Lazy Elders and the Aesthetics of Reality

I started playing Vampire the Masquerade with the second edition, in the early Nineties. One of the mechanics in the game is “Backgrounds”, traits that show various advantages a character can have in relation to the world.

Examples are Mentor, which gives the character a powerful mentor figure, or Resources, which tracks material wealth. More than just game mechanical features, the Backgrounds connect a character to her surroundings. All the other traits are things like skills or supernatural powers, but the Backgrounds only work if the character is seen as part of a wider ecosystem.

 

Abstract Power

One of the Backgrounds is called Influence. It measures political power. In Vampire’s world, the Kindred are puppet masters who influence human events from the shadows. If your character wants to be one of these puppet masters, this trait is the one you use. One dot in Influence is “A factor in local politics”. Five dots is “A factor in national politics”. It’s an American roleplaying game, so perhaps in an European context that should scale to “A factor in EU politics”.

However, in concrete terms the books offer very little on how this influence actually works. Sure, if you want to use it, you can roll the dice and see if you succeed. An Elder vampire can have a high Influence on her stats, abstractly showing she’s important. A big part of the inspiration behind the larp Parliament of Shadows was to consider what does it actually mean that vampires influence mortal politics. How does it work in concrete, day to day terms?

This ties into another creative principle useful in genre fiction: The work we create should tie into the real world, and not just echo between genre tropes. Thus, vampire influence could be used to examine the way political influence works in real life.

The third creative principle we have is to bring the World of Darkness as close to reality as possible. This way, vampires become another of the many special interest groups lobbying in the European Union.

 

Reality as Fiction

Because we want to bring fiction and reality closer to each other, we’ve made choices such as:

– Organizing the larp in Brussels, in the European Parliament and other authentic locations. If you have drinks in a restaurant in the larp, it’s the same restaurant real lobbyists also have drinks in. Physically, our aim is not just a semblance of 360 illusion, but the realism provided by actual reality.

– Involving the people we make larp about. In our organizing team and among our NPC players, there’s people who work at the European Parliament in various capacities, as well as lobbyists.

– Working to have MEP’s as participants in the larp. Because of the turbulent nature of MEP schedules, we can’t 100% promise this, but the situation looks very promising.

 

Elders Who Delegate

This kind of thinking also shapes how we interpret the World of Darkness. Let’s consider the vampire Elder who has vast influence over mortal affairs. What does that mean, exactly? Influence is work, after all. You need to read reports, sit in meetings and keep abreast of current events. Real people who wield political influence bust their asses doing it.

The more we thought about this, the more it started to feel like those vampire Elders are not going to do all that work themselves. They have servants for this! Why would you even try to understand EU tax policy when you can make a ghoul who understands it for you?

In this conception of vampiric influence, the vampire is the admiral who makes high-level policy decisions implemented by her minions.

And perhaps in her arrogance, the Elder can forget that those minions have a will of their own.

Juhana Pettersson