Why Vampire LARPs Are Doomed To Fail (Hint: It’s the Setting, Stupid)

I’ve played and GM’d Vampire: the Masquerade LARPs for nearly 15 years* and one conclusion is inescapable: every Vampire chronicle is doomed to fail. Assuming a troupe meets once a month, it takes about two years for the game to collapse into a singularity of power-imbalance, player burnout and a GM who makes an emergency root canal seem like a ray of fucking sunshine in comparison.

This. Always. Happens.

Changing out the GMs can extend the life of a troupe, and, god help us, the frequent character churn encouraged by the setting is, in a way, a help. But Vampire LARPs never really work in the long run.

It’s built into the game setting – at least as the setting as envisioned by its creators: It’s called the World of Darkness for a reason – ditto the nigh-constant  hammering of the theme of personal horror.

Vampires, in particular, are meant to be ferocious, paranoid individualists, who come together only with extreme reluctance. Nor are the vampires supposed to be noted for characteristics such as altruism and optimism. Some characters might be clinging on to such qualities with their fingernails, but not many of them. Why? Because playing someone who is angsty and guilt-ridden does not qualify as enjoyable escapism for most of the players. Real life is stressful enough, thanks.

Furthermore, live-action roleplaying is a social hobby and most events revolve around the notion of the troupe’s characters facing down some sort of shared threat. Sometimes it’s several threats / plots which are tackled by several sub-sets of characters, but cooperation and interaction are still the name of the game.

To quote a friend of mine, in the Vampire setting, that’s like stuffing half a dozen feral cats into a bag and telling them to get along.

Unfortunately, one of the things I love about role-playing in general is one of the things that can kill any LARP but especially Vampire: you can act without any real consequences. Go ahead, betray your cadre and kill your buddies. The players might get mad but what are they going to do, really? Oh, your character might face some fallout, but if you’ve kerbstomped any PC who’d be interested in taking revenge – or pointed out to them the advantages of not doing so, then who’s going to hold you accountable?

The above is particularly true in any campaign that has lasted long enough for the inevitable power-imbalance to manifest, wherein twenty percent of the players control about eighty percent of the in-game resources. If your character is one of The Big Guys, there’s not much for you to worry about re: consequences. The social dynamics of the setting means that The Big Guys would much rather unite against the Little Guys (lest they become Big Guys, later on) and therefore, if you’re stomping Little Guys, your ongoing future is assured. What if you want to go after another Big Guy? That’s a subject for another post…

In my experience, the only thing that stops slaughter of the I’m bored, I think I’ll frag a PC variety from happening more often is that the player doesn’t want to put up with the out-of-character consequences – the icy silences at Denny’s after the game, the angry blog posts and sudden un-invitation from every other social thing you got up to with that player and/or their friends. In-character consequences? Fuck ’em. If folks want to practice impulse control, they can do that in real life.

And that is why I don’t play Vampire any more.

*Sweet Jesus, that long?

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