by Scott Nickell
Emperor Julianus nervously paced the throne room, awaiting word from the Royal Wizard in Extraordinary. His reign had been marred by internal strife, and he shuddered to think what might happen to his beloved land if he failed to produce an heir. But more than that, he loved his queen very much, and wanted more than anything to know that his child now grew in her womb. He did not wish to see her weep again at the thought that she might be barren.
Art by andi jones
The Royal Wizard entered the throne room silently. Julianus looked at him with imploring eyes, not daring to speak. "It is good news, Sire," the Wizard said, and he smiled warmly. "You shall have a son."
Rearing children is one of the most important driving forces in the mind of any creature, yet it is a topic almost entirely absent from roleplaying. Conception and childbirth, whether intentional or accidental, hold enormous potential for drama and storytelling. It is particularly important to kings and nobles to have an heir. The English break with the Roman Papacy, for example, was largely the result of Henry VIII's desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon for her failure to produce a son.
But even pregnancy with less far-reaching consequences is important to the parents, from a character actively trying to conceive a child, to an irresponsible bounder trying to avoid conceiving a child, to an adventurer dealing with the effects of actual pregnancy (as seen in the movie Fargo). Players experimenting with love and romance in roleplaying may wish to take the next step and raise a child together. This article is written with GURPS in mind, but the basic chances are taken from the real world, and should be usable in other game systems with a minimum of fuss.
Basic Pregnancy RollOverall, a couple actively trying to have a child has a 50% chance of conceiving in the first month. To maximize their chances, the prospective parents should engage in intercourse on four days during the week in which the woman is to ovulate.
To determine whether a couple conceives a child during any given act of intercourse, each parent should roll vs. HT, modified as below. If both rolls succeed, conception has occurred. If either successful roll is a critical success, make another roll for multiple births (see below).
The primary modifier to the Pregnancy Roll is the day of the woman's menstrual cycle that intercourse takes place. If within 24 hours (either way) of ovulation, each HT roll is at -1. An additional -1 is incurred for each day beyond, for a total modifier to each HT roll of -1 to -14. Note that this modifier should never be zero.
If a couple is actively trying to conceive a child, the time of ovulation can usually be determined by keeping track of the woman's basal body temperature, which drops on ovulation, then rises sharply the next day. At lower Tech Levels, when this is not possible, the parents may note that ovulation generally occurs 14 days before the onset of menstruation (which is also 14 days after, in an average, 28-day cycle).
If none of this is known (at low Tech Levels, for instance) or the parents are not keeping track, the GM may assign a modifier from -1 to -14 arbitrarily, or by rolling 2d-1.
Other modifiers to the basic Pregnancy Roll:
Male RollLow Sperm Count: -1 to -3
Intercourse in Woman-On-Top Position: -1
Woman remains on back for 1/2 hour: +1
Female Rollno significant modifiers
Multiple BirthsAbout one in 87 births are twins, with the incidence of higher numbers of children dropping off by similar percentages.
If the basic pregnancy rolls were successful, and one of them is a critical success, make a further 3d roll. On a 10 or less, the conception has produced twins (on 11 or more, only a single child is conceived). On a 3-4, there will be triplets.
This roll can be treated as open-ended: Every time a 3-4 is rolled, add another child to the litter and roll again. The roll may be modified by the use of fertility drugs or other technological treatments, by subtracting 1 to 3 from the number rolled.
PregnancyBeing pregnant is a disadvantage, worth a variable number of points depending on the stage of pregnancy.
First Trimester (0-12 weeks) -25 pointsDuring the first trimester, the mother will often suffer from morning sickness and mood swings. In GURPS terms, this translates to Manic-Depressive (p. CI92) at -20 points, and the following new disadvantage, for a total of -25 points. In the twelfth week, the baby's gender is distinguishable (though magic or ultra-tech may push this back). On a 3d roll of 10 or less, the baby is female; on 11 or more, it is male.
Morning Sickness -5 pointsYou suffer from nausea and sometimes vomiting, usually upon waking. At any time each morning, the GM may require you to make a HT roll. Failure means that you are incapacitated for a number of turns equal to the amount by which the HT roll was missed.
Second Trimester (13-26 weeks) -5 pointsDuring the second trimester, the physical and psychological discomforts of the first trimester are less severe. Morning sickness is less common, and is an optional disadvantage at this point.
However, due to the discomfort caused by the increasingly large fetus, the mother is at Reduced Move -1 (-5 points).
Third Trimester (27-38 weeks) -35 pointsThe third trimester is somewhat more stressful, as the baby's size increases. The mother now suffers from the effects of being Overweight (-5 points), carrying 22 to 27 lbs. of extra encumbrance. In addition, the baby is not only heavy, it is inconvenient, uncomfortable and fragile, giving another level of Reduced Move, for a total of Reduced Move -2 (-10 points). The Manic-Depressive mood swings of the first trimester also return, for a total value of -35 points.
BirthWhen the time has come to give birth, the length of labor can be determined by rolling 3d, adding 5 if it is the mother's first pregnancy (subsequent labors tend to be easier). The result is the number of hours the mother spends giving birth.
It is a good idea to have someone present during birth with the Professional Skill: Midwifery (M/A), which defaults to Physician-0 or First Aid-5. This person can help the mother deal with the stress of labor, as well as correcting some complications, such as a breech birth.
Assume that a birth goes as planned if the mother successfully makes a (HT+TL) or (HT+4) roll, whichever is higher. If the mother's roll fails, roll against the Physician or Midwifery skill of the attending health care provider, at -5 if the mother had a critical failure.
If this roll fails, the attending midwife is unable to easily correct the problem. In such cases, or where the baby is too large or labor is particularly long, a Caesarean section may be necessary. This is a surgical procedure. The first recorded Caesarean section on a living mother was performed in 1610, but it did not become widespread until the end of the 19th century. In earlier times, it was an act of desperation, restricted to use when the mother was already dead or dying.
If the health care provider's roll fails, separate Surgery rolls should be made to save baby's and mother's life. Use the normal Surgery rules (p. B56), with a -5 modifier if the Physician/Midwife roll was a critical failure. Failure on the baby's roll will kill it; failure on the mother's roll does 2d damage to her (4d damage on a critical failure), and may cause sterility (see p. CI84) if she fails a HT roll. The surgical team can opt to put either mother or baby at greater risk in order to save the other; if so, add a bonus of up to +3 to the Surgery roll of the favored patient in exchange for a matching penalty to the other's Surgery roll. See also Bio-Tech, page 18, for additional details concerning surrogate motherhood.
A newborn infant as a Dependent is a 0-point (or less) loved one, appearing almost all the time (15 or less), for a total value of -96 points. However, if more than one parent is available to share responsibility, the frequency of appearance may be divided among them. If there are two parents dividing responsibility equally, the frequency of appearance would be 9 or less, making the child a -32 point Dependent for both. Also, as children age their point value will increase (use the table on p. B14 as a guide), and the frequency they need attention will decrease, resulting in lower values as Dependents.
ComplicationsThis section is optional. Rolling for complications increases realism, but also adds more die rolls to the process, and will only rarely have any effect. The GM may rule that only mothers in high-risk categories need roll for complications.
Once a child is conceived, the mother should make a HT+4 roll. A failure indicates that the mother will miscarry; most miscarriages occur during the first trimester. A critical failure on this roll means that the child will be carried to term, but will suffer from birth defects. The following modifiers apply to this roll:
Mother over 35: -1
Malnutrition: -1 to -3, depending on severity.
Illness: -1 to -3, depending on the illness. A mother contracting German Measles should make a separate HT roll, at +2 for each month after the first. Failure means that the child will be born deaf, or with a reduced IQ, or with cataracts or other birth defects, with exact effects to be determined by the GM.
Exposure to Radiation: See below.
Exposure to radiation is a special case. See pages 145-148 of Compendium II for the effects of radiation on HT. Resolve these effects separately on both mother and child. Unborn children have a HT score of 1. If permanent HT is reduced to 0 or less, the child will be miscarried. Genetic effects of lesser doses depend on the campaign, ranging from severe birth defects to the awakening of miraculous powers, and should be determined by the GM. See Bio-Tech, page 18 for some suggested effects of mutagens. Also, Creatures of the Night, p. 78-79, has point values for some severe physical disadvantages, such as Human Torso and Siamese Twin.
During the first 42 days after conception, the embryo is particularly susceptible to radiation, and even a reduction of temporary HT to 0 will result in miscarriage.
Note that these results are based on the real world. In a campaign where exposure to radiation regularly results in super-powers instead of bone cancer, anything is possible.
When the full term of pregnancy approaches, a failed HT+5 roll will result in a premature birth. This roll is modified as follows, to a maximum modifier of -2:
Youth: -1 per level
Drinking: -1 per drink over 5 per day
Other Drugs: -1
Preterm infants require special care, as they are susceptible to respiratory infections. At low tech levels, few will survive. At higher tech levels, virtually all these complications will be correctable.
Contraception and SterilitySometimes, these rules may be more important to someone trying not to have a child. Contraceptives all have an associated failure rate. If contraceptives are used, the GM should first make a failure roll for the method. If the method fails, then the normal Pregnancy Roll procedure comes into play.
The following failure rates are based on a 3d roll. These are "typical" failure rates, for the average modern (TL 7) user. The GM may assign a modifier of up to +3 if the couple is being particularly cautious. Contraceptive methods used at earlier tech levels will have higher failure rates than modern devices, at -1 per TL below 7, to a maximum modifier of -2. Also, if multiple methods are combined, each method must fail to result in possible pregnancy.
Sterilization is a surgical procedure, and sterility (whether natural or surgical) is a disadvantage worth -3 points (p. CI84). Menopause can be simulated by female characters making a separate Aging roll (p. B83), gaining the Sterile disadvantage on a failure. These rolls should begin at age 47. The failure rate for surgical sterilization is a critical failure (17-18), followed by a second roll of 14 or more. Norplant has a similar failure rate, and is effectively temporary (5-year duration) sterilization.
Contraceptive Failure Rate TL coitus interruptus 12+ 0 Diaphragm 14+ 1 Condom 14+ 2 Rhythm method 13+ 3 Spermicide 12+ 6 Pill 16+ 7 (late 1950s) IUD 16+ 7 Sponge 13+ 7 (1983) Cervical Cap 14+ 7 Sterilization crit/14+ 7 Hormonal Implant (Norplant) crit/10+ 7 Male Pill 16+ 8
The "Male Pill" (actually a contraceptive vaccine) does not yet exist, but researchers are working on it even now. At higher tech levels, some of these methods may improve in effectiveness (a TL 11 Force Condom?)
The legal status of contraceptive devices depends on the campaign world, and the beliefs of the couple. For example, the rhythm method is the only method officially approved by the Roman Catholic Church. In the U.S., public access to contraceptive devices and knowledge was restricted from 1873 to 1936 by the Comstock Law.
Campaign NotesIn campaigns where nonhuman races exist, these rules can be modified slightly to cover other species. For instance, Elves do not age, but only produce one or two children. This may be nothing more than a cultural quirk, or it may indicate an earlier menopause in such races. Species that produce litters of offspring could use the same system for multiple births, but with a default of more than one child, or even adding children on a regular success, rather than a critical success on the multiple birth rolls.
Oviparous (egg-laying) species do not undergo pregnancy, but may take an egg as a Dependent. Hatchlings will tend to grow to independence more quickly than human children.
If there are multiple nonhuman races, cross-breeding may become an issue. The typical fantasy Half-Elf is a good example. If genetic science operates as we understand it (not a necessary, or even likely assumption in all campaigns), such hybrids should be Sterile. If two populations can produce fertile offspring, they are by one definition members of the same species. Of course, there could be interesting implications to the idea that humans and elves are merely subdivisions within the same race . . .
When designing racial packages for these half-races, note that such cross-breeding often results in hybrid vigor, due to the increased genetic diversity. In nature, hybrids tend to be larger and healthier than their parents. Remember, though, that this is true only for closely-related species; while this is reasonable for humanoid fantasy races from a single planet, alien species would probably need magical or technological help to produce a child at all, due to differences in biochemistry.
The medical problems inherent in cross-species pregnancies may be solved with magic, or with ultra-tech genetic engineering. This could allow even couples of wildly different sentient species to bear and raise children. It might even be possible to eliminate the sterility of these crosses. See p. 26-27 of Bio-Tech for some details on chimerization. In such cases, hybrid vigor would not occur, since they are not true genetic hybrids.
Children with particularly strong psionic talents may manifest their powers in the womb (an example occurs in the film Scanners). This should be entirely under the control of the GM.
In magical worlds, several spells could be useful to a midwife. Sense Life could be used as a pregnancy test. Body-Reading (p. G51) was used by the Royal Wizard in the introduction to determine the existence and sex of the king's unborn child. Certain birth defects might be correctable using Cure Disease, Restoration or Regeneration. The Youth spell might be a convenient, and even (if the religion condones spellcasting) morally acceptable means of reversing an unwanted pregnancy, by regressing the embryo to an age before conception! See also GURPS Technomancer or David Pulver's Bio-Tech Designer's Notes article for several new spells directly related to pregnancy.
BibliographyHyde, Janet Shibley: Understanding Human Sexuality.
Pocs, Ollie, ed.: Annual Editions: Human Sexuality 1993/94.
Basic Pregnancy RollEach parent rolls vs. HT, -1 per day away from ovulation (minimum -1, maximum -14).
On a Critical Success, roll again for multiple births:
11 or more -- single birth
5-10 -- twins
3-4 -- triplets
10 or less -- Female
11 or more -- Male
Complications (optional)Roll vs. mother's HT+4:
failure -- miscarriage
crit. Failure -- birth defects
Mother over 35: -1
Malnutrition: -1 to -3
Illness: -1 to -3
Roll vs. mother's HT+5:
failure - premature birth
Modifiers (max. -2):
Youth: -1 per level
Drinking: -1 per drink over 5 per day
Other Drugs: -1
Length of Labor3d hours, +5 if first delivery
Complications During BirthRoll vs. greater of mother's HT+TL or HT+4:
Success: no complications
On failure, roll vs. Physician or PS: Midwife
Success: complications corrected easily
On failure, roll vs. Surgery for mother and baby
May elect to add bonus up to +3 to one roll by taking equal penalty to other.
Success: patient survives
Baby: baby dies
Mother: mother takes 2d damage (4d on crit. Failure) and becomes Sterile on a HT roll failure.
Article publication date: February 4, 2000
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