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WHO GETS TO BE PARENTS IN YOUR GAME?
Some gaming groups never deal with pregnancy at all; it happens entirely off screen and NPCs show up when they aren't with child. Many Dungeon Masters confine pregnancy to NPCs and creatures, which can be very effective. One way to give NPCs depth and to give the impression that the world is moving on while the PCs are off adventuring is to show pregnant NPCs and the resulting children. Allowing for pregnant monsters and foes can complicate encounters and give the players pause, as well. Is it okay to slaughter kobolds who are carrying children? What happens when a detection spell uncovers a fetus who registers as evil in the womb (say, the product of an evil outsider)?
Pregnancy becomes far more complicated when player characters are involved. Many people don't plan to become parents and not all reactions are positive. One of the few times I've seen someone literally gray in the face was when a friend had just been told his girlfriend was pregnant, and he showed up on my doorstep looking for all the world like someone had died. In a way, something had perished: his image of himself had been irrevocably altered. It is easy to overlook men in the process of childbirth but their lives and their characters are affected, even if they choose to run away. These things should be kept in mind for male characters. How do relations with the mother develop? Are families involved? How do other relationships change - particularly within an adventuring party?
Female player characters have these things to contend with and more. One of the more interesting things that happened when one of our female PCs got pregnant was that the party started to treat her differently. The other PCs wanted to keep her from doing the more dangerous jobs, even if that meant limiting her participation in the group - and even if she wanted to participate. They also took new, magical measures to shield her from harm. None of us expected that protectiveness to kick in and it wasn't always pleasant. It can be helpful to keep in mind how people will react to a pregnant character, inside and outside the party. A mother out of wedlock could face considerable scorn, and any mother-to-be might find that people take pains to be helpful.
A PC pregnancy can easily sidetrack the whole campaign into difficulty and tedium, so it has to be handled carefully throughout. Great storylines can be sparked by pregnancy. It can bring parties and key NPCs closer together. It can be an interesting point for any villains - will they call a truce or push even harder to take advantage of a weakness? Pregnant characters can adventure for the first trimester or so, but enough damage can lead to a miscarriage. Most will pull back in the final months, and then what happens to the party? While pregnancy can be handled in downtime, sometimes the characters are on the clock or the rest of the party wants to keep going. The desires of the rest of the group have to be tended, as well. A player might have to retire their character for a little while (which is happened in our group, and worked quite well).
WHAT ABOUT THE RULES?
A pregnant player character in my game offered me a great opportunity to experiment, but also a great opportunity to screw up in new ways. The group knew about our rolls for conception and was okay with the possibility of pregnancy. The party regularly bought and used birth control methods, though sometimes they took risks. I did not foresee that our pregnant character would feel utterly trapped by her circumstances. I had expected that if she wasn't ready she would take one of the available options or find a new one, but she was unwilling to abort or give up her child. I had hoped that if the player was unhappy she would say something directly, but she went with it. I imagine it only got worse as time went on because she wanted to be fit for battle. She had a cousin to rescue and bigger, worldly matters to attend; her pregnancy hindered all of that.
From our game, I learned that while it can be okay for the character to feel trapped and alarmed by becoming a parent, it is important that the player be comfortable with the attendant changes. It is important not only to consult with the group when you allow pregnancy in the game, but it is also a good idea to check the reaction when it occurs. Discuss any rules changes so that the players know what to expect. Allow the player of the pregnant character to retain control of their character's personality as much of the time as possible. Pregnancy will hinder the stats and performance of a character, especially the further along she is, and it is okay to reflect that in the rules. A fair DM who respects the players will try to implement rules that provide challenges without being insulting.
You might be asking yourself what I mean by that last statement. I've seen some rules for mood swings and other changes that have been offensive directly to me, and would probably have the same affect on other players. Some rules were blown out of all proportion as a way to mock women and make pregnant characters provide comic relief. The worst rules took coherence out of pregnant characters so that they could no longer be themselves; instead they were forced into a narrow and hysterical role. These rules also asked players to engage in roleplaying gymnastics, jumping from weepy to grumpy and so on. It's not my intention to debate how realistic such rules are, and if a group enjoys them, so be it.
It is my intention to support rules that make pregnancy another kind of challenging adventure that is fun for everyone in the end. Discuss rolls for conception outside of gameplay. The Book of Erotic Fantasy has some rules for conception, particularly across races; this is a good place to start. Apply rolls to all PCs equally so no one feels misused. I encourage DMs to allow accessible and affordable birth control methods so players can make an active choice in the matter. The more choices the players have, the better. Show the players the different options, such as magical means of transferring fetuses and adoption by churches. I also encourage DMs to keep the rolls for conception simple and the odds at a relative low, so that it runs smoothly in the background but can become a foreground matter on occasion.
One of the things you have to be careful of when introducing pregnancy into your game is that you don't step on anyone's mental land mines. Men and women have very strong emotions about children, pretty much on all fronts. If you don't lay out your cards carefully, you might discover too late that a player has been told they can't conceive, had to give a child up, had an abortion or lost a child. So tell the group in advance if miscarriage and abortion are possible. If adventuring with small children is asking for tragic results, make that clear. Perhaps a pregnant character's husband will stay home with the children (I have a paladin NPC with just such an arrangement). See how people react to adoption options, like leaving a child at a church or with a transdimensional being. You might show things happening to NPCs that you won't highlight for players, like children being sold into slavery to pay off debts. Test the waters.