Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Notes for Child Roleplay in Deadwood

I wrote up notes for being a kid in Deadwood, my one (lazy) contribution to Deadwood 2.0. Thought I'd also post them here, slightly edited for those who might be considering role-laying a child in Deadwood or any other Western or Victorian sim. I left out some of our rules for role play in the sim (there are very few).. this all comes from different sources gathered over the past couple of years -- people, books, websites .. some of the books and websites are listed at the end, but there are really too many to remember!

What’s a Kid like You Doing in a town like this?

The Wild West was rough and unsettled. In the town where I play, most children would not have survived alone – girls especially (sorry!) would be in need of adult supervision because girls were not allowed as much freedom as boys.

You can be in the Wild West for some good reasons – mostly because your family is there –or was there. If you don’t actually have a family, you can still talk about having a Ma or Pa who is around doing errands or who sent you into town to do errands.

You may have been orphaned or abandoned – you may want to hide that or lie about it or hang out at the orphanage (if there is one) or find someone to let you work for them in exchange for a place to sleep and a little food.

What Kids Wore in the 1870’s in the Wild West

The Wild West in the mid 1800’s, where I role-play, was cold in the winter, and we play it warm in the summer. Depending on how much money a kid’s family had, a kid might dress in layers of rags or be dressed (still in layers of clothing!) like a miniature adult.

Girls would dress like their mothers did, but their skirts would be a bit shorter and their hair let down longer. You could generally tell the age of a girl by the length of her skirt – a 7 year old’s skirt might be just below her knee – by 16, her skirt would be full length. Boys could be expected to wear knee britches until they were 12 or 13. (Boys under 4 commonly wore dresses sometimes with a bustle! And short pants beneath)

Everyday wear for girls under 16 would include a pinafore or smock to protect their clothing from dust and dirty. Older girls might wear a housedress or apron, like their mothers.
Leggings and shoes would be worn, even in the hottest weather. Well to do families would certainly include in their daughter’s wardrobe a camisole, pantaloons and slip. A son from that family would be expected to wear long johns, socks and shoes and a tie with his jacket. They would, of course, attempt to be current with the times.

Although heavily trimmed and decorated, children's clothes were nonetheless usually simpler than those of adults.

Daughters of miners or working class people might have less clothing, simpler designs, and cheaper (though sturdier) fabric sewn by their mothers. Sons of miners might wear overalls or suspenders. Their clothing might be cut from clothing of their parents or hand me downs from older siblings.

Because paleness, not tan, was considered fashionable, a child from a fashion conscious family would wear a stylish hat. All children would wear some kind of a head covering outside – for warmth in the cool seasons, for protection from the sun during hot weather.
However, it isn’t unlikely you will find children running barefoot and hatless in the Wild West in the summertime!

What do I DO with myself?

A child in the Wild West needs to keep busy in order to keep adults from telling them to go home or asking them annoying questions! What can you do?
Children in the real Wild West probably would have been seen more than heard, and not seen a lot! But in our town, children can do several things to engage themselves in the role play.
1. School. Much as 21st century children might not like school, school was often enjoyed by children in the 19th century. It was where you went to see other kids, do things that weren’t demanding chores, learn things that would help you with a job, borrow a fiction book (which were as exciting as video games and TV back then!) and perhaps have a meal not gotten at home (some teachers often provided breakfast and lunch).

2. Errands. A child could be sent into town to do errands – picking up some flour or eggs perhaps on credit at one of the shops, bringing a letter to be sent out or a message to someone. You get the idea (and it doesn’t hurt to have in your pocket a note explaining this from the errand sender in case you get stopped by some nosy adult!)

3. Jobs. Children could have apprentice jobs or little jobs – sweeping, mopping, sorting, learning a skill, fetching water, hanging clothes, watching a baby, grooming horses, feeding chickens..

4. Play! If there is more than one child in The Wild West and school’s out, children can certainly play. Play in the streets, play quietly outside a saloon, bar, shop where there are adults. Wade in the water (if there’s water nearby), climb the hills and explore. Explore the town and peek in windows. If you want to get in trouble, think about Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer – there’s a lot of trouble you can get into just by being a kid.

About Role-playing a Kid in Deadwood

This is from a piece written by one of our child role-players some time ago – hope you find it as useful as many others have!

-- Remember you're ignorant. Kids aren't born knowing everything. If you want your character to know something, ask yourself how you would have learned it. Was it in school? From your parents? From adults you would have been exposed to?

The longer you rp a kid in Deadwood, the more knowledge you'll accumulate... often hysterically distorted if you listen to everyone. So incorporate what you hear into what your character knows.

Also, kids often "know something" without having a clue what it means. Big abstract concepts like "America" are words kids use long before they really understand things like a nation or the world's size. So also try to ask yourself "Even if my character 'knows' this, what don't they understand about it?"

-- Practice selective listening. OOC you hear everything. IC, adults are mostly boring. Particularly dramatic incidents, indecent language, tidbits that reinforce things you already believe, or things that appeal to your unique interests - these are the sorts of things your character will be listening for. For a good example, note how Liza's a morbid child, and so whenever the topic turns deathward her interest level goes up.

Figure out what interests your character most and what doesn't. If it's boring pretend you didn't hear it or didn't pay close attention. If it's interesting perk your ears up and start asking questions.-Geoff Alderson

And I'll add some other thoughts on rping a kid in these times – children were expected to be obedient to adults. A child would not speak out to adults as equals, would not talk back and would Yes ma’am and Yes Sir most adults. Though a child might reply with a surly tone, even that might get a less than pleasant response from the adult or other adults. This is not to say your character cannot be disobedient – just don’t expect a tolerant response. However, children can think (and type out their inner thoughts) whatever they want as they respond “respectfully”.

Children might be involved when there is a bank robbery or shooting on the street and should react as their character would (see suggestions about interacting with adults).

Any shooting experiences should be realistically related to what children would have done in the times, within a well thought out storyline. For example, children might learn to shoot a rifle so they could hunt, carry a slingshot for fun, have a knife for carving purposes and might (occasionally) use these in self-defense.


Some Thoughts on Role-playing a Kid In The Wild West (more of Geoff Alderton’s suggestions)

Pictures and Thoughts on 19th century kids

What Children would have read

Children’s Amusements in the 19th Century (an article)

Children’s Fashion (pix)

Obituaries –children in Prairies where life was not easy



  1. A very interesting post!

    One suggestion, in particular, intrigues me: to get modern children to enjoy the prospect of going to school, it seems we just need to make their non-school lives less pleasant. Hmmm... *rubs hands together and chuckles evilly*

  2. Yes, the horror of having to walk a mile or two to communicate with your friends face to face instead of driving your own car so you can go somewhere where you can sit among them and text messaging each other!

    The pain of helping one's parents prepare dinner, do laundry, work in a garden, take care of siblings rather than sitting on one's butt and playing XBox or other games 12 - 18 hours a day!

    Those pore children of yore!

    Best watch what other cruelties you think of.. they can call Children's Services on you these days, you know!!


    I actually put this part in because people kept insisting children in Deadwood needed an "activity center" because they had nothing to do.

    Would LOVE to send them back to DW and then watch the real townfolks reaction to that suggestion!!!

  3. Marrant, that was a great post. Playing a realistic child is really hard. The suggestions you gave here are should really help folks who are thinking about trying out a kid role.
    One thing that occured to me in a childs role is the matter of discipline in rp. For some reason people get all bent out of shape if a teacher or someone else in authority would use corporal punishment. Spanking was an acceptable form of punishment and would be used to bring a recalcitrant child into line. And the child normally would not be willing to let his/her parents know about the spanking as then the parents would apply some rather forceful reinforcement to the childs posterior regions.

  4. Yes, Black.. I had a whole chunk about that on the Deadwood forum when a couple of people were ready to (literally) kill my elderly teacher avatar because she had a switch and threatened to use it!

    I could put that together again all in one place ... I started to include it here but.. one of the things we seemed to attract (sick though this sounds to me) were child avatars who *wanted* to be spanked or otherwise receive corporal punishment.

    So, how to talk about corporal punishment without making it sound some kind of way around of BDSM? I guess by saying that's not what we're talking about...