True love’s kiss as a power to break a spell or curse is one of those fairy tale elements that has become engrained in the modern psyche. I thought it might be interesting to explore it as a curse breaker in an RPG setting.
True love’s kiss is one of those cure-all superpowers. It can fix pretty much anything. Not so much in an RPG setting, it seems. Seriously, there may be a reason games masters tend not to use it in adventures. And not just because this trope signals to the players to expect a “happily ever after” end game.
According to TV Tropes, this troperiffic story element has seen little action outside of the D&D supplement, “The Book of Erotic Fantasy”. Not really what I was looking for. At all.
True Love’s Kiss as an RPG curse cure
As cures go, this one can be applied in almost any setting and with any system. The reason being, it is almost entirely story driven with no real need for dice, states, or lookup tables. From a game running perspective, all that is needed is to establish a romantic connection between player character and NPC prior to the discovery of the curse.
In all likelihood, True Love’s Kiss would work best as a hero’s finishing move. You know the kind of thing – this adventure focuses on the bard who must kiss his love before the full moon. The kiss itself is mechanically negligible – what makes the adventure are the hurdles the party must overcome on the way to uniting their bard and the princess.
Run the other way around, True Love’s Kiss becomes an adventure to sort out some sort of encumbrance effect by tracking down an NPC. In that way, the NPC becomes little more than the McGuffin that drives a not-so-optional subplot.
Ways to play with True Love’s Kiss in an RPG
So you have decided to add a little “Disney” to your RPG, eh? Great, more power to you. That does not mean you cannot play with the trope in many different ways. You know your players will try to.
If you add True Love’s Kiss to the usual trifecta of ways to remove a cursed object in, say, Pathfinder, you had better have a solid idea as to what counts for this kiss.
For example, what about the gentle kiss on the forehead from a close friend? Can any party member (that you get on well with) provide the kiss? Do they have to be the opposite gender? The players will want to know. You will have to know.
What about a peck on a cheek from your mum? Likewise, what about the innocent kiss of your son or daughter? Do they have to be innocent or can an evil character get the same effect by manipulating an innocent NPC?
What about a sloppy lick from your faithful doggy, mount, or animal companion? In which case, druids and rangers just got a whole lot more powerful.
All of these examples could, from a certain point of view, count as “True Love’s Kiss”. In doing so, they set a standard as to how the world works. Which could, for a canny GM set a benchmark for working out a future plot or – for a foolish GM – a standard by which players will try to find loop-holes.
The limits of True Love’s Kiss
In Pathfinder – given that we are using that as our example – the three ways to remove a curse are the dedicated remove curse spell, a wish, or a miracle. All of those are powerful magic in their own right. Remove curse is a third or fourth level spell (depending on class) and quite an expensive (but plausible) thing to go and pay for. The same is true in D&D 5th Edition rules (3rd level spell).
That’s magic on a similar level with walking on water, animating the dead, or summoning a Dretch demon to fight for you. The only difference is that it is entirely circumstance based. Once a player character has a true love hanging about, you can be sure they will keep them handy for future curses.
You had better believe that players will remember such potent non-caster magic in the future.
Which is why you will need to know the limits of the kiss in breaking curses. In your game world can True Love’s Kiss break all curses or just this specific one? Either way, you will need a good answer as to why that is the case.
I would strongly suggest using a cursed item backstory of unrequited love or some similar tragic history. Make sure – with, say a low difficulty Knowledge (History) check – that the players understand that this get-out-of-curse-free is a one time deal. Otherwise, you could risk trying yourself in knots dealing with players trying out every mushy trope.
Is True Love’s Kiss right for you?
I think True Love’s Kiss is a fine trope to introduce to most RPG settings. Remember to make the trope fit with your setting and introduce it as a story in a way that seems natural to your players. A kiss to break a spell might, for example, have limited application in a Call of Cthulhu game.
Remeber Sanderson’s First Law of Magic – make sure the use of the kiss is well understood beforehand.
Your ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.
I would probably try to set this up with a minor quest giver NPC who needs help from the party to get to his “princess”. Once the party sees True Love’s Kiss break that curse, when you spring the curse on them after a boss battle later, they will remember.
In a setting like S£: Mad Science, the kiss is quite likely to be the only way to solve that problem. On the other hand, in D&D or Pathfinder, a party with access to third and fourth level spells might not bother. If they have a caster that can prepare “remove curse” your romantic plot will come to an untimely end. So be prepared to establish this as a particularly powerful curse or just spring it on them super early in the game.
If you use True Love’s Kiss in your RPG setting, let me know how tht works out for you. I’d love to hear about it.