Romantic Options, plotlines, and dialogue choices

So I’m starting to get into the part of the story that gets into where the MC and (one of) the potential RO’s are essentially meeting each other properly. My romantic options are all pivotal characters, in the sense that they’re not purely there for the romantic subplot. Depending on how you play, any given romantic option could be a platonic friend, an enemy, a tentative ally, or a lover, but that’s neither here nor there.

How do authors usually structure the romantic progression?? I used to play otome games whereby you just had to pick the right dialogue options to progress?? But that doesn’t seem like quite the right here, because my story is fundamentally driven by the overarching plotlines and conflicts which are not romance related.

Also, when it comes to increasing relationship stats, I feel like there’s a conflict between stats and actual story. For example, I have a choice which is essentially a dialogue option.

There’s a dialogue option which seems to be the most “relationship building” in that the MC demonstrates trust to the RO and thus logically that would give the most relationship points because of the dynamic it creates. BUT the other two dialogue options lead to outcomes that are fascinating in their own way, and are perhaps more dramatic and emotionally impactful, despite /not/ being as relationship building (if that makes sense). The RO reacts in a way that surprised and moved me in choices that were more technically more negative relationship wise.

If I just mark it so that one option gets more relationship points, it seems wholly reductive and also punishing readers for choosing otherwise interesting paths??? Like I’m reducing real characters to reward counters and also the stats run counter to emotional and dramatic resonance… idk…

I don’t know if my question is very badly framed or if I’m making any sense here. Basically I am a newb at romantic plotlines. >_> any advice appreciated.


I advise you to play a ton of games and take careful note of how various authors accomplish this task. Read things you like and things you don’t like; read in different genres and different lengths; to the extent that you can, read the code after playing the game. The more you read the wider your lexicon of options will be for structuring your own game.



If I understand you correctly, then ways to do this would be a relationship variable and a romance tracker one.

The former is done like this
(in startup.txt)

*create var 10

var is the variable name and can be whatever you like. 10 is the starting value.
This can be hidden or visible on the stats screen.
a tracker is done like this

*create rom_1 0

and gets increased/decreased whenever the MC makes the right/wrong decision

That’s the… basics?


Yeh I defs need to play more COG! I’ve played all the classic ones but am not as up to date on newer releases…

I could definitely introduce more and varied stats to track different dimensions of relationship!! I’ll bear that in mind.

But I guess my particular issue was… the most relationship building option, on the surface, was actually not the most dramatically stunning option. When I wrote the outcomes of particular dialogue choices, i actually found that the more “negative” choices led to more interesting responses from the RO?? Which probably would be frustrating to a game player, because I’ve got novelist brain lol


I think you should have some characters be easy to romance, while others harder it’s more realistic.


I think the problem is that there are so many different ways to do this, and still do it well.

I agree with @Gower recommendation. That could give you a good foundation on what is commonly done.

If I give my personal preference it would be to first decide the possible player/RO relationship types you want. That can determine what variables to code and track. Like a bickering relationship, a FWB, slow burn friends to lovers etc.

I also really like when games allow many different MCs, and different MC personalities can romance the ROs. Where there isn’t as much right or wrong answers, but degrees of agreements and disagreements (or possible dealbreakers at worst.) I think to do this it is easiest to give most variable weight to choices that ask “how does the player feel or think about the RO” rather than how they asked them how their day went.

But it’s a really interesting topic! I’d love to hear what you come up with :slight_smile:


I have two kinds of stats in Fallen Hero (especially in Retribution):

Friendship, which is not tied to romance, just to how close people are.
The relationships are all governed by variable names, for example “it’s complicated”, “oh no, he’s hot”, “friend and ally” and so on.

You switch between levels in the relationships depending on what you do in the game, not because you have accrued an arbitrary number of points. Some things are dealbreakers, and in general you get more chances to progress the relationship ladder the more you interact with people and get to know them.

I’ve tried to have to mutable and flowing, people can get together, break up, try to work out poly relationships and other variations. Some are easier than others.

My goal has been to enable people to play their characters and still be able to have things like an enemies to lovers arc, without worrying about never getting it off the ground because you said the wrong thing. Of course being a four book series, I can afford to play the long game in some romances.

EDIT: Though you can definitely DO the wrong thing with certain people… some things can’t be forgiven.


There’s the Wayhaven way, which is a bit more restrictive from a gaming point of view, as at a certain point you can’t switch ROs (or, I think, bow out of a romance?). Namely, at a certain point in the game, regardless of what romance choices/events you’ve been through so far, you pick what your RO is going to be, and the romance scenes progress along that romance. Choices affect the romance mostly as to the nature of the romance, and whether your stance towards the relationship is bold or shy.

But, as Gower said, like mastering every narrative aspect, the best way to find out how you want to proceed is to see various ways of handling it.


If you want to peek at people’s code to see how something that piqued your interest was done, you can load the game in your browser and add /scenes/startup.txt behind the gamename, respectively /mygame/scenes/startup.txt on dashingdon. That let’s you access the game’s startup file and go from there (replacing ‘startup’ in the addressbar with the file in the scenelist or choicescript_stats for the stats file)


I’ll go with what @malinryden said. you need two variables friendship and romance variables friendship because the reader can still spend some time having a good conversation with that npc without having to romance them. For me that’s important because that’s how the reader learns more about that character, what are their fears, passions, what do they like what would make me as a reader come back to that character or later decide to romance them.

I enjoy some variables that gives you a relationship progress of where things stand between you and that npc, like you’re friends or coworkers or they don’t like you :smiley:

I don’t think there’s really a wrong way to do this, as everyone will have a preference. What could be a deal breaker for one reader can be the reason why another fall in love with that npc.


I forgot! One tip. Instead of tracking “romance points”, make a true/false flag for every notable incident you think might matter. Yes, it’s more work, but that way you can make callbacks to that time you gifted that character a teddy bear or whatever instead of having a sterile number stat.


We definitely need more gift teddy bears.


I think one very important thing to remember is to always leave some leeway in relationship points. Don’t make it so that the player has to get the right choice every time in order to succeed (and that’s true for everything, not just for romance). In your example, the more interesting choices may be less optimal, but they shouldn’t wreck the playthrough. You could even make it so that making those choices then makes it easier to gain points with the RO later. :thinking: But either way, never make it all-or-nothing; a player should be able to romance an RO even without getting every single thing right.

I generally do both: the “romance points” as an overall indicator, and a bunch of flags for the details. :thinking:


What I’ve mostly seen in games that I’ve edited are separate stats for relationship in general and what “stage” of the romance you’re at with them, so the relationship can go up and down independently of romance.

How many stages there are to the romance and how long they take depends on how slow a burn you want, how much you want to write, and so on. But I usually see something like:

  1. Flirting options available (usually after the player chooses “yes, I’m interested in this person.”)
  2. Option to ask them out
  3. Special dialogue scenes where you learn more about them
  4. Consummation, sexual or otherwise
    And if you break up, you get sent back down to romance: 0 and may take a relationship score hit as well.

You can decide what the requirements might be for entering any of these stages. It could be a certain relationship score or a threshold for other stats (like charisma or wit or whatever the RO character’s into) or a combination of the two. You can also decide whether or not having a romance score with another character is a dealbreaker for them or not.

In addition to playing other games, I’d recommend reading their code as well to get a sense for how other authors do it.


So, I’m not exactly sure if I’m appropriately responding to your question (or if I even should be, I’m so new here and although I have played many games, I have never written one and the startup variable talk had me all a-twitter), but I mean it did bring up something I personally love/hate about these games.

Like I can’t always have everything my way, which I do love, but it is infuriating in the best way sometimes. Like say I wanna be as true to my own personality as possible in a game (generally awful), but I wanna romance a character who is driven insane by those character traits. But it’s like nice because it reflects life and a novel.


ohhh I’m going to steal that breakup relationship stat to zero tips :sweat_smile:


Thanks for all the responses!!

I think what I might try to do is code lots of different variables, as suggested quite often in this thread.

My game isn’t romance focused but I’ll try to give each RO a character arc that you can shape and influence. You can influence pivotal decisions they make that shape them as characters by what you say or do, although they will incline towards particular courses of action and have their own goals and preferences. And I’ll have stats related to the character arc of the RO themselves (are you influencing them to develop this way or that way as a person), one for emotional closeness, one for romantic/sexual nature of relationship, and one for how ideologically and social class-wise compatible you are with them. Since if you’re overthrowing or undermining a noble RO, you’re probably not romancing them at the same time…

Then again, this is all theorising. When the rubber hits the road of my writing, I’ll see what actually ends up happening.