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005: Enter the LARPZone

After breaking camp our heroes uncover a map that points to the next step on their quest through the LARP of Vampire the Masquerade, True Dungeons, and more.

Games discussed on this episode:

  • Vampire: the Masquerade
  • Kindred the Embraced
  • Society of Creative Anachronism
  • True Dungeon
  • HEMA
  • City of Heroes
  • Dungeons & Dragons

Introductory Guy  

Welcome to design thinking games, a fantasy and user experience podcast. Each episode, your podcast host, Tim Broadwater and Michael Schofield, will examine the player experience of board games, pen and paper roleplaying games, live-action games, mobile games, and video games. You can find every episode, including this one on your podcatcher of choice and on the web at design thinking games.com.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, so one of the things that I really don’t understand, and I’ve met a couple people in my life, and you’re the third one actually, is LARPing. So let me give you a little bit of my perspective on this. As far as I know, it, like Dungeons and Dragons, or Pathfinder, or any other roleplaying game. There’s kind of a game that I came in contact with in college, and I was in college, probably from like, 95 to 2000. And it was in the World of Darkness kind by White Wolf.

So Vampire: the Masquerade, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Mage: the Ascension, Wraith: the Oblivion, and it keeps going, right? The system is what I really loved about those games, because in college, we can have a werewolf play with a vampire play with whatever. But what I didn’t realize is that there’s a whole community, and forums, and people who play this game live, and that’s kind of live-action roleplaying. I went to Gen Con a couple years ago, and a friend of mine, Kevin, wanted me to go and attend a Vampire: the Masquerade LARP. And I was like, Hell no, I’m not doing it. That’s way too geeky. You know, I’m okay with roleplaying in tabletop roleplaying games, like Dungeons and Dragons, or Pathfinder or whatever. But at some point, like, I do, like the math and the dice rolling, and I’m a hack-and-slasher. So essentially, the question is, can you speak to it?

Michael Schofield

I want to clarify a couple of things. There’s the thing that I sometimes say when people who aren’t among us discover that I played Dungeons and Dragons or some of these other things. And it’s always like, No, no, it’s okay. I’m not a larper. I’m way cooler. And so it’s been some time. I’m turning 36 this year. So it’s been well over 17 years since I did any of this. 

Dungeons and Dragons players know that there are several versions: the original, there’s the second edition, third edition, fourth edition, 4.5, fifth edition, which we’re in now, I’m not exactly sure, but at some point, it was a big deal. When White Wolf announced the World of Darkness 2, Vampire: the Masquerade was sunset. It became Vampire: The Requiem, which had an entirely new rule system. All that to say, I’m merely bringing this up to say that Yo, I was a world of darkness one player. Vampire the Masquerade is what I know best.

Tim Broadwater

I don’t know if you know it or not, but there is a World of Darkness documentary on amazon prime. 

Michael Schofield  

Oh, fascinating. No, I didn’t. 

Tim Broadwater  

I’ve watched it here recently. It encompassed the tabletop game and the LARPing, also the video games that kind of spun-off. And what I love about it is, here’s this genre, right? Like Star Wars or Marvel, that literally has got video games, it’s got live-action roleplaying games, a TV show…

Michael Schofield  

It was on Fox, back in the late 90s.

Tim Broadwater  

That’s right.

Michael Schofield  

Yeah, called Kindred the Embraced. And I think it only ran for one season. Unfortunately, the actor who played the prince of San Francisco died in a motorcycle accident, but this is well within my teenage goth years, so I remember it pretty well. But yeah, to your point, it’s a culture. As a budding goth kid, my first CDs as gifts included, I think, one of The Cure albums, and I ended up getting all of them, right? So it set me on this  snowball into eyeliner and dyed black hair and stuff like that.

Tim Broadwater

So we can blame it all on The Cure.

Michael Schofield  

It began with The Cure, but it started probably because I played this kind of spin-off like Yahoo chat room online text-based RPG. And vampires are super cool. Anyway. So like, of course, Vampire: the Masquerade was really big back then, I guess it still is, but at least in this area, it was super big. And it just so happened that all the kids I was playing with were totally preferring to be vampires instead of knights slaying dragons, right? So all the rules that we stole off the internet all came from this game.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, I feel like sometimes people get sick of high fantasy, like elves and castles and wizards and magic. And you know, and that’s so these other genres are like superhero roleplaying games or World of Darkness. Or I’m playing one now, which I think I told you about, which is like a wrestling one where you actually are wrestlers. And you make personas, and you’re either a face or a heel.

Michael Schofield  

You didn’t say anything about your wrestling RPG!

Tim Broadwater

Yeah, actually, I just started a couple weeks ago. But yeah, that’s a whole other episode. Did you start it as a tabletop game, and then it just turns to like a LARP. And it’s the math and the system? Because I’m familiar with the mechanics and the mechanics. Is that really easy to translate to like LARPing? Or …

Michael Schofield  

The mechanics of Vampire the Masquerade, specifically, lean themselves more RP heavy than a straight out-of-the-box D&D module. Because I don’t know if they do it now. But like the original byline was: “Vampire the Masquerade is a storytelling game of personal horror.” And it’s set in our world when the sun sets, etc. And it’s specifically a political game. You operate within one of a couple political entities: the Camarilla or the Sabbat. Within them, you have princedoms that have a variety of vassals, and so on. And so much of the game and its mechanics are about controlling social circumstances and behavior.

Tim Broadwater  

What makes people who haven’t played it before, the appealing or the like, the neatest thing I guess I found out about it is not just the systems work with one another, right? All the characters have their own “personal horror” that’s actually been baked into the game because werewolves have rage, and they become totally feral. And I think vampires have a bloodlust or something. 

Michael Schofield

No, it’s literally called “humanity.” It can go down like if you do bad things, but it goes down permanently. 

Tim Broadwater

Yeah, so vampires lose humanity, werewolves increase their rage. Yeah. And I think changelings lose glamour. Mages have the paradox. It’s basically like when you use magic as in Mage: the Ascension, you’re kind of breaking reality to some degree, like little fissure cracks in reality, or like breaking like physics, right? And you could only do that so much. Before you go insane. I guess we’re missing words. Yeah. And I know that changelings, like they become banality, is their thing, right? Because they’re connected to the fay world, but they’re kind of forced to live here on earth. And so their connection to the fay world like with fairies and Seders and, and Red Hats and goblins and whatever, diminishes over time and so the more battles they get, and the more they don’t get, they lose that whimsical fantasy fade nature connection. Banality is what happens, and they just become human, and they lose it right. So there’s, it’s interesting because the White Wolf games, either gaining or decreasing like your characters can be self-defeating, right? Yeah, so chat room I get. Did you ever play a tabletop version of it? And did you ever play any LARPing of it? Or video games?

Michael Schofield  

Yes, to all three. The tabletop is more obvious, like so yeah. 100% played tabletop vampire. And I ran a couple of sessions, or a couple of them not called campaigns, you know what I mean? Maybe they are called campaigns. The video games 100% have a lot to say there. The LARPing is a little different. There was like a network almost like the Society of Something Anachronism.

Tim Broadwater  

The Society of Creative Anachronism.

Michael Schofield  

Thank you. So there was like, there was a network, similarly governed, where there was an official print of this, that and there are different chapters, and they all participate in like a larger, nationwide system, where at the very top you had, you know, your, your elders, your Camarilla leaders and your Sabbat leaders? 

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah. So the other person that I’ve met, my friend, John, who’s played this, who did it in public, they would use those type of things. And I’m not sure if those are chat rooms, or forums or whatever, to where people would organize. They were forums. Yeah, yeah. And so you would have groups coming in from outside the state or outside the area, and they would do this. And he’s described it to me before, and I’ve never, I don’t have the details on it. But that when they would identify or like they would just like 100 of them to be like in a town. Yeah. You know, and then essentially, they could do like Rock Paper, scissors or something to make decisions or Rock paper scissors. Yeah. Yeah. And then, and, and so what my understanding is from this documentary is like, people love that like, so. You mentioned the SCA, the Society of creative anachronisms. And so I’ve had experience with them. I’ve attended a couple of their events, because I was really interested in combat, like physical combat with armor, you know, and, and then I found out it was like, it was pretty much a third of combat, or like, maybe a fourth of combat and then like three-fourths roleplaying, right. Yeah. And so to me, as we’ve talked before, I will get down in roleplay. But it’s like, I don’t want to do it all the time. And I’m not a reenactor at all. And I know some people like that, you know. But so I’ve attended that. And it’s been cool. And I’ve attended some of their combat kind of events. And I’ve seen large-scale army battles, right? With SCA. And I think very similar to that is this world of darkness, right where you’re like, but it’s not a werewolf, and it’s not. It’s like specifically Vampire that speaks to people that have created these, like SCA, there are kingdoms, and there’s Lord over the kingdom. And then you have your subclass of a kingdom, and you have a location and, and fealty, and kind of all that. And so that’s what was in the kind of the documentary that showed, Hey, that was this kind of that was the thing that people wanted out of LARPing. That’s what they wanted, like connection and person. And then I guess some of the people who played, I mean, they would do like to put on prosthetic ears. Oh, definitely banks and all that stuff, the contacts,

Michael Schofield  

Right, because around the early 2000s, especially as when you started, colored contacts were really easy to order. Even if they had no prescription on them. I remember folks in school, walking around with them. So it was easy. It was easy to look like a vampire. And it was easy to look like a vampire in public. Remember, the big conceit, generally is that in the world of darkness, and that vampires exist, and they are in your world, now you’re not in some city called Haven, or Waterdeep, you’re in. You’re in Richmond, or you are in Chicago, and there are vampires here, and you may be one of them. And the idea of a lot of the stuff that we kind of enjoyed was the fact that like, yo, we are vampires and we’re gonna walk around with like, you know, maybe it’s like some small things in or whatever without anyone noticing, and we’re gonna go about our day. But you’re always a vampire. Right? And so and so it’s, it’s the hiding in plain sight, kind of appeal. That’s really neat. And then, of course, like in the LARPing environments. These are things I’ve never participated in. But nearby, I was like I was three and a half hours north of Chicago. So in Chicago, they would rent out, like hotel lobbies or whatever. And the prince the quote, Prince of Chicago, would be there no fancy-ass chair, and you would pay your fealty there. There’s a performative aspect to it. That transcended the game. In fact, there might not even be a story. It’s just like, Hey, I’m in Chicago. I have to see the prince, I have to announce myself. 

Tim Broadwater  

Have you ever heard of True Dungeon at all?

Michael Schofield  

I haven’t; I’m gonna check it out.

Tim Broadwater  

So I came in contact with it a year ago. True Dungeon is, it’s kind of, it’s a little expensive. You pay like 40 bucks a game to do it, maybe more. And essentially, True Dungeon is kind of this thing where they set it up at big gaming cons, it’s at Dragon Con, it’s at certain taxes. It’s a Gen Con. It’s at Origins. So the big ones. But basically, it’s virtual. I mean, it’s like, they take a giant space, they put up walls, they do lighting, they do sound effects, there are animatronic monsters in it, you all meet up. And so I’ll just say this, I’m a level two barbarian intruder. I’ve played it. I love it. You essentially get with a group of people, you have a character and cards, every time you play, you get treasure and items, and you keep them all, and the next time you play, you can kind of build your character with what you want to bring potions and items and armor, right? And you go up and level. But essentially, like you’re going through, you’re solving puzzles as a group would, which can be chaotic, because there’s like six of you and you’re in a time limit and the rooms about to close off, or you’ll die, and you’re trying to figure out, you know, the puzzle, but then there’s also the combat, and the combat is dealt with in a kind of an I don’t know like a Bochy, ball or skeet thing, or air hockey table where you kind of throw your weapons or spells across and you’re trying to get them to land in a certain zone to do the most damage. Yeah, yeah. So it’s, it’s very cool. And they have a lot of people doing it, like Wil Wheaton has done it and like, famous people, because it’s, it’s just kind of a cool experience that you want to do with your group of friends. And that’s kind of like as LARPing as I go. For me, I still like puzzle solving and grouping and like getting the treasure, and I like combat. But I know that True Dungeon has a huge community that does that kind of thing. And I think that’s, you know, that’s probably the coolest like LARPing thing that I’ve I’ve really kind of enjoyed,

Michael Schofield  

You know, it’s funny, this makes me think of things like the increasing popularity of escape rooms. And that those are, those are horror, LARPing. And that’s, um, and it’s really fascinating that like, now, this kind of experiments, and just the ability with like 3d printing, probably, to create immersive props and immersive settings. Make this way, way more interesting than I was, and you know, the late 90s.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, there’s a guy that I played with who actually brought a shield like it was like, not cardboard, and it wasn’t wood, but he actually made a shield, and he was like, he came in and was like, Don’t worry, guys. And he says this to the group, I was playing True Dungeon. He’s like, I’m a level a cleric, I, none of you will die. And he has his giant life side shield that he’s on. But all the items or spells that he can cast are like velcroed to his shield, and then combat like I went down, like fighting a monster in a bog. And then he basically pulled a thing off of a shield is like it’s an immediate reaction. I bring him back to life at four hit points. And like, it’s like it was like nuts. But like people build their props and they build their costumes and wigs and items, and they have to work with it. And I would encourage people that if you’ve never had any type of experience with LARPing, geocaching games, true dungeon vampire, maybe your SCA person. There’s also even, I think, out of Australia, there’s a thing called armored combat league. I don’t know, like, even if you just want to do the whole, like, medieval times, and you just want to see people fight in armor. Or you want to do it yourself. That’s something that you can do. There are also Hema schools.

Michael Schofield  

HEMA is something I’ve been personally looking into. I’ve gotten pretty deep into HEMAtok the hema section of TikTok, right. And have looked for human groups locally. There’s another one I forget the name, but it’s literally combat-like a maybe it is armored combat league. There’s one in the US. Where it’s real armor, and it’s real, I’ll be adult weapons, and you can do you beat the shit out of your opponent. Right?

Tim Broadwater

When I went to SCA last time, like the Society of grenade mechanisms, they did have a physical like a combat section. And this person that was healing is amazing, didn’t compete, but she was like, a phenomenal with a spear. And then it’s like a point system just like karate. It’s like, oh, did you avoid and block? And did you land a hit? And was it clear and apparent and efficient? You know, the same thing, except it’s weapons and shields. And you know, and apparently, she is like, the most amazing person with spear-like no one can beat her no matter what, because of the reach of it and yes, her proficiency. And yeah, and when I attended, they had different things they had like a shield and, like, a sword and shield tournament. But then they also had a free weapons tournament, like whatever you wanted to bring, but then they had like a rapier tournament. And, and it was just, it was really cool to watch.

Michael Schofield  

It’s fascinating to watch that kind of thing to Hema as a, as a, as a sport, or as an as a proper martial art that you practice regularly is fascinating. But I wonder if this all just comes down to the characters and narratives that we identify with? Because when we’re talking about, you know, what, what was LARP? You know, pre 3d printing, right? And then, and then what it’s become, I mean, like 3d printing just opened up like a, I guess, spectrum of opportunity to inhabit these roles, whether that’s actually part of a system or it’s almost like cosplaying, right, maybe all you care about is the gear. And a lot of people play games just for the amazing gear, too.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, I have a friend Chris, who lives in Chicago who makes prosthetic teeth for cosplayers. And he does work teeth and Vampire’s teeth and, and he does it from his 3d printer. And he’s like, in demand, like he has to. He’s like, hey, everything’s kind of on backorder. But I think you’re right, like, when you were describing, like the vampire game that you can play with trends and you can kind of as a storyteller, construct a story and build your characters and kind of like set it up. So you can play online. I mean, City of heroes had the exact same thing. It had a builder to where you could create your own villains who had powers and your own villain teams, and you could create a story where it’s a rescue or your or whatever, but it’s kind of giving the parameters of, of a system that everyone can kind of maybe agree upon, right? But then you can bring as much flourish to it as you want. So if you want to cause play, or LARP, or build out armor shields, you can do that. It’s just like having super control over your avatar in a game like people want that apparent from, you know, yeah, cyberpunk, to where you’re like, Oh, I like the mantis arm bill, like, no, I really like the gorilla and build and you can make, change everything about yourself, you can make yourself a complete persona and chat. VR chat lets you do this like you can kind of build whatever character you want and go and start interacting and roleplaying with people. And so VR chat in itself is very much like what we’re talking about here to where you can go talk to people, you can look, you can roll out roleplay and do kind of whatever you want. And I think it’s that level of just providing your players or users, you know, kind of at least alike in sculpture, where they call it like an armature or like a base, like kind of mechanics, and then let people go with it, right. They can do whatever they want with it, they can expand it, they can grow, it may get a community, like whatever.

Michael Schofield  

Yeah, and I think the other thing that this raises is just awareness of how the job to be done for these games differs. The reason you play Dungeons and Dragons is dramatically different than the reason that you play old-school Vampire the Masquerade.

Tim Broadwater  

I think that it’s what do people want out of games from the player or user perspective? I definitely have played with a lot of hacking slashers at the table, and I’m sure we all have the people who were just like, I have the best build, I can cleave, I can super cleave. I can step up when you try to get For me, and just like they’ve, they love being able to pour into like building this kind of combat build. But just on the flip side of the coin is literally the role player who wants to have that roleplaying experience. He wants to develop the history and narrative of their character, which informs how they’re acting in the game. And I think there’s this kind of balance between role play and hack and slash. And the people who, I guess in my mind, the one side of the coin is the role player. And the other side is like the miniatures person like your Battletech 40k, or Warhammer 40, attacker, whatever because those are people like I just pure combat strategy. And then there’s this kind of nice, easy balance in the middle to where which is what I like. And I think a lot of players what they like about Dungeons and Dragons, or Pathfinder, or even White Wolf games to where it’s like, well, I want to roleplay, but I also want abilities, and I want to roll it, you know, and

Michael Schofield  

We even have miniatures, yeah, optionally, cool, cool 3d printed maps and to, you know, to fight the big bad evil guy in.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, so there’s a spectrum right of what each player is looking for. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s tabletop LARPing or MMO RPG. It’s really the bubble is like the combat build versus the roleplaying and interaction. And I think you’re always gonna have people who follow on that, that Kinsey scale and lack of a better metaphor, what is your roleplayers Kinsey score?

Tim Broadwater  

I am, I would say that I am in the I’m a solid right in the middle to where I like a balance between roleplaying and hack or mechanics and hack and slash, and I enjoy both. What about you?

Michael Schofield  

I am a narrative hooker, right? So I prefer narrative and storytelling, you know, my background begins in Vampire the Masquerade before Dungeons and Dragons. So that’s what I prefer. I want the mechanics to be able to express the things that I want to do through the narrative.

Introductory Guy  

Thank you for listening to the design thinking games podcast. To connect with your hosts, Michael or Tim, please go to design thinking games.com where you can request topics, ask questions, or see what else is going on. Until next time, game on

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