I’ve played a lot of different characters over the last ten years. Widows, teenagers, vampires, leaders of empires, and traitors. It’s part of the fun of role playing, right? Getting to be someone that you most emphatically are not.
Yet there is one thing, I realized recently, that every single character of mine has had in common: they have all been childless. And not just childless – I think, in an effort to distance myself from feminine stereotypes, I often played the character that wanted nothing to do with any kids we came across in a campaign. No way was a group of guys going to saddle my character with baby sitting duty, so I made it abundantly clear it would be a bad idea for everyone involved if the kid were left in my care.
I swear, in real life, I’m not some child-free fanatic. While I do happen to be child-free at the moment, I’m more ambivalent about children than anything else. In retrospect, I really think with some of these characters I was truly overcompensating for fears that I was going to be shoved aside and put in a “girl role” and left out of the main fun.
Recently, I got to play in another of my husband’s New World of Darkness games. He’s run a series of inter-connected one-shot games, all set in the same universe, that pit mostly normal people against supernatural terrors. I knew in advance this time around that we were going to be revisiting one of his most horrific creations yet: the Ink Monster that devours children for their memories, as the monster is unable to create its own.
Oh, and just to make it more fun, we were going to be encountering the monster in the format of “Storage Wars.” Our normal people this time around were like those featured on the TV show who buy up abandoned storage units at auction. “Storage Wars” is hardly high quality TV, but it sure entertains the heck out of us. I couldn’t wait to try it as a horror game. And for some reason, I was sold on playing the older half of a mother/daughter pair – which morphed into a grandmother/granddaughter pair when my GM/husband wanted to have a kid around to use as bait for the Ink Monster.
The game started off not much different from any other campaign. My character’s granddaughter was a reluctant participant, to put it mildly, but I didn’t have to keep tabs on her constantly – just had to listen to her complain about her texting being interrupted by the boring auction. We had fun as players buying up units, using some strategy to figure out what was in the units and which ones our characters might legitimately be interested in.
Then through a series of unfortunate events, the Ink Monster showed up. Because we were a bunch of normal people up against a supernatural monster, we weren’t much of a match for it. Still, when that Monster set its eyes on my character’s granddaughter, I immediately stood between the beast and the girl. And got knocked aside by an inky tentacle and suffered 7 levels of bashing damage because of it. Ouch. Unconscious within a minute of meeting the big bad. Everyone else is powerless to stop him, too, and the monster grabs my granddaughter and escapes into the night. Meanwhile, I’m carted off to the hospital. Upon waking, the few non-brainwashed staff members are telling me and the other two PCs that we need to get out of there. If the Monster has a new child, it’s bad on the one hand, because he has something that makes him more powerful. On the other, he’s distracted – we might be able to escape with our lives intact.
Not good enough for Granny. I told the other two PCs they were welcome to do what they wanted, but I was using an NPC who had been infected by the Monster as my compass to find it – and my granddaughter.
We had great fun roaming through the hospital, including meeting a handful of characters from previous campaigns – including the characters we had played that had survived. And then the big moment came when we were face to face with the monster again, and I demanded my granddaughter back. The Ink Monster, it turned out, was willing to make a trade. It had fallen on some hard times (because of our characters the first time we met it) and had been forced to feed on the memories of adults. Adult memories are messy and complicated, and it was giving the Ink Monster an identity crisis. The Ink Monster was looking for a parent – someone whose memories would be able to reign in all of the others it had consumed, to focus them and put the Ink Monster on the right path again.
It gave me all sorts of temptations, most of them essentially boiling down to the idea that my character could essentially become the mother of a god. But the only thing that got Granny to budge was the promise that my granddaughter would be returned safely. Once that deal was struck, I told the other PCs that the girl’s mother’s contact information was back in my Winnebago at the self-storage lot, and sacrificed myself to the monster.
Unsuccessfully, it turns out, because another PC finally passed a perception check and figured out the monster’s weakness. But there was definitely a moment there where everyone, even myself, was surprised at how easily I was sacrificing this character. The woman who once had a character willing to leave a squalling infant behind for a zombie hoard, was now throwing herself at the biggest bad this game’s universe had seen, all for an 11 year old NPC that hadn’t actually done anything, other than get kidnapped by a monster.
So this totally out-of-type character, created for a one-shot game that was split about 50-50 between humor (all our characters were ridiculous) and horror (seriously, the Ink Monster is some scary business), has actually had me re-examining a lot of my existing characters. Family is something I haven’t gone into a lot of detail with many of my characters, except for, coincidentally, my other current favorite character who is a widow now working with her brother-in-law. Granny Peggy Maloney might be my first maternal character, but I’m pretty sure she won’t be my last. A combination of having a group I trust to see me as more than just “The Girl,” and perhaps growing up a little bit myself and no longer seeing having a family of my own as a terrible terrible burden, have made me much more interested in looking at playing a type of character who is compelled from the start to look out for something more than herself.