Mind’s Eye Theatre’s World of Darkness LARP ruleset is experiencing a rewrite just in time for the 20th anniversary of Vampire: The Masquerade. The Kickstarter thus far is remarkably successful and excitement is growing!
Recently, Elissa Ayadi, Vice-President of Marketing for By Night Studios Inc., the company behind the new upcoming LARP rules, answered some questions for us.
GAW: Obviously, playing a tabletop game and larping are two different experiences. What challenges did you face while making a larp ruleset?
ELISSA: LARPing is a very, very different experience from tabletop in the World of Darkness. A tabletop game is an intimate experience – usually very small, with the Storyteller able to oversee the bulk of the player interactions. A LARP is immersive, with several or sometimes hundreds of players all interacting at once. Over the past two decades, MET LARPing has evolved to take on several formats – from small troupe games to chronicles that span the world. How do you build a ruleset that can be used by both groups and everything in between? How do you create a system that can account for Storytellers not being able to oversee all player interactions, which is innate to LARPing?
These were design challenges we were up against from the outset. We are lucky in that we have 20 years of knowledge – mistakes and successes – from the global audience to help us tackle these difficulties. It became very clear from the beginning that we had to tackle it as a LARP-specific ruleset. It was not possible to keep it perfectly analogous to tabletop because they are not perfectly analogous game styles. Things that are possible in tabletop are game-breaking in LARP – and vice versa. It would have been a disservice to the game and the players to create it any other way.
GAW: Have you had any dissatisfaction with previous rules and how did you address them?
ELISSA: Sure, there are rules issues we wanted to address or we wouldn’t be publishing a new edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. The original Mind’s Eye Theatre products were designed for a game system that was only two years old at the time. LARPing was fairly new as a medium in general and was still evolving. White Wolf was publishing so much material on so many fronts – tabletop, video games, novels, card games and more – that this rapid evolution led to contradictions in rules and story. It was also set in a time when the Internet was just emerging, which led to rules and setting decisions that made sense at the time but are outdated now.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course. When gamers look at our material in 20 years, they may say “oh, Vampires using cell phones. How quaint. Can you imagine a world without Cybernetic Telepathy Transducers?” But barring anything that we can’t predict, we can update the setting and build the game to be more adaptable to the rapid changes of modern technology. And we can also use that technology to ensure our developers are communicating and working together in a way that wasn’t possible to the teams behind the previous editions. This allows us to develop rules in a manner that ensures the whole teams sees them. It helps limit contradictions in the text.
GAW: What have you done to enhance the larp experience?
ELISSA: Besides all the rules changes I mentioned earlier, we tried to think about “drama” in the game. We don’t want the rules to be flat, flow-breaking things players dread doing whenever they need to resolve a challenge. It was our goal to take a ruleset that was already geared toward immersion and take it one step further. We think changes like combat maneuvers bring something new to the game, something that compliments all the things from the previous editions that our community loved and that we have tried to refine.
We also thought about speed, growth and fun. Our mass combat rules are geared towards fairly resolving large combat situations in a manner that doesn’t take all night. Similarly, how players earn experience in our system is geared toward a “long game” like a LARP. It is meant to adapt to the “power-curve” of long running games while not taking away the ability of newer players to grow their characters.
GAW: That makes Vampire a great platform for larping compared to others and what are some of its pitfalls?
ELISSA: For me, personally, I love the setting. I think it has a lot of hooks into both history and popular culture that allow it to appeal to a broad range of gamers. It supports gamers that want to play a Viking warrior, an elegant Victorian lady, and an EDM-blasting raver into one seamless system. It allows players to endlessly reimagine their characters. Because there is a range of character archtypes that work in the setting, players can really explore something different from many other LARPs out there.
Pitfalls in our system? Well, that remains to be seen as it is still in development and we’re trying to work them all out! Hopefully none – although a perfect game is statistically impossible but what would we be if we didn’t try! Historically, the rules, were a bit laborious which made introducing new players to the system very difficult. Because of the development of source material over the years, there were also rules inconsistencies that necessitated players buying a lot of material and having to implement “house rules” to resolve them.
GAW: If any, how have you addressed those pitfalls?
ELISSA: We are putting everything you need to play in one book. We’re also building a functional index, since one of the main complaints from our community has been the indexes in past books. It seems like such a simple thing but it really is critical when you are trying to find a rule on the fly. Every Kickstarter backer who purchases a book will also receive a Quick Start Guide. This will pull double duty. It is first a tool to help new players learn the system very quickly and easily. But it is also a quick reference for all levels of players so they don’t have to have the big book with them at all times. And, of course, our design process has helped weed out any inconsistencies.
GAW: Have you seen a change in the role and responsibilities of women in the game design community? Is that reflected in the work going into “revamping” Vampire? If so, how?
ELISSA: I think women in every industry have spent decades proving that we are just as competent and capable as our male counterparts. It seems that we have finally started reaching the point in society I have always hoped for – the point at which gender doesn’t matter and talent does. We haven’t fully reached this point yet in the LARP community as a whole. I have certainly been to LARPs where I have been hit on or treated with kid gloves because I am female. I have heard people talk about how our game will appeal to more women if it had “less combat and more story.” Women can be just as combat or mechanics inclined as men. We believe we should have mechanics and story equally – not to appeal to both genders but to appeal to all gamers. It’s what’s in your head, not what is between your legs that counts.
For our design team, gender doesn’t play a role in who does what. We all do what we are best at and we share our knowledge across the team without any gender disparity. The product also reflects this gender-neutrality. We are continuing the proud White Wolf tradition of alternating “he” and “she” as the pronouns used in rules examples that aren’t tied to a specifically named character. De-emphasizing gender, I truly feel, allows women to individually decide how they want to play. If a woman wants to play a bad-ass street fighter or she wants to play a sexy vixen, those are all valid options. They have nothing to do with player gender and everything to do with personal play style. We try to present all options as equally fun.
GAW: From the players’ angle, what changes have you seen for women in larping?
ELISSA: We’ve mostly moved away from the “so, who’s girlfriend are you?” days, when it was assumed that a woman would not LARP by her own choice. This is excellent and a huge step forward! There are still some holdovers who assume women don’t like combat as much as men, which is a stereotype I’d love to see go away. Generally, the MET community is very supportive but that can manifest into situations where a woman is treated almost too carefully when combat starts. Ree, one of our designers, has talked about a mass combat situation where a male gamer told her “don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll help you.” The stigma that women don’t understand or don’t like complex rules is one area that we still need to work on as a community.
The challenge for women in LARPing now is to be able to play whatever they want without pressure. And this is a challenge for us as women as well. There can be a certain amount of “slut shaming” – that women who choose to play seductresses are “slutty” in real life or are sending a bad message for female gamers. It’s the same charges that get leveled at sexy cosplayers. A woman should be able to play any type of character she wants without any sort of stigma. If we can overcome that, it will be another step forward.
GAW: Tell us about the Kickstarter and how one can participate.
ELISSA: We have a little under two weeks left. We tried to bring our A game with the Kickstarter. Not only can backers pre-order the book in several formats, we are also offering clan pins for the first time in almost a decade. We have unlocked pins for bloodlines that never had them before, which has been really exciting for our community. They are Kickstarter exclusive items so they are only available until July 9th. Anyone who wants to check it out can go to http://bit.ly/VampireKickstarter to see all of our rewards tiers.
Elissa Ayadi is VP of Marketing for By Night Studios: Elissa is an award-winning digital strategist. She has worked primarily in music; both in the recording studio with bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Linkin Park and Slayer; and on the road at Warped Tour, Bamboozle, and more. She served as the Director of Online Marketing for Machinima during the Grand Masquerade 2011, where she met Shane DeFreest and the rest of By Night Studios. She currently manages the social presences of top celebrities and musicians. She also currently is the butt of every “hardy har har Brujah” joke at By Night Studios and is thiiiiiiiiis close to frenzy.