The Secret Lives of Elders: How to Win at LARP

This essay was written for the Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle in the Mind’s Eye Society.

Introduction

The weight of age is something that comes slowly and unexpectedly. I’ve had cause and reason to ponder this recently. With the recent discussion about improperly played elder characters and the future of the club, I felt the urge to write another Masquerade essay. I took a brief of a hiatus to write a 97,000 word novel, but really I still love you guys.

This essay is going to be a bit more personal than previous ones. There’s also a bit of discussion and thoughts about the Camarilla as a club and social organization and the purpose of elder characters and how they can be used to win at LARP. If that’s not your bag, that’s OK, skip ahead to the Batman reference.

Two weeks ago, I had a sudden illness that constructed a number of blood vessels in my ear and somehow it affected the nerve endings in my face. I watched as half of my face slowly froze. I was unable to talk properly. I couldn’t close my left eye without difficulty and an eye-patch. I celebrated my thirty-eighth birthday quietly at home missing a convention with all of my friends and I had a lot of time to think. Who knew that I would ever feel so old? Just like old Indiana Jones once said, it’s not the age, it’s the mileage.

It brought to mind what it would be like to be an ancient creature still walking this earth. Imagine the world slowly moving away from you. Your favorite songs become dated. Fashions change. New ideas. Each generation reviles and worships the one from before.

My wife and I are from different generations. I remember the very real fear that the Russians were going to invade my hometown. I was eleven years old when this [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpwdcmjBgNA political ad] came out. On the other hand, my wife was nine years old when [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zXiClnK8oE the Berlin Wall came down]. We were born seven years part and yet there is a generation of expectations and fears.

Imagine that difference in experience magnified by twenty years or two hundred years or two thousand years. That’s the perspective that we try to invoke when playing these characters.

The Great Divide: The Greying of the Camarilla

The real divide in the Camarilla isn’t one of prestige, approvals, or member class. Our club has changed from the fun little club a group of crazy kids formed in 1992 in Seattle. Our members have graduated from college, married, had children, divorced, served honorably in the military, witnessed the death of family members, and some of us are edging towards retirement.

We are a multitude of voices within a single tribe. This is a change we need to recognize and address. We can’t pretend that we’re all still eighteen year olds staying out until three in the morning at Denny’s on a week night discussing the open possibilities of the future. Recently, I bumped into a beautiful lady that I will always remember as a young girl barely eighteen. She’s grown a lot in the last decade. Matured, married, and has a child. She still plays in the Camarilla. It was a trip to see her now and remember when she couldn’t afford gas money from a convention. Life changes and the world is constantly on the march.

We are an organization that contains the young and the old and everything in-between and each of them have different needs.

A good portion of the middle generation that has started this chronicle has never played Vampire: the Masquerade. It is a difference of only a few years really. Less than the age difference between myself and my wife. However, I think we need to realize as a club that this has generated a different set of expectations and values. This often generates a misunderstood conflict where members conflict without even knowing why. There are two sets of shared and sometimes incompatible experiences with each universe that are not always translatable.

The first step to winning this crazy thing we call LARP is recognize this divide and attempt to bridge some differences and see things from the other side. The term elder means something completely different in Vampire: Masquerade than it does in Vampire Requiem. Elders means something different to an eighteen year old playing his first character than to a forty-five year old with two children and responsibilities.

In this essay, I am going to describe how I think an elder should be played, the responsibilities of an elder player in the game, and the duties of an elder player to the Camarilla tribe

NOTE: I love both Vampire: Requiem and Vampire: Masquerade and that this essay is not about which of these venues is better. I write about Vampire: Masquerade because it was my first love.

Why Neonates Hate Elders: Batman Versus Superman

Vampire: The Masquerade was designed to have an unfair divide between the elders and the neonates. The elders by sheer accident of fate shall always been stronger and more powerful. And it burns. That jealousy is the heart of the game. The elders hate the neonates for their zest of life. The neonates resent the elders for their unfair power.

Sometimes this game world construct bleeds over into the real world. I certainly know that every time Rob Bennett gets to go out and be awesome and young that I secretly hate him just a little. Only a little. Likewise, it can be easy to resent someone being able to afford to fly to a featured game in another state.

I remember my first game in the Camarilla. I spent a weekend reading the old brujah clanbook and made a solid iconoclast, former FBI agent named Jack Kincaid. Later, it had to be explained to me that I couldn’t just create an FBI agent without talking to the storytellers. How dare they tell me what I could play?

My first game was in Seattle in very early 1997. This was a time when elders were a bit more rare around the country, but very heavy in Seattle. I met Wade Racine for the first time playing an elder named Roger Blackmore. Our characters didn’t get along as you might imagine. There were a number of other elders running about as well. I still remember some of them quite well. Octavio played by Mario Medina. Joan Smith played by Jane Skau.

I was an ant in a land of giants.

It just wasn’t fair. I was just as good as a role-player as these guys. Sure, they played a couple years more than I did, but I had the drive and the talent. Why couldn’t I play one? I might have quit after a couple of games, but something happened. One of the elder players put his arm around me after game and invited me to his house for Afters at the now legendary House of Pain. It was confusing for me. Wasn’t this the guy that played that douchebag Toreador elder Sebastian Moureaux? It was indeed and his name was Jason Vanhee. He was my first mentor in the Camarilla and taught me a lot about  how to be a delightful and ethical bastard.

There were also examples of what not to do. This example never existed. An elder player that did all of this, all of the time, would be burned out of the game. However, I suspect you can see these traits in some elder players that forget their way. Mr. UnAwesome is a new elder and he is bound and determined to use every discipline on his sheet at least once every ten minutes. Neonates feel like  Batman in a world with Superman. He rushes forward and solves every plot. He uses his might to take on a position of authority and leadership in every venue; Archbishop of the Sabbat, Prince of the Camarilla, and leader of the pack of the Anarchs.

This is the problem with elders in our game. During the disruption in playing Vampire: the Masquerade, we lost some of our tribal knowledge on how to play these characters. Some players are now playing elders that have never experienced the setting or have played in such an unbalance power dynamic.

With Vampire: Requiem, a single MC 1 player can through solid math skills and boldness can kill a poor made MC 14 character sheet. Rob Bennett was MC 4 when he made a character named Vitreous. This guy was the scariest character by the numbers in the NW. Last year, there was a hundred and twenty person kill-box just to kill this guy. MC 14 players were afraid to duel this guy in single combat.

There is a solid mechanic imbalance in the generational system that requires a selfless attitude and a care for the game. I remember a time when I was very frustrated and one of the elder players again took time to take me out to Denny’s. He held my hand a couple of times and gave me a different perspective. His name was Mario Medina. He cared that I was having a difficult time and talked and mentored me into learning how to play the game.

NOTE: For the record, this is me pointing out that some of these players are older than I am. That’s right. Mario Medina is older than I am.

How to Not Be a Douchebag: Infinite Awesome, Limited Spotlight

I am a firm believer that there is an infinite supply of awesome in the universe and that we can magnify that in each other. We can lift each other in ways I never really imagined before and share truly great experiences. The problem is that sometimes we get in our own way. Sometimes we want that spotlight. We want to be center stage so badly that we forget that there is a limited about of space there.

The hardest lesson for any child to learn is that we are not the center of the universe. It’s the same thing for LARPers. It is very easy to dominate a game when you have the mathematical advantage of an elder.
Mr. UnAwesome has the potential to force himself as the leader of every Masquerade venue.

This is encouraged in the culture of our tribe. It is wrong.

I will be the first to point a finger at myself. I have three elder characters in play.

My main character is an Assamite named Claudio Borgia. This is a reasonable, suitable elder character. I purposely went out of my way not to play another political/social leader. Claudio is a shark, but his goals are less bold and political.

I also have a Tremere named Cenotaph that I have never played. I keep him in the background to earn XP in case my main character dies. I do firmly believe that if you are awesome, then every character you make is awesome. However, I don’t want to be left behind in the XP arms race. I want to be viable. I can’t help it. There’s a small bit of competitiveness in my heart that won’t let go. What would happen if I started playing Cenotaph? A 6th gen Tremere in my region can pretty quickly become important. I have to chops to force myself up the Pyramid. I might even be able to do it without going to a lot of games. Last chronicle, I made it from rogue apprentice all of the way to Councilor of North America in the last weeks of the chronicle.

I had to stop myself. Much like an alcoholic that decides to quit drinking, I had that moment of clarity. How is that good for the game? I knew I wasn’t going to play the character. Why should I take away the spotlight from others?

Could I play two elder characters to my best ability and help the game? Or was I being selfish? Was I just wanting control?

I have a third elder character in the Sabbat venue named Argus. I love this concept, but I don’t play him. Why? I feel guilty. I can go into any Sabbat game and just be awesome without a lot of effort. It feels wrong that there are a ton of 6th gens in the Sabbat venue and yet I did the same thing. I didn’t want to be left out of the arms race. I wanted to be awesome.

Here’s where the shit gets real. This is a problem that I think is hurting our game. It is our responsibility to address. We need to sacrifice for the good of the tribe. This is why I support the One Elder Per Player proposal. We can’t always have the spotlight without killing those in the shade. We need to share the spotlight. This will invigorate the game in many unexpected ways.

The best example for leadership is always personal deeds. We’re supposed to be the leaders and guardians of this club. Let’s start acting like it.

The game will suddenly have an influx of neonate and ancilla characters. This will balance out the game a little more. If we use some examples from other games, we might even be about to encourage this with a carrot. I’ve heard about a game that has the sidekick rule. If you make a sidekick character such as a ghoul or a neonate character and attach it to an ancilla or neonate, you can bank that XP and then when your elder dies, you can transfer that XP over. XP earned would have to come solely from participation at games. Paper minions do nothing for the game.

Suddenly, the remaining elders will be more important. Sabbat elders will be important due to rarity. Cross-venue jyhads might actually be possible now.

It requires that we as elder players do something that we’ve been taught all of our gaming lives to not do. It requires that we give up an advantage.

Unique in All the World

”“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…” The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.”

There is a dangerous fallacy that is often harmful to our games. Common wisdom often repeated on our lists describe the elders as uncaring creatures sitting comfortably in their easy chairs and ignore the world around them except their own schemes.

This is one of those rare times when ethics and tactics align into a beautiful perfect harmony in the universe. Yes, there are some elders that ignore kindred society. They live like hermits away from the world. Here is a secret. These characters aren’t meant to be played in a LARP. If you disagree with me, I challenge you to really play such a creature. Get dressed up and go out into the woods at the next game and roleplay being a hermit and hating everyone. See how much fun you have.

Elders are supposed to be the manipulators and directors in the world. The Jyhad is really just one massive game of punch-bug. All of the elders everywhere in the world are watching each other and waiting for an excuse to lay one on their peers and scream “Punch-bug!”

Many of the players of failed elder concepts in the game seem to think that this is going to come automatically with the disciplines. Here is a bit of secret. It doesn’t work that way. Building a network takes a lot of time and effort. I had a very awesome system when I played Julius Titus. I can’t claim that my character was the King of Shit Mountain, but I managed to get a few things right here and there.

The secret to my success (if you call it that) is love. I bought into the game. I loved other characters. I cared what happened to them. I spent half of my time trying to protect the suicidal characters all around me. I love those insane little bastard Malkavians that got me into trouble and gave me derangements.

I loved my home games and I spent a lot of time and effort making the games work. I helped out with the boon lotteries. I tried to do things that would stimulate the game, even if it put me to a disadvantage. I tried to encourage others. I mentored players from across the world.
And then, I also played hard. If you were an elder and in my sights, I was a bastard, but I also tried to be a good sport and a guardian for the game.

Anything I gave to the game came back to me a hundredfold. I had solid henchmen that surrendered their lives to try to keep me alive. I met a lot of wonderful people that provided me with hours of entertainment and have become part of my life.
The more I bolstered for my local game, the more fun I had. How many times have you seen elders “bored” with their local game and only getting excited when it comes time for a convention? How does this help our game and share the awesome?

This sort of behavior improves the game, but also improves your own character’s powerbase. The more you include others, the more protected your character becomes. You become a presence in their character’s lives. When Karsh killed Julian Titus, I had a good dozen people around me willing and ready to throw down with the Warlord of the Camarilla. That alone was the most touching thing I had ever seen at a game. That these players will willing to risk it all to help my character made everything worth it.

Policing Our Own

We need to police each other that much better. We’ve all been guilty of looking the other way when someone goes overboard. This is the part of the game that needs elders and we can shine.

We should watch each other closely and strike when we slip. We should watch for elders that endanger our powerbase. We should watch for elders that don’t hold to proper dogma. And we should punish them.

If you have to use Psychic Assault to beatdown a neonate over a political matter, then you are doing it wrong. If you have to use Father Knows Best every game, you need to adjust your style of play. If a Malkavain Elder starts using Master Level Dementation powers on Elysium, the elder community should band together and kill that elder to send a message.

The truth is that elder players don’t have the same rights as everyone else. We have a special responsibility to improve this game and try to ensure the reasonable health of this game. This is more important than appeasing a single person.

Easy Steps to Being a Better Elder Player

* Always remember The Economy of Cool and try to include other players. Lisa Andrew goes out of her way to say hello to new players and include them in plots

* Let other players have the spotlight. If you are a star in one venue, play a support character in a different venue. It will do wonders for your perspective. I’ve seen Clayton Turner play a bad-ass elder character one moment and then a ghoul the next. He is gracious and allows others to be awesome.

* Make the effort for your city and to booster your domain. Lenza McBride plays an elder that actually invites players ICly to her games to include them and goes out of her way to speak to new players. That’s the sort of forward thinking we need.

* Create good drama and events. Help your storytellers. Help by hosting awesome events. Jason Carl did an awesome job with this in Requiem by holding massive parties with wonderful party games.

Conclusion

This is more or less how I see how an elder player should operate. Others will likely disagree. Our game is a community not a simulation or a competition, but a gestalt of all of it.

Someone once commented to me that this is the only hobby people go to in order to complain about it. Bowlers don’t drive to the bowling alley and complain about how much they hate bowling.

Let’s see if we can do better!

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