A Working Definition for Romantic Fantasy

As I started thinking about Romantic Fantasy as the source of much of my inspiration, and, if you’ll forgive me, where my heart is in design, I needed to consider for myself the elements of romantic fantasy that really mattered to me. I needed to think about what parts of RF I wanted to emphasize, what parts draw me to the genre. And I needed to consider whether these elements needed to be operationalized in some way – do these ideas need mechanics or are is it roleplaying. Not always easy answers.

So I started with some research. I know what immediately comes to mind when I think of romantic fantasy as I envision it but not necessarily what other definitions are out there. As a fellow blogger points out though, “Googling “romantic fantasy” mostly turns up romance book results that have a fantasy-like setting.” And it’s true, finding interesting reading about RF as it’s own distinct category is not easy. I do appreciate her five points that she makes to distinguish what she likes in a romantic fantasy for her own reading and the first point is worth repeating:

1. Fantasy elements that are not compromised.

And I agree, a good romantic fantasy is still a fantasy first and the romance elements are added to the mix. I found the definition on Wikipedia to be interesting reading in this regard as the writer here reverses my normal way of considering the topic, stating the distinction as distinguishing,

between “romantic fantasy” where the romance is most important and “fantasy romance” where the fantasy elements are most important.

This not the most common way I’ve seen (or heard) this discussed, with the distinction usually putting Romantic Fantasy as the more “fantasy” of the two. This is hardly important, and the wikipedia page goes on to discuss some elements of typical romantic fantasy stories. This section heavily references the writing used in the Blue Rose (True20) RPG and has little unique to add beyond that so I’ll move right along.

For those of you who don’t own Blue Rose, the important section was put up on the web as a design diary when the game was coming out and is a great primer on RF. As I read through this primer, I did find that while I agreed with everything the author said, I was less inclined to think of the pagan and “nature power” aspects. I suppose the RF I’ve read doesn’t really include that aspect. Also, strictly speaking, while it is rare, I’m not sure you could say that the Romantic Fantasy category excludes “non-human” characters (I’m thinking of P.C. Hodgell and the Kencyr here) but certainly the intelligent animals/animal-like companions are a pretty common element and one I’m looking forward to seeing players enjoy.

I’m also not entirely certain I’d agree that all of these stories are focused on the power of diversity and social commentary-style issues. While these stories do tend toward a diverse cast and taking a far more modern, liberal, social perspective, it seems to me the issues are not so cut and dried as Mr. Snead reports.

Nonetheless, I completely agree and support the notion of the inherent hopefulness of these stories and this aspect is one that attracts me to RF more than almost any other. But there are limits to this hopefulness — bad things do happen to characters in most of the romantic fantasies I’ve read and often important character growth is developed through the consequences of character decisions.

There are a few more distinctions I feel need pointing out, perhaps not so much specific to RF, but very fitting with my experience of RF and my perception of what I want to capture:

1. The protagonists are usually very special in some way but they are not Mary Sue types. The protagonists still face danger and must work very hard to be successful despite their gifts. Their lives are usually “better” but this is often true of most of the characters in these types of stories.

2. RF stories tend to have civilized interactions between heroes and villains — and the villains are often social enemies as well as “combat” enemies. Traitors and intrigues are as common as wars. Personally, I love this aspect and I always love the scenes where the hero talks to the villain but cannot — yet — openly brand them as the traitor they are and defeat them.

More ideas might occur to me as I continue, but I think this sets out my initial thinking pretty well.

Thanks for reading.

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2 responses

  1. Looks like a good starting point and I whole heartedly agree with “Fantasy elements that are not compromised” as the starting point for this style of game (or story).

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