It was my very first time at a LARP when I lost all respect for the Primogen.
I was playing an “NPC” sent to see what the hell was going on in another city. I hung out with the local clanmates, Brujah, and they seemed nice enough, if rather passive. Eventually, the Prince called a meeting of the Primogen and as an “honored guest” I was allowed to sit in and bear witness to what was going on. One of the issues that came up was the Brujah Primogen--apparently he had in some previous session done something that rather upset the Prince. The Prince, in his regal majesty, proclaimed that this individual was no longer allowed on the Primogen council, and should leave immediately. I snorted under my breath, waiting for the inevitable backlash, but it never came. The character in question didn't stand up for his rights and power, the other Primogen didn't lash out at this violation of their rights and privileges, and the Prince had no fear of those around him.
In short, while this group of Kindred may have been a council, it was one convened at the will and whim of the Prince. They were not Primogen. At least, not in how I conceive of the concept.
What the hell is the Primogen? In a lot of games they are the “legislative” branch of Kindred government, with each clan getting one member--a “Brujah Primogen” a “Gangrel Primogen,” etc. Often the Prince’s clan is the only one that doesn't have a Primogen, as it is assumed that he provides sufficient “representation.” Their job is to represent their clans interests to the city at large, and enforce clan unity through “whips.” They are the “City Council” to the Princes “Mayor.”
Personally, I think this is the lamest bullshit I've ever seen in a game. I mean, sure, one can do some interesting things with that setup, and I can see a cool city built around that idea. But as the default/standard “this is the way most cities are organized”--forget it. For one thing, it’s repetitive and boring. Secondly, there’s no mystery or nuance to the politics of the city. Thirdly, you’re dealing with violent psychopathic killers--no matter how jaded you are to politicians in the real work, Vampires’ closest analogues are not Democrats or Republicans--it’s mob bosses.
The Prince is the biggest, nastiest “Bad” in the city--the Kindred who in one way or another can get any other Kindred to follow his lead. He might be personally so powerful than none dare oppose him, but there are other ways to be the Boss. One might have so much personal wealth, resources, and mortal influence that only they can keep the Masquerade in tact. Another might have a loyal and dedicated band of followers that allow them, as a group, to take down any other faction in the city. Or maybe he’s just the guys that, regardless of his naked power, enough Kindred trust with the responsibilities and obligations of the Princedom.
Remember, a Prince has three critical responsibilities. Number one, is preserve the Masquerade--no matter the cost, mortals must never find out about the existence of the undead. Two, enforce the Traditions. Third, and related to Two, is to be a “neutral arbitrator” and resolve the conflicts and disputes that are endemic to the Kindred. If one can not fulfill these three roles, no matter how powerful one is, then one is not a true Prince. Likewise, one can not be a Prince without some measure of power, else one could not perform the duties expected of the position. But heres the thing--one does not need the entire city to support you to be the Prince. In fact you don’t even need a majority.
All you need is a dedicated minority willing to enforce your will, and a majority that doesn't care enough to oppose. Now, this minority might be your own childer, but more likely also consists of a coterie of like-minded individuals and maybe a handful of significant allies. This “court” or “ruling clique” is the natural outgrowth of Kindred society, and will be present, in one form or another, in any location where the undead gather in any appreciable numbers.
The Primogen are different though. The Primogen are the other blocks of social and political power in a city. Their power source varies much like a Prince’s and the end result in similar. These are individuals who have sufficient power that the Prince needs to worry about them, and take them into account. Any given Primogen may not have the power to overthrow a Prince, but as group, united, they just might. They certainly have the ability to make his reign a living hell, and are, pretty much by definition, the Prince makers. A Prince may not “serve” at their leisure, but he needs to keep them at least on the sidelines of any given issue.
Of course, not every City has a Primogen. In others, there will only be a 2 or 3. In fact, the Chicago by Night source book made a point that Chicago’s Primogen is unusually large with six members, two of whom are the same clan. This, to me, proves another point. There should not be a “Brujah Primogen” but rather a “Primogen who is a Brujah.” Each city will and should be unique, and the only constant is that the Primogen are those who are outside the Prince’s immediate circle of followers that he needs to tread carefully around.
By keeping the exact power and identity of the Primogen somewhat obscure, you allow for much more nuance and uncertainty in the social game of Vampire. Maybe there is a “Council” consisting of these powerful Kindred, or maybe the “Council” is a rubber-stamp body, with the “real power” existing outside of it, or there is no Council at all, and the Prince is only swayed by his close and personal advisers and friends. In any case, when creating the city, one should think first of what would be fun and interesting, rather than merely what the book describe is how things “should be.”
Which does raise the question--how did Vampire go from describing a more loose and nebulous Primogen in initial settings and rule books, to the more formalized “legislature” of later editions? Personally, I think it was two interrelated causes. First, is the fact that it is easier and more relatable if they were a “council.” Secondly, and I think more pertinently, was the LARP community. As the LARPers became a more dominant element in the fan base for Vampire, their concerns and interests became to increasingly dictate what the game was and wasn't.
As the LARPers were the ones playing the Primogen (in most tabletop games, the Primogen are NPC’s, after all), clear rules of their powers, roles, and responsibilities became needed. In addition, the presence of One World by Night enforced a certain element of similarity and conformity in its various members, and the books and support were written with them in mind (in fact, a number of by Night books were written by members, often based on their own games). I doubt that there was an active effort on their part to “make the game safe for LARP,” but their influence was definitely a factor in changing the Primogen from subtle and mysterious masters of the Jyhad to “representative of the Third District.”
I say, stick them back in the shadows, where they can truly rule.