End of the Line: White Wolf’s First Official Nordic-Style Larp

End of the Line: White Wolf’s First Official Nordic-Style Larp

The desperation of tomorrow fuels the joy of today. Self-destructive choices don’t seem so bad when there’s no future.from the End of the Line introduction document
End of the Line is the first official Nordic larp under the One World of Darkness produced by White Wolf and Odyssé since the intellectual property was purchased by Paradox Entertainment in October 2015. While the owner Tobias Andersson Sjogren and creative lead Martin Elricsson have announced that they do not plan to alter significantly most of the existing games or associated production companies, they do plan to create a One World of Darkness under which all of the existing content falls.[1]UlissesSpiele, “Tenebrae Noctis: White Wolf – One World of Darkness (uncut, audio repaired),” YouTube, last modified Dec. 15, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlA6LKUNDWs&list=PLYW0RCU4vh23ZoQC26d8D0O-zvMDrGlQn Additionally, they plan to run Nordic-style larp events, which differ significantly from the way traditional Vampire larps are played. These larps are meant to exist in addition to the other larp experiences available, rather than replace them or compete with them in any way. This article will cover the first larp from these official events, entitled End of the Line, which took place in Helsinki, Finland on March 7, 2016 for six hours.[2]Jussi Ahlroth, “Blood and Close Contact in Illegal Raves — Vampire Larp Played in Helsinki,” HS, last modified Mar. 9, 2016, http://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/a1457497605103# Bjarke Pedersen, Juhana Pettersson, and Martin Elricsson created the larp, running it in the week leading up to the Nordic larp conference, Solmukohta.

Martin Ericsson, Lead Storyteller for White Wolf. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Martin Elricsson, Lead Storyteller for White Wolf. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

End of the Line took place in an abandoned mental asylum in central Helsinki.[3]For a complete photo album, see Tuomas Puikkonen, “End of the Line (larp),” Flicker, last accessed Mar. 17, 2016, https://www.flickr.com/photos/darkismus/sets/72157665084152550 While the main building was used for briefings, preparation, and off-game facilities, the play space was a multi-storiedbuilding off to the side of the hospital that recently housed squatters. The organizers and volunteers spent a considerable amount of time preparing the space for play, making it relatively clean and safe considering its recent inhabitants. Bonuses of the space included an abundance of gorgeous graffiti and an upstairs loft, which the organizers turned into a rave club. This rave felt authentic thanks to ongoing music provided by the Suicide Club, as well as fantastic lighting, visuals, and scenography by Marcus Engstrand, Anders Davén, and Aleksander Nikulin.

Lighting, Sound, and Scenography

Lighting and sound were integrated into the larp design. The first and last fifteen minutes of the larp were spent in a communal rave “workshop,” in which we all slowly glided in- and out-of-character through dance. This technique proved especially useful in enhancing the visceral physicality that was central to the intention of the larp, as discussed in more detail below; we were encouraged from the beginning to inhabit our bodies rather than view the larp as an intellectual or strategic experience. While many of us admitted to feeling uncomfortable dancing under normal circumstances, our characters regularly frequented these types of underground raves. Therefore, the technique helped put us in the mindset of a group of lowlifes coming together for a shared, not-quite-legal experience.

The Suicide Club kept the dance party going throughout the larp. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

The Suicide Club kept the dance party going throughout the larp. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

In terms of the lighting, the larp was organized in three acts according to colors, which each represented a specific theme. Red represented Lust/Passion, Green represented Selfishness/Envy, and Blue represented Control/Power. As we transitioned into these phases, which all lasted 1.5-2 hours, we were encouraged to direct our play toward these general themes. However, the colors themselves were only visible from the dance floor, which made it difficult to assess when the themes were active without revisiting the upstairs. Still, having a general idea of the narrative arc toward which we should push helped guide play.

Color was also used in the three meta rooms, sometimes called blackbox rooms in the Nordic scene. As with the Acts, the three rooms were themed and colored Red, Green, and Blue. In these rooms, players could enact flashbacks or hypothetical futures, although we could use the rooms for whatever we chose. In practice, this ambiguity led to some confusion as to whether or not scenes happening in these rooms were transpiring in real time, especially since the Red room featured an eye level hole in the wall through which players could watch. Despite this ambiguity, having experienced both the Red and Green rooms, the themes definitely contributed to the types of play enacted within them.

Traditional Vampire Themes, Setting, and Mechanics

Outdoor shot of the location of the larp, which took place at an abandoned asylum in Helsinki, Finland. The Blue, Green, and Red rooms are visible. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Outdoor shot of the location of the larp, which took place at an abandoned asylum in Helsinki, Finland. The Blue, Green, and Red rooms are visible. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

This larp was functionally different than any Vampire game I have played in the past. As an active participant in both Mind’s Eye Society and troupe games from approx. 1997 to 2010, as well as a researcher who has studied conflict and bleed in White Wolf games, I found this larp appealing to try precisely because we would experience events differently.[4]Sarah Lynne Bowman, “Social Conflict in Role-playing Communities: An Exploratory Qualitative Study,” International Journal of Role-Playing 4, 2013, pp.17-18. http://www.ijrp.subcultures.nl/wp-content/issue4/IJRPissue4bowman.pdf Below is a breakdown of the primary differences I noticed in the design and play of this larp as opposed to traditional Camarilla-based Vampire games.

Most Vampire games center upon the events during and surrounding the vampiric court. The premise of the game is that a secret cadre of immortal creatures who feed on human blood are running the city through a variety of forms of influence, both supernatural and social.  For example, a vampire may have control over the Opera House because they have used their supernatural powers to make the owner fall in love with them, which affords them a certain amount of Influence. Similarly, a vampire may have control over a gang in the area or own an underground club where other denizens of the World of Darkness frequent for feeding, seduction, or secret meetings. In general, very few of the humans involved in these exchanges have any idea that vampires exist, as they might become angry and hunt them. Thus, vampires must remain secret and preserve a concept called The Masquerade in order to pretend to be human and avoid detection. Court is one of the only places where vampires can openly show their nature, although they are expected to follow certain social conventions that resemble Renaissance courtier politics as described in Machiavelli’s The Prince. Breaches of the Masquerade are kept to a minimum, as they may result in punishment or death by the reigning ruler.

A Ventrue and another vampire consult one another in a private corner. Photo by Tuomas Hakkarainen.

A Ventrue and another vampire consult one another in a private corner. Photo by Tuomas Hakkarainen.

Since the majority of play happens at court, while gaining these forms of external Influence may take place through role-play, they are represented most often through mechanical abstractions on a character sheet, e.g. Street 2, High Society 1, Herd 3, etc. Players can use these types of Influence to enact some sort of advantage through interaction with the Storyteller. For example, vampires generally attend court having fed upon humans beforehand, which may be represented by their scores in Herd, Manipulation, or Seduction. Feeding allows some mechanical advantages in terms of use of powers, while lack of feeding can lead to dire consequences in terms of loss of control of the beastial nature of the vampire character. In other words, some vampires have an inherent advantage over others in the seductive feeding part of the game, whereas other characters may excel at having Street level contacts that give them access to drugs, gangs, or information that may become useful in play. As mentioned before, this Influence system usually comes into play most often during downtime actions between games or while interacting with a plot through the Storyteller. For example, a player might ask, “I have Street 2. Do I know anyone involved in this gang associated with this plot?” The Storyteller may choose to embody that non player-character (NPC) briefly or simply deliver information gained from that Influence.

While influence actions often take place during downtime in conventional Vampire larps, the players embodied interactions between vampires, street thugs, and feeding victims during End of the Line. Photo by Tuomas Hakkarainen.

While influence actions often take place during downtime in conventional Vampire larps, the players embodied interactions between vampires, street thugs, and feeding victims during End of the Line. Photo by Tuomas Hakkarainen.

Similarly, all sexual, violent, or supernatural activities generally take place off-game or through mechanical interventions such as rock-paper-scissors. For example, if a character tries to seduce another, they may role-play out the dialogue leading up to the attempt, then use rock-paper-scissors to resolve whether or not the seduction was successful. Depending on the comfort level of the participants, they may verbally describe what follows or “fade to black,” but actual physical touch is discouraged in violent, sexual, or supernatural contexts. Players may mime the feeding of blood, but are not encouraged to actually bite one another. A character may direct a slow punch toward another character for dramatic effect, but these actions are rarely meant to feel or look real. Indeed, in the official larp rules for the game, the writers imposed a no-touch rule from the beginning. This rule served many purposes, notably making players feel more comfortable engaging in edgy content and reassuring mainstream authorities that no “real” feeding, sex, or violence was occurring. Depending of the comfort level of the play group, these rules are sometimes bent, but the larp system as is features a large amount of abstracted rules to arbitrate these activities. For example, if combat breaks out in a group with several characters present, each person in the area must declare their actions, which can sometimes take hours to resolve due to the multiple tests involved.

End of the Line flipped the script on traditional Vampire role-playing in many ways, at least as represented by the official rules. Instead of taking place at court surrounded by vampires, the game setting was an underground party. I should note that some Vampire larps do take place in semi-public settings such as nightclubs amongst non-larpers where characters attempt to maintain the Masquerade. Thus, this article should be viewed through my experience with these games, which overwhelmingly took place in private homes or reserved public spaces and focused upon court politics.

In short, my experience of End of the Line was that we role-played out the activities usually handled before game or through game mechanics. As mortals, we embodied those Street and Herd contacts normally represented numerically or briefly embodied as NPCs by Storytellers.  We physically played out biting, seduction, brawl, drug use, and partying. While some Camarilla politics took place behind the scenes – Ventrue, Brujah, Toreador, and Malkavians were present – I was able to play the larp as a mortal mostly unaware of these secret conversations and fully feel engaged. Another theme was that at various points of the larp, each of us would feel equally predator and prey. For my character, at least, I felt quite empowered as my drug dealer hipster mortal; sometimes, I was the seductress or corrupter rather than the prey, as was written into my character.

Vampiric feeding and Discipline use sometimes took place in the open, despite the Masquerade rule. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Vampiric feeding and Discipline use sometimes took place in the open, despite the Masquerade rule. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

To clear up potential miscommunication from the outset, no real blood drinking or drug use was present in this larp. Fake drugs consisted of sugar and calcium pills. Fake blood was made of water, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and red dye. Alcohol was served in small amounts. No fake guns or knives were permitted. Physical fights were permitted with negotiation of intensity, but fighting in general was discouraged in order to preserve the “all is love” rave atmosphere. Sexuality was negotiated ahead of time and was represented by activities ranging from verbal descriptions to dry humping and making out. Players could bite one another, but should do so slowly with clear visual signs of advance facing the front of their victim. Players could tap out of any scene that made them feel uncomfortable.

Themes, Setting, and Mechanics

In End of the Line, the activities that are usually relegated to mechanical representations were enacted physically. The larp did feature some mechanics – actually, a large amount by Nordic standards – but those mechanics often involved physicality. One of Martin Elricsson’s goals in introducing the Nordic style of larp to the larger White Wolf community was to steer away from the “talking heads” larps. In other words, one goal of End of the Line was “show, don’t tell.” Thus, the mechanics were designed as guides toward enacting the physical aspects of play in a consensual way agreed upon by the group, as well as means to conceptualize the character’s goals and typical behaviors. Also, the game featured pre-written characters, which is not usual for Vampire campaign play, but sometimes happens in traditional convention one-shots. Players were asked to fill out a short questionnaire on the type of play desired, as well as email a picture for casting to the organizers. Characters were given at least three ties with other characters and at least two larger subcultural groups to which they belonged.

A millionaire hanger-on; my character’s girlfriend; me as drug dealer and party organizer Carolina Kaita; and my in-game best friend. All three ties in my character sheet worked well for me in the larp. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

A millionaire hanger-on; my character’s girlfriend; me as drug dealer and party organizer Carolina Kaita; and my in-game best friend. All three ties in my character sheet worked well for me in the larp. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Some additional descriptions of the themes and mechanics present in End of the Line:

Play for What Is Interesting

Vampire is promoted as “a game of personal horror” that explores the trauma of losing one’s humanity to one’s increasingly beastial nature. However, because the mechanics of the game are focused upon leveling and win conditions for challenges, play often becomes more about what has colloquially been called “superheroes with fangs.” White Wolf designers such as Eddy Webb have encouraged the concept of Playing to Lose,[5]Onyx Path Publishing, “Playing to Lose — Atlanta By Night 2012,” YouTube, last modified Dec. 3, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrkGTnYjbuM in which allowing your character to have some sort of failure can lead to more dramatic scenes, although the impact of long-term play and character investment sometimes make this style of play difficult. Nordic larps, on the other hand, often feature one-shot, intensely immersive experiences where Playing to Lose[6]“Playing to Lose,” Nordiclarp.org, last modified on May 29, 2014, http://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Playing_to_Lose is a normative part of the play culture.

In the briefing for End of the Line, Bjarke Pedersen suggested we Play for What Is Interesting, or Play for Drama, as losing is not always the most accurate description of this style of play. This direction allowed me to feel enabled to have a surprise, in-character engagement and marriage in the middle of the Vampire larp, as it made sense based upon the way play unfolded, but would not normally be classified as “losing.”[7]For additional photos of the larp, including the engagement and wedding, see Singen Sternenreise, “End of the Line: A White Wolf Larp,” in Exposure, last modified Mar. 15. 2016, https://singen.exposure.co/end-of-the-line Of course, my new wife was turned into a vampire thirty minutes later without consulting me, so loss happened regardless, which added more interest to the larp for me. Ultimately, the one-shot format and the fact that the characters were all written to be terrible people allowed for greater alibi,[8]Sarah Lynne Bowman, “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character,” Nordiclarp.org, last modified Mar. 3, 2015, http://nordiclarp.org/2015/03/02/bleed-the-spillover-between-player-and-character/ meaning that I did not have to feel terribly emotionally connected to my character or responsible for her unethical actions.

Play for What Is Interesting gave participants permission to take the story in whatever direction they found thematically appropriate. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Play for What Is Interesting gave participants permission to take the story in whatever direction they found thematically appropriate. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Masquerade

Out of around 66 players, only one third were vampires. The rest of the characters were mortals or ghouls, i.e. servants of vampires. As players, we were not aware of who was playing each group and were encouraged to keep this information secret. In this way, the game was — in a meta sense — about enacting the Masquerade, but also about breaking it, as we were encouraged to do with abandon. Unlike traditional Camarilla Vampire games where breaches of the Masquerade are considered treasonous and often punishable by final death, in this game, we were encouraged to play the weaknesses of mortals and immortals alike. When breaches of the Masquerade occurred, mortals were instructed to view them as “drugs gone bad,” “abuse,” or “people pretending to be vampires,” rather than escalating to “vampires exist!” This guideline helped us preserve the Masquerade theme of the game without the larp breaking down.

As a mortal character, I was fed upon once, offered the chance to become immortal, and proffered fake blood to drink from a wrist while in a dazed state, which I eventually declined in favor of asking my girlfriend to marry me. As directed, I played only having a vague recollection of this scene as a “weird drug experience” that let me “see my future,” as the events transpired in the Green meta room.

A potential breach of the Masquerade. The organizers encouraged players to act with greater abandon than in a traditional Vampire larp. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

A potential breach of the Masquerade. The organizers encouraged players to act with greater abandon than in a traditional Vampire larp. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Stats

Characters were given three base stats that had absolutely no mechanical effect, but rather served as guides to role-play. Some players found these stats pointless, although I thought they preserved the original feel of the character sheet while not limiting my character’s agency. My stats were Using People 3, Cruelty 3, and Jaded 1. Each of us had custom stats based upon the design of the character.

Vampires also had supernatural abilities such as Presence, Obfuscate, Fortitude, Potence, and Celerity, although the disciplines were significantly pared down from the original rules. Presence worked by placing a hand gently on the back of someone’s neck and saying, “You really, really want to do X.” Some examples are “You really, really feel in love with me” or “You really, really want to leave now.” The character under these effects chose how to interpret the command, but was expected to follow it for 10 minutes with no after-effects or memory. Disciplines worked on other vampires as well. From what I understand, Celerity and Potence merely added a bonus to Brawl. Interesting, vampires also could only use certain Disciplines if they fed upon characters that had specific emotional states. For example, “feeding from a forgotten, lonely or homeless person fuels Obfuscate,” while “drinking deep from someone that lusts or loves fuels Presence.”

A player uses the “You really, really....” mechanic for Presence by placing his hand on the back of another participant’s neck to indicate supernatural persuasion. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

A player uses the “You really, really….” mechanic for Presence by placing his hand on the back of another participant’s neck to indicate supernatural persuasion. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Brawl allowed for a mechanical representation of who would win in a fight if winning was desirable. While some players might choose to simply lose, Brawl stats were compared by flashing the number to one another, then discussing how the fight would play out before enacting it. While fighting was discouraged in the overall setting, I did see some fights break out that looked quite physical, as is the norm in many Nordic larps. Players could negotiate how close to real violence they wished to get, from miming to close-to-real physical strength.

Scents

Players were instructed to spray themselves with one of three scents at the start of game: coconut, citrus, or floral. These scents were appealing to vampires in that order from highest to lowest, which most of us did not know until the end. This mechanic was an interesting way to integrate multiple senses into the larp, although practically speaking, it was sometimes difficult to tell who smelled like what scent in close quarters.

Feeding

The feeding mechanic involved the vampire squirting fake blood into their mouth, biting the player with varying degrees of intensity, and licking the wound to heal it. Similarly, players could squirt blood on their wrists or neck and allow players to feed on them, which was experienced as ecstatic by all parties. Similar to the Presence mechanic, the effects of the blood lasted for ten minutes and resulted in feeling dazed and confused about what happened, at least for mortals.

Feeding scene in the Blue room. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Feeding scene in the Blue room. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Players were instructed to do all feeding slowly and from the front, although a couple of us experienced being bit and having our neck sucked hard as a surprise from behind while in the process of a slow scene. As the tap-out mechanic puts the onus on the recipient to opt-out if uncomfortable, such a practice led in our cases to feeling uncomfortable with these scenes, as tapping-out at that point would have been too late. However, several of the vampires asked for consent before biting and made sure to act slowly and visibly, which seemed to work well in most contexts. Additional workshopping of the mechanics before the game would have helped everyone feel more comfortable about the expectations ahead of time, as I will discuss in a later section.

Sexuality

As mentioned above, the sexuality rules were the most variable and also, in some ways, the most vague. Sex could be played through activities ranging from narratively explaining what happens to dry humping and making out based upon the comfort level of the participants. While nudity was possible, I did not personally witness much in the rooms in which I frequented. Hypothetically, real sex was possible, though not encouraged explicitly by the organizers.

Physical intimacy was negotiated between players based on individual comfort levels. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Physical intimacy was negotiated between players based on individual comfort levels. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Dance

Players were encouraged to dance through the intro and outro scenes and the DJs played throughout the larp. One interesting metatechnique involved dancing. If a player was looking for interaction, they could enter the dance floor and attempt to engage in eye contact with another player, inviting a scene between the characters. While I did not use this technique often, other players reported it working seamlessly. Also, being able to dance when not engaged in role-play was a nice release for some players.  

The dance floor played rave music throughout the night. Locking eyes on the dance floor was a metatechnique for starting a scene with a new person. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

The dance floor played rave music throughout the night. Locking eyes on the dance floor was a metatechnique for starting a scene with a new person. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Death or Embrace

Players could determine if and when they wanted to die. A character could be fed upon multiple times with no negative consequences except those the player choose to role-play. Some characters were offered the opportunity to become vampires – i.e. the Embrace — which they would role-play out. I witnessed one character undergo this transformation, role-playing out the proceeding hunger and traumatic delirium post-Embrace quite convincingly. A couple of characters died during the game, with one playing a corpse in the closet for at least thirty minutes at the end of the larp.

Alibi and Agency

The characters in End of the Line were all written to be horrible people, regardless of their status as mortals, ghouls, or vampires. These characters represented the lowlifes of the streets and underground culture. As stated by organizer Martin Elricsson during a pre-game briefing, each character would experience being both predator and prey at some point. My character was specifically written to be a sociopathic hipster party organizer and drug dealer who sometimes messed with people because she was bored. Fortunately, this character was quite similar to my long-running Vampire character in her early days, so she was an easy default for me to inhabit. Other players reported having a more difficult time enacting the darker parts of their character’s nature.

What this design produced is a sense that all people have their inner monster and that vampires are merely a supernatural expression of that inhumanity, a theme that I have always felt was central to Vampire and often overlooked in traditional play. We do not need to look far in actual humanity to see the Beastial nature within us, nor do we need to invent supernaturally creative ways to be cruel and selfish. The metaphor of feeding and domination is useful to play out in this circumstance, but in reality, is no different than how people treat one another emotionally in their darker moments. For more information on this concept, depth psychologist Whitney Strix Beltrán has academically explored this expression of the players’ inner Shadow through Vampire and other games.[9]Whitney Strix Beltrán, “Shadow Work: A Jungian Perspective on the Underside of Live Action Role-Play in the United States,” in The Wyrd Con Companion Book 2013, edited by Sarah Lynne Bowman and Aaron Vanek (Los Angeles, CA: Wyrd Con, 2013), 94-101. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1793415/WCCB13.pdf As one of the players, Bob Wilson, summarized for World of Darkness News, “Emotionally, people manipulated, lied, and did all the other terrible things people do to each other.”[10]Harlequin, “‘End of the Line’ LARP Interview,” World of Darkness News, last modified on Mar. 16, 2016, http://www.worldofdarkness.news/Home/TabId/56/ArtMID/497/userid/2/ArticleID/15/End-of-the-Line-LARP-interview.aspx

Characters in End of the Line often embodied some of the worst parts of human nature, whether vampire or mortal. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Characters in End of the Line often embodied some of the worst parts of human nature, whether vampire or mortal. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Some of the mortal players did find themselves lacking sufficient agency toward the end of the game, although we were instructed to make our own role-play scenes, also known as “bringing your own basket” to the picnic. One of the problems in traditional Vampire larp is the structural inequalities built into the game, where higher-level players with more status get more access to secret meetings, powers, plots, etc. While the beginning of End of the Line featured an equilibrium of play between mortals and supernatural characters, by the end of the larp, player-characters not involved with secret Camarilla meetings or getting Embraced as vampires sometimes felt excluded from play, as is often experienced by Neonates in traditional Vampire larp. Perhaps adding some sort of element to engage the still-mortal toward the end would help these players maintain engagement and their sense of agency, such as dealing with a police raid or some other type of plot.

Consent, Workshopping, and Debriefing

As mentioned above, the main opt-out mechanic of the larp was tapping-out. This mechanic places the onus on the person receiving the action to be cognizant enough of their own experience to remember to tap-out, to be comfortable enough with their co-players to not feel shamed for not being “hardcore” enough, etc. The organizers did a good job of trying to alleviate concerns around consent in the pre-game social media groups, assuring us that we could exit any scene without repercussion and that actions such as feeding would happen slowly, from the front, and with plenty of opportunity to tap-out. In practice, this rule was not always followed.

In my view, both the aggressor and the recipient should be equally responsible for consent in a scene.  Briefly stopping play to check in with another player or negotiate the degree of intensity may cause a short break in immersion, but offers the net gain of allowing players the sense that their personal boundaries are important and will be respected by the other players. This comfort level can often lead to greater intensity if trust is established.

Because of the lack of space in the main building and time constraints, we were only given a thirty minute briefing rather than the usual workshopping often associated with Nordic larps.[11]The Workshop Handbook, Workshophandbook.com, last accessed Mar. 17, 2016, https://workshophandbook.wordpress.com/ Similarly, we were not offered a chance for structured debriefing,[12]Sarah Lynne Bowman, “Returning to the Real World: Debriefing After Role-playing Games,” Nordiclarp.org, last modified Dec. 8, 2014, http://nordiclarp.org/2014/12/08/debrief-returning-to-the-real-world/ as the organizers needed to clean the site and close it to the players. Some players convened for an after-party off-site, but I was unable to attend due to a conference in the morning.

Organizer Bjarke Pedersen running the pre-game briefing. Space and time constraints made extensive workshopping infeasible. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Organizer Bjarke Pedersen running the pre-game briefing. Space and time constraints made extensive workshopping infeasible. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

I believe that when playing with physically intimate scenes that feature feeding, violence, and sexuality, workshopping serves many important purposes. It helps players build trust before inhabiting their characters; offers opportunities to model and practice the mechanics; and opens up opportunities for players in their assigned groups to negotiate boundaries. We did some of these activities in our small groups over email, but recognizing each other at the venue was sometimes difficult and not everyone in the larp communicated boundaries beforehand. While I respect the fact that logistics for such an event can be difficult, one thing I learned from the Nordic larp Just a Little Lovin’ was the importance of off-game negotiation and workshopping in facilitating the ability to play intimacy more safely.[13]Sarah Lynne Bowman, “Love, Sex, Death, and Liminality: Ritual in Just a Little Lovin’,” Nordiclarp.org, last modified July 13, 2015, http://nordiclarp.org/2015/07/13/love-sex-death-and-liminality-ritual-in-just-a-little-lovin/ Additionally, Just a Little Lovin’  featured clear negotiation before sexual scenes and ritualized this play in a way that allowed player input to influence the scene, not just character desires. This practice cut down on ambiguity.

Similarly, debriefing is important when processing the events that happen in such a game. While some individual players felt comfortable speaking informally after the game, a structured debrief – perhaps in small groups – would have allowed people the chance to de-role and speak seriously about their experience. I especially would have appreciated a structured opportunity to speak with the individuals with whom I had intimate scenes, insulted, or threatened in-character. I do think such debriefing sessions should be offered by organizers, but I also think they should be optional for individuals who wish to take part. It was difficult for some players inexperienced with Nordic larp and/or Vampire to transition quickly back to their daily consciousness and not perceive themselves or others as predators, an issue that can be ameliorated in part with a debrief.

The organizers of the larp plan to adjust the next run according to these critiques, with greater variability of options for physical play, negotiation between players, workshopping, and debriefing. In essence, this run showed excellent proof of concept with refinements that should and will be made for future iterations.

The Future of White Wolf and Nordic-style Vampire Larp

The Helsinki run of End of the Line is just the first of several events planned for the next two years. The organizing team plans to rerun a version of this larp at the Grand Masquerade in New Orleans in September 2016.[14]“The Grand Masquerade,” Masqueradebynight, last retrieved on Mar. 17, 2016, http://www.masqueradebynight.com/ Potential players should note that based upon feedback, the above-mentioned mechanics and structure may change in the next iteration. Interested players can subscribe to the End of the Line mailing list here. Additionally, this team plans to run Enlightenment in Blood as a pervasive larp spanning many locations in Berlin in 2017 as a part of a multi-day World of Darkness festival.[15]“World of Darkness Berlin 2017: Enlightenment in Blood,” Enlightenmentinblood.com, last retrieved on Mar. 17, 2016, http://www.enlightenmentinblood.com/

Finally, Liveform and Rollespilsfabrikken plan to run a White Wolf-endorsed larp called Convention of Thorns between October 27-30, 2016.[16]“White Wolf Presents Convention of Thorns,” Cotlarp.com, last retrieved on Mar. 17, 2016, http://www.cotlarp.com/ This larp will provide an alternate history account of the famous 15th century event in White Wolf history in which the Camarilla organizing body was formed. Notably, this historical larp will take place in a Polish castle and will focus upon interactions between vampires of various power levels, from Neonate to Methuselah. While some of the mechanics will resemble those from End of the Line, the two productions will offer different takes on the genre. In short, World of Darkness players interested in trying Nordic-style larps have several options coming soon.

To summarize, these larps are not intended to replace or alter existing Vampire larps, but rather to add additional experiences for players interested in this style. The physicality of the Nordic approach will likely not appeal to certain players, which is understandable. For potential players unused this style, I suggest fully reviewing the content of this article and other documentation before signing up for one of these games in order to understand the expectations of the play culture. I also suggest being clear from the outset with yourself and your co-players about your boundaries via email or other forms of communication. Players should feel enabled to negotiate those limits before, during, and after play and tap-out of any scene that makes them uncomfortable. In my view, physical play in larp is certainly possible — indeed, some of the organizers of End of the Line started role-playing in traditional Vampire larps before exploring other forms of embodiment — but should be done with careful consideration of the off-game needs of other players.

End of the Line

Participation Fee: €25
Players: 66
Date: March 7, 2016, 6 hours
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Created by: Bjarke Pedersen, Juhana Pettersson & Martin Elricsson
Production: José Jácome & Mikko Pervilä
Characters: Elin Nilsen, Jørn Slemdal & Mika Loponen
Decor: Marcus Engstrand, Anders Davén & Aleksander Nikulin
Documentation: Tuomas Hakkarainen, Tuomas Puikkonen, Julius Konttinen & Joona Pettersson
Catering: Kasper Larson & Aarne Saarinen
Production assistants: Outi Mussalo, Tia Carolina Ihalainen, James Knowlden, Bob Wilson, Irrette Cziezerski, Jukka Seppänen & Ville-Eemeli Miettinen
Featuring: Suicide Club (Gabriella Holmström & Ossian Reynolds)
Produced by: White Wolf Publishing and Odyssé with Solmukohta and Inside Job Agency

Cover photo: Part-larp, part-rave, End of the Line provided a unique and authentic World of Darkness experience, in game photo by Tuomas Puikkonen. Other photos by Tuomas Puikkonen.

References   [ + ]

1. UlissesSpiele, “Tenebrae Noctis: White Wolf – One World of Darkness (uncut, audio repaired),” YouTube, last modified Dec. 15, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlA6LKUNDWs&list=PLYW0RCU4vh23ZoQC26d8D0O-zvMDrGlQn
2. Jussi Ahlroth, “Blood and Close Contact in Illegal Raves — Vampire Larp Played in Helsinki,” HS, last modified Mar. 9, 2016, http://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/a1457497605103#
3. For a complete photo album, see Tuomas Puikkonen, “End of the Line (larp),” Flicker, last accessed Mar. 17, 2016, https://www.flickr.com/photos/darkismus/sets/72157665084152550
4. Sarah Lynne Bowman, “Social Conflict in Role-playing Communities: An Exploratory Qualitative Study,” International Journal of Role-Playing 4, 2013, pp.17-18. http://www.ijrp.subcultures.nl/wp-content/issue4/IJRPissue4bowman.pdf
5. Onyx Path Publishing, “Playing to Lose — Atlanta By Night 2012,” YouTube, last modified Dec. 3, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrkGTnYjbuM
6. “Playing to Lose,” Nordiclarp.org, last modified on May 29, 2014, http://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Playing_to_Lose
7. For additional photos of the larp, including the engagement and wedding, see Singen Sternenreise, “End of the Line: A White Wolf Larp,” in Exposure, last modified Mar. 15. 2016, https://singen.exposure.co/end-of-the-line
8. Sarah Lynne Bowman, “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character,” Nordiclarp.org, last modified Mar. 3, 2015, http://nordiclarp.org/2015/03/02/bleed-the-spillover-between-player-and-character/
9. Whitney Strix Beltrán, “Shadow Work: A Jungian Perspective on the Underside of Live Action Role-Play in the United States,” in The Wyrd Con Companion Book 2013, edited by Sarah Lynne Bowman and Aaron Vanek (Los Angeles, CA: Wyrd Con, 2013), 94-101. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1793415/WCCB13.pdf
10. Harlequin, “‘End of the Line’ LARP Interview,” World of Darkness News, last modified on Mar. 16, 2016, http://www.worldofdarkness.news/Home/TabId/56/ArtMID/497/userid/2/ArticleID/15/End-of-the-Line-LARP-interview.aspx
11. The Workshop Handbook, Workshophandbook.com, last accessed Mar. 17, 2016, https://workshophandbook.wordpress.com/
12. Sarah Lynne Bowman, “Returning to the Real World: Debriefing After Role-playing Games,” Nordiclarp.org, last modified Dec. 8, 2014, http://nordiclarp.org/2014/12/08/debrief-returning-to-the-real-world/
13. Sarah Lynne Bowman, “Love, Sex, Death, and Liminality: Ritual in Just a Little Lovin’,” Nordiclarp.org, last modified July 13, 2015, http://nordiclarp.org/2015/07/13/love-sex-death-and-liminality-ritual-in-just-a-little-lovin/
14. “The Grand Masquerade,” Masqueradebynight, last retrieved on Mar. 17, 2016, http://www.masqueradebynight.com/
15. “World of Darkness Berlin 2017: Enlightenment in Blood,” Enlightenmentinblood.com, last retrieved on Mar. 17, 2016, http://www.enlightenmentinblood.com/
16. “White Wolf Presents Convention of Thorns,” Cotlarp.com, last retrieved on Mar. 17, 2016, http://www.cotlarp.com/

Authors

Sarah Lynne Bowman
Sarah Lynne Bowman, Ph.D. is a role-playing studies scholar and adjunct professor in Humanities, English, and Communication. She is the author of The Functions of Role-playing Games and the editor of the Wyrd Con Companion Book.
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