Interview with the LARPer
The term LARP—or live-action role-playing for those allergic to acronyms—conjures up images of grown men and women in homemade armor hitting each other with foam weapons. But not that long ago, LARP was the domain of grown men and women dressing up in gothic finery and playing rock-paper-scissors to simulate their cursed powers. Vampire LARPs sprung out of the popularity of Vampire: The Masquerade, a tabletop RPG that also spun off into collectable card games, computer games, and even an awful soap opera produced by the liver-spotted hand of Aaron Spelling. Mind’s Eye Theatre LARPs, meanwhile, were exceedingly popular across goth clubs, college campuses, and gaming conventions in the ’90s. The A.V. Club caught up with Anne Zellmer, Head Storyteller of Milwaukee’s Nocturnal Rapture, to see what ancient vampire plots we could uncover.
The A.V. Club: Tell us about Nocturnal Rapture.
Anne Zellmer: Nocturnal Rapture is a member chronicle of One World By Night. One World By Night is an international organization dedicated to creating links between White Wolf’s Mind’s Eye Theater LARP games around the world. By combining the various stories of member chronicles, OWBN hopes to enhance the enjoyment of its members by expanding local plots to the world, truly creating a World Of Darkness.
AVC: How did you get involved in LARPing?
AZ: Honestly? Because of a pick-up line I didn’t realize was a pick-up line. But that’s pretty embarrassing. Our chronicle used to play at the old Sanctuary, and while I attended the club, I never realized what was going on in the back room… I guess the players were “keeping the masquerade.” Once I found out there was a live-action role-playing group every Friday night, and once I realized they were playing Vampire: The Masquerade, I got involved as quickly as I could. I haven’t looked back since, and have met friends and traveled places I never would have if I weren’t involved with this LARP.
AVC: How big is your current LARP?
AZ: Our average games are between 25 and 30 players. We have our local game base and receive quite a few visitors from chronicles around the area, especially Chicago, Kenosha, and Green Bay. Our scheduled games are second and fourth Fridays, where we play from 6 p.m. until midnight. Our location for the last five years has been Ruby G’s on 21st and Wells. Our October games are the 14th and 28th.
AVC: Is Ruby G’s closed to the public for your games?
AZ: Ruby G’s is technically closed, but we always have a stray or two wander in. The owner of Ruby G’s refers to us as “his vampires.” I will say, it was amusing when I went to the police station just kitty-corner to Ruby G’s to explain what it was we did when we first started playing at that location five years ago. I think the officer was trying so hard to be polite and listen patiently as I explained we were totally harmless, but he just couldn’t help having an incredulous smile on his face. When we played at the UW-Milwaukee Student Union, we used to have a cadre of people who watched our group as an ongoing soap opera. Sometimes they knew the plot better than some of the players.
AVC: Where do most of your new players come from?
AZ: Most of our new players come from people who know our current player base. Because the “old” World Of Darkness books have been out of print for so long, it’s difficult to pull new players in when the game is no longer being marketed. That is changing, however, with the accessibility of books through sites such as DriveThruRPG.com. You can download .pdf copies of books, or get them via print-on-demand. While the entire World Of Darkness library isn’t ready quite yet, they are adding new books all the time. We’re hoping this accessibility will bring new life to our local game.
AVC: What’s the biggest difference between now and the Mind’s Eye Theatre heyday of the mid/late-’90s?
AZ: Games are smaller, players tend to be a little older, and new blood is harder to find. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t great stories being told, and we still have just as much fun as ever. I just returned from New Orleans, where White Wolf celebrated the Grand Masquerade and the 20th anniversary of Vampire: The Masquerade. People from all over the world attended, and the enthusiasm shown by all was a great testament that Vampire is still alive and well.
AVC: What is your favorite plot connected to Milwaukee history?
AZ: I think my favorite plot has to do with the Joan Of Arc Chapel at Marquette University. While the origins of that plot come from the Vampire: The Masquerade sourcebook, so much has happened over the years that it has twisted and turned itself into a whole different creature and story. While not always a prominent plot, it is one that has arched over the entire life of our chronicle and always comes to surface every few years. We also use landmarks throughout the city to give our players a better experience. One of our elder characters resides in the Allen-Bradley clock tower, and another in the trailer park underneath the Plainfield Curve.
AVC: How do you feel about the current explosion of vampires in pop culture?
AZ: I like my vampires to be monsters—I enjoy my games of personal horror. To that end, I’m not a huge fan of the softer side of vamps portrayed by popular media today, but I can find entertainment in vampires of most any kind.