Pregnancy in the World of Darkness

Sort of an odd title for a post, yeah?

If you’ve been paying attention, though, you know that parenting, children, and representing those things well in gaming are important to me as a designer. I know not everyone has or wants kids, and I respect that. But for me, being a parent (and someone who works with kids in my day job) is such an important part of my life and I want to see it addressed in the games I design. When we did World of Darkness: Innocents, for instance, I saw it as a way not only to allow folks to take on the roles of children in the WoD, but also to explain, in part, why the World of Darkness is the way it is. But I’ve talk about that a lot in the past, and I’m actually going to turn this particular post over to Filamena Young, contributing author to (among others) Heirs to Hell.

* * *

When Matt asked me to write for Heirs to Hell, a Demon: The Descent book, I knew immediately I had a chance to bring pregnancy to the table in a way that adds to the story rather than subtracting from it. As I wrote the section, I realized quickly what I was writing didn’t have to be just a Demon story, and a version of these guidelines will pop up in a few places. But, in case you don’t play those games, but could use this material, here it is!

The Conditions are easy to incorporate without bogging down the story in biological detail that even pregnant people don’t know or care about. This is not specifically a guide to roleplaying pregnancy, because I can’t imagine the word count I’d need to do the topic justice. Rather, these are general feelings and trends common to many pregnant people at different stages.

I also didn’t add systems for actual childbirth itself. That’s not an accident. In my opinion, childbirth is a thing that is best to keep narrative in a World of Darkness game. This not meant to be a full academic dissection of the full spectrum of how pregnancy really works, that would require a game all its own.

If you’d like to see more of my game work on pregnancy, check out my free game dontPush. Just read the warnings first.

Thanks, I hope you can use this safely in your game.

Blood and Beauty: Storytelling Pregnancy

Pregnancy and playing pregnant characters have a sordid history even in modern and otherwise forward thinking roleplaying games. It is occasionally used as a punishment, inflicted on a character to cripple them or remove them from play. Even positive portrayals of pregnancy are rife with misunderstandings and biological impossibilities that create unnecessary limitations on what the pregnant character can and can’t do.

Limiting choice for a character is not often the best way to handle a situation, even a situation like pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. Removing a character from play or limiting their access to story before the player is ready can alienate the player as well as feed into all sorts of dull tropes about pregnant people and, by extension, women at large.

World of Darkness games should, at every turn, encourage the players by having more choices to make, not less. They may be hard choices, but limitations that prevent the choice from even coming up are counterproductive when it comes to exciting and powerful stories. As such, pregnancy in your game should be treated not as an obstacle for the character, but as a new series of challenges. If you as the Storyteller can keep that single concept in mind, you will be able to better facilitate powerful stories about the fear and exhilaration of bringing a new life into the world.

Here are a few more quick guidelines:

  • Talk to all your players about this sort of storyline. The sad fact is that, in the US for example, one in nine women has experienced a miscarriage in her life. Chances are good you already know someone who has experienced trauma related to pregnancy and childbirth. For this reason, make sure everyone is on board with a pregnancy-related story taking place, as well as with how much focus the story should receive. Perhaps it can be a side story blue-booked with the player or players interested that doesn’t come up much in the main game. Maybe it’s a thing better left to a different mix of players. Don’t be invasive; just ask how the players feel about this sort of storyline before you go down that road.
  • Keep player agency in mind. Don’t include pregnancy as a plot point for a character unless the player has agreed to it. Likewise, trauma to that character that might result in trauma to the fetus or the process of the pregnancy should never happen unless the player chooses that as the best option. That’s not to say pregnant characters should be immune to bullets, but rather you should offer Beats or plot hooks in exchange for heightened drama with the pregnancy and let the player decide how much he wants to deal with.

Pregnant people do amazing, heroic, and terrible things all the time. History is full of examples of pregnant women living exciting and even dangerous lives while expecting. If you’re in doubt, look into the stories of Mary Ann Patten, Isabella I of Castile, and Phung Thi Chinh for an idea of just how much adventure a pregnant person can get into. Pregnancy is a set of new challenges, not one insurmountable obstacle.

Pregnancy Conditions

Pregnancy does not need to be expressed mechanically for it to be successfully depicted. If players and Storytellers would like to use this optional rule, however, these Conditions inform play without making heavy demands of the players. The details of the pregnancy can be played on screen or off while using these Conditions.

Gender and Pregnancy

Gender is fluid and gender expression does not always relate to reproductive capability in the real world. In the World of Darkness, there are even more shades and shadows. As such, with some species (such as demons and werewolves and mages), with their otherworldly origins and the flexibility of magic and innate power, gender should have no bearing on whether or not a character can become pregnant. The only thing that should stop a male character, for example, from having a pregnancy storyline is that the player doesn’t want to tell that story. The female pronoun below is not meant as a challenge to this idea.

First Trimester (Persistent)

The first trimester refers to the first three months of the pregnancy. A person at this stage may not realize she’s pregnant. She may experience nausea, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms. As a result of that fatigue, she suffers a –1 to Initiative and any Stamina related rolls.

Most pregnant people also report extraordinarily vivid dreams. As a result of these dreams, the character regains an additional Willpower when she can sleep for four hours or more.

Beat: When you come to the realization that you are pregnant, take a Beat. This Beat can only be earned once this trimester.

Resolution: Start of the second trimester or the end of the pregnancy.

Second Trimester (Persistent)

The second trimester is freeing. A pregnant person feels energetic and creative. The player adds one die to Stamina rolls during this trimester (though Health does not increase). She also suffers –2 to all extended action dice pools, as any given task can turn quickly to thoughts and worry over the future.

Beat: When the character first feels the baby move, or quickening, take a Beat. This Beat can only be earned once this trimester.

Resolution: Start of the third trimester or the end of the pregnancy.

Third Trimester (Persistent)

Now the pregnant person turns inwards. Her thoughts take on stillness as she prepares for coming changes to her life. She gains an additional a +1 Wits and Composure rolls during this trimester. Her body has experienced some of the most dramatic change imaginable. Even her brain changes to accommodate the growth of her fetus, so that she grows more forgetful and sometimes confused. She subtracts one from Dexterity and Resolve rolls during this trimester.

Beat: When the character gives birth, in a scene or during downtime, take a Beat. This Beat can only be earned once this trimester.

Resolution: Birth or the end of the pregnancy.

32 thoughts on “Pregnancy in the World of Darkness”

  1. “Gender is fluid and gender expression does not always relate to reproductive capability in the real world. In the World of Darkness, there are even more shades and shadows. As such, with some species (such as demons and werewolves and mages), with their otherworldly origins and the flexibility of magic and innate power, gender should have no bearing on whether or not a character can become pregnant. The only thing that should stop a male character, for example, from having a pregnancy storyline is that the player doesn’t want to tell that story. The female pronoun below is not meant as a challenge to this idea.”
    This! This is just why I will always follow the onyx path in the darkness.

  2. My wife was pregnant year before last and her experiences matched the conditions above not even slightly.

    Maybe pregnancy shouldn’t have fixed bonuses or penalties, considering the wide range of experiences.

    Being told “this is how pregnancy is” is something a lot of women have to out up with, and nothing is true for everyone. We should arrive to avoid propagating this in the World of Darkness too.

    • So am I understanding that your argument here is, if a mechanic might offend someone then don’t have a mechanic? If I’m reading that right, then at the risk of offending you, that’s a silly argument. The author clearly states that what is being proposed are tendencies or commonalities, not absolute laws that dictate everyone’s experience.

      “Rather, these are general feelings and trends common to many pregnant people at different stages.”

      No one is telling your wife or anyone else that they are having their pregnancy wrong or feeling the wrong feelings. And, as with all things, if a rule doesn’t work for your group then don’t use it. But it’s a disservice to the community to not explore something like this just because you might take something the wrong way and be offended.

      • I’m not saying we shouldn’t include mechanics because people might be offended – for a horror line that would a bizarre move.

        On the other hand we’ve seen lots of options for conditions recently and I think it would be better to give a selection or range of suggestions for mechanics rather than picking specific choices that reinforce the concept of a “normal” pregnancy.

        I don’t, if I’m honest, see much use in conditions like these and whilst I recognise they’re presented as “optional use them or not” I feel they could have been executed better. I’d rather see some suggestions and guidance on building conditions if I want to portray pregnancy with conditions rather than a specific set of conditions taking a pretty narrow view of things.

        New World of Darkness has always been about giving storytellers the tools to tell stories with their groups. I’d love some tools to tell stories about pregnancy (and the first part of this post is great in that sense) but considering the wide variety of possibilities in pregnancy I think a different approach would be good.

        It’s like if I wrote stats for a single firearm and said “that’s what all guns are like mechanically”. It’d be much better to either give a decent selection of different options, or to give the tools to build your own mechanics for firearms, and the guidance on how to do that.

        *shrugs* just my perspective on it. Maybe I’m looking for something that other people aren’t, or they’re looking for something I’m not. My original point was just that this was a limited view of the topic, not that I was ” offended”.

        • Ah, okay. Your last paragraph is what made it sound to me like there was an offense felt on your end.

          If we keep with your firearms stat example I can see where you’re coming from. The 9mm is a very common and perhaps even perceived as “standard” firearm, but it would be more useful to me to have stats as well for sub machine guns, rifles, shotguns etc, even though I can extrapolate my own stats from the hypothetical base, or “normal” gun.

          That being said, if the choice I had was between the “normal” gun stat or no stats at all, I’ll take the “normal” gun stat option every time. Which is basically what it sounded to me like you were arguing for, to give us several or give us nothing.

          • If they wanted to explain the variances of pregnancy in depth, Birthing:The Pregnancy would probably be their next kick-starter. I’m thinking typical, atypical and hysterical but that’s not probably the most respectful set of classes For now, there’s a brief section, just like other merit/flaw type of situations for a character to be in. If you want to take it as a flaw there should be a penalty, if you want to buy it as a merit there should be a bonus. It’s a story and a game, the golden rule is if a rule interferes with the story or the fun, kick the rule.
            Plus you’re usually playing a character who’s already atypical in many ways, what’s wrong with a little statistical representation of average now and again?
            P.S. If Birthing:the Pregnancy becomes a thing, i think everyone wants crossbreed rules for every type of supernatural(nWoD and cWoD and WoS!), just sayin’. Samuel Haight was not enough.

  3. You know back in the day, I was on New Bremen, and I tell my group stories from it to show how good and how bad white wolf gaming over the internet can be.

    More bad than good, to be honest. And one of the worst/best stories were the baby farmers.

    See, the Garou are a dying people. This is supposed to be a huge part of their psychology and one of the ways they attempted to show this was renown rewards for reproducing. Every kin-child, after all, had a chance of undergoing the First Change. I think you got extra points if you kept a pure bred line going, its been over a decade so my memory’s imperfect.

    This led to alts (for ‘alternate character’ for folks not familiar with the terms popular at the time.) who’s sole duty was to have sex, tell the STs they had sex, and produce babies. Eventually the STs had to institute strict chance of pregnancy rules and chances of miscarriages and even death by pregnancy, all to discourage this practice. For a while New Bremen suddenly had an atrocious infant mortality rate.

    These rules aren’t awful, as far as gaming abstractions go. But when I heard about this post this experience was all I could think of, and I figure it is worth putting on the table.

    • I mean, yeah, large chat environments online are kind of notorious for doing some pretty gross things when it comes to reproduction and the bodily agency of pregnant people. And children. And a lot of big issues. Having first hand dealt with some VERY gross rules calls about pregnancy in game, I wrote this with that stuff at least in the back of my mind.

  4. Nice post! I really enjoyed Heirs to Hell, and this makes a nice compliment to that.

    Also, the bit about male pregnancy gives me so many ideas for a Forsaken game. THAT would make an interesting pact with a spirit…

  5. I remember this from Heirs, and props for bothering me the least out of any instance I’ve ever seen pregnancy brought up in the context of roleplaying. (sordid history doesn’t even begin to cover it…) Thank you for sharing it with us, Filamena and Matt!

    Now of course comes the obligatory question: Whose leg do we have to break to get some more Innocents goodness? I feel like the original book hits all the right notes, it’s really just a question of wanting more/updating some mechanics to 2e.

    Maybe a blogpost with some advice?

  6. Can vampires and prometheans get pregnant? seems ludicrous and the former, blasphemy…

    What about the impregnator?

    a more specific question on that line, I have players PC who’s a bit … promiscuous, should I ask him before having him get someone pregnant? consequences and all that… I think it might be interesting if he ended up impregnating a demon.

    • Vampires: Not if I’m running the game. Rather, if it happens, that’s like, chronicle-level miracle stuff.

      Prometheans: Ditto, but for very different reasons.

      On the last question: My opinion? It’s a very different thing to have a story in which the character *is* pregnant than to have a story where the character impregnates someone. Both can have a hell of a lot of resonance. Both can be handled really terribly. I think, if it were me, I’d be likely to float that as an idea to the player and make sure that it’s something he wants to explore in the game. Isn’t something I’d just spring on someone.

  7. I can’t remember if this was ever addressed in any of the books (since I didn’t have them all), but what’s the deal with Garou pregnancy? If a female werewolf gets pregnant, what happens to the fetus when she shifts? Does she run around in Lupus form with a human fetus in her womb? If a wolf was the sire, does she have a litter of wolf cubs while in Homid?

    Please don’t pass the buck with “storyteller discretion,” I want at least a semi-official opinion!


    • Fine. I’ll pass the buck by saying, “OWoD, so it’s not my thing anymore.” 🙂

      No, seriously, I think it *was* addressed in a book, but buggered if I can remember which one. Kinfolk: Unsung Heroes, maybe?

    • In Guardians of the Caerns, page 88, it says that female Garou should not shapeshift after the first trimester or so, because the fetus does not shift with you and shifting often results in miscarriage.

      The breed of the child is determined by the breed of the mother. So, if a female homid Garou mates with a male wolf, the child(ren) will be human kinfolk (or homid Garou). I don’t have a page reference for this offhand, but it’s stated more than once, I am fairly sure.

      • A from the book answer! Myself, I wouldn’t run it that way. And that’s kind of the thing here… what you put in the book is just the start. What you do at the table is what you choose. (Unless what you do at the table is hurtful or thoughtless, then eh, I’m not down with that.)

      • So, if the pregnant werewolf suffers frenzy she loses her child?

        I think a better solution would have been to consider the child part of the werewolf body until near the childbearth. This way you avoid frenzy miscarriage, and you reinforce the idea here that pregnancy isn’t an imparement.

        Anyway, a bit too late to change it.

        • Well, I think the opposite could be argued that the common loss of offspring by female Garou due to frenzy is part of the tragedy of their lives. Making those who manage it and those who survive that much more precious.

          Also, the “rule” itself does come from in-character flavor text, which I think makes it more flexible if you don’t want to do it that way.

  8. 1) Every pregnancy is different. If your experiences are very different from the average (not the norm, there is no norm) sometimes you have trauma about it. I really recommend discussing this with players before bringing this kind of material to the table. After a miscarriage years and years ago, I could not handle this stuff. Later, after a VERY rough birth experience, I could not handle this stuff. Now, I’m in a better place for it. Birth can be rough, it can be wonderful, and it can be handled at the table in a way that’s beautiful and fulfilling or tense and exciting. To anyone who has experienced birth trauma, please, make sure you’re getting help with someone to talk to. I have sources for that if you have none, contact me at this name at gmail dot com if you need help and I might be able to point you in the right direction. (Or, I guess, if you speak for your wife on this topic, let her know the same.)

    2)I would totally write and or develop Pregnancy: the Birthing. I’m just pretty sure no one would buy it.

    3)Vampires in Requiem can become pregnant. I wrote about it. I’m just not going to tell you how or where to read. Because I’m mean. 😀 Matt’s right though, it’s some high level stuff.

    4)I don’t know about WtA. Not my field. I wrote about pregnancy in the new edition of WtF, but I’m not sure what’s in the final draft so. We’ll see.

    5)I am very VERY not into the idea of managing characters forcing pregnancy on other people. Demon’s not withstanding. Because that’s a real world problem with a capitol P. You do what you want at your table, but eh. Gross.

  9. My wife and I have a one-on-one Exalted game in which her character’s motherhood and maternal instincts are integral parts of the character. This is obviously the easiest sort of campaign to include pregnancy in, but since she’s had two children during the campaign and is currently carrying twins, I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

    First, we cheat. We created a custom Charm, “Assumption of Shared Life,” that lets her absorb the womb and contents for a few committed motes. (She’s a Dawn Caste, so she sees a *lot* of combat.) Second, it’s used almost exclusively for roleplaying purposes. I think the only time there was actual drama was after she fought the rough Neverborn equivalent to a fetich. Basically, after that fight, we talked, and agreed it made sense for her to go into labor a few weeks early as soon as she turned off the above Charm. (Again, Dawn Caste — mother and daughter were fine.) Finally, the children are kept *well* away from drama — she literally has friends in Heaven, so the various cosmic horrors that inhabit Creation are only an abstract threat.

    For all that, it has added some interesting wrinkles to her character. Her First Age self was unusual in that she actually raised her children, giving her an interesting quirk in that era. She continues that tradition as the Third Age begins, which is less unusual but results in some some equally-interesting reactions from the various Exalted of the Time of Tumult and its aftermath. She also enjoys roleplaying some of her time at home with the kids, which has given *me* some real roleplaying challenges. Let me tell you, portraying a five thousand year old Solar Queen is nothing compared to trying to play the year-old prodigy son of a Dawn and an Endings.

    The Golden Rule is very much in play here, as its Prime Corollary (“Have Fun”), but if you have a group you can trust, pregnancy and parenthood don’t have to be problems in a campaign. Yes, it can require more suspension of disbelief in a more straight-up horror setting (which Exalted is decidedly not), but by putting up the “do not cross” lines in advance, it can enrich the game in surprising ways. It can also be really satisfying in long-term games, where you get to watch those children grow up. That Sun-Star Child has already been noticed by Fate…

    Epilogue: my wife watched me write this, and has decided that she *wants* more drama with the twins. Given that one of them is already Fated to be a Sidereal, that was probably inevitable, but the “do not cross” line has been moved. Not taken out, but given more play. And yet more story wrinkles become possible. 🙂

  10. A good friend of mine is a man. He’s conceived, carried, and birthed a child. I wouldn’t want to tell him that his experience is “PC excess.”

      • I’m not sure what other information I can give you. One of my close friends is a man. He’s conceived, carried, and birthed a child. I don’t consider acknowledging his existence as “PC excess”. I consider it acknowledging his existence. Recognising him is not going to hurt anyone, but it could make him feel more acknowledged. I know for a fact he appreciates it, because the culture spends a lot of time essentially erasing his experience because it’s not the norm.

        • I think you know how to explain yourself better. But it’s ok if you don’t want to (I just can’t reply to you then).

          Anyway, I have not called anyone a PC excess. I was talking about the text, not about people, or people’s experience. That’s not what I was saying.

  11. This…. is basically fetish fuel (especially when it comes to mpreg, probably one of the weirdest fetishes I saw on the internet). Thanks but no thanks

  12. I think this is amazing. Thank you Matt for posting it and Filamena for writing it. And while I appreciate your talent, skill and willingness to share your experiences in the matter, I don’t think its amazing because of the content (or JUST because of the content), but because you guys did it. While I know WtA dealt with pregnancy in several sourcebooks, many of the games I played were LARPs, and pregnancy was forced retirement, in essence. One player and character made sure their character was kept in the game, but I know they fought for it and it was not an easy story for everyone in the game. It was in fact, just uncomfortable enough to challenge our assumptions, but not terrible enough that we just ran away (even though this was the same game where one of my packmates had dealt with a traumatizing miscarriage). I do also think that this is what White Wolf was about, and that you guys deserve thanks for continuing that tradition: when D&D told you to be heroes, White Wolf came around and told you to be monsters. It turned these dark spaces into safe spaces where you could really delve into yourself and come out a better human being. I think, personally, that the sire-childer bond could easily be portrayed with the same sense of “parentage” or birthing (esp with revenants) regardless of genders associated, so in that sense, yes Kindred can become “pregnant”.
    Long story short, I think if this makes you uncomfortable, you should definitely play that character. I for one, am anxious to explore a Requiem Embrace and Accounting from the perspective of the sire… precisely because the thought of male pregnancy makes me squirm.

  13. I’m all for equal rights & equal rites. But someone want to explain the mechanics of a biological male pregnancy? I can understand a life mage making alterations, & a demon shifting cover. But how do you explain werewolves?

    There doesn’t need to be lore for the World of Darkness to pander to alternate lifestyles. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be supported, but going out of the way to say “Yes, biological male pregnancy is expected” just seems excessive.


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