to his wife (intimacy), and is extremely devoted to her (commitment), but there isn’t much excitement/attraction/a spark between them (passion).

Now, I fully admit that this isn’t so much a mechanic as a measurement system. After all, it’s cumbersome (each person needs to chart these three scores in regards to everyone else they feel close to), it doesn’t allow for anything besides types of love (which may be a problem if you want a relationship mechanic that encompasses things beyond loving relationships), and it doesn’t present a method for task resolution (e.g. changing someone else’s scores in regards to yourself or someone else).

Beyond that, more definition would need to be given to what these numbers mean. At what commitment score will someone cheat on their significant other? Does having a high passion score towards someone make it easier for them to seduce you? Without better determining what the range of numbers actually represent, the system remains a vague one.

Still, I think that this is a good basis for creating a relationship mechanic for Pathfinder (or another RPG). What do you think? Do you have a great idea for how to turn these scores into an actual set of checks and results? Or is this a bad effort that won’t produce a workable sub-system? Sound off below!

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2 Responses to “Love: Now in New Triangular Flavor!”

  1. mxyzplk Says:

    Nice post. I’m going to mull this over. I have seen a number of “relationship mechanics” used in various indie games to good effect. Attachments can be used to motivate, stave off depression/insanity/demoralization, etc. A simple implementation might be to measure the strength of a relationship and give a number of action points or something per session usable to aid the other person in the relationship with.

    • alzrius Says:

      The idea of “love as motivation,” which can then be used to defeat debilitating effects on your character, is a quick and easy way of working the effects of a relationship into game mechanics; Mark of Spes Magna Games posted a mechanic in this regard called “dedication points,” which works with this idea very nicely.

      What I was trying to go for was something more holistic, in terms of being able to chart growing (and fading) relationships, as well as determine how they affect the people involved in them. Unfortunately, having such an ambitious scope means that it can’t be as simple – hence the problem with developing such a mechanic to that degree.

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