Friday, September 25, 2020

Scenario: The Child You Have Got With Me

(CW: the sorts of things they write ballads about)

 Many tales of myth and folklore are premised on victimization. This structure can be difficult to adapt to roleplaying games because players dislike being forced to “lose” and because the way that folkloric characters respond to victimization is outside most people’s frame of reference.

One of the most pervasive themes of the Child Ballads is sexual violence, a typical depiction can be found in “Gil Brenton.” Our heroine has a romantic encounter with the titular character, in a passage where consensuality can only be inferred. She then demands from him gifts, a common motif that we as moderns may not be familiar with. The hope is that with a token you could prove an encounter had happened and legitimize it with marriage. 

Interrogating these tropes of the past is a worthy endeavor of the present, from both an artistic and gaming perspective. How we do so should be deliberate, and requires the collaboration of everyone at the table.

The Child You Have Got With Me

art by Wylielise

Premise: You are a pregnant, wronged woman seeking justice— not in the form of violent reprisal, but in getting the security that the man who wronged you took away. Sometimes this will look like getting him to marry you. Other paths to justice will usually have other sacrifices. You can kill him and take his gold, and that may be enough to get by, but you will not be welcome in your home.

Victory is getting justice for yourself and/or your child.

Stalemate is punishing either the man who wronged you or the world that created this toxic dynamic.

Failure is for neither you nor your child to be safe, regardless of whether you survive.

It is up to you to decide whether you want to actually be a mother, but there are both physical and social dangers to doing otherwise.

To generate a scenario for The Child You Have Got With Me:

  • Assign roles: one DM (ballaDMaster), one Wronged Woman, the rest her Sympathetic Accomplices.
  • Here is where everyone agrees on how frankly to portray the cruelties of the world.
  • The Wronged Woman rolls or chooses the Man Who Wronged You
  • A Sympathetic Accomplice rolls or choose a Hope. (If there are no Accomplices, the DM rolls.)
  • Each Sympathetic Accomplice rolls or chooses a Sympathy
  • The players make their characters
  • The DM rolls two Complications.
  • Finally, the DM sets the scene and the quest begins.

d6 The Man Who Wronged You

  1. A wild shade, reckless and dangerous. Knows a trial of dedication that can turn him into a good man
  2. The faceblind king of the land, paranoid of adultery
  3. A mercenary rake, without moral qualms
  4. The merchant or baron who holds your family’s land in fee
  5. A monstrous creature who lives in a place it was forbidden for you to visit
  6. Your own brother, returned from over a decade at sea

d6 Hopes

  1. The ghosts of your tormentor’s former lovers or inconvenient infants
  2. The poison rose tree, which can safely end a pregnancy
  3. A supernatural figure who will act as godparent. Their aid is freely given, but would change both you and the child
  4. The sympathetic mother of the man who wronged you
  5. There is a piece of lore to command the man who wronged you— his name, or an item he prizes above all
  6. A witch who lives in a remote location, and has taken a vow of vengeance against the world

d6 Complications

  1. You have nowhere to stay and winter is creeping in.
  2. Your seven brothers, eager to help, (if reckless), have been locked away
  3. You have been cursed to obey all commands
  4. Someone who should have been on your side is set against you
  5. The man who wronged you is set to marry another
  6. An odious guardian is set to restrict your actions

Generating a Wronged Woman:

First, create a character as normal. In addition to starting equipment, you possess a token from the man who wronged you. If you would start with any money, it is lost. Finally, two of your inventory slots are taken up with the nascent child. Every week, this increases by one until nine slots are full (possibly over-encumbering you). 

  • After the third slot is filled, your pregnancy is obvious at a glance. Most intelligent foes will do their best to avoid seriously hurting you.
  • After the fourth slot is filled, you cannot safely wear armor, except for cloth and fabric armor.
  • After the sixth slot is filled, you cannot safely travel by foot. Distances of less than a kilometer at a time are okay, as is hitching a ride on a cart.
  • After the eighth slot is filled, the DM (ballaDMaster) secretly gives a 50% each week that the child will be born on the most inconvenient possible day of that week.

Other players generate character as normal, likewise losing any money. Then, they roll or choose a sympathy, a reason to join in your quest from the table below. Introduce these characters one at a time in descending order, as the Wronged Woman tells each of her plight. 

d6 Sympathies

  1. You are the Wronged Woman’s loving sister. You fear your own marriage prospects should things go poorly.
  2. You are the Wronged Woman’s absentee father or uncle. You fear the scorn of the world.
  3. You are the Wronged Woman’s childhood friend. You hate the man who wronged her with overriding passion.
  4. You are but a humble peasant, but you know wrong from right. Despite this, you are easily cowed by anyone of higher station.
  5. You are an errant wanderer. You have sworn to obey all women, but otherwise regard these events with detached chauvinism.
  6. You are the Wronged Woman of yesteryear, dealt cruelties you cannot bear to see done to someone else. Start with a token from the man who wronged you.

Auto-generate a scenario:


  1. Man, I don't even know how to feel about this one. It's a great piece of writing, but I feel that I would be so far out of my depth even considering how to run it.

    1. That is fair. Player and balladmaster both need to be very deliberate. In games like this, I tend towards a "high folkloric" style, where characters are very matter-of-fact and wear their characterization on their sleeve. I try to make room for a world that is often uncaring in a way that reminds players of why they should care about the miseries depicted. By making the dangers of play much more personal to the PCs, it reminds people how remarkable small kindnesses can be.