“…the real essence is this: when the bass rolls over the gathering and dancing becomes rhythmic communion, something happens. It can’t be described. It has to be lived. You escape your boring existence and become hip, tribal royalty for a few hours.”
Vampire: The Masquerade is easily the most popular setting for live-action roleplaying in the world. For 25 years troupes from Seoul to Seattle to Stockholm have slid fangs over canines, perfected a pallid complexion and descended on nightclubs, community halls, pubs and abandoned mental health facilities (that one’s on me) to embody the living dead in the flesh. The official rules-system for these improvised dramas is called Mind’s Eye Theatre and debuted in the 1994 box-set “The Masquerade” and has been released in several editions as “Laws of The Night” and later as “Mind’s Eye Theatre – Vampire: The Masquerade, “. All these editions share the same balanced system, faithful to the original Storyteller tabletop roleplaying rules. Since the books are meant to be picked up and played by anyone, anywhere, the rules include a very early version of we today call a “code of conduct”, a rules system that forbids touching, grappling, kissing, running and general assholery. All in all, Mind’s Eye Theatre is designed to be a low impact, Player-versus-Player game. Chronicles (a series of interconnected game sessions) can run for years and characters grow in power and prestige according to their deeds. You can literally travel from Berlin to New York as your character and take part in one of the venerable global chronicles that have been operated by independent fan-clubs for decades without the rules changing much. And the stringent codes of conduct makes sure the games by default maintain a comfortable distance from your physical self. Recent moves from fan organizations are intended to make sure the game remains as comfortable and non threatening as any interaction between relative strangers can be.
But what if you DO want to grapple, kiss and scream at the top of your lungs in someone’s face? What if you want to dive deep into problematic issues or play in a game that tackles important but disturbing subjects like sexism and racism head-on? What if you DO want to feel hot “blood” running down your neck? What if you want to play a game that is about the collective creation of a horrifying tragedy, where your final death is as meaningful and rewarding as your ascension to Princedom?
Fear not. You’re not alone. In fact this is the style in which Vampire and other Live Action Roleplaying games have been played in most of Europe for decades. Its a style that’s gaining popularity in the US as well, with events like “New World Magischola“, “Dystopia Rising” and “Just a Little Lovin” and others leading the charge. This style of live-action roleplaying is called “Collaborative Style” or “Nordic Style“, simply because some of the most famous examples of the genre come from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. We like the term Collaborative better, because it actually describes the foundation of the style.
In March 2016 White Wolf commissioned and co-designed its first official collaborative style Vampire LARP in Helsinki Finland. For six hours the eighty participants became predators and prey at an illegal hard-edged techno club. In sharp contrast to most Mind’s Eye Theatre games only 15 of the participants were vampires and a handful more their blood-addicted ghoul servants. The Masquerade (the tradition that Vampires must never, ever reveal themselves to mortals) was in full effect. The monsters were hidden among us, the deep pounding of the base drowning out their whispered conversations about clan, kin and that fat kid with blood so good everybody wants a taste. It’s dirty, grimy, street-level Vampire the way we seldom see it portrayed in live action.
All things considered the game went exceptionally well. While some players did experience strong feelings of discomfort, horror, sorrow and disgust this was all intentional, and a marketed core aspect of the game. In a game like this, players agree to a certain level of risky subject matter and have mechanics that allow them to opt in and out of challenging scenes. It works pretty much like interactions at a BDSM club. Everyone knows there will be action, but no one is ever forced to take part and any interaction is easy to opt out of with a simple safe-word. Some American players were uncomfortable with the widely varied power-level of the characters but the vast majority were more than excited to try a new challenging style of roleplaying – one that requires more guts than brains, more dancing that posing and more visceral horror and debauchery than power-games and betrayal. If you want to know more – please read Sarah Lynn Bowmans deep analysis of the game right here.
So why harp on about a game run in Finland months ago? Because it’s happening again! In New Orleans at the 25th anniversary of Vampire, at the Grand Masquerade! The game is being remixed for a new location (a decadent hotel rave) and a new city (New Orleans) by the original game creators Odyseé with help from By Night Studios, the current Mind’s Eye Theatre license holders and the organizer of the lavish celebratory event. If you don’t have your tickets for Grand Masquerade; get them here!
Does “End of the Line” sound like your kind of gritty, realistic blood-fest? Read more here and get your tickets as they release next week. Be warned, they may sell out fast. The last game sold out in 2 minutes. Not kidding.
So what if lavish, perfectly propped and highly physical games sound great, but you prefer a more classic high-powered and political setting? Convention of Thorns has you covered. What we wanted to create a period game set in the age of Inquisition – a period of great tragedy in Kindred society mirroring the contemporary “Second Inquisition” that stands as a core theme of new editions of Vampire, we contacted Claus Raastedt, the creator of the hit “College of Wizardry” series of games. Convention of Thorns sold out in less than 2 hours! The setting is the infamous Convention in rural Britain where the Camarillas power is formalized and the Sabbat is born in the plots of the most wicked, powerful and inhuman Cainites ever to walk the shadows of God’s creation. The game showcases another aspect of “Collaborative style” – beauty and immersion. Games in Europe have the advantage of being set in real-world historical castles and feature costumes that are often intricate recreations of historical fashion, made by the participants by hand from period art or archeological findings. Or rented. Or found. Or borrowed. But authenticity is not the core point – immersion is. By taking beauty and physical appearance very seriously Convention of Thorns promises to be a feast for all the senses and allow you to drink in the dark majesty of those decisive nights in 1493. If you are very, very lucky, you may be able to catch a seat on the waiting list and perhaps get a cancellation. But fear not, if the game works out well – the result is a mix of the game design, production and the efforts of the players – Claus has told us he will run it again!
What does all this mean? Are the days of Mind’s Eye Theatre numbered now that hardcore physical larping is becoming the thing? Not at all. At Grand Masquerade the epic Chronicles of the big fan associations continue, with a thousand passionate players compared to the tiny EOTL or CoT. White Wolf has worked intimately with BNS to make the next edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mind’s Eye Theatre into a bridging product, hinting at many of the metaplot developments to come in future editions of that game, as well as secret projects designed to assist and support both Storytellers and players of MET in running games and chronicles for many years to come.
The point is this: Mind’s Eye Theatre is as different from Collaborative Style as it is from tabletop roleplaying using the Storyteller System. We have seen how Collaborative, rules light and highly physical games have become more and more popular over the last years. These games are often designed and run by people who were introduced to larp through Mind’s Eye Theatre, and who still have a deep love for Vampire. We want to give something awesome back to the community by sponsoring and backing ambitious and beautiful games for all our fans to enjoy, just not those that happen to be living in Sweden or Germany. We hope you appreciate this old but new way of entering our favorite universe.
What other Collaborative Style games would you like to see? Werewolf campout combat games with makeup and padded Glaives / claws vs soft-airgun wielding First Teams? Victorian society balls oozing with forbidden lust? A blood-soaked Sabbat Palla Grande in the middle of Black Rock Desert? A city wide game where ghosts and demons possess the bodies of the living and no one knows who is a player and who is not?
And as a bonus, here’s Lola Zaza (a.k.a Ossian Reynold’s) relentless industrial techno set from End of The Line. More about him next time as we talk a bit about music in the World of Darkness, past and future.
Blood and Souls!