Loving The Character is a series about how to play each of the common character types in Bliss Stage. It will consist of discussion of both the mechanical aspects of the type and tips on how to portray them sympathetically - even when they're screwing up.
Today's our first one about a secondary character type: Little Kids. They're your future, if you're ever going to have one. Your reason for fighting. Your biggest fans.
They're also a constant reminder of what you've lost, what you're still losing, and of your own too-short future.
A Little Kid is a secondary who's young enough to still unequivocally be a kid - slightly more dependent and with fewer adult responsibilities, with some space to be a child even in this time of war. They are almost always under 10, and many will be under 7 and born after Bliss Day. Therefore, they have little real experience of any other world than this, and the bizarre society of children that exists After Bliss is normal to them.
For secondary characters, there are no real mechanical components. Their main mechanical importance lies in their ability to sustain Harm and to serve as relationships for Pilots. Because they are not in the Anchor/main chassis role, a secondary's relationships with Pilots are usually under less stress and the ANIMa components based on them can be left unmanifested in a mission or two for "maintenance".
The other big thing that secondary characters can do is bring one or more of the game's Hopes into sharper focus by offering a character who does not need to also fulfill other story roles and can be used explicitly to bring the Hope into play and illustrate the stakes of its resolution.
There are no mechanical considerations that apply specifically to Little Kids, but there are some emotional ones. Pilots are usually reluctant to put them at risk by using them during missions. If there is a parental/sibling/protector relationship in play as well, this will also drive lots of drama between a Pilot who does use a Little Kid-based component and that Kid's protectors.
Another good thing to remember when using Little Kids in your game is that even more than other types of character they demand attention to the play group's comfort level with what will or won't be fair game to have happen to them, and how much will be "on screen." Yeah, BS is a "kids in danger" game, but that's amped up to 11 when the kid is 5. Even more than usual, talk about these lines and respect each other's emotional reactions to what happens in play.
Instead of the usual build and tactical play advice that I give in Pilot and Anchor Loving The Character posts, for secondaries I will concentrate on giving advice about what the symbolic and emotional role of the character type might be.
For Little Kids, there are several basic positions they might take in the Resistance group.
1. The Child of Another Character. One of the Pilots or Anchors, or possibly even the Authority Figure, is the Kid's (actual or functional) parent. The protectiveness thing I mentioned above is likely to be big here. If this game doesn't have a "Can we raise another generation" Hope in play, maybe it should? There will likely be drama around the conflicts that the parent's other role forces with their role as parent. When playing the Kid, be sure to do your best to bring those conflicts out. The other issue for these kinds of Kids is being wanted - bearing a child in the World After Bliss is a pretty crazy thing to do, and some of these kids will be the product of rape, poor decision-making, or extremely traumatic births and pregnancy experiences. Others will be the expression of a profound and perhaps irrational faith in the future - and have to carry the burden of those feelings.
2. The Little Sister (Brother). These roles are often slightly different, but they mostly play out the same way. The Kid is a younger sibling of another character, or in some functionally similar relationship to them (such as having been dependent on the "big brother/sister" character during the Seven Years of survival). It's usually best if the elder sib character is a Pilot rather than an Anchor. Some of the same protectiveness issues may be in play here, but even more so this relationship cries out for exploration of independence/identity issues as the younger sib tries to either follow in elder sib's footsteps or stand out on their own - usually both at once, and with a good deal of storm and stress. When playing this kind of Kid, push hard on the constant shifting sands of your relationships as you try to negotiate your own identity. Spend some time and thought - and maybe a little collaboration with the player of your sib - on figuring out what the time you spent together was like and how your elder sib did (or didn't) protect and help you.
3. The Mascot. This is the kid who everybody (or at least lots of somebodies) has a relationship with - sort of a communal Little Sister or even sort of a pet. Usually on the younger end of the age range, and often without a clear parental or elder sibling figure in their lives. May be a bit feral or oddly socialized, perhaps (in games with a higher "weirdness level" or appropriate Hopes) a bit touched by the Dream World in some way, but not to the degree of the Changeling. Most are well-adjusted and happy children, though, serving as a sort of positive inspiration and symbol of the future for the Resistance. When you play this kind of Kid, make your Interludes fun and childish, with lots of playtime; or go for nurturing scenes of unconditional love (either given or received). Of course, sometimes it's not going to work out, and be ready to be just as crushing in your tears and disappointment as you were bouyant with hugs and smiles.
4. The Changeling. You're not quite human. Usually born After Bliss, sometimes foundlings under strange circumstances, these are the Kids who are touched somehow by the Dream World. Usually only appropriate in games where there is a Hope about either humanity's future or understanding/communing with the Enemy. In this role, it's important not to tread on other players' toes with your insights or pre-judge any Hopes. You should probably talk a lot as a group about your expectations for how the Changeling's alien-ness will manifest itself. The big ticket drama potential for a Changeling is the tension between being a child, with normal emotional needs and a desire to be loved, and being a potential asset (or liability!) in the War. The temptation will always be there for the Authority Figure and the other members of the Resistance to try to somehow use you to understand the Enemy or get an advantage against them. The potential will always be there for love to turn into fear and alienation. Play on that!
5. The Waif. This Kid has seen too much, experienced too much, to really be a kid any more. But they're too little to be anything else. They might be feral, traumatized, or knowing and hardened beyond their years, but one thing they aren't is innocent. They're a challenge to get close to, and often dangerous. Often seen as the Kid who isn't really part of the Resistance community but a connection with outsiders such as a gang member or a scavenger. Sometimes as a twisted version of the Little Sister. These are tricky to get right - push too hard and they come off as a caricature, don't push hard enough and they slide into another role or just become a floating ball of misery. A Waif is a great addition to a game with the "Help other kids in our area" Hope, or similar ones.
Playing Lovable Little Kids
It's easy. Just go with the role and let the natural desire to protect and love you do its work.
Use Those Baby Blues. Seriously, the main thing to remember is be intense in your emotions. You may be guarded or withdrawn, but that just means that your emotional expression should be all the more intense when it DOES show up - and it definitely should.
Be A Wigglyworm. Respect people's personal comfort with this, but it can be particularly effective with Little Kids to use a lot of physical acting in your portrayal. Bounce around, fidget, touch people, give hugs, cry, giggle, laugh. If not physically, at least get lots of this in as narration in your scenes. Kids express a lot of emotions they don't necessarily have words for with movement and body language.
A Little Babytalk Goes A Long Way. Don't feel you have to use childish speech patterns. Used sparingly, this may be good, but all too often it will end up forced. Just try to get across your meaning with simple, declarative phrases. Plenty of pauses and "ums" and "weeelllll...." can help too. Talking a little too fast or slow is good sometimes.
Play the War. Usually, this is GM advice, but as a Little Kid, you're both the hope for victory and the price of defeat - you need to bring that emotional impact home. Show your scars. Be disappointed when your heroes have feet of clay. Blurt out secrets that you weren't supposed to tell. Be their biggest fan. Have big dreams for the future. Talk about "when I grow up..." or "when we win."
Talk to me about some Little Kids from your own games!