Question for RPG Geeks

I have a ques­tion for the gamers amongst you, please. Be patient, it takes a while to explain.

In the D&D game we’re cur­rent­ly play­ing with leduck and friends, I’m play­ing a char­ac­ter sam­bear cre­at­ed for me for a cam­paign with god­dessin­ga and greyknight. We only played one ses­sion, as I recall—but the char­ac­ter, Seau­claire, stuck in our minds. We start­ed writ­ing a nov­el togeth­er and she became one of the cen­tral char­ac­ters. The nov­el is on a back burn­er, but still there.

I tend to get to know my RPG char­ac­ters very, very deeply. I find out how they’ve been raised, and by whom. How did they become the per­son they are in cur­rent game-time? How do they know the oth­er PCs and what are their rela­tion­ships and his­to­ry with NPCs? Some of the NPCs who intro­duced them­selves via my back­sto­ries have shown up in-game.

The orig­i­nal bio-sketch Sam gave me for Seau­claire left me with nag­ging ques­tions. I could­n’t see the per­son whose his­to­ry he described being who she was now. I could­n’t see any rea­son at all for her par­ents to have been togeth­er. Giv­en who her father was, how could the sup­posed mur­der of her moth­er pos­si­bly go unsolved or unavenged for decades? If her moth­er died so ear­ly in her life that she can’t real­ly remem­ber her, why would she become obsessed with solv­ing that mur­der? And why the heck did she have that out­ra­geous charis­ma stat? Nice—but tru­ly out of line, it seemed. Where did that come from? A char­ac­ter who is essen­tial­ly a spy but who is too mem­o­rable to go unno­ticed does­n’t make sense.

There was noth­ing wrong with what Sam had come up with, prob­a­bly. I’m almost cer­tain­ly just a con­trol freak. But I want things to make sense holis­ti­cal­ly, and that didn’t.

Answer­ing the ques­tions led to the bur­geon­ing nov­el. The answers brought more ques­tions, sto­ries, and threads to oth­er sto­ries and char­ac­ters. Seau­claire still had episodes that did­n’t make sense and did things that weren’t work­ing for me at times—like she was more than one per­son. And sud­den­ly we real­ized that Seau­claire has dis­so­cia­tive iden­ti­ty dis­or­der (DID)—what used to be called mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ty disorder.

DID had come to our atten­tion recent­ly for whol­ly unre­lat­ed rea­sons, but in that strange syn­chronic­i­ty that just hap­pens at times, it explained things we did­n’t know need­ed explain­ing and brought up new “aha!“s. The sto­ry just was—it was­n’t some­thing we were cre­at­ing. It told us itself.

I have RPd a grand total of two char­ac­ters in any real sense in the past. Annabelle was a Mage char­ac­ter. Tarafear is a bard in anoth­er mul­ti­year D&D cam­paign in the same world—now very high lev­el and some­one about whom Seau­claire hears gos­sip or news sto­ries. I did have a Were­wolf char­ac­ter, Caitlin, but I did­n’t real­ly get into the game and cer­tain­ly did­n’t get into Caitlin’s head in any depth.

I wor­ry some­times about my utter lack of gam­ing “cred.” I had­n’t played before meet­ing Sam in 1998. I’ve only played in his games, oth­er than one ses­sion in volt­bang’s short-lived cam­paign (I can’t remem­ber that char­ac­ter’s name, but it start­ed with an “A” and she was anoth­er bard sim­ply because that was the only thing miss­ing from the par­ty when I cre­at­ed her). Most of the peo­ple with whom I’ve played have many years, decades even, of expe­ri­ence. Some of them have pro­fes­sion­al cred­its in the indus­try. I have occa­sion­al pan­ic-attack moments, think­ing “they must real­ly get tired of my stu­pid ques­tions and flubs.”

I am a new­bie. I can­not game-geek, com­par­ing dif­fer­ent sys­tems and GMs and so on. I don’t have enough expe­ri­ence, nor, hon­est­ly, am I like­ly to gain it. I’m some­thing of a stick-in-the-mud. I have no inter­est, for exam­ple, in super­hero games (to Sam’s dis­may). I’m not inter­est­ed in any­thing real­ly dark or depress­ing. I want to escape, and that means fan­ta­sy, thankyouverymuch.

Sto­ry, though—I know sto­ry. I have been immers­ing myself in fic­tion and mak­ing sto­ries in my head for most of my life. There are places where good sto­ries must go if you respect their own organ­ic nature. There are things that char­ac­ters inform you about them­selves that absolute­ly were not planned, and they are not nec­es­sar­i­ly nice or convenient.

I have a point. Real­ly. I promise.

So last night, some­thing came up in the cur­rent game that was actu­al­ly han­dled dif­fer­ent­ly in-game than what Seau­claire’s back­sto­ry would actu­al­ly require. Sam had for­got­ten that bit, I think. We talked about it some today. I’m not entire­ly sure the oth­er play­ers would wel­come RPing the DID prop­er­ly, but one of the main trig­gers for Seau­claire’s per­sona switch­es is any attempt to con­trol or influ­ence her mind via mag­ic. (There are oth­er trig­gers, and some of them are almost guar­an­teed to come up in-game.)

Tru­ly, she is at least four peo­ple. Those four peo­ple would have com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter sheets. Things like their align­ments are dif­fer­ent, and she looks and acts dif­fer­ent­ly depend­ing on who is “out” at the moment. This is one of the very many times that I wish I were capa­ble of draw­ing what I see because I know exact­ly how she looks and moves for each of those alters.

Seau­claire is not con­scious of the switch­ing. She cer­tain­ly isn’t in any­thing approach­ing con­scious con­trol of it. She explains what she can­not oth­er­wise explain as being “in character”—taking on roles as required as a spy. She has been raised all her life to be the per­fect spy—she’s her father’s pet project, and he’s one of the lead­ers of an emi­nent intel­li­gence oper­a­tion. He has used her in an attempt to con­vince the gov­ern­ment to give him oth­er chil­dren to raise the same way. In game terms, she does have the pres­tige class spy­mas­ter and has four dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sions as part of that which would require com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent dress and man­ner­isms. That isn’t all of it, though.

With­out going into great detail about the “four faces of Seau­claire,” I can def­i­nite­ly see RPing three of them as a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty. I don’t know that I could do that well enough that the oth­er play­ers would tru­ly notice—I can only hope so. (Sam and I are in agree­ment that if the fourth is ever brought out in-game, I would­n’t be in con­trol of the character—because Seau­claire as an intel­li­gent, think­ing being is not present for that persona.)

So—would hav­ing a play­er essen­tial­ly switch­ing off between three dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters in one just be too damned annoy­ing for the oth­er play­ers? This cam­paign is NOT “Seau­claire’s sto­ry.” The fact that my part­ner is the GM is not—despite the insis­tence of a play­er who chose to leave the game—license for me to do what­ev­er I damned well please. The oth­er char­ac­ters are every bit as impor­tant as Seau­claire, and deserve every bit as much detail and back­ground and plot hooks and so on. I don’t know if their play­ers get into that sort of thing, though. Well, I know that word­can­dlemage gets very much into his char­ac­ters, but most of the oth­er folks are rel­a­tive­ly new to me.

If I were one of those oth­er play­ers, I think I’d be con­cerned if I thought that this was a way for some­one to have four dif­fer­ent skill sets that they could pull out as need­ed. That isn’t what is hap­pen­ing, here—as I said, Seau­claire is NOT in con­scious con­trol of the switch­ing, and I would def­i­nite­ly play her that way. In fact, switch­ing could def­i­nite­ly present seri­ous dis­ad­van­tages for both char­ac­ter and par­ty at times. That might piss off some peo­ple, as well.

I can’t help remem­ber­ing Deb­bie, who played in one or two ses­sions of our Mage cam­paign. Her char­ac­ter was caught up in some sort of per­son­al time storm. She switched ran­dom­ly between dif­fer­ent ages of the same character—wise and phys­i­cal­ly decrepit old woman, young child, com­pe­tent mid­dle-aged woman, shal­low teen. I think Sam was in con­trol of which aspect was present when. She played them all quite well, I think. And it was real­ly, real­ly annoy­ing, espe­cial­ly when her char­ac­ter could have done some­thing that was sore­ly need­ed by the par­ty but chose to go shop­ping for new shoes instead.

So—what do you, as play­ers, think? Would it piss you off to have Seau­claire played as those three (pos­si­bly four) dif­fer­ent peo­ple? Would you want to talk about it OOC, or do you think the GM should be able to just say “it’s okay with me” and make it so? If you were in this game, would you feel that I was being giv­en spe­cial atten­tion because I’m “the DM’s girl­friend”? Would know­ing more about the dif­fer­ent per­sonas or the known trig­gers change your answer? Does the very idea of bring­ing a very real psy­chi­atric con­di­tion into a fan­ta­sy game squick you? If you GM, how would you han­dle the situation? 

For what it’s worth, DID is not sim­ply being used as a con­ve­nient plot device. Because of my per­son­al expe­ri­ence as a sur­vivor of child­hood sex­u­al abuse I’ve been around a fair num­ber of peo­ple in a recov­ery who suf­fered from DID, from mild to severe cas­es. I’ve seen the kind of changes Seau­claire expe­ri­ences. I’ve expe­ri­enced the odd sense of dis­lo­ca­tion when a mid­dle-aged woman with whom I had been inter­act­ing sud­den­ly turned into a preschool­er while wear­ing the same body. I saw a woman turn into a man, or behave like a bird. I have a great deal of empa­thy for those who expe­ri­ence DID, as does Sam, and there’s def­i­nite­ly no thought of mak­ing this some sort of gag. The char­ac­ter’s back­sto­ry con­tains events that could very plau­si­bly have caused her per­son­al­i­ty to splin­ter as a cop­ing mechanism.

Cur­rent Mood: 🤔con­tem­pla­tive
Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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