by Gerald "Gray" Chartier
Dictionary.com defines immersion as: (the) state of being deeply engaged or involved. In the Realms community, we talk about immersion a lot. We’re often asking, how can we get people more immersed? I had the thought we might find some answers in how other LARPs do it. The only other LARP I’ve participated in for a comparable length to my time in Realms is Live Action Vampire.
My first taste of LARPing came back in the 90’s, when a friend brought me to a Live Action Vampire game. This led directly to my involvement with Realms, because a friend I did Vampire with brought me to my very first Realms event.
My initial exposure to Live Action Vampire was an independent LARP called the Apocalypse Club. The Apocalypse Club was kind of notorious for being more like a live-action first person shooter than a roleplaying game. Combat occurred with unnerving frequency, brought on by both plot and by incidental brawls between PCs. However, it is where I met the people who later got me involved in the Camarilla.
The Camarilla was White Wolf’s official fan club (it’s still kicking around as the Mind’s Eye Society). I got involved with the Camarilla when some Apocalypse Club alumni started a chapter at UConn in the late 90’s. The Camarilla organized a no-shit international LARP – actually several, one for each of White Wolf’s World of Darkness properties, but chief among them was the Vampire LARP, which the UConn chapter was formed to take part in.
Generally speaking, playing in the Camarilla’s Vampire LARP was fairly similar to being a Realms player. The success of the UConn chapter sparked the creation of others in the Northeast, so before too long there were chapters in Boston, NYC, Rochester NY, and Bangor ME. Players from one chapter could participate with their PCs in events held by other chapters, and this was pretty common, particularly between UConn and Boston.
Live Action Vampire was based on White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade RPG, which was extremely popular in the 90’s. It was set in a more dystopian version of the modern day, where supernatural creatures were real, existing alongside humanity. As the name suggests, PCs played vampires – specifically, vampires of the Camarilla, the sect who believed vampires needed to hide their existence from humanity, and that they should try to be as human as possible.
With everyone playing vampires of the same sect, the game generated diversity by dividing vampires up into clans – essentially bloodlines of vampires who all descended from one of the first vampires created by Cain (yes, THAT Cain), each with its distinctive traits and powers.
One of the things Live Action Vampire had going for it was an extremely rich background. There was a well-established, detailed mythology steeped in millennial apocalypse lore, and all the clans had their own cultures, traditions, spheres of influence, and areas of interest. These were introduced in the main rules and expanded upon in optional clanbook supplements, intended primarily for tabletop, but applicable to live play as well. Those sources included material on how members of the clans interacted with each other and members of other clans. There were also established antagonists – the competing sect of vampires called the Sabbat being the primary one, but there were also the other supernatural creatures in the world. The ones that butted heads with vampires most often were, as you can imagine, werewolves.
Live Action Vampire and the Camarilla’s LARP were very immersive, which is no doubt why I stuck with it as long as I did. Part of this was because the background was so detailed, with archetypes readily available. That made it easy for players to pick their clans and know what playing a member of that clan would generally be like – players who wanted to be political/social gamers would choose to play members of the Ventrue or Toreador clans, for instance, whereas players who wanted to play more fighty/warrior types generally gravitated towards the Brujah or the Gangrel clans.
Such information is much harder to come by for new members of the Realms. The website begins with the rules, and to get any information on the setting, one has to click on the Community tab. From there, information on the setting is scattered among a disorganized hodgepodge of tabs, with little information to help a new player figure out how to play their character. How does a member of one race get along with another race? Where does the new PC fit in? What are the customs and traditions of the nations? What gods are out there to be worshipped? What organizations are there to be joined? Who are the most common antagonists? What are the most common sources of conflict?
Realms leaves all of that up to the individual player. That allows for maximum creativity, but it has the downside of not giving the player much to work with or draw inspiration from. This leads players to either come up with really shallow, generic characters and (hopefully) backfill the details as they go, or it leads them to draw on elements from outside fiction, or it leads them to go looking for something that does give them answers to those questions.
In essence, the lack of information about the setting of the Realms is an obstacle to immersion, particularly for new players. It’s hard to find anything to get immersed in, which is why events tend to focus around provided content and not around roleplaying so much. In Vampire, the player can roleplay for hours without any storyteller involvement, because there’s a wealth of information about the setting to base that roleplay on, giving players a common ground to start from.