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 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.