Family Matters, Part II: Adding Children To The Plot


As you read my column last week discussing some of the logistics involved in RPG characters having children, some of you may have thought, “WTF? Why would anyone want babies in a fantasy game? C, you’ve lost it.”

As accurate as that last statement may or may not be, there are lots of reasons why children could play a role in your campaign. Since I sometimes think backwards, we got the potential complications out of the way last week. This frees us up today to think about ways to bring little ones into the character line-up. (Keep in mind that I gravitate toward long-running campaigns. These ideas may not work for games that last only a few weeks or months.)

A Natural Progression

If you have love and romance in your game, it’s not hard to imagine how children might enter the picture. The desire to have children and grow a family is one that many people experience. If two characters have been together a long time, and have either married or made another commitment to each other, they may eventually decide they want to have a baby. Just as many folks in the real world don’t usually quit their jobs when they become parents, adventurers might not want to come off the road just because they have a little one to look out for. Instead, they’ll find a way to make it work.

Unless the GM has an NPC involved in the relationship, this is something the players themselves will have to decide on. If your players come to you with plans for their characters to have or adopt a child – or if they just spring it on you during a game session – weigh the decision carefully. If they seem to be immature or flippant about it, stop them in their tracks. So long as they are earnest in their desire and are willing to deal with the consequences of having a kidlet along on the trail, go for it!

Well, That Was Unexpected…

You have to watch out for those satyrs. They’ll bang anything they can get their hands on, and are all too happy to make babies in the process…

For as many babies are as planned, as many if not far more are surprises. Aside from the classic reasons for an unexpected pregnancy (often failed birth control, or thinking the other person had it covered when they didn’t), in a fantasy setting even more surprises are possible. The half-elf and the halfling think they’re safe without birth control, because they’ve never heard of two of their kind making a baby – well, there’s a first time for everything! The freely flowing divine magic from a fertility festival may leave lingering effects on an area long after the rites are completed, increasing the fertility of all creatures within it, and the party may unwittingly spend the night camped in that very clearing in the woods. Or an overly fertile creature (like those tricksy fey) might decide your rogue is just too cute to resist, and also thinks they’d make a pretty cute baby together.

I’ve been preaching a “know your players” mantra for months in my RPG columns, and little demands it more than an unplanned pregnancy. Don’t spring this surprise lightly!

Parents By Design

Years ago, my female wizard and her cleric/ranger husband were young newlyweds with no immediate plans to have children. They were thousands of miles from home and living the dangerous life of adventurers. Babies were something they weren’t thinking about until they retired from the road. Then Devin’s goddess came to him in a dream and told him she had selected him to father her Chosen (a champion to do her work on the material plane), and for Zorra to carry the child, and that the conception would occur the next time they made love, regardless of any precautions they might be taking.

While a baby had been the last thing on their minds, suddenly they found themselves with the honor and duty to create a child who would be special and important to many people, if not the entire world. Granted, the goddess hadn’t said they had to get to it right away, but a task of such import is not something to be put off until it’s more convenient. Besides, they were a horny young couple. Like they could’ve waited very long! So just like that, they were expecting (and it turned out to be twins), and things had to change within the party to accommodate the new arrivals.

The gods aren’t the only ones who might try to intervene in characters’ reproductive lives. Pressure might come down on the heir to a kingdom, duchy, or even a business empire to either produce an heir of their own or adopt one. A father (whether noble or not) may be very concerned that the family name be passed on. If a couple has married as a symbol of an alliance between nations, tribes, or organizations, a child may be seen to seal the deal – it will “confirm” that an opposite-sex marriage isn’t a sham, because it’s obviously been consummated. (Of course, if that marriage is a sham, a ruse must be instigated, whether through a fake pregnancy and adopted baby, or through the wife becoming pregnant by other means.)

Parents By Fate

We all know that babies don’t come from the cabbage patch – except when they do. Basket babies aren’t just a Futurama phenomenon. A fantasy world is ripe with opportunity for characters to unexpectedly find an orphaned munchkin in their laps and be faced with the decision to find a new home for the kid, or take on the challenge of parenting themselves.

A young mother who is down on her luck may see a group of adventurers as good role models and wealthy providers for the baby she can’t afford to keep. A young street urchin who idolizes the adventurers he sees come through town on a daily basis might latch on to a member of the party and worm his way into the PC’s heart. The party could stumble upon a village, farm, or travelers beset by monsters or fire, and while they do all they can to help, the only survivor is the baby still sleeping blissfully in its crib, or the toddler who stayed hidden in the wagon. In a battle with orcs, bugbears, or gnolls, the entire tribe may be there, and when they are defeated or flee in retreat, a wee one could be left behind. It would have to be a pretty heartless PC to walk away from a defenseless, helpless baby gnoll, looking up at them with sad puppy-dog eyes.

Parents (Or Parental Figures) All Along

Your character had a life before he became an adventurer – perhaps that life included becoming a father at a young age. Whether the little one has always traveled with him, or is just now in his custody (and where the mom is) is up to you as you build your character’s backstory. Maybe the sorceress has become a spell-slinger for hire to support herself and her little girl after her husband was killed/ran off/taken prisoner. When the wizard bangs on your inn-room door in the middle of the night, holding a sleeping child and announcing, “We have to leave town. Now,” you might learn later that the little one is her nephew, and she’s just rescued him from a horrible life, though technically speaking it was a kidnapping (hence the fleeing town in the middle of the night).

Happily Ever After

For some adventurers, becoming a parent is the impetus for retiring from fighting evil. After all, as soon as Samwise Gamgee got back to the Shire, he married Rosie Cotton and started a family with her. If your campaign is winding down, and the party is set to hang up their weapon belts for the last time, the arrival of a child can be the “d’awww!” moment that caps a sweet ending on an awesome journey. Not to mention it leaves the door wide open for a new campaign set 20 years in the future, when the children of the original party set out to follow in their parents’ footsteps…

With all these different plot seeds, you should have plenty of inspiration for ways to introduce family life into your campaign that are neither forced nor gratuitous. It’s yet another way to add more flavor and meaning to the world that’s being created at your game table.

“But…but…HOOOOOOOOW?” you ask, pencil and dice at the ready? Next week I’ll delve into the crunchy bits – the game stats and rules – for those who want them.

Do you have an awesome in-game story of how a pregnancy or adoption became an important part of your campaign? Please share it with us in a comment below!

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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