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SEX & ROMANCE IN FANTASY GAMING: PREGNANCY & CHILDBIRTH

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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 in real life was when a friend had just been told his girlfriend was pregnant. 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 sought 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, but it doesn't have to.  Great storylines can be sparked by pregnancy.  It can bring parties and key NPCs closer together, revealing allies the characters didn't know they could count on.  It can be an interesting point for any villains. Will they call a truce or push even harder to take advantage of a weakness?  But no matter what, the desires of the whole group have to be taken into account from start to finish.  Many choices can be made but they should not be restricted to a pregnant PC or the DM alone.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED

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 reactions 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 with harsh penalties for mood swings and other changes, disabling pregnant characters quickly. Some rules were blown out of all proportion as a way to mock women and force pregnant characters to 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 - but with such a tender topic, it is easy for players to feel insulted, and that is not okay.

MECHANICS

If mechanics are desired, they exist in various places around the internet and in gaming supplements like the Book of Erotic Fantasy. What is available might not suit your needs or cover extended parts of the experience, or at least that’s been my experience. I’ve had to piece systems together and come up with my own, and pregnancy has continued to arise in my games, so I've had plenty of time to think about it. My first suggestion, of course, is to decide on the rules with the group. If players are happy with the idea of their characters becoming parents, determine if they want more random chances for pregnancy. If so, then the contraception rules below can offer ways for players to influence their characters’ outcomes. If players want more control and the DM agrees, then highly effective magic spells (with short durations) can prevent pregnancy until their characters are ready.

Finally, the group should discuss whether or not players want to make pregnancy-related rolls for their characters. This might mean that players will know what is going to happen in advance, but it could make them feel more involved and in control. If players would like to be surprised, then the DM can take over all rolls and present the results, but that should be an option, not mandatory. Remember, players only get to control one character in the entire game.

CONTRACEPTION


Quality

Type

Protection

Best

Magical, most effective means

100-90% protection

Moderate

Alchemical, highly effective means

89-60% protection

Minor

Common herbal and other methods

59-30% protection

Least

Rhythm and coitus interruptus

29 to 10% protection


During sex, a contraception check is made by one character (the PC, if sex occurs with an NPC; otherwise, the players will have to agree on who rolls or the DM will choose). If using a 100% effective method, no roll is needed. Otherwise, if fertile, roll within the percentage to ensure protection; a result outside of the range indicates that a conception check needs to be made.

Example: Aseir the paladin of Sune regularly uses lambskin condoms, which provide 70% protection. He rolls 89%, which is above the range given, so a conception check must be made.

BASE FERTILITY

Each character has a base fertility rating that should be determined as soon as possible, if not at character creation. These rates can be updated as circumstances change (such as age, curses, diseases interfere) or as levels are gained or lost.

Type

Directions

Highly fecund race (goblins, kobolds, lizard folk)

Roll d100. On 1-3%, the character is infertile until significant technological or magical means provide aid. Otherwise, the character is 90-70% fertile. Roll until falling within the specified range.

Moderately fecund race (centaurs, humans, orcs)

Roll d100. On 1-5%, the character is infertile until significant technological or magical means provide aid. Otherwise, the character is 70-50% fertile. Roll until falling within the specified range.

Less fecund race (dwarves, elves, halflings)

Roll d100. On 1-7%, the character is infertile until significant technological or magical means provide aid.  Otherwise, the character is 50-20% fertile. Roll until falling within the specified range.


Reduce fertility by 10% for each age category below adulthood (young characters generally cannot conceive at all and must at least be juveniles to do so), by 20% for each age category above adulthood, or due to extraordinary circumstances such as starvation, radiation, magical curses, and so forth. Once natural fertility is lost, it can only be restored through extraordinary means or not at all.

Conception check: Average the fertility ratings of both parents (rounding up), then one of them or the DM will roll a percentile die. If the result is outside of the range, conception occurs.

Example: Tika the halfling PC (an adult with a fertility rating of 39%) mates unwittingly with a juvenile silver dragon NPC in an alternate shape (78% fertile, -10 for being juvenile). No contraception is used. As the PC, her player rolls 80% and conceives.

FERTILIZATION

To determine if fertilization results in twins, roll or decide if the mother or father’s race is predominant. Then roll a percentile die and consult the following table.


Type

Rate of Twins

Highly fecund race (goblins, kobolds, lizard folk)

1-20%

Moderately fecund race (centaurs, humans, orcs)

1-15%

Less fecund race (dwarves, elves, halflings)

1-5%


If twins result, roll a percentile die to determine the type.


d%

Twin Table

1-50%

Non-identical twins

51-99%

Identical twins

100%

Identical triplets or more*


* Rates can be adjusted for races that have higher rates of multiple births.

Example: Tika the halfling might have been less fertile, but she has conceived with a silver dragon. She next rolls a 25%, which puts her in line for non-identical twins.

PREGNANCY

Each trimester brings new changes to the carrying parent. Since a wide variety of fantasy races exist, the carrying parent will not always be female; these rules, however, cover the basics for any race that gestates in a womb. Many changes do not need mechanics to govern them; they can be described by the DM or decided by the player. While they can be the source of jokes and fun, they should not be used to ridicule characters. As the body transforms to give birth, major shifts will affect a character in notable physical ways. If you wish to add mental/emotional changes and the group is on board, you may do so, but be aware that such mechanics can make a character into a caricature quickly and can make the player feel stymied in their ability to participate.

First trimester

  • Sex begins to form in offspring of human-like races at the end of the first trimester; divination methods used before then are notoriously unreliable.
  • Nausea may strike at inopportune moments. Each week, roll a DC 15 Constitution check; failure indicates that nausea will be a problem that week. The character will make the same Constitution check at random each day, but not more than 1d4 times. Failure means the character is nauseated for 1d20 rounds. Each successful check grants a +2 bonus on the next roll. At the start of the second trimester, the check should be made again. If the roll is a 1, then nausea will continue to be a problem into the second trimester. Otherwise, it will fade away.

Second trimester

  • The character’s movement rate is reduced by a quarter and a -2 penalty applies to Dexterity as the body takes on weight and their center of gravity shifts. Magic can be used to ease or negate these penalties, but they will recur once the magic fades.

Third trimester

  • The character’s movement rate is reduced by half. They also suffer a -4 penalty to Dexterity and -2 to Strength. These penalties do not stack with those from previous trimesters and can be affected by magic, but they will automatically recur when the magic fades.

Example: Tika succeeds at her first nausea check so her first week is free of morning sickness; every other week of her first trimester, however, she battles nausea. She succeeds on her roll at the start of her second trimester, so the nausea goes away for the rest of the pregnancy. She is able to adventure in her second trimester and relies heavily on her mount, Rasha the war dog, to carry her swiftly wherever she needs to go. Her party mate, the paladin Lance, stands ready to cast Shield Other at any sign of danger. As a Dexterity-based character, Tika decides to spend her third trimester at home, where she is safe. Her player creates another character to portray in the meantime but the party checks on Tika regularly.

DOWNTIME OR RETIREMENT

Women in the real world have worked hard and even fought for their lives while pregnant, so it is not out of line for pregnant characters to adventure while carrying. But as the process goes on, it will become more difficult to be effective and far more dangerous to the offspring if the carrying parent takes significant damage. The group should talk about whether or not to include a pregnant character in outings that are dangerous, especially after the first trimester. Magical or technological support can make it easier but to ensure a safe birth, it is likely that the character will have to step back in the final trimester.

This does not have to affect the group in a bad way; another character can be made, or an NPC can be taken over, so that questing can continue. If everyone agrees, though, this could be a fine opportunity for downtime. The group can stay close to home and the DM can speed up the flow of time, passing over part of the pregnancy, the whole thing, or even an amount of time following the delivery. If the party has buildings or businesses to run or other goals to work on, downtime can be a welcome change of pace. Once the downtime is finished, the parent(s) will have to decide if returning to travel is desirable. Some players might decide to retire their characters at such a point, but it shouldn’t be forced upon them. Many parents travel with and without their children and many options can exist for care.

MISCARRIAGE AND STILLBIRTH

If you are looking for a more nuanced experience and if the whole group approves, miscarriage and stillbirth can be dangers that pregnant characters face in your game. Keep in mind that it is vital to talk openly with everyone in the group before bringing up either miscarriage or stillbirth, even for NPCs.

First trimester

  • The base chance of a miscarriage is highest in the first trimester. A roll must be made (up to 50% chance) each week after the second; if the results are outside the range, the character begins to miscarry immediately.
  • There is a 2% chance per point of damage taken in a round that a miscarriage will result.
  • Bleeding begins and should be noted as minor damage, but is not usually life-threatening. Most times, it will stop in 2 to 6 weeks; simply roll 1d6 to determine the duration. If the character fails a DC 10 Constitution check, complications will require medical or magical intervention to complete the process.

Second trimester

  • For natural risks per month, roll up to a 20% chance.
  • The risk of miscarrying due to taking damage applies, but goes up to 4% per point of damage taken.
  • If fetus is 75% of the way through gestation, it can likely survive outside the womb if provided with immediate, high-quality care

Third trimester

  • For natural risks per month, roll up to a 10% chance.
  • The risk due to taking damage applies at 6% per point of damage taken.
  • Stillbirth: During childbirth, a 2% chance of stillbirth can be in effect.

In fantasy and sci fi worlds, methods to prevent miscarriage and save offspring even in the event of a stillbirth might exist. Spells that restore life can bring back offspring whose lives have just begun. Miscarrying in the first trimester, however, is likely to be tied to deeper problems and will be beyond reversing.

IN CONCLUSION

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 spouse 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 with care and respect, and feel free to alter any of the rules I have here to better suit your group.

 
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