For many couples, it’s a natural progression from love and romance to starting a family. While sometimes the transition occurs unexpectedly and the couple becomes parents whether they’re ready or not, it’s often a carefully planned decision, with many things to consider before taking the leap and having children. Who’s going to watch the baby while you’re fighting the lich-king? How will you transport your toddler safely and securely when traveling by griffon? Should you start training the young ones in magic as soon as possible, or wait and see if they show natural aptitude?
What? Did you think I was talking about the real world?
In epic story-building campaigns, where the same characters are played for years (both in game time and real time), it stands to reason that eventually, children may enter the picture. As in real life, it’s not a decision to be made lightly, and the fantasy-world setting brings in new complications and obstacles to overcome, both for the characters involved as well as the players and GMs. It’s more than can be covered in one column, so I’ll be splitting it up into three posts. Today I’ll focus on some of the main logistical hurdles that should be mentally jumped before even thinking about bringing pregnancy and babies into your campaign.
Good Luck Getting Up On That Horse
Regardless of the game system or setting you use, odds are the characters in your game are adventurers of some sort. Whether you’re smuggling goods across the galaxy in an Aluminum Falcon, on a mission from Friend Computer to root out the Commie traitors, or facing down an angry red dragon, it’s dangerous work! Is it a situation you feel comfortable putting a pregnant character into? Initially, you may say no, but there are ways to work around the dangers and rigors of the adventuring life.
A carefully timed pregnancy when the party is between major missions can eliminate a lot of the concerns for the pregnant character. If the party has already decided to settle in somewhere for the winter, for example, that provides a ready-made block of time for a pregnancy to progress in relative safety. This is ideal, but in games, as in real life, the ideal situation rarely presents itself when you need it. It is still possible for the party to travel and even adventure with a pregnant character and/or children in tow.
Traveling with a pregnant character takes a little more planning and time than usual. Modern medicine generally recommends pregnant women don’t ride on horseback beyond about the 12th week of pregnancy* – if you choose to follow the same advice for your fantasy campaign, the party has some adjusting to do. One solution is to get a wagon for the pregnant character to ride in; traveling at wagon-pace will slow the party down, but it will be much easier on the lady in question. Or you can come up with a more creative method of travel. I had a pregnant wizard who used some of her 1st-level spell slots each day to cast floating disk, and she would ride on the disk, holding onto the reins of a horse to pull her along.
What to do when the party is facing that angry red dragon? For very dangerous encounters, it just makes the best sense for the pregnant character to sit that battle out (she can remain back at the camp, or in a safe room in the dungeon), unless she can stay far enough in the back for safety and still sling spells or arrows effectively. Otherwise, keep her armored up and at the back. I guarantee that at least one gallant hero in the party will see it as his or her duty to hold back as well and protect the lady and her precious cargo (unless the party is made up of a bunch of cold-hearted jerks, in which case, I can’t help you).
Does This Dungeon Provide Daycare?
Once the little one has arrived, a whole new crop of worries rise up. Traveling and adventuring with kidlets is impossible, right? Wrong. It’s not as easy as doing it without little tykes along, but it can be done. Remember, kids are resilient. While today we live in a world of car seats and bumper pads for every remotely sharp corner, for generation upon generation before us, babies traveled on their mothers’ backs, kids rode horses as soon as they were able, and young ones had chores and responsibilities that many adults today couldn’t handle. The children of adventurers won’t know a life any different than the one they’re presented, and they will find a way to thrive and flourish despite any challenges**.
That doesn’t mean measures shouldn’t be taken to protect the wee ones. Until they’re big enough to wear armor (and they don’t have to be too big – they make halfling and gnome-sized armor, after all), you need to find other ways to shield them from harm. Magic can serve this purpose, with spells such as mage armor, shield other, and sanctuary. If there’s an extra ring of protection, amulet of natural armor, or pair of bracers of armor floating around in the party’s loot, put it on the munchkin. Or you can get creative and do something else entirely. When my wizard had her twins, her husband worked with a local armorer to devise leather armor baby carriers for them, and they each carried one of the girls on their back in a cocoon of safety.
Everyone would agree that it’s foolish and downright stupid to march knowingly into battle with children. The mother, father, or another responsible party member is going to have to hold back and watch over the little ones. Yes, that means you may be without the cleric when the zombies rise from their graves, but that’s a better fate than putting the kids in harm’s way. Sometimes, though, when the party is ambushed, or there’s no place safe to go, the kids do end up in the thick of things. Again, someone – or several someones – will have to look out for the kiddies. Take a lesson from nature – animals of all types will instinctively form a protective circle around their young, and this will work for an adventuring party as well. Any animals with the party – especially familiars and animal companions – can also help guard the wee ones, and often with much ferocity.
Logistics Covered; Now What?
If you think the party can handle the challenges I’ve outlined here, bringing a child into the characters’ lives may bring new and exciting role-playing opportunities to the game and add more depth and fun to the story you’re all building together. But babies don’t just randomly appear (not usually, anyway). How can you work a baby into an ongoing plot? We’ll discuss that in next week’s post.
And once the “why” for two characters having a child has been decided, how does one go about determining their success? Will a pregnant character suffer any penalties to her stats or skills? I’ll look into those things and more in two weeks in the return of my What’s Love Got To Do With It column!
(*So I found doing a quick internet search. I also found testimonies from plenty of female equestrians who rode until they simply couldn’t get up on the horse any more, as well as warnings from some doctors who recommend absolutely NO riding at all during pregnancy. Use your own judgment for your game, and for the love of all that’s holy, use your own doctor’s advice for a real-life pregnancy – definitely don’t take advice from me on something like this!)
(**Yes, kids were often hurt and sometimes tragically killed in years past without the safety measures we take today – but plenty survived to adulthood just fine.)
What other challenges have your characters faced with having children? What clever solutions did you come up with?