Sorties Into the Dark Ages

So, despite having been involved in LARP in some capacity for twenty years or so, for a good long while I’d never been to what you might call a “traditional” Vampire: the Masquerade LARP, despite the prominent role those have played in the field over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to Vampire LARPs – of both Masquerade and Requiem flavours – but never one which used the venerable Mind’s Eye Theatre system as maintained by By Night Studios.

There’s various factors why that has been the case. I started LARPing in university; at the time, there was a local branch of Camarilla UK (the major Mind’s Eye Theatre-based World of Darkness LARP network), but there was also other options. If you were into a more physically active LARP, with combat actually implemented using pulled blows with latex weapons, Mind’s Eye Theatre wouldn’t be your thing anyway – that system has never used “hard skill” combat but instead uses game mechanics to resolve violence in an abstract fashion. There was a local system which ran frequent afternoon sessions of a Saturday, so if you preferred that, that was what you did.

Mind’s Eye Theatre-esque games are somewhat suited to games which put a strong emphasis on political networking and social skills – but for that there was also alternatives, with at least one (and often several) freeform games which delivered a similar style of play. These would run campaigns in short runs (since they were associated with the local university’s RPG society and so needed to complete their arcs within the academic year due to student turnover), and as the “freeform” title implies tended to be extremely system-light.

This meant there were not much in the way of rules you needed to keep in mind to play, and not much in the way of the sort of long-term baggage that any RPG campaign accumulates over the passage of time. By contrast, the local Camarilla UK game seemed rather unapproachable. The Mind’s Eye Theatre system provided a significant barrier to entry and seemed daunting to handle in play – whilst in a tabletop context it’s much easier to pause and look up a rule when playing a crunchy system, LARPs really thrive on pausing the action as little as possible, so a rules logjam in a LARP can be significantly more disruptive to the play experience than a difficult rules problem in a tabletop context, and needing to keep a large amount of rules information straight in your head to ensure smooth play is a perennial LARP system design issue.

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Kickstopper: Dark Ages, Delightful Anniversary

Although the various World of Darkness games unfold by default in the modern day, back in their prime White Wolf eagerly put out various guides – whether as fully standalone games or as supplements to their parent game – to exploring different historical eras of the games’ settings, and perhaps the most successful of these was Vampire: the Dark Ages.

Vampire: the Dark Ages represents a particularly apt marriage of game line and time period. Vampire politics in Masquerade already draws on the feudal, and its main conflicts stem back to fault lines from the original establishment of the Camarilla and Sabbat in the wake of the Anarch Revolt. Set during the medieval period prior to the Revolt, Dark Ages offers players the opportunity to play its ringleaders, or to experience the life of the clans from back before vampires had to tiptoe around and be quite so careful of the human masses, or to generally dial up the feudalism and rule the land as a dark overlord. This sort of action fits perfectly with the way that, say, Dracula is supposed to have ruled over his little region of Transylvania in Bram Stoker’s original novel. Vampire fiction regularly looks to the medieval period for its imagery and its roots – even stuff that’s blatantly copying White Wolf – and Vampire: the Dark Ages offers an opportunity to crank that dial up to 11 in a gaming context.

Naturally, since the 20th Anniversary Edition of Masquerade had done so well out of crowdfunding, it was only to be expected that 20th Anniversary Dark Ages material would get the same treatment.

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