Enlightenment in Blood was an official White Wolf larp in the Nordic style spanning 10 locations for approximately 200 players in the city of Berlin. The larp lasted five hours and took place in the Friedrichshain district on May 12, 2017. Developed by Participant Design Agency for the World of Darkness Berlin convention, Enlightenment in Blood was created primarily by Juhana Pettersson with help from a team of writers. Tickets were available for convention participants and some local players.
While a few locations were kept private by security, this game is considered a pervasive street larp in that play takes place in public locations and, in many cases, around non-larpers. In this respect, Enlightenment in Blood is similar to previous city larps, including Prosopopeia Bardo 2: Momentum in Stockholm, Sweden; The Spiral, an ARG-larp hybrid that spanned many European cities; and Neonhämärä (Neon Twilight) in Helsinki, Finland.See Andie Nordgren, “Prosopopeia Bardo 2: Momentum,” in Nordic Larp, edited by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola (Stockholm, Sweden: Fëa Livia, 2010; Bardo AB Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/bardoab/posts/266925533406299; Jaakko Stenros, “Nordic Larp: Theatre, Art, and Game,” in Nordic Larp, edited by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola (Stockholm, Sweden: Fëa Livia, 2010). For more information on pervasive larps, see Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, and Annika Waern, Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (CRC Press, 2009).
The primary narrative of the larp focused upon the celebratory first night of a successful vampiric Anarch revolution over the traditional Camarilla. However, the larp was cross-genre, meaning players could choose from an array of character types: Camarilla, Anarch, and Sabbat vampires; Technocracy and Tradition mages; changelings; werewolves; kinfolk; ghouls; and mortals. Players were expected to uphold “the Masquerade” both in-character and out-of-character in order to preserve the surprise. Some groups featured supernaturals and mortals of many types, whereas others, such as the Church of Caine, were vampire-specific. These features contributed to an authentic-feeling World of Darkness larp, where characters walked through the streets of Berlin as if denizens of the city and encountered an array of different creatures with unique agendas.
Though the overall tenor was one of aggression and adrenaline, the larp felt like a large sandbox with multiple locations throughout the city. To reflect this multiplicity of experiences, in addition to my personal account, I collected informal data from 40 participants of the larp, who shared brief descriptions of their experiences. This article will contain some of this information in a consolidated form. For other examples of the variety of experiences, check out Ivan Žalac’s blog post about playing a Gangrel Anarch and the Darker Days podcast, where Mike and Chris discuss playing Technocracy Syndicate mages.Ivan Žalac, “World of Darkness Berlin and Enlightenment in Blood,” Diary of a Croatian Larper, last modified May 20, 2017. http://www.crolarper.com/2017/05/world-of-darkness-berlin-and.html; “Darker Days Radio Episode #78,” Darker Days Podcast, last modified May 21, 2017. http://podcast.darker-days.org/e/darker-days-radio-episode-78/
A Tech-Heavy Larp Experience
Enlightenment in Blood featured digital components that enhanced the modern feel of the larp. All character creation took place on an online app called Larpweaver, developed by Matthew Webb from Incognita Ltd. Players selected aspects from a limited list of characteristics: primary groups, secondary groups, short backstory seeds, supernatural types, factions, memories, goals, and basic powers where applicable. In this way, character creation was streamlined by offering the player a limited number of options based upon their previous selections. In many cases, the most important selection players made was their Primary group, as all characters started play with this faction at a particular location.
The majority of the plot was seeded through the Larpweaver platform, as the character affiliations with their groups, their stories, and their goals were the primary drivers for interaction within the larp. However, the organizers also offered some major plot points at various times in the evening. Players could choose to chase these plots or instead decide to focus upon their personal interactions.
While Larpweaver offered character connections through the groups and factions, players were expected to establish independently personal ties such as romances, childe-sire relationships, etc. through Facebook before game. Other players were able to establish these connections at the convention leading up to the event. As with many larps in the collaborative style, this practice meant that players who engaged in extensive pre-play by establishing connections and playing out scenes tended to have more extensive personal interactions within the larp than those who did not.
In addition, during the few days leading up to the larp, during play, and for a week afterward, the organizers activated an online social media network called Undernet. Undernet was based upon the Kin framework used for the College of Wizardry larps. The platform had a main channel for all players, private channels for specific groups, and private messaging. While online engagement during a larp can sometimes detract from the in-person interactions, Undernet provided a fast way to spread information to players scattered in 10+ locations. However, some players relied on Facebook for coordination as well, as Undernet access could be spotty in places.
As the furthest locations were a fifteen-minute walk from one another, having an online means to coordinate proved important for the flow of the game. Players could find out where certain groups were headed and where key plot points were unfolding. Characters also used the Undernet platform to post in-game photos and provide running commentary. As one Brujah Anarch player explained, “Glued to my phone, I managed to network my way through the evening, surprisingly up-to-date on everything happening in the city. I didn’t feel lost at all.” Players were encouraged to take in-game photos, as the documentation team could not reach all locations of the larp. However, the organizers placed strong limitations on the sharing of photos and emphasized the need for consent.
Revolution Comes in Many Forms
I played a Malkavian Anarch tantrika named Numina who was part of two groups: the Shadow Enlightenment, who sought ways to cope with the Kindred condition through spiritual means; and Immanentize the Eschaton, a group who believed that spiritual transcendence could occur on earth. Interestingly, while the Shadow Enlightenment opposed the Church of Caine — a hierarchical Anarch religious faction gaining power in the area — Immanentize also contained Church of Caine and other members, so we had some crossover in connections through these groups. In this regard, for some pockets of the larp, the themes of enlightenment and revolution focused primarily on the metaphysical aspects of existence rather than physical revolt.
A trauma survivor, Numina believed in trying to reclaim her Humanity through meditation and connection with others, leading her to run tantra workshops for Kindred and anyone else interested. Her form of anarchy led her to feel vehemently opposed to hierarchies and power structures, believing strongly in personal autonomy and freedom. My larp consisted mainly of trying to extract “misguided” friends from the Church of Caine, leading an in-game tantra workshop to help center other characters in the midst of chaos, and engaging in metaphysical discussions with members of the Shadow Enlightenment and other spiritual seekers. Numina was particularly concerned with saving Metatron, an autistic Malkavian boy with suicidal tendencies who she was worried had been bloodbound by the Church. Her most consistent companions throughout the night were two Cult of Ecstasy mages: Sabine, her mentee posing as her childe, and Alaric, the love of her life for several decades. Alaric was a member of the primary group the Relationship Anarchists, who believed in pursuing non-traditional relationship structures, genders, and sexualities.
As a writer for the larp, I was able to contribute the two primary groups of the Shadow Enlightenment and the Relationship Anarchists. I was pleased to see these groups unfold in game. Much of the “action” of the larp focused upon the violent uprising against the Camarilla, along with the other supernaturals taking advantage of the chaos, including werewolves and changeling Redcaps. I wanted to provide a space in the sandbox for more philosophical, metaphysical, and romantic play to unfold should players choose those options.
Stripped Down Mechanics, Increased Safety Tools
The organizers explained game mechanics in emailed preparatory materials and mandatory pre-game briefings held at the convention. While the larp did not have workshops, play started with a pre-game poem and list of questions that players were asked to read ritually at their respective starting locations in order to gradually phase into character.
As the larp was in the Nordic style, the designers stripped down the mechanics to incentivize basic, low-level, playable actions that would enhance role-play. For example, my Malkavian character was able to use a stripped-down version of the Dementation power by touching a character’s clothing and saying “You really, really feel everything intensely” or “You really, really want to make someone happy.” Used in both End of the Line and Convention of Thorns, the “really, really” mechanic signals the enactment of a discipline to co-players in a subtle way. The recipient of the power decides the effect on their character, which should last no more than ten minutes. Larpweaver offered a few options from which to choose among these powers, which allowed us to customize our characters based upon the play we aimed to experience. In practice, we negotiated additional types of powers typical to our particular supernaturals in smaller collaborative groups. However, the system gave us a basic understanding of the limits of our power levels and what aspects we could enact during play.
Combat skills were similarly minimized to a small score between 1 and 5, with supernatural powers enhancing this number slightly. No combat scores could exceed 5. In the Nordic style, players are encouraged to collaboratively plan the outcome of scenes rather compete. However, if players wished to have a competitive combat, the larp provided a barebone framework for them to determine the winner. The only exception was the Prince of the city, who could be held by five characters, but could only be defeated by ten. These rules were in place in order to demonstrate his superior power level compared to the rest of these low-level denizens of the World of Darkness. While combat was possible at any point, character death was only permissible in the last hour, although presumably players could arrange consensually for character death before that time. Regardless of these combat mechanics, players were still expected to negotiate consent out-of-game for the content of such scenes and make agreements regarding physical enactment.
Safety and calibration were also emphasized in pre-game briefings with Johanna Koljonen. The larp featured three tools: the Tap-out, a non-verbal means of leaving a scene by communicating through physical touch; the See-No-Evil hand gesture over the eyes, which allows players to bow in and out of scenes without comment; and the Okay Check-In, a way to make sure other players are emotionally comfortable out-of-game.For more information about these tools and other aspects of larp safety and calibration, see Johanna Koljonen’s blog at https://participationsafety.wordpress.com/ Players were also asked to step out of game and negotiate physical boundaries in a consensual manner. As the participants came from a large range of larp cultures — those quite familiar with negotiation in the Nordic style, those from a very physically rough play style, and those where touch is not acceptable — workshopping these techniques would have helped standardize their use. Unfortunately, time was limited due to the busy convention schedule.
Pervasiveness and Engagement
As with many larps, player experiences varied depending on location, cohesion of the groups, and interactions with co-players. All primary groups started game in the same location, e.g. a bathroom stall after a Diablerie, a willing ritual sacrifice at the Church of Caine, etc.. Our group, the Shadow Enlightenment, started play at a restaurant, where we discussed matters of metaphysical philosophy, as well as our concerns around the Church of Caine, which would surely rise in power during the revolution. Because we ate together before play and engaged in the starting ritual together, then launching into serious discussion, our group cohesion was strong. Many of us walked together to confront the Church of Caine directly afterward, attempting to extract members about whom we worried. Others splintered off to pursue their own plots, experiencing varying degrees of intensity.
Anecdotes suggest that the cohesion of the primary group was central to this larp, especially for players who did not establish other ties ahead of time or who could not find their other connections in the city. The secondary groups came into play far less frequently. Players were instructed to stick together during play for safety reasons and in order to remain connected to the larp. While some players were frustrated by the distances between locations or felt like they just missed the action, others remarked that role-playing while walking was an exceptionally immersive experience. Ultimately, the degree of engagement depended upon interactions with co-players, as main plot points were few and far between.
While the larp had 10 locations, the three central play areas were: Zwinglihaus, the Church of Caine location in an actual church; Raumklang, the low-key and fancy Camarilla Bar; and Jägerhutte, the gritty Anarch Bar where the game ended, located in the RAW-Gelände arts district. Regarding the atmospheres of the different locations, a Nosferatu Anarch player said, “Loved the Camarilla bar and giving the finger to a few of them, but nothing could match the energy, fear, threat and violence of the Anarch bar.” Despite the fact that many groups had starting locations in more intimate spaces, most participants reported flowing between these three main places during play. Some players suggested that a tour of the various locations would have helped players know their other play options and see more of the sprawl of the larp.
The pacing was also variable. One Anarch player from the Red Liberation, an anti-Camarilla gang, explained, “The game, for me, was long lulls of uncertainty and cacophony, punctuated by an occasional (and strong) sense of urgency and purpose. But when they came, those moments were very powerful.” Alternately, another player from the Church of Caine faction felt engaged the entire time, stating, “The flow was great, swept me away from the starting ritual onwards right to the end. Complete illusion, full immersion.” A Toreador Anarch player summed up her experience by saying, “I managed to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time to take part in the action. But it’s okay, it was fun roaming the streets.” Larp flow varies from player to player in any game, but the pervasive nature of Enlightenment in Blood made these lulls more punctuated due to travel times and fear of missing out on the “action.” Some players wished the larp was longer in order to explore more of their desired connections.
Finally, the pervasive nature of the larp was immersive for some players, but jarring for others. The Friedrichshain district of Berlin is full of colorful nightlife, which meant that roaming gangs of costumed larpers did not draw much attention overall. As one Virtual Adept mage player explained, “It felt very immersive and engaging. Berlin felt like the World of Darkness that night.”
However, the larp did pique the curiosity of outsiders, particularly in the private location for the Anarch bar, where physicality around feeding and violence was more prominent. We were instructed to keep physically aggressive or transgressive actions limited to these private locations and explain to anyone asking that we were a theatre troupe. While the ambiance of the environment helped some players feel engaged, others were uncomfortable. A Toreador Anarch player shared, “The environment was too rough for me to play; too many players in the same spot and I was afraid of non-players’ reactions to our play.” Another player reported waiting outside an in-game billiard hall, feeling “a little uncomfortable surrounded by non-players.” While this area of Berlin provided an ideal location for the themes, costuming, and atmosphere, not everyone felt at ease with the pervasive qualities of the larp.
Little Pockets of Story
As mentioned above, although much of play took place at the three central locations, the bulk of the story was distributed throughout the characters through Larpweaver and established through pre-game negotiations between players. As overarching narratives, the Camarilla Sheriff and Prince were killed by Anarchs, the Church of Caine rose to prominence, only to become mostly destroyed at the end, etc. However, the smaller stories ended up providing much of the drama of the larp for players. Therefore, I have included a selection of brief summaries of these stories in order to demonstrate the variety of character experiences. Character names, supernatural types, factions, primary, and secondary groups are listed as identifiers.
In addition, participants provided three word descriptions of their game, which are summarized in the below word cloud. When viewed together, these emotions help construct a more cohesive amalgam of the chaotic experience of Enlightenment in Blood.
A Revolution for White Wolf Larp
Organizers have run pervasive White Wolf larps from their inception in the ‘90s, playing in public locations such as bars and restaurants. The idea of upholding the Masquerade while among “kine” or “sleepers” resonates well with the themes of the World of Darkness, which emphasize how supernaturals influence reality from behind the scenes and must remain secret to protect themselves. What Enlightenment in Blood did for White Wolf larp was to demonstrate that a high budget pervasive larp spanning multiple locations and utilizing mobile technology is a viable format. Additionally, with mechanics stripped down to their minimum, the physicality of walking between locations and enacting character moves in a collaborative manner helped increase immersion for many players. As a result, Enlightenment in Blood was an ambitious fusion of the World of Darkness content with the aesthetic principles of Nordic larp, creating a truly unique experience for players.
Enlightenment in Blood
Participation Fee: €90
Players: approx. 200
Date: May 12, 2017
Location: Berlin, Germany
Lead designer and writer: Juhana Pettersson
Designer: Bjarke Pedersen
Writers: Sarah Lynne Bowman, Mika Loponen, and Jesper Kristiansen with David Pusch & Daniel Thikötter
Producers: Bjarke Pedersen & Johanna Koljonen
Producer (locations): Zora Hädrich
Werewolf ritual design: René Kragh Pedersen
Character creation design: Bjarke Pedersen, Juhana Pettersson & Matthew Webb
Character creation tool (Larpweaver): Matthew Webb, Samuel Phelps & Riley Seaman / Incognita Limited
Social Media tool (Undernet): Kin software developed by Thomas Mertz, Per Sikker Hansen, Alena Košinárová, Richard Wetzel, and Daniel Sundström
Workshop design: Johanna Koljonen & Bjarke Pedersen
Runtime lead: Johanna Koljonen
Runtime organizing and NPC coordination: David Pusch
Runtime organizing and location coordination: Daniel Thikötter
Runtime organizing: Monica Traxl & Bjarke Pedersen
Creative consulting: René Kragh Pedersen, Maiju Ruusunen & Sarah Lynne Bowman
Documentation lead: Brody Condon
Documentation: Keren Chernizon & Tuomas Hakkarainen
White Wolf: Karim Muammar & Martin Ericsson
© 2016 Participation | Design | Agency AB. World of Darkness®, Vampire: The Masquerade®, Werewolf: The Apocalypse®, Mage: The Ascension®, Wraith: The Oblivion®, Changeling: The Dreaming®, Copyright©  White Wolf Publishing AB All rights reserved.
Cover photo: Isabella Chiaromonte, a Malkavian Anarch from Enlightenment in Blood. Photo by Tuomas Hakkarainen. Photo has been cropped.
|↑1||See Andie Nordgren, “Prosopopeia Bardo 2: Momentum,” in Nordic Larp, edited by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola (Stockholm, Sweden: Fëa Livia, 2010; Bardo AB Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/bardoab/posts/266925533406299; Jaakko Stenros, “Nordic Larp: Theatre, Art, and Game,” in Nordic Larp, edited by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola (Stockholm, Sweden: Fëa Livia, 2010). For more information on pervasive larps, see Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, and Annika Waern, Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (CRC Press, 2009).|
|↑2||Ivan Žalac, “World of Darkness Berlin and Enlightenment in Blood,” Diary of a Croatian Larper, last modified May 20, 2017. http://www.crolarper.com/2017/05/world-of-darkness-berlin-and.html; “Darker Days Radio Episode #78,” Darker Days Podcast, last modified May 21, 2017. http://podcast.darker-days.org/e/darker-days-radio-episode-78/|
|↑3||For more information about these tools and other aspects of larp safety and calibration, see Johanna Koljonen’s blog at https://participationsafety.wordpress.com/|