Visiting the world of live action vampire role-playing

Visiting the world of live action vampire role-playing

Mark this one down as Samantha Nelson week here at Gameological. After two appearances on this month’s Digest (in which she discussed South Park: The Stick Of Truth and Escape Goat 2) I got her on the horn to chat about what she’ll be playing this weekend. As it turns out, she’ll be hardcore live-action role-playing as a vampire with a group that has been doing it for 20 years. It was a fun talk about a world I know absolutely nothing about. As usual, share your weekend gaming plans in the comments. 

[All photos by Jeremy Shaver]

Matt Gerardi: What are you playing this weekend?

Samantha Nelson: I’m going to be playing in a Vampire: The Masquerade live action role-playing game on Saturday at Northwestern University. It’s being held in honor of the gaming group there, Dead City Productions, turning 20. It’s become a reunion of sorts with lots of players that had long since moved on across the country coming back to play with the current students.

MG: Is this a general gaming group or mostly dedicated to playing Vampire: The Masquerade?

SN: It started as a Vampire LARP group but has since expanded and now hosts regular board game nights and occasional tabletop gaming events. The main LARP is Vampire: The Requiem now, which was a new version of the game. They’re just doing Masquerade for this weekend, so I expect lots of newer people, who don’t know the old lingo and rules, to be a bit confused.

MG: What is Vampire: The Masquerade?

SN: It’s a tabletop role-playing game published by White Wolf where the players are vampires. It came out in 1991 and is very heavily influenced by Anne Rice. It also spawned some video games, a TV show, and a collectible card game.

MG: So you play as vampires, and what do you do? Go on quests like Dungeons & Dragons? Or is it more about just existing in this dark world?

SN: Definitely the latter. It’s a very intrigue-heavy game, especially when played as a LARP. Players all have their own schemes and are constantly forming and betraying alliances. There’s often some form of external threat, which can be vampire hunters or werewolves or really evil vampires, but most of the game is people trying to manipulate one another and acquire power and fulfill their weird goals.

MG: So the live-action part of it—meaning you’re dressing up and acting out the parts of your characters—really changes the dynamic of the game?

SN: Absolutely. I think it really helped me and a lot of people I know develop their social skills and build confidence. It’s a very different experience from a tabletop game where you’re sitting on a couch. You can certainly have some intense scenes in that context when your game master is setting the stage or you’re having an emotional conversation with another player, but the live-action aspect adds a dimension that makes it more like improv theater. Movement, costumes, and makeup all set the stage and the tone. You have to be willing to literally stand up to other players to get what you want.

MG: That sounds so intense. With interactions like that, it’s no wonder that group lasted so long and could have a reunion that brings in members from around the country.

SN: Yeah, I didn’t join the group until 2002, but you do form a real bond with your fellow players. I met my husband and all of my best friends from college through Dead City Productions.

MG: Feel free not to answer this, but I have to ask, do you and your husband have a vampire meet cute-type story? What with the dressing and acting like vampires and all.

SN: [Laughs.] Not really. You have about 20 to 30 people running around, and it spans multiple rooms, so you can go an entire night without seeing someone. His first year in the game, our characters didn’t interact much, and he missed a lot of sessions. But he was good friends with someone I did play with a lot, so we really got to know each other, mostly out-of-game. I think we got more into each other the second year when we were playing in a game with a lot of factions trying to coexist. We were two of the only people playing in the Camarilla, which are the traditionalists and kind of hardasses. So we spent a lot of time conspiring to keep the city running in an orderly fashion.

And as for dressing like vampires, how would you expect a vampire to dress? One thing that’s fun about the game is that vampires are supposed to be pretending to be human, so it’s not a crowd of people with capes and fangs. There’s some of that, but there’s also people in suits and biker jackets and ball gowns depending on what kind of character they’re playing.

MG: That’s what I was going to ask next, actually—how the costumes and makeup shake out. So really, it sounds like it’s more convenient of a game to LARP than something like Dungeons & Dragons. You can just throw on a leather jacket and be done with it, if that’s your character.

SN: Yeah, exactly. However, the people running the game have traditionally awarded bonus experience points, which you can use to upgrade your character, to people who do really cool things with costuming or makeup.

MG: Do you remember what any of the more involved costumes were like—the ones good enough to earn that bonus?

SN: I got it once for a priest character where I actually ordered a set of formal red robes and a big cross online. It was expensive but totally worth it. But the best costumes are always people who play Nosferatu. They’re a type of vampire that’s supposed to be hideous. A lot of [players] have a power that makes them look normal. Players who don’t want to do makeup can get away with using that excuse, but I’ve seen some really creepy cases where people went all-out with masks or drawn on veins and wigs. There are some people who get seriously into it.

MG: Why do think that is? Is there something about this game in particular that you think really grabs people and leads to the creation of a group like this? You mentioned you’d have 20 to 30 people playing at a time. That sounds like a lot.

SN: I think the group grew so large because it’s basically a networking group for nerds. I’d played a fair bit of Dungeons & Dragons before I went to Northwestern, but I’d never done any LARP or even played any White Wolf games, the company that published Vampire. But when I saw that this group was there, I knew it was pretty likely I’d find like-minded people, and sure enough, it led to me being introduced to plenty of people that also wanted to play D&D and talk about video games and go see comic book movies. It was a huge relief for me as a freshman, and it’s served that role for many people since. I’ve played in other LARPs, some tied to a university and some not, and they also provide a safe, fun way to meet other gamers in an area. In fact, it’s so popular that there’s an organization dedicated to coordinating gaming groups across the country and making it so that if you move or you’re visiting somewhere for a while, you can find a game. I had an internship in Washington, D.C., one summer. I took advantage of that, and it made my time there a lot more fun.

MG: Anything else you want to mention about the game or the group?

SN: I could probably go on for another hour talking about intimidating people and being paranoid and having your character get killed and the insane plots I’ve been a part of. And the times I went to Chipotle covered in fake blood. But I think you’ve got plenty.

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