Gamemaster’s Guidepost: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Ewan: Love is a many splendored thing, Love lifts us up where we belong, All you need is love!
Nicole: Please, don’t start that again.”

– Elephant Love Medley, Moulin Rouge (2001)
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
King James Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
The dashing knight who fights the dragon for the woman he loves. The villainous mob boss who wants to take over the city so no one ever feels the sorrow he feels at the loss of his wife by rampant unchecked thuggery. The parent who works his way through scores of mobsters to get his kidnapped child back. If education is the great equalizer than love is the great motivator. A man will tear down all that he holds dear for his loved ones. He’ll climb any mountain and go on any journey. A man can be forged and remade anew by the fires of his passion… for good or ill. Some of the greatest atrocities ever committed were done out of love. Love for a person. Love for a family. Love for a belief. Love for an ideology.
Love can bring out the best in us…and it can bring out the worst. Ask yourself: what would you do for those you love? How far would you go? Would you lie for them? Would you steal for them? Would you die for them? Would you kill for them…? What is the line that you don’t think you could cross? 
These are important questions either player or GM should ask himself when he’s coming up with a character or NPC’s personality. Those five little questions can bring an ridiculous amount of depth to a character. But how to represent this in a GURPS mechanical way? There area few ways – depending on how that love is presented. Do note that love in this instance doesn’t mean just romantic love or sexual love. It could be familial love, the love friends share for one another, the love of a belief or religion, or the love of a country or particular race. They are all equally powerful motivators and they can all be good or bad. For example, the love a patriot has for his country could be turned upside down if the leaders of that country do ever more terrible things in the name of “national security” or “safety.”
Abilities with Limitations
Fiction has a host of abilities that are attributed to a person’s innate connection with those they love. These abilities either cannot be used without the loved one being present or can only be used on/for the loved one. The difference here is subtle, but marked. The former could be any sort of ability, while the latter is usually defensive in nature. Build the ability as normal and then add the appropriate modifier:
A single loved one: -80%
A tiny group (2 – 5 or less) of loved ones: -70%
A small group (e.g., close friends, teammates): -60%
A large group (e.g., a particular nation): -50%
A huge group (e.g., a particular race): -40%
Another way to represent this sort of fixation or derangement is with Delusion (“X loves me!”). Such a trait could be worth any number of points – the higher the value the more the reaction penalty.
The very definition of “Will you kill for them?” For fanatics of religions, causes or countries this is fairly easy: They’ll do anything to ensue the idea they are devoted to is not marred or hurt and care very little for themselves. This doesn’t meant you couldn’t be fanatic toward a single person or a group of people! “Fanaticism (Family)” or “Fanaticism (Specific Person)” might represent unwavering loyalty so extreme that they will literally die for the those they care about.
It can also represent a very dangerous codependency and/or self-reinforcing bad habits or issues or even an obession. Sam and Dean Winchester of Supernatural likely have this trait: their loyalty and love of one another goes beyond a “mere” Sense of Duty.
Higher Purpose
Like any other Higher Purpose, “true love” can drive you further, make you more, and be a strength when times are bleak. Mechanically, this results in a bonus to rolls. See Pyramid #3/31: Monster Hunters (p. 33) for more details on what you get a bonus too.
Just about any protagonist of any romance story are likely to have this trait.
Sense of Duty
The essence of “Will you die for them?” Having a sense of duty towards others means you’ll always put them before yourself – even if it means you might suffer (or possibly die) in the process. The most common of the “love” disadvantages, Sense of Duty allows you to create a game mechanical reason why a character may act the way he does toward another.
This can lead to very interesting roleplaying opportunities if the character’s spouse or loved one(s) are dead already… As can devotion toward an abstract idea like “Art” or “Beauty.”
The devotion that Agent Coulson displays toward those under his command in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could be considered a Sense of Duty.
Special Rapport
Special Rapport is essentially Empathy (p. B51), but only for a single person. It also includes the ability to know if they are in trouble or pain and never requires a roll. Basically, it’s your classic “They need me! I can feel it.” It’s often combined with various disadvantages as presented here or enhanced with Higher Purpose.
Prince Charming and Snow White from Once Upon a Time have this trait – likely with a secondary ability to find one another, no matter what.
When love turns bad or is not reciprocated things can get ugly….fast. The implications of this are better left up to the imagination of GMs and players alike, but obsessions are often not “good”… Short-term delusions might include getting someone to go on a date with you or sleep with them, while long-term delusions might be to get the object of your affection to love you back, be in a relationship with you, marry you, etc.
Any number of quirks may be appropriate. For example, “Doesn’t cheat on spouse” or “Overly Romantic” are appropriate. As are “Loves his family” or “A father to those under his command.” 
Resistant to Influence Rolls/Indomitable
Being steadfast and true usually means either a high Will (to resist Influence skills and mental powers) or having a bonus from Resistant. GURPS Social Engineering (p. 77) suggests that Indomitable is effectively “Immunity to Influence Skills.” This could be further broken down as follows:
Common: All Influence Skills. 15 points.
Occasional: One particular Influence skill (e.g., Sex Appeal or Fast-Talk). 10 points.
Rare: One particular Influence skill used in a particular way (e.g., sexual seduction via Sex Appeal or Fast-Talk rolls for specious Intimidation). 5 points.
Marriage Vows, Monogamy, and Chastity are all considered -5-point Vows. As is “Never betrays family” or “Devout (name of religion).” Vow is a great way to represent a character’s love for a particular thing. 
Picking Over the Bones
I’m of the firm belief that campaigns should feature love in some way, this doesn’t need to be outright detailed sexual escapades. In fact, unless all of your players are comfortable with that subject you should just “fade to black…” Trust me. It’ll work out better for you in the end. That said, PC and NPC interaction that leads to affirmation of love or loyalty can be powerful tools. As I said before, love is the great motivator and a GM could spend endless sessions building that motivation up before even getting to the meat of his campaign. I’ve started as many campaigns with “Ok, your [X] has been kidnapped/taken/killed. What do you do?” as I have “Well, remember that NPC your character feel in love with and the relationship you’ve built up over ten sessions? Guess what, they betrayed you. Only did it to get closer to you to find out [X].” It’s why love works – it’s better than hate as a way to prompt others to action. Nothing can fill the fire in a belly like love of a thing lost, betrayal of that love, or passion for another.
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  1. Wow, gotta say this was a great post. I went into this post thinking that while it'd be up to your usual level of quality, I'd wouldn't be too interested in the topic but you really manage to prove me wrong!

    This is definitely some good food for thought on how to think about how love effects things not just in a narrative way but in a game effect way that I never really thought of before and once again your knowledge of how to bend GURPS to your will is to envied heh.

    Good stuff man.

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