Sexy, pale women with fangs dressed in black dresses or inexplicable fetish wear. Men in old-fashioned Victorian frock coats and top hats. Vampire LARPs sound intriguing. And then, you play.
Then the power fantasy turns into an exercise in frustration. I am not saying that this always happens in every game but I do think that the rules and setting of Vampire work against good roleplay. It requires the intervention of good players and thoughtful gamemasters to make the game work. Most Vampire games work against interaction.
As I see it, there are three main problems:
1. The Oppressive and Powerful (Insert Title)
The Prince is an ancient and powerful vampire who will not tolerate, well, anything. If the players speak, act, or dress interestingly the Prince is going to punish you.
Self-expression is one of the basic appeals of roleplaying. You cannot remove that part of the game without consequences.
In vampire films and literature, one conceit is that the ancient and powerful vampire actually likes the main character. For example, in Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned, Lestat is shown favor from Queen Akasha initially. Of course, their relationship sours eventually but that makes for a good plot. One approach is to have your incredibly powerful (insert title) actually like the player characters. He or she would not think of oppressing the PCs but rather encourages them to be more expressive. Now the players have a reason to play their characters to the hilt since they can act with immunity under the protection of (insert title).
I am writing this article in 2014. My current assessment of the state of roleplay is that it is dominated by rules on tactics. There is far too much concern over how much damage a weapon does or how many hit points someone has left. These rules were invented by game designers to assist with the make-believe but have grown so complicated that they often replace roleplaying.
There are existing rules to let players resolve conflicts through agreement but that requires that all players are on the same wave length. Once a newcomer or novice enters a group, all bets are off. The rules are the default fallback and if the rules are heavily tactical it is often roleplay that suffers.
Here is the problem as I see it. Sex and seduction are inherent in vampire mythology. I don’t think I am going too far by saying that. At least since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire has been portrayed as a sexual creature.
Most LARPs do not allow touching of any kind. They are often male-dominated. Even if you have a mix of genders, it requires strong social skills to not come across creepy when roleplaying seduction.
How do you handle sex, flirtation and seduction in your LARP? I have even gone so far as to add “sex rules.” (To be clear, I borrowed some of the mechanics from Monsterhearts which has rules for “turning someone on.” No one literally has actual physical sex in my LARP.)
I think that how to handle sex is the next frontier for roleplaying games. Right now, as players and gamemasters, we steer clear of it. However, the point of roleplay is to create a story and many of our popular culture stories involve sex. I feel that it needs to be a part of gaming as much as combat.1