Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition Alpha Release Review

Vampire V5 Alpha Playtest Overview

 

I attended GenCon 2017. This was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to attend and the convention was amazing on so many levels. I was invited to attend by The Wrecking Crew, a gaming demonstration group. They usually demo and playtest White Wolf and Onyx Path Publishing products. At their invitation, I got to run 5 play tests of Vampire 5th Edition’s Alpha release. Over these sessions I got very familiar with my particular take on the adventure, Rusted Veins, and very familiar with certain elements of the rules which I leaned on heavily. Upfront, this set of the rules and the adventure was a significant improvement to the pre-alpha slice which came out at World of Darkness Berlin.

This Alpha product included a significant slice of rules, particularly focused around Hunger, Compulsions, combat, and some disciplines: particularly Potence, Presence, Fortitude, Celerity, and Obfuscate. These rules will be outlined more fully below. Mechanically, the game has some departures from previous Editions of Vampire. Particularly, as in the pre-alpha, the inclusion of Hunger dice is different. That said, this mechanic is a boon for adhering to the theme of Vampire: The Masquerade and ensured that the concept of The Beast and the need to Feed were incredibly present.

The module adventure, Rusted Veins, was written by Matthew Dawkins, with contributions and assistance from Kenneth Hite, Jason Andrew, Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, and Jason Carl with special thanks given to consultant Monica Valintinelli. The Alpha ruleset was written by Kenneth Hite, Jason Andrew, Matthew Dawkins, with guidance, editing, and contributions from Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, and Jason Carl.

Rusted Veins is a continuation of the Forged in Steel chronicle from the original Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition core book. It also continues the stories in Ashes to Ashes (1st Ed) and Dust to Dust (V20). Thematically, the story in Rusted Veins has the feel of Vampire 1st Edition. It’s gritty, street level, and the night to night need to survive felt incredibly present. Vampire at its finest offers a chance to explore dark themes, recognize them, and then work to find ways to conquer the darkness while staring deeply into the abyss. This story succeeds at that, there were a few elements I chose not to include while I was running, but Matthew (and other writers) did such a wonderful job creating multiple hooks that this wasn’t a problem.

Honestly, if this quality of work continues than I anticipate that Vampire 5th Edition will win awards. It’s gritty, honest, and it opens a door into the classic World of Darkness that needs to be opened and enjoyed. A shout-out to my players at GenCon 50! You were all awesome. I sincerely enjoyed running this game for you. To the players of Baggie, in particular, thank you for engaging with some of the adversarial aspects of this character, it was really awesome.

Below I’ll be diving more deeply into certain mechanics, and elements of the story, but above are my core thoughts in my post GenCon fugue.

Rusted Veins (sections in quotes are descriptions I used in my game)

“Gary, Indiana is a shit pit. It’s broken, run down, and industry has fled. This has left Gary a veritable ghost town, filled with crack houses and dilapidated buildings of all forms. It starts to rain; the rain is falling in heavy droplets that soak you to the bone. The rain in Gary is acidic, and you can hear it making slight burning hissing sounds every few drops, it hurts to stand in the rain for long. A whistling wind blows through the streets, and thunder shakes the windows of your haven”

Rusted Veins is a continuation of Forged in Steel, Ashes to Ashes, and Dust to Dust. This pedigree makes the adventure feel deep, nearly by default. There are layers upon layers present that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious to those who haven’t played those adventures. That said, you don’t need to have read them or know their content to enjoy this adventure. I’ve never previously run any of those chronicles, but I did read through them prior to running Rusted Veins. Having done so, I didn’t add any of their elements into the game at all, and that wasn’t a problem. That said, there are hooks that would allow you to do so if you were interested in trying it out.

We were provided character sheets, and detailed two-page backgrounds on each character. I gave my players a chance to read these backgrounds and most groups spent between 10-20 minutes reading through them. Dawkin’s stated goal of ‘a plot-hook in every paragraph’ is clearly present. Each character is really well detailed, and there is a story-hook and role-playing guidance in every paragraph. This creates a lot of depth, and I noticed that players focused on different elements for each run through. There were some key things that stood out for each, but I was surprised in my Sunday game when a player focused on an element of their character no-one had mentioned in any of the other playtests. That’s cool, that shows a lot of depth and a lot of options to explore. Honestly, these characters are deep enough to run a continuing chronicle, and Rusted Veins could easily be run over several gaming sessions if you wanted to run it with your home crew.

The core plot returns you to Gary, Indiana, the home of Modius and Juggler (two elders, one Camarilla, and one Anarch). Modius is the official Prince of Gary, but he’s nearly powerless at this point, flexing his muscles in small ways to try and impact events in the city and further. That said, he is personally capable in a fight (as written) and is heavily involved in the plot of Rusted Veins. Juggler is now the Baron of Gary, having been granted the title in the aftermath of Dust to Dust. Further, the feared vampire hunter, Sulivan Dane is present in this story and his character was the most fun for me to introduce to the players. In each run, I used a variation of this description.

“Lightning flashes, thunder rolls, and for a moment you can see clearly through the rain. Standing a distance away is an ancient Catholic priest. He’s still got strong, broad shoulders, and his face is hard. He’s holding an umbrella, and is wearing a long black trench coat. At his side is a sword, handle barely visible. As the light fades, a palpable feeling of dread crawls through your belly.”

Dane isn’t described as having a sword in the official materials, but I wanted to call back to the tropes of trenchcoat and katanas, and Dane offered a fantastic way to do so. Most of the players found his character particularly intimidating with how I described him. Goal achieved.

Running this 5 times gave me a few chances to approach the introduction of each of the core NPCs in various ways. I used different accents, voice inflection, and presentation for each of them every time. This helped me to differentiate the games in my mind. It also helped me to see various ways an adventure like this can be adjusted to create more tension, or allow the tension to fade, as thematically appropriate.

We started each session with feeding. The new You Are What You Eat mechanics were fun to play around with, and I often used my own judgement on what bonuses to provide the players. These sessions set the tone for the game. They also gave us a chance to investigate the Composure mechanic and use the new Hunger rules. Since you cannot get rid of Hunger without killing your victim, this created some serious tension at the start of the game. Every time, at least one character would fail to control themselves, and their feeding victim would die. Some players tried to hold off on Rousing the Blood as long as they could after making it to Hunger 0, some didn’t care and they were more than willing to try and use their Disciplines or increase their statistics whenever they got the chance.

We then moved into the main plot, which was a fetch-quest with lots of interesting complications and plot developments that adjusted the story as we went through it. Most of these complications were player driven too, and several sessions saw the players handing me and each other various slips of paper to represent text messages they were sending to the main NPCs and to one another. Hopping away from the table and talking in private was also incredibly common, and this created obvious and interesting tension as the players left at the table often speculated on what the others were planning.

In the end, Rusted Veins allows for an interesting exploration into what it means to feel an ever present vampiric Hunger. It offers choices, and the most frequent comment on my survey sheets was, “I felt like I had tons of choices, and this was awesome.” The choices that characters had gave them a sense of ownership over their characters, and to my knowledge not a single player felt uncomfortable investing themselves in roleplay. That said, if any of you folks read this, I’m happy to hear some negative feedback. Or even more positive feedback, I’m always interested in having that.

There is an epilogue in Rusted Veins. I chose not to use the Epilogue, since it took away from the cool sensations and ideas present in most of the core adventure. In the Epilogue the players would play other characters for a very short period of time. To be honest, this is an awesome mini-adventure, and I would encourage those that eventually see it to use it as a separate session at some point. It also has relevance for long-time vampire fans. For GenCon, it really didn’t work well, but the core concept is cool.

Mechanics

In most cases I’m a mechanics light kind of storyteller. I use them when I think they make the most sense and I generally find a way to use them that makes sense to me. This isn’t a great thing for a playtest though, and I tried to retain the new rules as much as possible. That said, there were a few times I went off the rails while I was running. I’m not upset with how I kept most of my games rolling along, but if there was a weakness of mine during the playtest it was my lack of a full grasp of all of the new mechanical elements of the game. Below is a description of the rules from the playtest, and how I ran them during my game.

Dice Pool and Successes

Vampire 5th Edition is going to be a dice pool game using D10s. You create your dice pool in the same way that you have always done for the World of Darkness, Attribute + Skill, in most cases. However, the largest difference is that the target number is now always 6. Then, you count the successes you get to determine if you complete a task. For example, to hit a person, you might need to roll 4 dice. If you roll a 6, 3, 6, and 7, you get three successes. This might be enough for a moderate success, or it might be one short. If you are one short, you may ask to Succeed at a Cost. In this case, the storyteller alters the success to add some elements that cost the player character something. For example, hitting a person, but then falling over after losing their balance at the same time.

It is possible to spend Willpower to reroll a partial dice pool, or the entire dice pool. To be honest, I didn’t catch that mechanic for the first four of my playtests. When it was used, it made a lot of sense. That said, I found that it tended to slow the story down, rather than keep it going. Hunger Dice are also a thing, but I’ll explain those under Hunger below.

Criticals can be achieved in two forms, two 10s on regular dice is considered a critical success. This allows for an increased success or narrative benefit. You can also get a messy critical, if you roll a 10 on a Hunger die (again explained below under Hunger). A messy critical allows for success, but in a way that is over the top, and potentially harmful to the player character’s intentions. This is indicative of the Beast rearing its head, and pushing the character farther than they would do so normally.

Criticals were incredibly fun to use, and messy criticals were awesome to help narrate interesting alterations. The rules include some other elements surrounding Composure, particularly that if a player could not think of a messy result, that they would lose composure. I think my groups and I found a good middle ground between my narrative control of these messes, and their overall control of their characters in most situations.

Virtue and Vice

Instead of a Nature and Demeanor, V5 Alpha playtest used Virtue and Vice. These are mechanics that allow you to regain Willpower when you act in accordance with your Vice. Since acting in accordance with your Virtue is harder, doing so refills all of your Willpower. Most players in my game used these as basic roleplaying hints and we did dip into the Willpower refill mechanic in a few of the games. In most, we didn’t spend a lot of Willpower. That was partly my fault, because I didn’t often suggest it as an option to the players and players unfamiliar with the WoD wouldn’t have thought to do so.

Initiative

Initiative is now determined by Wits+Combat Skill. This is the skill the Vampire uses in their first combat and determines the initiative order. Now, I did not catch this and continued to use the Wits + Dexterity rule from the old version of the rules.

Initiative now flows from lowest to highest, with the person with the highest initiative going last with the ability to react to other characters. Honestly, this is present in several versions of the rules, but I’ve rarely seen people use it, and it’s a shame. This allows for sensible dice pool management if you want to split dice pools, otherwise knowing when to plan to split a pool is nearly impossible to determine. I really enjoyed using this rule and I recommend it to every person playing any version of WoD rules.

Combat

Combat in the V5 Alpha is a contested action. Yes, this can mean a combatant gets hurt when they attack someone. This is why splitting pools can be so effective if used right. You can dodge an attack, and attack in the same round if you are willing to reduce your pools. Damage equals the amount over the contested result a player gets on the dice. Which is much easier than worrying about a mechanic for soaking damage etc. This made combat speed by, in most cases.

There are two types of Health damage, superficial and aggravated. You have Stamina +5 health levels, and superficial damage accumulates and becomes aggravated if enough is taken. Superficial damage is halved for Vampires. We ran these mostly correctly in my playtests, though there are some more in-depth rules that I didn’t use, particularly relating to the Critical Injury table.

Hunger and Hunger Dice

Hunger has a rating of 0-5 and represents a similar in-game concept to what blood points used to represent in earlier editions of Vampire. That said, Hunger feels different. Blood points often didn’t feel like they were important, because they were often fairly numerous (at least in my experience). A vampire with 0 hunger is sated, but the only way to have 0 Hunger is to have killed a feeding victim that night. Waking raises the Hunger of every Vampire to 1.

Hunger is an ever present effect, and every dot of Hunger a character has replaces one of their regular dice. These dice should be a different color to differentiate them, and I recommend red dice… cause, well, blood right? When you replace your die with this Hunger die, you need to look out for two things, if you roll a 1, and if you roll a 10.

A 10 create a messy critical situation, and (in the Alpha) two 1s would cause a Compulsion. This mechanic did not come up often, and there were quite a few discussions around how to adjust it so it would occur more frequently. A good goal for this is probably having it occur around 15-20% of the time, if you ask my completely un-mechanically minded brain.

When you use a Discipline, or do various things that only Vampires do, you have to roll 1 Hunger die. If you roll a 1-3, you raise your Hunger, if you roll a 4-10, you don’t. This encourages players to use their disciplines, but also creates a lot of tension when they do so. This is awesome. This makes using a discipline a dangerous activity, but one that most players feel comfortable using in moderation. In a regular chronicle this is going to decrease Discipline use, and I think this is fantastic.

If a player gets all the way up to Hunger 5, they need to make a Frenzy check. This never happened in my games at GenCon, though it was a constant fear that a character might get to that level.

Feeding

Feeding can reduce Hunger, 1, 2, even 3 points. However, Hunger can only be reduced to 0 if a player accidentally or willingly kills their victim. Most of my players ended up having at least one moment where they seriously considered draining someone. I made my players roll Composure every time they fed. If they failed, they would drain their victim. This doesn’t appear to be in the rules, so this wasn’t really required. That said, it did add tension, and it did make players cautious about feeding and using their disciplines. Every death from feeding resulted in a Humanity point loss.

Compulsions

These were present in the pre-Alpha playtest, but they have been adjusted to remove the elements that made this rule’s element controversial. Now the player can choose, or ask the storyteller to choose a compulsion. This is an interesting back and forth discussion, and usually is pretty quick. Tables for the Brujah no longer included the term ‘Triggered’ and that is refreshing, to say the least. These didn’t come up as much as I would have liked, but they did in a few of my games. When they did occur, it was interesting, and it added a layer of roleplaying and story to the game. So, I think they do exactly what they are intended to do, but they don’t currently happen enough to really be that impactful. I understand that White Wolf is going to be adjusting this mechanic in particular, as they want to get this right.

All in all, Vampire 5th Edition Pre-Alpha rules are really engaging and interesting. I didn’t get the chance to read them as much as I should have and I didn’t always run them exactly the way they were intended. Rusted Veins is an awesome module, and I really enjoyed running it. If this is indicative of what Mark Rein-Hagen, Kenneth Hite, Karim Muammar, and the rest of the team at White Wolf are creating, then I think Vampire 5th Edition will be a really exciting product.

DAV20 Dark Ages Companion Review

I’ve been struggling to do this review. Not because of the reason you might think either. Dark Ages Companion is probably one of the best books I’ve read from Onyx Path Publishing. I’ve had to stop every paragraph or two to sketch out notes while reading this book. In the 2 weeks that I’ve been actively trying to get through it, I’ve had, at minimum, 10 chronicle concepts come to mind based on elements presented in this book. This book was developed by Matthew Dawkins, and I can tell you he and his writing staff did nearly everything right.

Lords, Lieges, and Lackeys

Dark Ages Companion: for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Dark Ages is broken into eight chapters. The first six are various domains, most which have never been given a full treatment. The final two chapters are rules for building Domains and Dark Ages warfare. The final two chapters are an excellent resource for a storyteller that wants to dive deeply into these elements in their game. The Domain rules remind me of a more streamlined version of the AD&D supplement Birthright, and are effective if you’d like to include some elements of city/domain management in your games. These rules use Pooled Backgrounds as a baseline, and then go deeper. This is an excellent way of utilizing downtime and maturation rules in a way that doesn’t cause large breaks in the story.

Chapter Eight gives some deeper rules on warfare. If you want to be more accurate in your portrayal of various weapons and armor these are the rules for you. If you’d like to keep things cinematic, the core rules for the game still work fine, and you can pepper these details in as you see fit. I’m getting this stuff out of the way first. Great two chapters, but the first six are more exciting.

Plot Hooks Abound

Rome, Bath, Bjarkarey, Constantinople, Mogadishu, and Mangaluru: these are the domains presented in Dark Ages Companion. There are enough plot hooks to construct at least 100 chronicles here. Each chapter provides details on key Cainites, key elements of the domain, and key plots, disagreements, and ways to get your player characters involved. The domains are also connected in subtle ways, with plot hooks linking them to one another sprinkled throughout. This is masterfully done, very little of these connections seem forced, they are nuanced, smart, and really intriguing.

By Pat McEvoy

 

Each domain offers something different in the way of scope. Bjarkarey is small, intimate, and highly aggressive. As is Rome, which offers an interesting counterpoint to Bjarkarey. Constantinople and Bath, both drastically different in size, offer more expansive exploratory plotlines. I haven’t read enough of Mogadishu and Mangaluru yet to say what their full details will be like, but I can say from a quick look that they present a mix of large and small scale plot to throw your players into. Seriously, you’ll have to work hard not to come up with some great story concepts after reading these chapters, they are excellent.

Problems In the Text

There are very few things not to like in this book. One thing I’m not sure of though are the creatures at presented at the end of three chapters. The Black Dog, the Kallikantzaros, and the Pishacha are presented as supernatural opponents which you can utilize in your game. These are local legends related to Bath, Constantinople, and Mangaluru, respectively, but I’m not sure that makes me want to utilize them. For a Vampire game, I’ve always tried to focus on the internal darkness which plagues the Kindred, and I often shy away from ‘monsters’ which to have the PCs encounter and challenge. That isn’t how these are explicitly presented, but they do have a subtle hint of D&D encounters to them. They are there if you think they make sense for your chronicle, use them if you think it will add to your story.

I know a couple of things about Old Norse culture.

The second thing I was frustrated with is a relative historical quibble, and I’m going to explain what bothers me about it. In the chapter on Bjarkarey, there are a few mentions of blood purity and rugged individualism. Neither of these concepts is historically true to Norse culture, at all, and I find their presence here frustrating. The Norse were intensely communitarian, as you would have to be if you lived in some of the most hostile climates in Europe. The concepts of blood purity were developed by the Spanish during the Reconquista (1400’s) and would have been bizarrely strange to the Norse during the 1200’s. As a student of Norse history and a follower of Germanic religious traditions, these elements bother me. They speak to a narrative that far-right elements in society attempt to latch onto, and though they are fleeting in this text, their presence is annoying.

All in all, this is a good chapter on a culture that was still having some inter-cultural conflicts between Pagan cultural holdovers and Christian religious dominance, and it is not badly written. In fact, it’s really well developed and I immediately find myself excusing the things that bother me.

Final Takeaway on Dark Ages Companion

Buy this book. One of my favorite White Wolf books of all time is House of Tremere. I’d give that a 10/10 rating in a heartbeat. Dark Ages Companion is easily a 9/10 book. If you ever plan to play a Dark Ages game of any edition, you should own this book. The art is amazing, the writing is fantastic, and you’ll have a ton of great ideas come to mind while reading it.

6 Reasons Why LARP is Not Just a Game

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If you’re a LARPer (live action role player) or even just know a bit about LARPing, you’ve probably heard it: “LARP is just a game.” As a staff member and new LARP marketer of a small American fantasy boffer campaign game back in 2010, I quickly realized the power and importance of this phrase. When players became emotional or upset over a rule or a plot, I mistakenly thought it was helpful to remind them that LARP was just a game.

 

How wrong I was.

Not Just A Game

While I spread this rhetoric, I practiced quite the opposite. As a marketer, it made sense to build a community around a young game and engage our player base. From the start, this meant that to me and many in the local community, LARP was far more than just a game. Every participant – from staff member to financial investor to player – invested time, money and trust in the game, its community, and its success. They believed in something I was part of building and growing.

 

It would take a good six or seven years before I realized the importance and responsibility of that power.

 

I recently observed a conversation involving a LARPer who is clearly experiencing some struggle over how his ideals do not align with those practiced in one of his LARP communities.

 

He reminded everyone that “LARP is just a game.”

 

I’m finally ready to say that it’s not – and that there is real harm in pretending is fashioning LARP to be as simple as make believe.

 

LARP is a Community and a Culture

From LARPing.com

When you create a LARP – whether it’s a four hour one-shot, a regular boffer fight club in your backyard, or a full blockbuster experience – you’re automatically creating or enhancing a community. Professional marketers do this intentionally all the time, hoping to cultivate a community around the brands they represent. By the event-focused nature of the LARP events, you’re shaping and providing space for a LARP culture to grow.

 

Why is that a big deal?

 

It comes with some responsibilities. LARPers depend on their communities for things like:

  • Healthy socialization
  • Opportunities for catharsis
  • Physical fitness
  • Education about writing, acting, game design, cooking, event management
  • Empowerment through connecting with like-minded individuals
  • A meaningful place away from home, work, or school
  • Entertainment

 

When I started LARPing (and when I created marketing messages for my first LARP), I saw the community potential – but I didn’t think about the impact of this experience. When I write and design LARPs now (or when I consider playing one), I look first at codes of conduct and any material about community or standards. That’s because I know safety and community are huge parts of the LARP experience and how I might feel about playing in a game.

 

LARP Can Be Transformative and Therapeutic

Until recently, I never thought of myself as a leader, except when it came to some modest accomplishments in the world of publishing. Through in and out of game positions in LARPs, I learned that I am an effective leader. This kind of safe experimentation wouldn’t have been possible without role play scenarios, and the challenges I’ve faced in leadership roles in the real world are much easier to handle, having already faced similar scenarios in fantasy worlds.

 

Similarly, I also spent time dealing with themes like mortality and grief in LARPs. This is in contrast to one of my family members, who grieves a loss in a circular fashion, talking about someone’s end but never coming to a form of acceptance.

 

Through the slightly removed perspective of LARP, I’ve been able to employ some coping mechanisms in conjunction with (and under the approval of) a counselor.

 

More than that, having a community has helped immensely during tough times.

 

LARP is a Growing Industry

Of LARPS

LARP has legitimacy. Every year, there are more individuals and companies proving that LARP is becoming an accepted, viable way to operate as a business – while there are still, of course, informal and nonprofit LARP organizations out there as well.

 

The reasons for this are various and decades in the making, heralded in the U.S. by earlier successes like NERO, shaky (but visible) representations of LARP in more mainstream media, and the successful development and migration of blockbuster business models.

 

Additionally:

  • People now long for experiences more than things
  • Despite socioeconomic hindrances, passion drives game creation and commerce
  • The community is growing at a pace rapid enough to support substantial growth
  • Lead community members are giving of their time and experience, mentoring other game designers and business owners who are committed to representing the hobby and subculture in a meaningful way
  • A larger brand took the leap: Disney is making a Star Wars LARP hotel (even if they aren’t calling it that)
  • Savvy resources help newcomers find games, reflecting the increasingly less disparate nature of LARPs on a national (and international) scale and the role of the internet in this

 

LARP is Art and Art is Progress

LARP as Art

Here in the U.S., our schools face budget cuts. The arts are often the first thing to go. Naturally, there’s still a need for us as students of school – and life – to express our wants, needs, joys, griefs, and frustrations through art forms.

 

That’s where LARP comes in.

 

Even if you don’t view collaborative storytelling in a high-art way, it provides a vehicle for expression in a very difficult sociopolitical time.

 

LARPers come from a variety of backgrounds, so “LARP is art” was never a solely academic reality, even though LARP academics were at the forefront of saying it. LARP is a means for expression. Its community is a means for disagreement; sometimes it’s a battleground for inclusion. In my daily experience, nowhere is the struggle of inclusion more relevant.

 

“My story is important” makes LARP more than a game, especially when this feeling is expressed by a marginalized individual.

 

LARP Represents Commitments of Time, Money, and Trust

Building Community!

Regardless of the size or type of LARP, it requires three things from all participants most often: time, money, and trust.

 

It takes time to play the game, even if the LARP doesn’t require extensive character development. For larger productions, LARPs can involve the investment of time on a weekly or monthly basis; they can involve weeks or months of prior character development online;

 

It usually takes money to travel to a game; at the very least it is a willing decision to spend your time doing something other than work.

 

Lastly there is the trust of building a story with other members of the LARP. Whether you go into this consciously considering the trust or it evolves out of interactions, it’s often an important component of LARP.

We’re aware of our various commitments, and knowing that we have truly invested these valuable resources in something (in this case LARP) fulfills the sense that it is more than just a game.

 

LARP Embraces and Causes Change

 

The real world impacts us in dramatic ways, often beyond our control. LARP provides participants with more than a sense of occasional escapism, even when participants avoid immersion and internalization. LARP creates a sandbox for exploration and discovery – whether we see characters as aspects of ourselves or the outcomes of people we’d never want to be. By its very nature, it’s conducive to the practice and development of empathy.

 

But hey, some people aren’t into the deeply emotional side of LARPing – and that’s okay.

 

LARPs still become affected by those who play them, and they still create change on various levels. Here are some examples I’ve seen at a variety of LARPs:

 

  • Players with chronic illnesses or periods of unemployment who built businesses off of creating commission-based LARP and other artistic projects
  • Foamsmiths who learn small business and safety skills all because they showed up to boffer games with safe and impressive weapons
  • Through turmoil or inspiration, LARPers who come out of a LARP weekend full of inspiration to create their own game – forcing the evolution of the hobby whether they intend to or not
  • LARPers who employ story-based game mechanics more heavily into work and game settings less traditionally accepting of collaborative narratives
  • New and experienced LARPers who are now more open to trying new activities

 

Now that I’ve seen this kind of change, I’m ready to stand by it: LARP is not just a game. It’s a lot more than that to me and to many in LARP communities around the world.

 

What does LARP and its potential mean to you? Please let us know in the comments.

Tara M. Clapper is Managing Editor at Mythbuilders, a game designer, a fan of Marvel’s Thor, and a forever LARPer. She is the founder and senior editor of The Geek Initiative, an online community focused on women in geek culture.

How LARP Made Me a Badass at Work

Guest Post from Tara Clapper of The Geek Initiative and Mythbuilders

Few professionals emerge from high school, trade school, or college with the badassery required to act fully confident in their respective field. In any job, you grow as you learn – but you can enhance your confidence and other work-related skills through the magic of LARPing.

 

Here’s a look at how it’s worked out for me.

 

LARP Kindled My Interest in Marketing

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Following college, I got my professional start in publishing – which was an uncertain field due to its not-so-smooth transition from print to digital. Moonlighting as a freelance writer, I also learned about SEO (search engine optimized) writing and its constant state of evolution.

 

What tied it together was the opportunity to be a marketer for a LARP. The duct tape budget was mandatory; the marketing budget was meager (and by that I mean $0). I bartered talent and content for tables at conventions and even recruited LARPers on Freecycle.

 

Most other games didn’t have someone who knew how to seed a new blog and dominate keyword opportunities, but like a veritable marketing badass, I made it happen and began my official journey into a marketing career.

 

LARP Got Me Hired Four Times

What differentiates me from almost every other job candidate? I’m an avid LARPer, and I’m not afraid to talk about it during my job interviews. In digital marketing and publishing, the right kind of creativity really helps me distinguish myself.

 

Additionally, my knowledge and enthusiasm about LARP shows that I’m able to speak clearly about what I do. Four prospective employers felt that their team needed my passion – and every time I described LARP and what I learned from it, I got hired.

 

LARP shows several desirable traits to employers:

  • Improvisational ability: I’m able to think on my feet
  • Ongoing desire to learn: I take lessons from LARP and apply them to real life
  • Continual creativity: LARP’s a vehicle for creative thinking
  • Problem-solving skills: As my character, I often have to overcome challenges, and I take pleasure in doing so
  • Team player: Collaboration is the name of the game in LARP, as it’s a necessity for the media’s format as well as character development and progression

 

LARP also serves as a backup for those pesky interview questions. “Can you remember a time when you handled an emergency?” Not in real life, but one time I totally helped a pregnant dwarf get to the midwife on time.

 

LARP Makes Me a Badass Leader

Minerva had only a moment to think about the years of preparation under the guidance of her mentor. Presently, she was a mage enrolled in her second year of wizard college. Refusing to hand over the coveted letter, she defied her professor openly before the entire class. In that moment – in doing what was right even though it was against the rules – she knew that the decision to pursue law enforcement was right. This wasn’t only justice, it was leadership.

 

…And I took that experience to work with me.

 

This is the narrative of my most immersive and impactful LARP experience to date. As a woman in marketing who often interfaces with people in the tech industry, leadership and confidence are essential – and not always easy to maintain. Through LARP experiences like the one described above, I deliberately practice embodying confident and decisive actions.

 

This allows me to speak up and lead confidently, whether I’m working with a team of writers or leading a client through the buying process.

 

Success in this endeavor comes through repetition. That’s how to make a good habit stick.

 

LARP Makes Me a Badass Marketer

I’m a more effective marketer thanks to LARPing. In marketing, telling a brand’s story and appealing to prospective customers through genuine passion for your work is all the rage. (And for all those people who said an English degree wouldn’t help my career: you were wrong.)

 

LARP is all about collaborative storytelling, a skill I constantly practice at work and on game. This also means I’m used to reacting to what others give me to work with, and I’m not going to stick to the conventional beginning-middle-end format with every story. LARP helps me help brands stand out.

From LARPing.com

LARP Makes Me a Badass Colleague

 

In addition to the collaborative nature of LARPs, these games have helped me focus my passion for advocacy. Often in LARPs, I’ll have to take a stand on a position and convince others of its value. Through my career, I’ve used these skills to advocate for team members, customers, and even fair wages.

 

Forget Toastmasters: I LARP

 

Public speaking is an important skill in every field. Like most writers, I’m far more confident in crafting written words than delivering speeches, but public speaking is also a necessity for many marketers. Whether I’m on a podcast, webinar, or speaking live at an event, I lean on my LARP experience to engage the audience effectively.

 

Specifically, I grew more confident in public speaking by portraying a bard in a monthly fantasy campaign LARP over the course of five years. The bard began as a passive fairy princess and retired as a respected and battle-ready political leader.

 

Remember that time the inn got attacked in the middle of the bard’s song? That taught me how to deal with the unexpected when there was a technical glitch in my webinar presentation.

 

I still have a long way to go when it comes to nasty glitches and surprises, and work life doesn’t always go as planned. But thanks to LARP, I’m able to handle it like a badass.

 

Tara M. Clapper is Managing Editor at Mythbuilders, a game designer, a fan of Marvel’s Thor, and a forever LARPer. She is the founder and senior editor of The Geek Initiative, an online community focused on women in geek culture.

A Review of Mind’s Eye Theater – Immersion Secrets

There comes a time in any hobby where, if you spend enough time involved, you reach a point where you have to either accept that you have reached the pinnacle of what you want/are able to achieve, or to continuously strive forward for an elusive perfection (I’m looking at you, Toreador). This struggle for elusive perfection can be maddening, and any help along the way is generally welcome.

 

MES: Immersion Secrets will undoubtedly help those who are beginning their journey towards perfection – its audience is clearly new-ish or uncertain storytellers, or advanced players who are leaning towards storytelling – but if you are a good way down the path towards your ideal, there’s a good chance you’re not going to find anything mind-blowing here. If you’ll indulge me –

You are making a dish you love for dinner. You’ve made it a hundred times, and you know just how to tweak it to your preferences. You’re idly scrolling through Facebook, and one of those recipe hack videos catches your eye. You watch, and you see something that makes you think, “huh, I never would have thought to try that”, and you try it. Either it works (great!) or it doesn’t (oh well, you tried something new).

 

There’s no earthshaking denouement or keys to the magical kingdom of The Perfect LARP here, but there’s a good deal of very solid material. If you don’t find a new pearl of wisdom, perhaps you will be reminded of some forgotten truths, or inspired to think about a situation in a new way.

 

Of the fourteen essays included here, I think my philosophical favorite is actually the first one, “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride”, by Jason Andrew. It contains what I find to be the truest and most valuable philosophical takeaway of the entire collection, and something that could easily be a meditation on the game theory of Mind’s Eye Theater as a whole, regardless of setting. Without spoiling it, let us say that it encourages storytellers and advanced players alike to reconsider their mental definition of the game itself, and in a very positive way.

I respectfully disagree with some of the points that are raised within this book, but as is pointed out in Andrew’s essay, “The subtle choices are nearly infinite, and they can be made to tailor the experience desired.” My choices are not your choices, and vice versa.

 

The essay that I think has the greatest utility, and in this case, I am using “utility” in the sense that it would be something that would be either seamlessly incorporated or frequently reached for, is the second essay, “Strategies for Improving Communication Between Players and Game Staff”, by Jessica Karels.

 

This one rings most true, because I’ve experienced the situations described therein from both sides of the fence. This is the essay that I would recommend ALL storytellers, of all levels, to read and re-read at least once a year. It has a brilliant subsection within the Creating a Safer Space section that will undoubtedly cause an appropriate amount of consternation and spark much-needed discussion.

The essay included that I found both helpful and distastefully clinical (a strange juxtaposition) is “Ritualizing the LARP Experience” by Dr. Sarah Lynne Bowman. It reads less like an essay and more like a scholarly paper – which is understandable given Dr. Bowman’s extensive research into the art and science of roleplaying games and game theory. This extensive research is made obvious by the bewildering addition of nearly a full page of Dr. Bowman’s bibliography at the end of her essay; a questionable design choice in a 56-page PDF.

 

While Dr. Bowman’s article contains some excellent information, particularly addressing the liminality process, its tone is vastly different from the more conversational style of the other essays. Some might find its scholarly formality frosty or difficult to assimilate, which could easily detract from the value of the information contained therein. In addition, it is far more geared, in my opinion, towards games and storytellers that are seeking a more Nordic-type LARP experience – a trend that I approve wholeheartedly, but is decidedly not for everyone.

 

My absolute favorite essay – and one that I think could be sadly overlooked if a reader is looking for easily actionable items to apply quickly – is “Silently Encouraging Immersion” by Michael Pucci, someone who I would like to buy several drinks for after reading this essay. (Don’t mind the split infinitive there – that should show you how excited I am about this essay.) The line that grabbed me by my perfectionist heartstrings is this: “If a participant needs to use a higher degree of suspension of disbelief in order to be invested in the setting and scenario, then there is a reduced sense of immersion level in the experience.”

My favorite Bradstreet Art – Check out his website

I served as a Logistics AST for a local Vampire troupe for a year or so, and I can’t tell you how often I ripped out my hair trying to find a site that would truly encourage immersion by the atmosphere it created (a process that was incredibly hard to achieve in public library meeting rooms). PLEASE, for the love of spice, READ THIS ESSAY.  It is worth the $10 purchase price on its own. There’s no earth-shaking revelations, but different eyes see clearly, and Pucci’s suggestions are solid ones.  

 

Simple does not always mean easy, nor does it always mean cheap. We ALL wish we could rent out a house in a swank neighborhood, require our players to dress to the nines, and have immediate and total immersion from the moment people get on site. That’s not going to happen, and it makes me sad, but this essay will give frustrated storytellers and their staff a glimmer of hope that, just once, the magic will work. Yes, you can get together and play Vampire or Werewolf or Changeling in a library meeting room, but simple site synergy, as Pucci terms it, adds a level of authenticity that most players won’t even realize is there, but they will respond to it in a positive way, deeping their immersion and improving the experience for all.

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In conclusion, allow me to reiterate: this is not a book aimed at average players. This is a book aimed at Storytellers and their staff, or advanced players looking to take on the mantle of Storyteller on their own (or those wanting to assist their ST in more concrete ways). Is it a worthy addition to your MET library? Possibly, especially if you are inclined to want insight into what goes into making Mind’s Eye Theater games what they are – but it would be out of place among the collection of someone who generally appreciates the flavor or splat books. At the very least, frustrated and singed-around-the-edges Storytellers and their staff will be reassured that they are not alone in their struggles, and they may find a little something extra within the pages to give their games a special pop.

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She is a regular columnist and editor for the High Level Games blog. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

Sidereal Sanctuaries – New Modern Urban Fantasy LARP

We are in the golden age of gaming, and if you ask me, we are on the cusp of a LARP explosion. Blockbuster LARP like New World Magischola, Convention of Thorns, and new moves by Disney to create immersive experiences offer a chance to LARP to almost every person and interest level. And of course, the great LARP systems and game communities that have existed for the last few decades haven’t really gone anywhere either. If you want to LARP, there are more options than ever to do so. Sidereal Sanctuaries is a new modern urban fantasy LARP created by Jessica Karels (founder, Hidden Parlor) and Jason Kobett. Both are LARP veterans and they are bringing a lot of amazing experience with them to their new creation.

 

Before we discuss the game, I want to highlight they are running an Alpha Playtest in Minnesota on August 6th, and they will be running Alpha play-tests throughout the rest of the year in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

 

Here are 5 key points about the setting and rules.

 

Technology is broken – something happened at the end of 2012 that forever broke the Internet / digital data transfer / networking.  The machines that continue to work aren’t always reliable.

Social progress stagnates (and in some cases goes backwards) – Without the Internet, civil rights activists have a harder time organizing and drawing attention to non-local issues. Most mainstream people, already frazzled by their lives changing, put up blinders towards the problems of those who fall outside their immediate social sphere. Corporations gain a tighter hold on media channels and dictate the narrative (the one that makes the most $).

It’s revealed just how much “history” has been altered – In the fictional setting of Sidereal Sanctuaries, it’s revealed that technology and establishing reality are the results of a deal mankind made with various cosmic forces eons ago. Part of that deal included a clause that said cosmic forces would send out enforcers in the event that mankind didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain. These enforcers (called Remnants) have attempted to fix humanity’s mistakes throughout history. Their reward? – The ones who look most human get remembered/elevated in history and the ones who don’t get hunted and their stories are turned into myths and stories about “monsters”.

The “monsters” are protagonists who just want to exist – In Sidereal Sanctuaries, player-characters are Remnants (the supernatural enforcers I mentioned) who are hunted from the moment that their supernatural side manifests. They congregate in places that are supernaturally protected from non-Remnants (called Sanctuaries) where they learn how to work together (mostly) and how to deal with a mix of both supernatural and mundane issues.

Tethers: This is a concept inspired by Infection from DR, which gives you a certain # of lives, and Humanity from VtM which makes a character appear less “human” as their Humanity rating decreases.  In the system being designed, Tether is your lives + merit pool. You can create a plain character and endure more lethal situations, or you can buy up merits and go down in a blaze of glory sooner.

 

Representation matters to the creators of Sideral Sanctuaries, and they’ve written a great blog post on the topic. This design from the beginning will hopefully encourage players to participate and build the shared experience in an inclusive and holistic way. This idea as a core element is encouraging, and we are going to keep close eyes on this project as it gains legs. Let us know what you think about the concepts presented here!

Presentation and Tropes with ‘Monster Races’ in Fantasy Games

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I just read this article, and it is certainly something to consider. This weekend I ran a D&D game set on the frontier of a jungle. At the heart, my goal was to subvert tropes, and this article got me actively thinking how and if I was successful. Subversion of a trope can be hard to manage without forethought and focus. In the end, I think I cut into some tropes, but I could have done better. I can’t tell you too much about the adventure, because I’m using elements of it in a product in development. I can tell you that I’m seriously considering my presentation of ‘monster races.’

 

This is something I’ve written about before. In that article, I focused on Goblins, and I’m going to use them as an example again here. As a cultural group, Goblins are fascinating to me, and I think the way they are often used is very frustrating in general. Eberron does a good job of undercutting the traditional colonial/racist way of depicting Goblins. It’s not perfect, but it is a step in a positive direction and I think we should be trying to do better in our games. Other settings are less effective at showcasing Goblinoids as living, breathing, and dynamic sentient people. We’ll just leave it at that, I’m not going to throw any specific shade anywhere right now.

 

D&D has colonial roots, and racism is a symptom of colonialism. (Or vice-versa, depending on how you suss out the origins of the behavior the terms describe), but that doesn’t mean we cannot use it to examine those things critically. In fact, I think that is a core benefit RPGs can offer us. The entire concept behind Reach-Out Roleplaying Games is to help use games like D&D to explore and understand the impacts othering, racism, sexism, and other systemic prejudices have on people and our interactions with one another.

So, we have two options, as I see it. We can acknowledge the inherent colonialists flaws in D&D and then work to subvert them. Or, we can use them without alteration as a way to start discussion outside of the game setting. The second is harder if you don’t have a group that wants to deconstruct the game and their own feelings and thought processes after a session. I’d make a joke about my surprise at these things, but I’m not. Most people don’t play RPGs for constant self-reflection and internal examination of their own biases and mental constructs…

 

 

Before I digress too far down that rabbit hole, let’s talk about subversion of tropes. This is an excellent idea as it is often in the hands of the GM to create the world which these tropes are expressed through. You’ve got the power to subvert tropes as a player as well, but the GM controls the systematic side. That said, everyone at the table has a role in determining, subverting, or reconstructing tropes.

 

For example. Goblins are murderous creatures that stumble over themselves in a cannibalistic frenzy. This common fantasy RPG trope is based on some elements of Tolkein, and lots of D&D specific history. It references tropes of tribal behavior, particularly from colonial conception of African and Polynesian culture. This isn’t an accurate depiction of those cultures, but we shouldn’t be blind to that influence on the way certain monster races are presented. So, how do we subvert this trope?

 


The first possible way is to make Goblins part of mainstream society within a setting. What role could they fill that halflings and gnomes do not? Any. Halflings may focus on culinary arts (Tolkein level trope, but let’s roll with it) and Goblins work as crafters and artisans. Their smaller frames make them really good at working in small spaces, so plumbers, construction, or mining are roles that are positive to a society. You can of course also make them farmers, or animal herders and subvert several tropes all at once. Consider the motivations your Goblins have. What do they see as the good life? Is there a Goblin Socrates? Why are they part of the society they are a part of? What do most members of society do? What do the outliers do? What is normalized behavior and what is taboo?

 

You can also give the trope style Goblins motivation that makes their behavior understandable. Murderous mob of goblins? They are a splinter group of raiders that were ostracized from several goblin towns. Having the players make an alliance with these towns to mutually take the raiders into custody would be an interesting plotline They may not need to be killed and if they are, doing so may anger more goblin’s who are their relatives. Perhaps a second group of ‘murderous’ goblins are simply avenging the deaths of their kin. Looking at Icelandic Saga Feuds, or the Hatfield and McCoy feud it is easy to see how this cycle of revenge can quickly get out of control. In both cases, greater law is often imposed to limit feuding, and it could be an interesting campaign to show the imposition of higher law between groups that have agreed to stop blood feuding.

This may not be going far enough, depending on the group and the scenario you are creating. When developing a setting or a full game, I think we also have to be really cognizant of what we are saying about a culture through our writing. Eberron presents Khorvaire as once being home to a massive Goblin empire. That empire collapsed, and the majority of goblinoids are now living in poverty, or living in nomadic, or rural village life.

 

Keep in mind too, that rural village life in most D&D worlds is fraught with danger we don’t have in human history. In a lot of cases, Giants, Dragons, and such would have driven most humans to build great cities sooner if they had actually existed. Binding together is sensible in the face of this sort of outside challenge. So, it is understandable that the life of the average goblin in Eberron is one of high mortality, and a fight for survival.

This is edging into trope territory as well, though. This makes Goblins perpetually marginalized in a society where they are generally unwelcome. Again, that can be useful for exploring racism and class issues through an RPG. If that isn’t the purpose for using this trope, we have to again consider what we are hoping to say in setting development? What if Goblins were simply an accepted part of society? In Eberron, we could have them be heirs to Dragonmarks, which would include them in the House system, which could mainstream them.

Acceptable, or trope?

You could also bring Darguun up to a fairly level playing field with the rest of the Nations of Eberron, pushing back the story of its unification, or even having it have sustained unity from the imperial era. This will either make Goblins more, or less antagonistic, depending on how much inherent nationalism you build into your world.

 

If you are building a completely new world, you could also do away with the standard Goblin tropes completely. Make them as accepted a part of society as Gnomes or Halflings. If you want to keep an antagonist group in the world, consider flipping the script and having Humans, or Elves be aggressors. You can either have it be a full swap, or try and subvert other tropes while you are flipping the script. The biggest danger here is shifting things and creating or falling into the same tropes with different faces.

 

What do I want you to take away from this? Try and subvert tropes that emphasize colonial or racist elements in RPGs. When you do so, try and take a holistic view on what your subversion would change in a setting. Be realistic, avoid stereotypes, and recognize you might not get it right. Take criticism, listen, and be prepared to adjust fire at the table too.

 

I’m interested in hearing how you’ve subverted tropes at your table or in your game. Let’s swap war stories.

Running a Facebook Fan Group for White Wolf Related Games


First, thank you to Chris for offering to do this interview many months ago when I first approached him. I wanted to understand more about what got someone to start a group on Facebook, and in particular why these games. I finally cleared my plate and sent him these questions.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into role-playing games?

I’m 39 years old, a husband and a father of three. Some of my hobbies other than RPGs are Brazilian Jujitsu, Mixed Martial Arts and reading book. I’m like ¾ knuckle dragger lol.

I actually got into RPGs in 1999 when I was in the US ARMY. I was on this detail where you have to spend 5 days, 15 hours each, walking through the desert picking up trash. A guy who was also on the detail started talking to me and I mentioned I was a fan of Anne Rice. He told me about Dark Ages: Vampire and a few weeks later he started running a game. We ended up getting deployed to Bosnia a few months later and right before we left I was at a bookstore and saw the Vampire: The Masquerade book.

I ended up picking it up and ran a game in Bosnia that was a straight up katana, trench coats, and Uzis for everyone type game. During all that though I was buying books online and having them shipped and I read one book that changed my perspective of Vampire: The Masquerade forever, Ghouls: Fatal Addiction.

After Bosnia I was stationed at another base and decided to run a grown up Vampire game, and ran Twin Cities by Night the first time. I soon though found myself taking on too many players and was starting to feel the dreaded burnout. Then one day I realized my 40 plus collection of books had been stolen. I was relived and never played a RPG again until 15 years later.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016 and I am cutting weight for a Brazilian Jujitsu and I am miserable. For those of you who don’t know, it’s pretty much eating like a rabbit and trying to ride the border between malnourished and lean for maximum weight/strength effect when competing. For some reason Vampire popped into my head and I ordered the horrible Vampire: Clan Novel Anthology there and ended up deciding I wanted to run Twin Cities by Night again and the rest is history. In summary, I am a RPG poser.

You run a few games on YouTube, and they are good. Tell us about why you decided to stream your games. What were you thinking there?

Why, thank you man, that honestly means a lot! At first I was just uploading it to YouTube so that the players and I had somewhere to rewatch our sessions, but eventually I really wanted to see if I could get some feedback, negative or positive, that could help me be a better storyteller. So, for the lack of a better term, I said F-it and started posting them on Reddit, Facebook, and the Onyx Path forums.

To be honest though, now it’s to the point here I want to share my stories, and if someone enjoys them that’s awesome, if someone has some constructive feedback that’s even more awesome, and if someone says no thank you and passes I can dig that. As I said earlier I have a knuckle dragger side to me, and before I was able to balance that out with working at getting my Master’s Degree but once I was done with school in 2016 I realized RPGing and the YouTube channel filled that hole. It is a healthy creative outlet and a blast to do it with some pals.

Ok, we know why you are playing RPGs, we know why you are streaming games, but tell us a little bit about why you decided to create a Facebook fan page.

Man, I love that Facebook page, seriously, it has a special place in my heart. As a content creator myself I have experienced firsthand how damn hard it is to get your stuff noticed. In forums and Facebook pages it is very easy for media to get drowned out by posts asking what Thaumaturgy Lure of Flames 7 and what dual bladed katanas could do against Caine (I jest, I jest…..kind of). So I started a Reddit post in the WhiteWolfRPG forum, but found that was so damn hard to do. I mean I was literally scouring the web and posting stuff I found.

I felt like a dang collector. So one day I shot Slavek, a player in games on our channel and the one poor soul who has to hear all my ideas and give me honest feedback, and tell him my idea for a Facebook group that would be like the Netflix for White Wolf RPGs. He said he was down to try it. At first I was sharing stuff I found on YouTube and other sites, but eventually my thick head thought “Why not invite these people to share themselves”. The rest, good sir, is history, and matter of fact you were one of the people I asked.

My favorite vampire meme

Do you find the group hard to manage? What are the good parts, and the bad parts?

Actually the group is rather easy to manage. It now seems to have a lot of content creators who share stuff and I am still scouring YouTube and inviting creators. The good part is to see how much content there is and seeing people connect with an audience and vice versa. Shit man, I see some big names in the scene are members of our group and are liking stuff posted. That’s rad! Bad parts, there aren’t really any but the one thing is when people don’t read the rules and get angry when I tell them the group is for sharing and viewing media.

Where do you see your group going?

I honestly don’t know, but I would say I am still surprised it is growing constantly. Who knows, but I am sure very awesome places! Positive thoughts!

Thanks again Chris for answering these questions for us. I really appreciate it, and I’m sure our readers appreciated it too.

Spring Again At Last: The Return of Changeling: The Dreaming

When most people describe the World of Darkness the first thing that tends to come up is gritty street wars fought between the undead and other horrors of the night. Sometimes that includes hyper violent Garou burning with deep bloody passions trying desperately to stop creeping death from consuming mother Earth, or Nephandi seeking to corrupt all they touch. However, for some, the World of Darkness is very different.  

Underlying the horrors of the first 4 WoD titles is the hidden chimerical world of Changeling: The Dreaming. When I started gaming in my mid-teens, I lived in a town where Changeling was so popular, our local LARP crew built home brew Mind’s Eye Theatre rules because they couldn’t wait for Shining Host to dive into the capricious machinations of the fae.  

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When I left my early gaming bubbles I was surprised to discover that Changeling is not the universally loved game I was familiar with. I have heard from more than a few people that Changeling is a fine game, but it doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness. So when the Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary Kickstarter succeeded with flying colors I was excited, not only that Changeling might have another life, but that with a 20th Anniversary edition the full scope of tragedy and horror Changeling represents might be brought into focus for a wider swath of players.

In many ways, the writers for C20 faced greater challenges than previous 20th Anniversary developers. Changeling never got a Revised edition, but unlike the other games in the World of Darkness, Changeling changed focus and central themes more than once during its life. There are several corners of the world that haven’t received any meaningful attention since 1st edition. The result was almost every Changeling book broke new ground, creating a much broader array of content than the line’s relatively modest word count would indicate, with several concepts and rules that were woefully out of date.

Themes

C20 tackled this challenge head on, and accomplished transforming one of the most diverse and honestly inconsistent games in the World of Darkness into a poignant, modern role playing experience. The greatest testament to this accomplishment is the sheer number of WoD fan posts I’ve seen talking about how they didn’t like CtD, but they are loving C20.

Changeling is 1 part politics, 1 part Cthonic horror, 3 parts psychological tragedy built on a pathological fear of death and loss, and some indeterminate amount of whimsy and wonder which serves more than anything to bring the first three elements into deep and painful contrast. C20 is the first Changeling book that captures every emanation of that often indescribable, unshaped mass and weaves it into a coherent whole.

Woo Hoo by Lydia Burris (http://www.lydiaburris.com)

Rules

While the thematic cohesion is a huge win, C20’s greatest accomplishment is tackling the often misunderstood rules system of Changeling. This is done, not only by tying it up into a much more balanced and manageable package, but actually expanding on the system with the concept of Unleashing. Changelings from previous editions were powerful, but deeply limited in how they could apply that power.

With the new magic rules, they now feel much more like the fae of myth and legend, able to wield the raw force of creation, but with often unpredictable and occasionally terrifying results. I have run and played in con games that used the early version of Unleashing shared during the Kickstarter and it adds a satisfying and mythic scale to the game. Beyond Unleashing, the Arts and Realms received an extensive cleanup. They were expanded in some areas, and minimized in others, resulting in a far more coherent and thematically engaging whole.

Storytelling Banality

C20 also borrows a page from modern narrative systems and builds explicit systems around your character’s emotional relationship to the world. This emphasizes the omnipresent threat of banality. In previous editions of the game, characters had a toxic (but often generic) relationship with banality. Now when you build a character, you select a variety of banality triggers, including a trigger that is unique to your character called your antithesis.  

This trigger is something the rest of your motley may find to be a minor nuisance, or in extreme cases may even garner glamour from. To you, it is the epitome of the creeping death of the coming winter. Some of the trigger dynamics could stand to be broader than they currently are, including the seeming triggers, which feel entirely too specific to me and are occasionally inappropriate for Thallain or Gallain characters, but the overall system adds a deeply personal relationship to banality that meaningfully enriches the game.   

Changes in the World

There are several other accomplishments in this edition including the expansion of the Thallain, the reworking of the Dauntain and the Autumn People, and actually wrangling Hsien Alchemy into what feels like a sleek approachable magic system. While I would love to expound on all of the edition’s strengths it would paint an unbalanced picture of the text as a whole. Much like the systems, C20 takes an often radical approach to the backstory of Changeling, and dramatically changes the canon in several areas. Some of those changes were sorely needed, such as the reframing of House Leanhaun, which changes them from arguably more evil than the Baali or Nephandi,to deeply parasitic, but playable. However, some of the changes to the canon feel unnecessary, and more problematically aren’t always well explained.

The flavor section reframes the Sidhe as being split between the Autumn Sidhe who stayed behind during the Shattering and undertook the Changeling Way, and the Arcadian Sidhe. The Arcadian Sidhe came back with the Resurgence and refused to soil their souls by fully bonding with humans. Effectively this was performed as a more violent and incomplete form of the Changeling Way where they displaced a human soul and took its place.

The Autumn Sidhe

Occasionally the text reads as though only House Scatthach and Liam took part in the Changeling Way, sometimes it frames the Autumn Sidhe in generic terminology that could  be read to imply Sidhe from any house might have gone through the Changeling Way. In the House section intro, Liam is listed as a returning House, and only Scatthach is listed as having stayed behind, and then in some of the house writeups there are subtle references to other Sidhe who stayed behind, but often in ambiguous language. The final result is honestly confusing.

During an exchange on Facebook, one of the C20 writers confirmed that any Sidhe that stayed behind became an Autumn Sidhe, which clarified things a bit, but ultimately those sorts of exchanges shouldn’t be necessary. A few explicit sentences in the Autumn Sidhe two page spread would go a long way towards providing clarity on this point. This change also wipes out broad swaths of story centering on the tragedy of the Sidhe who died in the years after the shattering because they were either trapped or chose to stay behind.

I love the addition of the Autumn Sidhe as a general concept, but less absolute framing about how all Sidhe who stayed behind became Autumn Sidhe, and all the Sidhe who returned refused to go through the Changeling Way would have cut off far less existing canon, and created messier, but more diverse plot hooks.

History Convoluted?

While the confusion about the Arcadian/Autumn Sidhe is definitely the most pronounced example of muddled narrative, there were several other smaller moments in the setting and history section that didn’t make a lot of sense, and occasionally even seemed to contradict material that appears elsewhere in the book. There is a lot to love in the C20 setting material. The conflict between the Tuatha and the Fomorians is far more dynamic than I remember in previous texts.

The role Christianity played in transforming the stories about the fae is included, which is something I’ve wanted to see in the game for a long time, but the history and setting content in C20 is best read with a strong eye towards the golden rule, especially if you have any investment in existing canon.

I’ve talked about the good and the bad of the edition’s treatment of Arcadian fae, but then there is my favorite and arguably the messiest part of Changeling, the Gallain. The Gallain are fae who are not a central part of Arcadian society. While there are a few European faeries who are considered Gallain, the term generally refers to non European faeries. Changeling has traditionally framed these spirits as either not being part of the Dreaming, such as the Asian Hsien, or in the case of the Nunnehi and Menehune, as being cut off from the Dreaming due to acts of genocide and violence committed against their dreamers. I’ve never been terribly comfortable with this framing, but I knew the writers wouldn’t have the leeway to dramatically change the way these groups functioned, but I was really hoping for a few more inclusive tweaks to the status quo.

Sprites Dance by Lydia Burris (http://www.lydiaburris.com)

Who is a part of Whom?

Occasionally the approach to non-European Changelings went above and beyond my expectations. The introduction of non-European Thallain gave the Nunnehi and Menehune a much more robust representation in the setting, but also occasionally drifted toward centering the Gallain around European stories more strongly than previous editions. The most pronounced instance of this is changing the Higher Hunting Grounds from being the Nunnehi Dreaming, which is invoked in the Changeling Player’s Guide as an equal but separate place from Arcadia, to being the Nunnehi’s home in Arcadia. On the surface this is a small change, but it recontextualizes the Nunnehi in a way that intentionally or not makes them a part of something fundamentally rooted in European mythology. The other examples of moving towards an even more European centering narrative are less blatant, but I honestly hope they are rectified in future texts.  

Overall, C20 brings Changeling into the 21st century. It is a deeply innovative take on the Storyteller System, and provides a more robust foundation to build a future line on than the game has ever enjoyed. It has done a huge service to the game by inspiring more fans to consider including Changeling in their personal World of Darkness. What C20 needs more than anything else is a full game line. It needs Gallain stories written by authors who have lived the truth of the myths being invoked, and full text expansion on the concepts that were completely reinvented for C20. This book is a monumental achievement, and it would be a tragedy of Arthurian proportions if this resurgence isn’t followed by a lasting and inspired spring of new material.

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Creative Outlets

Ask people why they LARP, and they usually answer roughly the same. The most common answer is their own form of “because it’s fun” or “because my friends do it” and both of those answers are great. Did you know there are actual benefits to LARPing in addition? Examining LARP shows there are many benefits to it that are hidden just beneath the surface. In this series of articles five of these hidden benefits will be expanded upon and detailed. For more information check out the other articles on Education, Networking, Health, and Social Skills.

 

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LARP can help you express your creativity and help foster creativity in others. By putting together your costume, you learn ways to express yourself through clothing and makeup. LARP can inspire art and creative writing about your character’s situation. LARP can even inspire creativity in people who don’t LARP!

 

Creative Expression Through Costume

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

Four of my own characters, all very different!

In the above picture, the common theme is that I am the player, and that is it. Each character has their own style of dress, makeup, hair and accessories. Different characters let me experience the different styles I present for a few hours in a non permanent way. Through these characters I have a creative outlet for trying new styles. I can get brave and try new styles and figure out what I like. Before I started playing the character in the bottom right, I couldn’t draw a good cat eye. Now I can do one well enough that I would wear it out in public. I’ve been able to creatively experiment with my appearance and enjoy myself because of LARP. Never in my life would I wear something like the bottom left or top right in public, but I can play with it at LARP and enjoy myself.

Sometimes I will even experiment at home with my look for LARP if I’m feeling creative. The expression has even gained me new topics to talk about with friends who also like makeup and body paint. It can even help spread creativity outside of LARP too! By commissioning costumes and asking friends for makeup help, you spread the creative process around. The artist or friend you ask for help may even end up liking the style you request and exploring it more on their own, which is a win for everyone.

 

Creative Expression Through Art

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

The guns my character uses in After The End

 

LARP also offers many creative outlets to be found in the creation of art, props, and writing. Those guns (lovingly painted for me) were just regular NERF guns that were painted to match the style and aesthetic of my character in that game. Many artistic friends of mine will draw their characters for fun. Through commissions they will also draw other’s characters and that can really help to get the creative juice flowing. I (and many of my friends) also write small fictional works involving our characters.

They focus on many subject matters and can be either dramatic retelling of game events or ‘off-screen’ events. Many of them are of stories that work best on paper, such as dream sequences, internal monologues, or backstory reveals. Having the expression outlet of creative writing is one of the things that inspired me to begin writing for KotH, so I can certainly say it is a benefit.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

If my keyboard could be a tired cat, it would be Freyr.

 

This series of articles has been extremely fun for me to write. I’ve touched on so many things that LARP can help you do, and there is still so much more that I haven’t even covered. From educating yourself, to gaining valuable contacts, to improving your health, to gaining social skills, to exercising your creativity, there are so many wonderful things that LARP can help you with. I hope you all have had as much fun reading this series as I have had writing it. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to take a break from writing about LARP to actually go do it. See you in character!

 

Be sure to check out the other articles on Education, Networking, Health, and Social Skills for more ways that LARP can benefit you!

Anna uses she/her pronouns, is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire or werewolf she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats with three eyes between them. She can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.