Remember when LARPing was Fun??

Twelve years ago, when I started playing in a Vampire LARP, it was run by a non-profit fan club.  Life was simpler then.  One could make a basic character without having to thrash through multiple books AS WELL AS one or more on-line addendum.  The focus was on having fun.  Oh sure – there were clan books and other supplements you could use as well but that will always be the case.  Still, basic character creation was fairly easy.

I’ve generally been very content with the local games and the occasional convention games here and there.  Then there came the big schism between White Wolf (WW) and the non-profit fan club called the Camarilla.  Faced with the might of a large gaming industry who could afford lawyers – the non-profit organization folded.  Was it a perfect organization – oh hell no!  I think it was much better to have a non-profit running and organizing the local games than a gaming company though.  I eventually signed up under the new WW version of the club because I did want to keep gaming with the folks I knew and loved and it became apparent this was the only way it was going to really happen.  Since White Wolf (WW) took over more of the focus has been on making profits.  These two things aren’t mutually exclusive when you have a good balance.  However, there currently isn’t one in my opinion.

Gaming companies should focus on creating good games and game supplements that people will enjoy.  I actually think it’s pretty asinine to expect people to not only purchase your book but then pay you for the privilege of playing your game.  That certainly isn’t the case for any other role playing game I’ve played.  That said, I have been willing to continue to put forth my $20 a year so that those of my friends who enjoy this game and the “global game” aspect of it can continue to do so.  I’ve tried getting into the global game in the past and I just don’t care for it.  This is mostly done via IRC, email lists, and attending various conventions (most of them Camarilla only conventions these days).  This doesn’t work for me for several reasons:

  1. I don’t have as much time as I used to for email or IRC (I think I still have MIRC on one of my computers but I’m not positive).
  2. I’m not as interested in email or IRC role play as I am in LARP or Table Top role play.  I prefer personal interactions.
  3. Invariably there is mostly just a lot of in character screaming at each other and otherwise overly dramatic role play in these forums in my experience – though, to be honest, subtltey seems to be lost on most at in person games as well.
  4. I only play twice a month so don’t even get out to other games in this area or state – much less across the nation.   I have too many other interests that draw on my time, money, and attention.

Eight years have passed.  Despite all the promises to the contrary, the gaming club is no better now than it was under the non-profit and some things are far worse in my opinion.  The rules changes and addendum are way out of hand!  At this point it takes me no less than 2 books and going through 2 on-line addendum to make a single basic character for a single venue.  After WW took over I ended up doing yearly re-writes of any Ghoul characters in play (Ghouls for crying out loud!  Not exactly a powerful  kind of character that would imbalance the game) because of rules changes.  There has been a venue change and a re-set of that venue in the last 4-5 years.  My current character in the Requiem Vampire venue has been re-written 4 times since the venue change.  There was the original character creation, then a re-write because of rules changes for Ghouls (which also required me to submit an application for a special approval for her), then the re-write when she was embraced, then the re-write because they made a change in Member Class (MC — where points are given for volunteering in the club which translate to in character goodies which are increased as ones MC level increases over time) awards, and then a re-write because of the partial re-set of the setting.  Hmm… there may have been one more re-write I’m forgetting but you get the idea.  There has been yet another MC based change that I’m supposed to figure into my character sheet but it’s confusing and I just haven’t had the time or patience to sit down and figure it out.

In addition to all that, I have local storytellers who want me to submit game reports (they mostly never read), down-time actions (they mostly never do anything with), haven write-ups (they have never put into a database and even though they are planning to now they want different information so more editing was needed anyway) that may or may not ever be used in game to do anything actually entertaining for the players.  There are Excel spreadsheets created to help one keep all the math straight.  Problem is that when there is a new change and/or a new supplemental book released, a new Excel sheet has to be created and there isn’t a way to import your old data into the new sheet so you have to re-write it again.  Then they want you to put your character information into an on-line database which, of course, won’t import the information from the Excel spreadsheet (though the newest versions now have added a tab that translates the information into a text only format that you can copy and paste into the database – which is an improvement).  Oh and they’d like you to also put some of your character information in a non-user friendly Wiki format for which there is little or no actual helpful user guide.  There is a separate form that you use to record and track your MC points.  They made a standard “National Format” for it some years back that they now want everyone to use.  Despite conforming to this format you can still expect to lose a significant amount of MC points every time you have to get it reviewed for going up to the next level.  The MC points are referred to as “Prestige.”  On my latest review – they removed most of my less than 50 National Prestige (which I hardly have the opportunity to get for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here and now) because back when I started, twelve years ago, there was not as much documentation being recorded in on-line forums, much less in databases.  Sometimes only the various officers would ever see or get the documentation and if they didn’t happen to keep the email — you are screwed.

When there is a challenge (currently done using 10 cards or 1 D10 dice), we sometimes have to consult a book (or two) and/or a storyteller to determine the result – because it’s hard to say what with all the supplemental books and addendum.

What does this all add up to?

A hell of a lot of administrative thrash on top of the yearly membership fee I pay to PLAY A GAME BASED ON THE GAMING BOOKS THAT WHITE WOLF PUBLISHES THAT I BUY!!!

There is nothing practical in this.  It makes no sense.  People wonder why we can’t get more people to play.  Name one other gaming company who does this.  Seriously.  I can’t think of any and I can’t think of why you would.  I can understand game company’s that run MMO games charging a subscription fee because there are servers to pay for and such.  Beyond paying a fee to play, though, did you note how much administrative thrash I mentioned above?  That’s not including the regular logging and spending of experience points one does.  Most of what I mentioned is extra arbitrary administrative crap that has to be done because of constant rules changes that are made because, instead of focusing on the business of writing good games and rule books or dealing with the players who abuse rules (because they will ALWAYS find a loophole – just the same as there will ALWAYS be bugs in a new computer program written), they make the rest of us suffer through a constant amount of thrash with the threat of de-sanctioning your character always looming over your head as the price of non-compliance.  We also just got a call to help our current storyteller put together a time-line for all the major events that happened in our gave over the last 4+ years because now it’s suddenly required by the upper level storytellers for some reason.

Just remember – we do this for fun…??

I feel like this game is run by OCD control freaks who have no other social life what-so-ever.

By comparison, I have two table top games I play in once a month currently.  In the Girl Game our character creation is pretty swift because we only deal with a handful of traits, generally one disadvantageous trait, a general description and maybe some character history.  We play with 2 D6 dice.  I’m also in a (mostly) weekly Marvel based table top game for which I’m playing a pre-generated character (my choice since I only recently started reading comics), where the GM has to sometimes prod me to accept gifts and determine if I believe my character is able to do something not specifically noted on the character sheet but within the realm of possibility given her skill set.  We use 2 D10 dice for the game.  There is a sheet the GM consults that helps determine a result based on our role + the level we have for a certain skill.  He ultimately decides what the result is based on what is best for the game.  If someone is being a problem player or otherwise not meshing with the group they are asked to leave the gaming group – because we do this for fun.

In a recent conversation with a fellow Camarilla friend of mine, said she stopped using the Excel sheets and now just keeps her character information in the on-line database.  The problem with that is that the database isn’t always available and functioning.  It is primarily run and maintained by volunteers who have other jobs and can only really deal with any issues that come up after work during their spare time.  The database where they keep the “Ordeals” tests (Ordeals are club and storytelling rules knowledge tests one can do to gain more MC points) and test results just had a catastrophic crash where a bunch of data was lost.  This does not inspire a lot of confidence in me and I would not want to rely on it.  I appreciate that the volunteers are doing the best they can with it but, really, WW should have had their own servers and their own dedicated (read paid) staff running these things if they wanted to be in charge of all this.

At the last International Camarilla Convention, late last year, WW said they were going to give the club back to the players.  I guess they figured out they were never going to make a lot of money running the club.  Great.  Thanks, I guess.  We still have to pay $20 a year to play, of course.  They also have recently brought back the Old World of Darkness (OWoD) games (which will run in addition to the current games) no doubt hoping to win back players who stopped playing when that setting was retired.  Great.  I’ve long since sold most of those books due to space limitations.

Many local players have been excited by both the addition of a new game called Geist (sin eaters – generally replacing what used to be the Wraith game in the OWoD), as well as bringing back the OWoD vampire settings.  There was a local Camarilla convention here in April.  I’ve been unemployed for a year so didn’t really have to money to go to the convention.  I considered day tripping but then I realized there was another issue – I didn’t really have any interest.  I’ve spent some considerable time thinking about this and contemplating where my apathy is coming from.  It boils down to the fact that I have a lot more things going on in my life now than I did 12 years ago – more things drawing on my time and attention.  I have drifted away from some of the LARPing friends I had and others have drifted away from the Camarilla or moved away, etc.  Add to that, I’m only playing 1 Requiem and 1 Lost game a month which means that often I don’t make the games that the folks I’m close to do.  I’ve tried thinking about what I can do to make my current characters more interesting to play and I’m not having a lot of success there either.  One idea that a friend and I hatched up, for example, was dependent on us both being at the same game – which hasn’t been happening much lately.  In fact, though she plays the sire of my character, last year most of the year went by without us managing to be at the same game at the same time.

There’s more to it than that.

I’m having more fun with the other groups I game with and playing the other games I play.  I’m having less time, energy, motivation, and inspiration for the WW games.  I’m not really interested in OWoD Vampire, even though it would allow me to bring back a character I never really got to explore and put a lot of work into creating, because I feel very much like I’ve been there and done that.  There’s that saying about you can’t go home again and I wonder if people are really going to be into it in a few months when the shiny has worn off and the realize that walking on their old stomping grounds isn’t actually going to bring back their “glory days.”  The only OWoD setting that I might have interest in is Sabbat but I just haven’t got any enthusiasm for it.

I decided it might be best to step away from LARP gaming for a few months.  I like to LARP in general.  I like to create costumes and go be someone else for awhile.  In LARP one can sink into the character one is playing more than in Table Top games but it is also more time consuming and draining for me.  I’m hoping a little distance will help me get my enthusiasm and inspiration back.  I’ve considered that maybe depression from long term unemployment and the looming fact that I will soon run out of benefits is a factor.  More than that, though, is that this “game” is more work than I think it should or needs to be.  I can easily spend half a day or more thrashing with character sheets and prestige logs.  A month ago I was just trying to find which Lost supplements gave more info on the Goblin Markets so that I could better create an NPC market stall for our local game (as requested by the new storyteller).  The lack of indexes in the (5 or so) supplement books I skimmed made this way harder than it needed to be.  I finally just gave up and just wrote up my idea anyway.

When gaming companies and organizations make it so complicated to play in the game that one has to plan to devote hours to doing out of game maintenance, they are shooting themselves in the foot.  There are way too many other options out there now.  While I will miss the people I game with in the Camarilla when I’m taking my break, I also feel the need to break out of the tunnel vision that they are the only LARP option.  I’ve been surprised at how many RPG books and settings exist when I go to my friend’s comic shop, The Dreaming, and look on his shelves.  Since I’m not really into the “Global Game” aspect of the LARP I’ve been participating, perhaps I would be better off looking for a local troupe game or another table top game in another setting I’m interested in.  What I don’t want is a game that feels like a job and causes more stress and that’s how the Camarilla games feel to me these days.

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9 thoughts on “Remember when LARPing was Fun??

  1. Yeah, after returning solely because of my Changeling concept, the bureaucratic BS kind of bogged me down again. Even though Geist is pretty awesome.

  2. I’m so confused by all this. How can a company that sells rule books charge a fee to let people play the books they’ve bought? Is this the equivalent to D&D charging players for their weekly gaming groups? Why can’t your group just go back to a rule set you like better?

    It sounds awful, whatever the case!

  3. Wow, I hadn’t known all this about the Camarilla/White Wolf LARP. To me, LARP is huge amounts of fun – then again, I have mostly been playing in pre-written games cast and run by Foam Brain Games or cons or things like that. Foam Brain is now one of the larger LARP running groups in New England, although they actually make most of their money selling dice and games at conventions and stuff. Foam Brain’s website is mostly about buying things (here: http://www.foambrain.com) but they also ran a ton of weekend-long LARPs in the past few years written by various people. I also attended Intercon X for the first time last year (run by New England Interactive Literature), and found here: http://www.interactiveliterature.org/NEIL/. Sorry if I sound too much like a plug, but I’m disappointed that your LARP experiences of late haven’t been fantastic, as mine have pretty much all been super awesome.

    If anyone else has comments on pre-written theatrical games, boffer games, bring your own character (BYOC) theatrical games, or anything else, I’m curious how LARP works at places that aren’t my college.

  4. As someone who contributes to running a LARP as a business, I can see why it is in the best interest of the business to charge. I think WW didn’t understand how large their games would become. They approached it backwards–they should have licensed the game and sold the books as companions to the games. NERO does this and if people don’t like that practice, they just play elsewhere.

    You are right, overall, about this situation. It was wrong of the company to sell the book and then charge fees for franchise rights after the fact–especially considering the group was nonprofit. That’s just ridiculous. Espeically in the age of the internet, fan-based buzz and gatherings are successful and effective marketing tools–plus it’s free advertising for the company.

  5. @Xythen – It’s charging a fee for people to be a part of the Camarilla fan club so they can participate in “sanctioned” games, the global game, go to Camarilla conventions, etc.

    I’ve never played D&D (the people I knew who played it when I was young didn’t want newbies or girls in their game) so I can’t speak directly to that but my understanding is that it’s at least very similar.

    People can and do run troupe games that are outside of the Camarilla fan club. Part of the issue is that many of the people I play with have been in the Camarilla since it started (or shortly after) and when it was still an NPO and they continue with it for various reasons – including the fact there there are a number of different domain games in this state that they can go play at – but only as long as they are in the fan club.

    Clear a mud?

  6. @Quill – it’s not all bad and I have left out a fair bit of the details because they are beside the point. I do still enjoy LARP but this LARP has more administrative work attached to it than I really want to deal with anymore.

    @Tara – When the fan club was organized and run as a non-profit – I had no issue paying the yearly fee which was going to pay for administrative costs. I was also more inclined to do more volunteer work because it was a non-profit. When WW took over they seemed to be under the impression there was money to be made here and I feel they have done more to thwart their fan club players than help them. I don’t really have an issue with the $20 so much as it seems a bit unnecessary to pay it to a for-profit company when most of the work is still being done by volunteers who, by and large, don’t get monetary compensation.

    Still – my main issue is that, over time, the time I spent on out of game administrative work has gotten out of hand and it’s gotten more complicated than it should to just make a character and play in a game. I think this is part of why it’s hard to recruit new people and I think this is part of why people keep leaving, and/or are reluctant to return. Many of the rules/powers/etc in the many supplemental books have to be approved and amended for LARP before we can use them in game and this means there’s a delay from when a book is published to when players can use anything in it and it means more rules changes and updates in the addendum that exist that need to be checked before adding anything new to one’s character and it means new Excel character sheets will need to be made and this means re-writing your character if you want to use those character sheets, ad nauseum.

    The social and gaming club the Camarilla started out as is long since dead and buried. I find myself resenting the fact that I am expected to jump through so many hoops just to play my character once a month and I’m not seeing much, if any, return on the investment of my time – which is more and more a precious commodity. So, I’m taking a step back and a look around to see if I’m just a little burned out or if it really is time to move on.

  7. The increasingly business-oriented model of modern games (mainly meaning WotC and WW at this point, as SJG has pretty much exited the RPG business as its primary revenue stream and everyone else is more or less in the “hobby” category) is part of the reason that the Story Game, Indie Game, and Retro Game movements have gained so much currency. I can only think of this as a good thing, but then I am not interested in turning my lifelong hobby into a way of financially supporting myself or others.

    I’m glad that you enjoy the Bridge/Trait/Two-Die system. I’m increasingly drawn to games where the character sheet can be a 3×5 card (and the rules fit into 128 pages or, ideally, less), myself, so that’s an obvious part of the design decisions.

  8. @Chris – one of the benefits of some of the newer friends I have and the roommates I currently live with (The Geek Girl What Rules and the Geek Husband What Rules) is that I’m getting more exposure to those other game movements and seeing that there really is a lot to choose from out there.

    Yep I really do like the Bridge/Trait/Two-Die system – it lets you get on with the fun stuff – the roll play. I’m considering writing up help guides for creating characters with those systems – in part because it would be a good exercise and a helpful tool for those times when I just seem to be having trouble getting started myself.

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