Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Parents are Always Welcome

by Gill Penny
Parents are Always Welcome
by Tobie Abad

In any game, be it Dungeons and Dragons, Castle Falkenstein, White Wolf or whatever game you are playing, there are always opportunities to throw something unexpected to give the players a challenging new twist to deal with.

For this entry, we're going for The Parent.

Most of the time, players don't consider where their character's parents would be in the game world they are playing with.  To be on the safe side, a large percentage of players would opt for the "Orphan/Parents are Dead" option to reduce the need of wondering what their fictional parents are doing given the game period.  After all, if you were playing a deadly multi-skilled Assamite assassin in the World of Darkness or a lore-obsessed researcher of arcane lore in Call of Cthulhu, would you really want to burden yourself with thinking of what the parents of your dark brooding character concept would be doing at that point in time?

That, however, is the very REASON that a storyteller SHOULD consider throwing the parents into the game.

Parents, based on how the real world generally represents them, are people who truly care about their kid, regardless of what the kid has decided to take his or her life towards.  Whether their child is a priestess of a forbidden god in Exalted or a suave swashbuckling pirate who sails the Seventh Sea, a parents would be someone who absolutely and unconditionally loves their child.... or totally loathes and hates what their kid have become.  And these are precisely what makes them perfect as additional non-playing characters to add to any game session.

Parents are the people who will always believe they have every right to meddle, interfere, help, and inject themselves into the lives of a player character.  And best of all, deep down all players will realize that they can't exactly just ignore them.  These are the factors that can make them the best unexpected short-term antagonists if not amusing story-developing interactions in a game.  Can you imagine if a Jedi Consular in a Star Wars game gets a visit from his non-Force-sensitive mother who insists that he stop practicing these "weird things" and instead focus on finding a wife?  Or perhaps the devoted Paladin of Tyr finds herself being reminded by her father that, "Tyr has all the priests he needs.  We need grandchildren!"

These would be fun complications to explore that can't exactly be dealt with with a spell or supernatural skill.  One, after all, wouldn't feel too comfortable about throwing a bit of Dominate or telephatic Mind Control to make a caring but annoying father stop wondering about when the character will consider visiting more often.    And even better, if they choose to do so, maybe you can even surprise them by throwing a few of the elements below to see how they'd respond:

The somehow are IMMUNE to your supernatural/special abilities
You don't even have to explain why.  Whether it be genetics, fate, or some other reason, it can be perfectly acceptable in a story that somehow the parents are shielded if not outright immune to something the character has as a power.  If the character's non-natural abilities were something received from a third party, or outside event, their immunity immediately becomes a whole new story arc of its own!

by Dr Xeno
They aren't immune, but now, the GUILT comes
Whether or not they care about their parents, know you can capitalize on the eventual guilt players will feel about so freely manipulate their parents.  Even better, have the parents sit down with them at one point and confess how much they are proud and happy of having a child that trusts them with everything! Go the whole nine yards and even have them admit to have sacrificed something for their happiness.  And watch the plot soar to new heights instantly.

They always KNEW
Now this is harder to pull off well, but if you do, it just makes a game incredibly crazy and memorable.  The parents come out of the blue, and whether the player character is a vampire pretending to be human, a half-elf that has sought to master arcane lore in secret, a psionic who has been hiding the fact his body is riddled with taint, or an angel of Michael who has been pretending to still be its mortal host, the parent shows up, tries to help make the character's life "better" and throws the bomb at them and reveals, "I always knew you were special.  Actually, back when you were still young..."  and make them realize that sometimes they can have an ally who truly cares for them and is willing to die for them that they never considered.  Give yourself a month's worth of congratulations if you find a way for the parents to sacrifice him or herself to save the player character and confesses he or she knew just seconds before she dies.

Parents.  Can't live without them.  Can't really live with them.
But add them to a game and your players will know one thing for certain:  Your games will catch them off-guard.  And when it happens, it will be fun.

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