in the Shadow of Greatness


May 30, 2006

IMC :: family generations

In the vampire rpg genre, who made you and who you might sire are a minor part of the plot. In Amber, they are the plot—except for those weeks you are saving the universe for your own selfish reasons.

These 'family' elements are captured pretty well in the Amber DRPG rulebook—and it seems to me that no other game that I know of captures the notion of family as a central consequence of plot.

This is my bias as a Player: in other games, I don't feel the same way about my dramatically revealed clone, or my GM driven evil twin as I do a PC brother/cousin/uncle. In many RPGs, the npc evil clone/sibling is a plot trick or gimmick; while in Amber DRPG it is everything Real.

So I think.

Granted, most of you that care to read this probably have experienced some of this "family feature" that I'm talking about: that uncle you abhor, or that cousin who always knows how to irritate you, or that mother who's every gesture of kindness is like nails on chalkboard.

"What you call 'dysfunctional' I call family. I've never met a 'functional' one."

Forget 'backstabbing' or 'throne wars' and realize that what keeps people coming back to Amber are great characters and intricate family played out in a lovely wide-ranging setting.

That being said, there is an interesting story cycle that has manifested in my campaign. While one of the first premises of the Amber DRPG rulebook is that your parents are manipulative bastards, the game takes on a new meaning when you do the same thing to your own kids. Or rather, because you don't want to be like your parents, you do something to them that is completely different. And manipulative because, well, you darned sure aren't going to be like your parents. Even the complete lack of management is the grossest sort of manipulation.

This, of course, means that you get a result with your own kid which is something very different and unexpected. They are different people. You are different than your parents. Ergo, you have a new mess that you pretty much created yourself.

Insert dramatic background music here.

IMHO, if you are very lucky, you will sometime have the chance to RPG an immortal parent trying to do the best for their offspring. The opportunity to second guess yourself, make obvious blunders, laugh, cry, and get totally freaked at your offspring's interpretation of the simplest instructions and homilies is a treat not to be missed. Your PC might be arrogant or wise, dashing or sedate, kingmaker or political liability, but your own kids will make you tear your hair out. It will also give you a very different reading of the Amber DRPG rulebook and all those 'manipulative elders'.

Because, after all, you get to put your fictional toys away after play ends. No children are actually exploited in the process of delivering this drama.

The Family theater doesn't stop there.

If the campaign years roll by and your kids finally find the right person and begin to have kids of their own, the situation evolves in totally new and intriguing ways.

That's right. Grandchildren.

And your kids know every mistake you made and they so aren't going to be the silly ass you were as a parent. They've got a spiffy plan and solid foresight that really will give their kids a leg up in the dangerous universe.

Sounds familiar to you. But will they listen? No.
Did you?

Ah, then the little ones are there. And you get to visit. And they are adorable, smart, wicked quick to pick things up and frustrate their parents. Such fun. And they really like you. You, the old crank. They don't see you often enough. You bring presents or tell cool stories. You live in that excellent shadow. Or give them horse rides even though their parents think they aren't old enough to be bouncing around on Kolvir tucked in with the grandparent.

Ah well.

And then there is the ultimate reversal. The smart-ass modern brainy kids you raised have mapped your flaws as a parent, but the grandkids love you on sight. And strangely, you are a softy when it comes to them.

How did they get their little fingers into your heart so easily?

"And keep an eye on Martin."
—Oberon, going off to war

It's much more than the "enemies of my enemies are my allies". Those little grandkids are fascinating. You see the fresh start. You see the hope. You see little bits of your kids in them. You recognize slivers of yourself—even an occasional squint of your parent. The relationship is magical. It's affection without the investment and the parental responsibility to make sure they turn out "perfect". It's all of the fun with practically none of the angst. And maybe you can even get a wise word in edgewise with their parents.

Ah. Maybe.

What's that? Tell you a story about your father when he first learned to ride a horse? Sure. Climb up here. This will take a while.

Well, your father wasn't quite as strong and quick as you, and it was raining a bit...

Filed under : Amber, IMC at 30.05.2006
Michael says...

Pop Sociology Generations by Strauss and Howe explores a concept of alternating generations of overcompensating parenting styles. One generation is stifled, so the next is free, so the next is stifled, etc. This is crossed with a 2 generation crisis cycle (alternating spiritual crisis with secular crisis). Their "examine the generational constellations through time" model was really interesting, and little things like "if a book was written in 1922 by a 27 year old, think about how his generation reacted to the Great War" were really useful tools.

Don't bother with their later books, but I've always through generational reactionary politics ala Strauss & Howe were a big part of Amber's versimilitude.

Posted May 30, 2006 10:04 PM