Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers and Sons...and Brothers

Pop psychology is crammed with homilies to the importance of father-child bonding. More often than not it's a steady stream of rather obvious truths--with the occasional fuzzy-edged myth thrown in for sentimental good measure. Stress is placed on role modeling of the serious and heavy sort; games when they do get a mention are invariably of the ball-throwing, tousle-the-hair stereotypical sort.

From reading those paeans, you would never know that modeling play, especially imaginative play, is of vital developmental importance not just for the child, but for the adult that follows. (Take my word for it, there is a flotilla of other pop psychology pieces to bolster that assertion.)

It must be a theme that resonates on a deep level with me, looking back on my own writing here the more personal posts invariably dwell on my father or his father--and how the things I learned from them manifest themselves in my own love for this Game (you know the one).

It will be a long time before I get a chance to truly introduce the Game to my own brood (hypothetical and not), but yesterday I did get a swipe at corrupting the young impressionable minds of my nephews, William the eldest in particular.

The older one, now five, has always clearly had a head in his head. On a muddy morning last Fall he started in his first soccer game. He spent the entirety of that game utterly disinterested in what was happening on the field, spending most of it staring off at the great, gray buttress of clouds slowly accumulating to the North. He wasn't bored, there was an elaborate story about the giants who float on their cloud castles with lightening axes to match his hour-long daydream.

My brother, as keen to push sports on his kids as much as we were pushed, took it in good stride. Grinning as he related the story to me he said, “I think the games he's going to excel at are likely going to be of the role-playing persuasion.” (There was no need to remind him that he played D&D and the raft of other RPGs in nearly every session that GMed back in ye old day.)

Nine times out of ten these days William will track me down at whatever family function we are attending, and just as invariably by the end of it he will be begging me to play one of the sub-par rogue-like games I have added to my so-called smart-phone to blissfully tune out when standing in a grocery checkout line or the like. Yesterday, I flat out refused, “no, let's do something better.”

Leading him with great solemnity into the study, with a showman's flourish I slowly slid open my projects drawer. There was almost a breathless rush of “whooooaa” from him and the eyes lit up as wide as saucers.

I walked him through the paces, the broadest strokes of what the Game was all about. He seemed to grasp the outline of it all almost intuitively. Noticing the ranks of lead men now arrayed in battle lines inside narrow valleys walled by Victorian adventure novels on my desk, his brother was instantly clamoring to get in. The resulting action was only vaguely like a fantasy RPG in formal tones, but wholly like it in the sheer wonder and exuberance of your first taste of it.

There was a fire-casting Ral Parthan sorcerer next to the gleaming silver-metal mail of an aquiline prince with a small crowd of Andalusian and Saxon hirelings in tow. There was a menacing caveman giant, ghost minotaur, and mad mullah to best.

It was quick, dirty and all over the map—literally with 20-siders a-flyin'--and immensely fun for me as much as them. They were shouting and talking about their feats in first-person terms and for a moment I saw my own brother and I sitting there 30 years ago talking up a blue streak about orcs slain and treasured gained.

The hook was set.


  1. That photo of the drawer filled with miniatures...

    That's the cover photo of a future memoir about role playing games in the eighties.

  2. Spent the afternoon with my grandson. Gave him a copy of Keep on the Borderlands and he showed me all the monsters he's designing in a notebook. Game, set and match... :)

  3. Sounds fun. I can hear that, "WHOOOOOAHH!!!" in my head. hehe.

  4. Such a cool story. Totally resonated with me, because I remember a cloudy Fall day about 25 or 26 years ago while playing soccer that I had an almost exact same experience as your nephew. I was standing on the soccer field imaging Norse Gods fighting the giants of Jotunheim up in the clouds.

    I'm so jealous that you have a nephew to teach the game to. Neither my sister nor my two sisters-in-law have kids yet, and my own daughter is not quite 2, so I have a few years. I guess that's just more time for me to get prepared!

    Anyway, cheers, and a belated Happy Father's Day!