I am by no means writing this article as an expert into what is now called Dissociative Identity Disorder. When I was younger, the term Multiple Personality Disorder or Syndrome was the more prevalent descriptor. But, just to get a definition about the disorder I’m talking about and to define some of the general causes and symptoms, I feel I have to give a little detail. The condition is usually caused by a myriad of factors; most of which include a severe trauma experienced in the person’s childhood. Something was experienced so undefinable by their still forming mind that the mind had to create stop gap measures to protect the child.
This trauma is normally repeating, extremely physical, emotional or sexual abuse. In reaction to such unspeakable torture, there is a ‘dissociation’ with one’s thoughts (including memory, actions and/or feelings). This can also splinter the identity of the sufferer.
Now, normally, I would shy away from such a character; not wanting to be thought of as making light of such a horrific and real condition that many suffer from. I mean, in a normal game, I would never use this kind of thing as just a character design without somewhat of a good reason. Let me explain how I got here…
THE WHY OR HOW I CAME TO MAKE THE CHARACTER
It all started with our family DM, Steps, who also writes a lot of our Magic content, decided to start a Spelljammer game. And, him being a big Lovecraft fan, decided to make it a ‘Cosmic Horror‘ game. We all started to pull from the races in the new Spelljammer book and prepare for a ‘fun game’. I had decided on the Giff some time ago. I like the militant discipline and their prowess with guns. But another idea started to emerge.
I think if there is one place mental illness has its place in a RPG game, it’s in Call of Cthuthlu type of horror games. The monsters we are dealing with are so deeply disturbing that it works on the mind. In fact, the DM decided to incorporate the SANITY stat block to our characters which we had to keep up with and hope to keep it high. In fact, in a game like this, keeping your Sanity up is as important, if not more important, as your Hit Points.
That’s when the character idea came to me. Suffering severe trauma, like being in the presence of a Lovecraftian Horror scars the psyche. In D&D, these creatures are Aberrations; creatures leaking into our existence from the Far Realms. (Maybe, down the road, I will explore this dark, sinister place with you)
Our DM produced a world killing horror the survivors called THE RUINER. At least, two of our party had narrowly escaped this thing; one being my character. That’s when the idea came to me: What if a changeling suffered a traumatic experience in the presence of this mind altering, world killer? They narrowly escaped being consumed by it, but, naturally, came out the other end a bit twisted. At this moment, I decided to build a changeling with multiple personalities, the one at the forefront being the Giff for reasons I will explain.
Now, some backstory:
A TALE OF TWO SIBLINGS: THE YING/YANG OF THE STORY
The story begins with a set of twins, brother and sister changeling: XAND AND XEND. They lost their parents when they were much too young to remember. But they always had each other. They balanced each other.
XAND was the free booting, happy go lucky scamp. She was the darkside of the two. She got into trouble just for fun and always saw the glass half empty. Xand was always more than likely to take the negative side of any situation. So much so, that she carried a black pepperbox, she called DESPAIR which was etched visibly onto its barrel. Not surprisingly, she was a Nihilist who saw no point to a life that was to inevitably end in death.
XEND was the older by a few moments, but acted like he was so much Xand’s elder. He was the one who kept her going. He was her light in this incredibly dark multiverse. He was, in fact, the religious one of the two. Not so much that he worshiped a particular deity, but that he believed in the good in the universe and had faith that there was a point to life of which he lived his life to find. He too carried a gun; a silver barreled six shooter with an ivory handle with an image of an angel on it. Called HOPE, it was meant to rid the world of the horrors of the many worlds that needed protecting.
Xend protected Xand as much as he could and tried to reassure her of the good in life. He was what little faith she had. That is until his untimely death.
This is when her problems with disassociation began. In a story yet to be told, Xend lost his life protecting her from the aforementioned horror, THE RUINER. Looking directly into the face of such madness, especially as it consumes your other half, was just the traumatic event to begin to crack her identity. Not willing to let go of her good brother, she carried him with her as her first splinter of a personality. The voice of faith and love. It was a relationship she was unwilling to say goodbye to.
But this brought other ruptures. Being alone, she would, at times, revert to her childhood form aptly named THE CHILD. Usually when the fear just overwhelmed her, she would run to the shadows or somewhere to hide and would be found in the fetal position as a crying, fearful changeling child. Now, this could have been a part of the splinter that started at her brother’s death or maybe some hidden trauma from earlier in her life. The definition has been left to the progress of the game.
One other ‘personality’ that emerged was a feral, catlike creature: Possibly a Tabaxi. She would revert to THE FERAL ONE in times of outright panic to protect herself from harm. It especially appeared when THE CHILD was in danger.
TO LOVE AND TO LOSE
That brings us to the Giff.
She was rescued by a band of mercenaries who were aiding worlds ravaged by this abomination. It was probably this group of miscreants that saved her from perishing on her homeworld. She would have probably come to a terrible end, suffering even more trauma, if not for their leader, a loud, hard Giff who had been where she was. He had seen the Ruiner as did a great many of his band. They were so traumatized that they pledged their lives to ending the madness. Xand wasn’t ready to be near this group for as dedicated as they were to the mission, they were not the most respectable lot. In fact, they were a broken group with a great many dark and twisted ‘appetites’.
But the Giff, called simply The Colonel , protected her and would let no harm come to her. As their journey went on, Xand and the Colonel grew close. He taught her how to protect herself with a gun and sword and she gave the rough-edged warrior her love. At first glance, it was an odd couple to say the least. But, seeing them in action, you could tell there was something strong and deep between them. He became her protector and she was his world.
But chasing The Ruiner is not a safe life. Inevitably, tragedy struck and Xand got to witness the death of yet another loved one. And what made it worse it was at the hands (?) of this cosmic horror. The death of the Colonel was too much for her and the last straw for her fragile mind. In her fashion, she absorbed the Colonel into her psyche making him her PROTECTOR and keeping his image up front. Hiding behind the Giff has become a life choice for her.
And this is how the rest of the party meets Xand, as the Colonel; the Giff. She is untrusting and unwilling to expose herself emotionally to another just yet. With The Colonel, she can keep them at arm’s length until they show their true selves. But also being a Changeling with a disassociation with her own identity brings on some amazing game play.
I’m sure as time goes, the horrific war around her will give her a chance to move in and out of images. I’m playing her with her full Changeling capabilities even though she is in the form of The Colonel. Any time she deems necessary, she can and will take another’s shape.
GAME UPDATE: Just last night she felt as though an unsavory ship captain that had taken the party on to ‘help with a party’ was about to abandon them after one of them had assassinated a high ranking official. The Colonel dispatched him; showing Xand in his dying moments and used the Captain’s image to escape on the Starjammer ship they came in on. She WILL kill to protect herself and has proven to be a dangerous companion.
SOMETHING WAITING IN THE SHADOWS
You’ve heard the thing about being your own worse enemy? Well Xand is definitely that. Not just because her fear is a danger to herself and others. It’s more like one of her disassociations is the dark boogey man who has been stalking them every step of the way.
I’m not sure if her own mad subconscious created it after being in the presence of The Ruiner or if she has actually seen the being known only as THE PROPHET! All of the personalities will speak of him or it as something separate from them who is a danger to them all. They would tell everyone, “If you ever see The Prophet, you must kill it immediately!” They describe it as the herald of The Ruiner itself. The fact that it actually resides in the psyche of Xand adds to the growing horror. Only I and the DM know of this. As far as the others know, The Prophet is following them and woe to them if it catches up!!
This is just one of a myriad of ways to play out such a mental disorder. I wouldn’t suggest doing it for the laughs; although the interactions between some personalities can be downright comical. Treat the condition with respect. Take it serious. And do NOT play a character like this without forethought and care. And you can NOT do it without the absolute full support of your DM. This should go without saying. They should know as much as you know about the different disassociations.
Remember, this comes from a horrid past where your character would have suffered excruciating pain and abuse. Like I said before, the Lovecraftian Horror motif is the best setting whether you play it with the 5E rules like we do or go full on into Call of Cthulhu. Take great care and use the roleplaying experience to work your character through their trauma and possibly give them some solace and closure along the way. But, it you go the horror route, there’s a good chance they’ll meet a bad end.
What are some of the characters you have played with this type of disassociated behavior? What are some of the things that worked? What didn’t? What both funny and sad stories were you able to write? Let us know below in the comments as we are super interested in what YOU have to say. We don’t build our games in a vacuum. On the contrary, we build upon the shoulders of the experiences, campaigns and character builds of those who have gone before!