in the Shadow of Greatness


February 3, 2005

IMC :: Vendetta

"For vengeance I would do nothing. This nation is too great to look for mere revenge"
—James Garfield
Lets talk about canon Amber. You are going to play the offspring of the Royal Scions of Oberon.

There are several opportunities to frame your PC with a dead parent as backstory. Finndo, Osric, Eric, Deirdre, and yes, Brand.

Let's further suppose you are a SFSP (snooty first series purist). This tosses out Rinaldo and Dalt from the 'wronged parent tribe'. Not that we must for our discussion.

Courts come into existence when legal relations are no longer entirely a private matter. Thus, courts do not exist in a society governed by vendetta, and they are of little consequence in one where composition for wrongs is the rule.
—Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition

But in Zelazny's canon, the courts do not rule the royals. Royals are quite exempt from anything but the King's displeasure; maybe a serious temper flare from another Elder.

So the Players need guidance from the GM about family vendetta—especially in the creation process of PCs. They need to know two things:

What does personal honor demand about past wrongs?
Is my PC able to change the intangible game-world?

My advice is GMs should not try to exclude vendetta. Deal with it, but be proactive and clear about it.. Turn it to intangible drama at least.

It should be clear that the departed used a Blood Curse, or in effect that justice has already been served in mysterious ways. It should be also clear that whomever sits the throne, that 'offing' relatives is about the worst thing that anyone in the family can do. Ever.

Hurt family? Sure. Hurt them badly? Sometimes. Kill them? No. You must be mad.

GMs are well advised to understand the 'no kill family rule' (even ask metaphysically why) and while you have no obligation to explain it to PCs, the Players should meta-understand it.

This does not mean that there are no stories tainted by vendetta. Or that revenge doesn't color the character and voices between some characters. Even to sons/daughters of Brand having serious questions about what Fiona and Bleys did/did not do and when.

I mean, is it right for all redhead descendants to be so chummy in post-Patternfall games? I find it odd—but common in some games. OTOH, Amber and the game are not much served by a PC scion of Brand who is a mopey whiny 'poor me' blot on the bloodline.

Instead, the next generation of Amber will have to navigate relations between Elders' personal history while running up their own colors and attitudes about the family dynamic. Dramatic tension is a usable (desirable!) undercurrent when uncles and aunts might come to blows while younger (I never knew him) folks in the campaign wonder what all the fuss is about.

There are consequences. You need to have them. They need to resonate down through years. These are immortal passions.

If you ignore them in favor of game stability—you come up empty when PC X actually makes the mistake of hurting a family member and the cast says, "well, we forgive you right now. Move along, nothing to feel here."

That just makes in-game PC feelings a void.

The example from my own game would be Rinaldo. He killed Caine. Then later was pardoned by Vialle. Many folks in family think Vialle's pardon was a brilliant stroke, even if the King bawled her out later in private. Random eventually saw the good in it for getting further into his reign without a vendetta tearing at the family over the really heinous death of a popular prince.

So Rinaldo is pardoned.

But not forgiven. No. Way.

Caine was an important figure. He still influences people in current events though dead fifty years. And Julian and Gerard still won't spend time with Rinaldo unless they have to out of courtesy. And the surviving sons of Rilga have sons and daughters, some of whom are chill towards Rinaldo out of respect for Julian and Gerard even though they never knew Caine.

Many PCs seem to think vendetta is all about blades, spells, or some ingenious fatal trap; the physical hurt, in short. But that's not the be-all of clever. Clever is also:

  • Players finding in-character reasons to work out another consequence
  • PCs privately lowering the Other's 'stock' while upping your own
  • PCs reversing expectations of NPCs by taking the goals of your 'despised one' and completing them better, faster than they can themselves so they owe you
  • shifting public opinion of your opponent to that of a dangerous immature dork
  • be helpful and cheery and let them wonder what's going on
  • take their parent for a lover

In true soap-opera style, having a vendetta means being able to talk about it, not necessarily execute it. One could almost say a vendetta is a treasure to be admired.

Vendetta. Be careful how you use it. It can make or break your game.

Filed under : Amber, IMC, Muse at 03.02.2005