Welcome to the Golden Age of DnD-Inspired Fantasy Romance! | Tor.com

Welcome to the Golden Age of DnD-Inspired Fantasy Romance!

In this age of ever-expanding nerdery, there is a fantasy romance book for every type of geek—including, of course, those of us who love a good tabletop role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons. To understand the existence of DnD-inspired fantasy romance books, you only have to look to the growing popularity of both DnD and high fantasy romances.

Let’s start with the game: Created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and David Arneson, over the years the game has become more accessible and easier to play thanks both to the internet and the widespread popularity of the fifth edition, which was released in 2014. Moreover, the boom in actual play shows like Critical Role (2015) and Dimension 20 (2018) has led to more podcasts and live streams than I can possibly account for—but I do my best to sample all of them. Although the shows are often more entertaining than any home game needs to be, they give newer players a sense of different DnD play styles, increasing the approachability of the game overall. And of course, over the last few years major fantasy properties have also used DnD as an inspiration for their scripted work—for example, the animated series The Legend of Vox Machina (2022) on Amazon Prime, based on Critical Roll’s first campaign, and the recent live-action movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023), based on the WotC sourcebooks.

I think it’s also important to note that there’s been a fair amount of conversation about some of the more problematic elements of the original game, and players have adapted the source material to change some of the racist descriptions and stats in the source books. There are even supplemental DnD-specific guides on the market—in An Elf and an Orc Had a Little Baby: Parentage and Upbringing in D&D by V.J. Harris and Adam Hancock, the authors address solutions to bioessentalist elements of the Player’s Handbook. The continued popularity of the game is due in large part to players’ ability to homebrew gameplay (TTRPG talk for editing the source material) in order to create a more inclusive world—a goal that’s very much reflected in the books we’ll be discussing today, as well.

As a relative newcomer to the game with three years of gameplay experience, I would decidedly place myself in the “new, but enthusiastically obsessed” category, as a player. DnD is an exciting outlet for people who come for the role-playing and storytelling aspect of the game as well as those who appreciate the crunchy, stats-focused elements. Every party and adventure has its own distinct chemistry and surprises, and I’ve found the creative elements of the game have given me the ability to strengthen my writing the more I’ve played.

With that in mind, I am not surprised fantasy romance writers have also found inspiration in the worldbuilding and storytelling elements found in DnD, as the popularity of the game has combined with the rise in high fantasy romance, leading to some swoonworthy DnD-inspired fantasy romance books. High fantasy romance, as the name implies, is a subgenre of romance set in a supernatural or fantastical world. As such it primarily follows the conventions of romance—a story centering a romantic plot line between a group of people ending in a Happy for Now (HFN) or Happily Ever After (HEA). The genre depends on a clear understanding between writer and reader that things may be difficult, but the central relationship will be secure by the end of the book. The DnD-inspired fantasy romance books I am talking about today exist at the intersection of these two growing markets.

It’s interesting to note that both DnD and modern fantasy romance both draw on a long tradition of literature centering both the fantastical and romantic relationships in storytelling. Twelfth-century French poet Marie de France has a series of lais (medieval French poems) detailing everything from magic ships uniting lovers to hawk-knights sneaking into towers—the kinds of stories that speak to both communities. So maybe it was inevitable that the two would reunite once again in the form of some wonderful books that love love as much as they love dragons.

Overall, I expect that the following books will delight fans of fantasy and fans of romance alike. They embrace the elements of chance, and the occasional bad luck that besets the characters can hit with the unwelcome randomness of a bad roll…but, of course, they persevere. If you love either DnD or fantasy romance, I think these books will be difficult to turn away from—if you love them both, you are a goner…

 

That Time I Got Drunk and Saved A Demon by Kimberly Lemming

Cinnamon the spice farmer has done her best to avoid embarking on any grand quest, so of course the first day she dyes her hair pink she drunkenly stumbles upon a demon who can shift into a dragon at will. With the help of some cinnamon, she breaks the demon, Fallon, out of his goddess-educed fog. Fallon can’t quite convince Cinnamon to marry him yet, but he persuades her to set out on a journey to break the false goddess’s hold over other enslaved demons in the realm. The book has all hallmarks of a rollicking DnD-esque quest with all the intimacy of a fun, funny romance.

 

Red Heir by Lisa Henry and Sarah Honey

Failing adventurers rescue a pickpocket and a prince from a jail cell when they can’t figure out which redhead is royalty. Loth is just looking for a quick escape. He doesn’t expect the man he’s sharing a cell with (and making fun of) to be the honest-to-goodness lost prince of the realm. Traveling with a knight who is not so knightly, an orc and a dragon who are not so scary, a collective anarchist elf who loves playing TTRPGs more than adventuring, and a highly competent, pay-oriented dwarf might just lead the unlikely duo to love. All I have to say is the party reminds me of my favorite DnD tables.

 

Reforged by Seth Haddon

When a dedicated paladin saves the new bard king from a highway assassination, they both must put aside their relationship history in order to survive. King Zarvius still hasn’t forgiven Balen for choosing his calling as an arcane warrior over their chance at love, but now Balen is charged with his protection. After all, the reason the least militaristic member of the royal family is currently king is only due to the recent assassination of the rest of the royal family. Balen still cares for Zarvius and he will risk his life before he lets anything happen to him, even if they might never rekindle their relationship. I love that this book features all my favorite DnD classes mixed with all my favorite romance tropes.

 

A Rival Most Vial: Potioneering for Love and Profit by R. K. Ashwick

Two rival potion makers must learn to work together on the mayor’s daughter’s birthday commission or risk losing both their shops. No-nonsense potion expert Ambrose Beake has worked for the potion shop he now owns for as long as he can remember. He doesn’t have any time for the charismatic shopkeeper who decided to open a brand-new potion shop directly across the street. Eli only wants to find a job he likes to do, but competing with an expert potion maker like Ambrose means offering deals that might just put him out of business. Working together forces them to realize that there’s much more to like about each other than there is to hate. This decidedly cozy fantasy romance book is what happens when you focus on the inner lives of the shopkeepers for your DnD campaigns, and it’s adorable.

 

The Duchess’s Bodyguard by Drea C

Saying yes to dangerous offers in exchange for money is the starting prompt for many DnD parties because it forces even the most disparate players to work together. In this book, werewolf huntress Robin LaFleur says yes to faerie Duchess Yashona’s employment offer in the interest of financial stability. Yashona wants the freedom a single bodyguard can provide, even if it is more dangerous for both of them. They might just come to realize a bit of danger is worth it, especially if it means protecting the person who lights their heart on fire.

 

 

Walk Between Worlds by Samara Breger

The king’s sudden denial of her well-earned promotion in the King’s Guard is just the start of Sergeant Major Scratch Keyes’s problems. Later that night, both she and her best friend James are sentenced to death for kidnapping the princess. Now they must accept strangers’ help fleeing the castle that raised them. The mysterious siblings Vel and Umbrella may have helped Scratch and James escape, but they require their help finding the princess in return. As they travel through magical forests and dangerous roads, Scratch comes to realize Umbrella is a person she is starting to like but cannot trust…and that might be more dangerous than the death sentence she’s running from. The DnD vibes are all in the encounters with this one (and are even better if you like a dash of political intrigue in your campaign).

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Of course, these are hardly the only DnD-inspired fantasy romance books on offer, although the titles listed above are a great place to start—especially if you find yourself looking to find a bit of what you love about DnD in your next read. Feel free to recommend any of your own favorite books and stories that fit this particular niches, and may the dice and book gods treat you kindly in all your future endeavors!

R. Nassor is a senior contributing writer at Book Riot who covers Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, and YA books. She graduated with a double major in English and Psychology and a Dance minor from The George Washington University and is completing an M.A. in the English program at Georgetown University where she looks at medievalism in feminine-focused fantasy. She’s also been known to throw a mug or two in her quest to write about myth, pop culture, and genre at large.

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