Saturday, December 17, 2005

Why are Vampires Cool?

Every once in a great while, I ask myself why I bother with Vampire Larps. It can get tiring, It seems like the same social dynamic holds sway all the time and you see a lot of the same plots getting re-cycled over and over again. I mean, how many times can you do "Kill the Prince." Or "The Sabbat comes to town" Or even "A group of humans are catching wise to us. We should totally go over there and fuck up their Christmas!"
It's the same thing that drove me away from Fantasy. You start to see the same things over and over again. I mean, how many times can you do the dotty old wizard who is slightly absent minded without people seeing it coming a mile off.
So occasionally it's important to re-fresh the well. It's necessary to find the things that are cool and interesting about vampires (and probably any other supernatural critter as well.) and start to re-emphasize those things.
See, it's easy for things too get lost in the shuffle. in any large larp you got various camps of player types. Each of these camps, has a different idea of what fun is. Now I'm not going to regurgitate a whole bunch of stuff from Robin Laws at you, But you should know by now that there is at least one group of players who are keen on the political game, another group that is into all the angst and suffering, and still another group that aren't happy unless they get their claws damp. You know this right? Hell, you can usually tell by how they are dressed!

But within those divisions there are people who think they are playing super-heroes with fans or who want to be the comic relief for the evening or are so new that they blurt out their entire back-story to anyone who asks. This can take away from the actual thematic elements that make playing vampires interesting and fun.

Vampires don't sweat the small stuff.
Let's say for a moment that you are a vampire. You're a person (maybe an ordinary person, maybe not.) Whose been selected by some other inscrutable night stalking freak. You've essentially been killed and revived by the eldritch power of the blood (and let me tell you, the first time that happens, you'll eat your one true love...You'll cry about it later. BUT YOU'LL DO IT.)
Add to this that you are now on the lowest rung of society of predators. At least a couple of times a week you need to go out and drink the blood of the living in order to animate the unliving shell where you thoroughly damned soul resides. You stop feeling cold, You stop feeling hot. You stop feeling horny. You stop feeling air inside you.You don't get to feel the sun on your face anymore. You only feel hungry.
Add to that that your lizard brain has become sort of supercharged and your fight-or-flight reflex has become a barely controllable urge when you encounter other vampires or the things that can lay you low.
Sure you get some nifty powers, but they only serve to make you a better predator and to isolate you from the rest of humanity. Sure you get a chance to live forever, but if you're paying attention at all to those people at court, you realize that the older they are, the crazier they are. Some of them become entirely alien in the outlook. Some have pathologies that would crack Freud like an egg. Others lose a sense of time and concentrate on playing a long game while the rest of the world burns around them.
That's what you have to look forward to. Assuming that you don't get ganked by some other predator who has decided that you are weak, or you decide to stay up for the sunrise some night.
Now, keeping all this in mind, Do you think that Kindred is going to show up at formal court and balance their checkbook while they wait?
There is something freeing about playing a character that no longer has to worry about SMALL SHIT. Lean into this idea. Think of the first time you ever saw certain vampires in certain movies. "Dracula" in nearly each and every one of his incarnations has the kind of presence that stops people in their tracks. He simply exudes cool. and he doesn't do this by sitting in a corner all night and being a grump. He walks into a room and OWNS it.
Ever see "A Vampire In Brooklyn"? The first time you ever actually see Maximillian, He is coolness incarnate. His clothes are stylish. his voice is smooth. He is a cat-clean predator...And he doesn't care if you know it or not.
Even Selene in "Underworld" is able to wear a leather cat suit. Who can pull that look off? I certainly can't.
Lestat is all that and a side of fries. and he knows it and shows it.
It's amazing what happens to you when all of your actual needs go away and get replaced by 2. Blood and Shelter. That's all you need to survive. All the rest of it just seems to fall away. Sure, having a bit of money is nice. But anybody can get money. Or you can get someone who has money. But if it comes right down to it, you CAN live in a sewer if you have to.
People who play Vampires need to actually concentrate on their stage presence. It makes a gigantic difference. If you do no other thing. look at each and every person that passes in front of you and think. "I could eat you."
Do yourself a favor. Start watching movies and plays with an eye towards what makes stage presence and start taking notes and start practicing that stuff.

Vampires are old
They know things. They've been around. They've seen things and done things. In nearly every case they have lives(?) that are much more interesting than ours. Lean into this idea as well. Come up with the best back-story you can manage. Even if you never really share it.
In fact, you should probably resist telling as much of your core personal story as possible. You can of course tell a number of stories, without really telling your own. :D
True story: Had a dude roll up on me at a Larp. and I asked him his name, He then, taking this as an opening, told me every single piece of information about his character. This came out in a largely unbroken stream. a bit like vomit. it was a bit odd. It occurs to me in retrospect, that maybe nobody else had talked to him all night.
Vampires have time on their side. They can take a night course if they like. They can read every single book on a subject if they choose. They can travel and soak up cultures. They can hone skills a couple of centuries old. They can encounter more occult phenomenon in the space of a year than most people see in their entire lives. I talk a little bit more about this in the article the Long Game

Vampires are Passionate
Okay, leave aside the Beast for moment, don't worry, we'll come back to it. I've given it a chew toy to play with. It'll be alright.
So, in order to deal with the horrors of the undead existence, you have to have something to hold onto. You need some kind of purpose to keep you going from night to night. If you don't have one, you'll bite it. The first year of undeath claims more lives than any other factor. There's usually another bump of mortality around the time of the end of the mortal life span.
So you gotta have some thing, or cause or person to hang onto if you're going to make it. Now having said that, let's look back a bit at the basic idea that all the little stuff falls away. What this means is that the causes of vampires become large in their sight, because they have little to distract them. Vampires can afford a laser-like focus.
Now, let's go back to the Beast. Take all that above and add in the possibility that any loud argument can degenerate into some kind of blood bath. Do you see why I refer to Soap Opera as the primary model for any really good Vampire Larp? It's all about the passions involved in the game. Play in a game where the rules on frenzying are nerfed and this stuff gets lost.
Vampires are also passionate in their personal lives. Their causes are important of course, But it has nothing on their internal emotions. Vampires can be very lonely, so it is vitally important to lean into the loves and rivalries of that particular vampire. Look for ways to point up the romantic passions of your character and you'll find how vitally important they are. Look for a passionate hatred for a rival and you'll find good game play.

Vampires are scary
They are stronger than you. Faster than you. They can twist your mind. They can draw you into their web and stick you fast. They may have a heart and a sense of shame but their hunger will always trump it. They lurk in the shadows and creep around the edges of human life. Predators are always scary. If there is no greater argument for having human players sprinkled amongst the vampire players it's this. In vampire-only larps, the actual fear factor tends to slip away. Also, Neonates have nobody that they can take out their frustrations on. Games where Vampires don't have a chance to be scary are dull.

Vampires are Damned
You are on the number 8 express bus to Hell. You do bad things. You steal life from the living. Do you know why this is so?
It's because you're a BAD PERSON. You might as well revel in it. Slowly but surely, you WILL slide down the fireman's pole to damnation. You can go slow. You can go fast. But you're going to go down. If you're playing in a game where the humanity rules have been given the handwave, then you're playing Superheroes with Fangs. If you're the ST, it's up to you make sure that there are moral and ethical consequences in every direction the vampires turn. I've always wanted to have a Police chief trying to stop the vampires and have the vampires go round to his place and kill him, only to look up and realize the cops 6 year old kid has witnessed the whole thing. Lose a whole freight car of Humanitas bucko. It's stuff like this that solves the problem of players using violence to solve all their problems.

Vampires are Sexy
The blood is not only nourishment to them. It is the ability to taste other lives. Sure, it's a form of rape, but often times it's also a seductive thing too. So when a vampire feeds or shares blood with another kindred or even just feeds the ghouls, It is a sexual act of one sort or another. When vampires fall into lust with someone it's very different from the way a human would. With humans, it's largely chemical. Just as there are physiological triggers which cause it, there are trigger which can cause it to cool off.
Vampires have none of that. Vampiric lust is born out of loneliness and hunger. It has a wild desperate edge to it that has nothing to do with hormones (which a dead body no longer produces.) In ordinary folks, loneliness and desperation, is not attractive. And yet, it drives the Vampire's whole mystique. Weird huh?
Now the whole mishegoss involving IC and OOC attraction is a discussion for another time. And it may never be sufficiently answered.
I've had some good experiences in that realm and i've had some not so good experience in that realm. The whole concept of hard and fast rules about inter-kindred and about Inter-player relations daunts me and has broken stronger fellows than me.
Still, When the sexual edge of a game is present, it adds a whole other layer to things. A whole batch of them.

Sono Finito


At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Everett said...

And players wonder why a superhero with fangs would intentionally fall into torpor. Here you've been playing for only a few decades and it's already beginning to wear on you? Imagine being in the same larp with the same players playing the same character for several centuries and having a methuselah start the "Kill the Prince" plotline again.

On a brighter note, there are several ways I like to keep the game interesting.

- Change stuff:
Josh Wheadon made an interesting commentary to the Firefly episode "Objects in Space." He said that viewers didn't know just how wierd he was planning to go with the series just yet, so when River told Jubal and her brother that she had discorporated and possessed Serenity, no one really knew weather or not to believe her.

This same tactic can be used in with great effect in a vampire game where your players don't really know if you're planning to stick to cannon. World of Darkness is already a slightly skewed version of our reality, so if you start to put out a few clues for a Blade or Underworld's abberation or even a fantsy-style paladin, no one's going to know if you really mean it until the big reveal. To paraphrase Hitchcock, it's what you don't know but suspect that generates the most fear.

- Ordinary lives:
While it's true that vampires don't need to sweat the small stuff, they do all the same. They hate loosing status, allies, resources, domain, ghouls ... well just loosing in general. You can acomplish the most spectacular effects by just taking an ordinary human event (or series of events) and remembering that the main character is a vampire. Jury duty, an IRS audit, a new freeway being constructed through your haven, the neighbor's dog mining your lawn, power failures and a host of other generic problems can make a character's unlife hell just because he can't go outside durring the day. Have you ever seen a 24-hour car mechanic? Me neither. And none of these problems have an elder as their cause (unless you want them to).

One of the easiest ways to do this is to take any contemporary story and say "what if the main character was a vampire?" (Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories don't usually work.) Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, James Patterson, Tom Clancy and John Grisham are just a few good print places to start. C.S.I., Law and Order, West Wing or any of their innumerable copies (Bones, E-Ring, Profiler, Cold Case, etc.) will work just as well for those of you who (like me) have a limited attention span and even less time.

Lastly, there was a comment Rev K made about a hundred Cranks ago about doing an "open plot night" where you ask your players for plot lines. He said (quite correctly) that one of their ideas would give you a great idea totally unrelated to anything they're suggesting. I've discoverd this works quite well in reverse: if you start a one-way brainstorming session, you talking about possible plotlines to a GM with writer's block, they will invariably come up with a great idea that is totally unrelated to anything you've been saying ... which is what you wanted in the first place anyway, isn't it?


At 4:50 PM, Blogger kinesys said...

Somebody listens to things i say?
I might just fall down dead from shock...

Cool ideas Everett. Always good to have such things tucked away for a rainy day. Thank you!

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Acid Reign said...

.....Why? Hint: It's not Celerity 5 Potence 5! You can't beat up the whole world! And there's always someone bigger and badder. It's the social stuff! I recently played a Ventrue in a low-level vampire game, and to me, the most cool thing was how easy it was to get what I wanted from the mortals! I had Presence 1 and Dominate 3...

.....Now, the key to mental discipline use is "reasonable requests." This might be as simple as calming an irritable police officer down, or smoothing out things on a mundane contract. You can't dominate a CEO into writing you a million-dollar check. Even if you roll 5 successes, it's going to attract attention... And with reasonable requests, a failure just means a "no" answer, and you move on to the next mark.

.....24 hour mechanic? If you're a Ventrue with social skills, you can get one! With Presence and Dominate, you have essentially an endless supply of folks who will do you favors. I found that a character with a few mental powers pretty much skates right through most mundane life problems. Smile, stall 'em with compliments and Presence while you think, then smooth it out.

.....IRS audit? Unless you've been really stupid financially, it's one agent. Who comes out to look at your records. And they can be made to come out in the evening. If you get the rare, can't be dominated, strong-willed agent, well, accidents happen. And the next government official will probably be more malleable!

.....Jury Duty? Note from a doctor gets you out. A vampire shouldn't be using his living days identity, anyway. And shouldn't register to vote. That's where they get jury-duty lists.

.....Haven being condemned? Sell it. A knock on any mortal door and eye-contact secures another safe place to stay. Just don't go all slasher on them. Higher mammals don't foul the place where they're going to sleep!

.....Whedon had a good thing going, and then got bored. The Scoobies got all self-destructive, and Angel's bunch sold out to Wolfram/Hart. Did we REALLY need to see Joyce all dead and bug-eyed on the couch for half a season? Maybe Whedon felt like slapping his young viewers with the "get real" glove. And the magic went "poof!" And in typical TV fashion, the undead beasts zombie-marched on till they were put out of their misery. Too few "nancy-boy hair-gel" moments, too much gloom. Suck all the fun out of it at your own risk!



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