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 sambear created for me for a campaign with 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.and friends, I’m playing a character
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.